Siskiyou County is a county located in the far northernmost part of the U.S. state of California, in the Shasta Cascade region on the Oregon border. Yreka is the county seat. Because of its substantial natural beauty, outdoor recreation opportunities, and Gold Rush era history, it is an important tourist destination within the state. The population was 44,900 at the 2010 census.
Siskiyou County was created on March 22, 1852, from parts of Shasta and Klamath Counties, and named after the Siskiyou mountain range. Parts of the county's territory were given to Modoc County in 1855.
The county is the site of the central section of the Siskiyou Trail, which ran between California's Central Valley and the Pacific Northwest. The Siskiyou Trail was based on Native American footpaths, was expanded by Hudson's Bay Company trappers in the 1830s, and was expanded still further by "Forty-Niners" during the California Gold Rush.
In 1851, after the discovery of an important gold strike near today’s Yreka, California, thousands of prospectors flooded the area. This era and setting was described in detail in the semi-autobiographical novel, Life Amongst the Modocs, written by poet and novelist Joaquin Miller.
The construction of the Central Pacific Railroad along the path of the Siskiyou Trail in the mid-1880s led to a first wave of tourism, as visitors came to “take the waters” at the county’s many summer resorts, and to enjoy the hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation activities. The Southern Pacific railroad (successor to the Central Pacific) promoted the scenic beauty of the area by calling its rail line through the area “The Road of A Thousand Wonders.”
In the early 1940s, Siskiyou County was home to the semi-serious State of Jefferson movement, which sought to create a new state from several counties of northern California, and several counties of southern Oregon.
The origin of the word siskiyou is not known. One version is that it is the Chinook Jargon word for "bob-tailed horse." Another version, given in an argument before the State Senate in 1852, is that the French name Six Cailloux, meaning "six stones," was given to a ford on the Umpqua River by Michel LaFrambois and a party of Hudson's Bay Company trappers in 1832, because six large stones or rocks lay in the river where they crossed. According to some, the Six Cailloux name was appropriated to this region by Stephen Meek, another Hudson's Bay Company trapper who was known for his "discovery" of Scott Valley, in regard to a crossing on the Klamath River near Hornbrook.
The County is also home to the Black Bear Ranch, a commune started in 1968 with the slogan "Free Land for free people." The commune is still around today.