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  Lost Cities: Klamathon

Near the modern communities of Hilt and Copco was once a brawling, rich little city named Klamathon. Deadwood had gold, and Tailholt the railroad, but Klamathon - Klamathon had it all. Big for its time, Klamathon was blessed with rich placer mining, logging , lumber and cheap transportation, thanks to the mighty Klamath at its door. Over time, Klamathon grew to include sawmills and box factories besides all the smaller businesses that developed to serve the needs of the mining and timber industries.

The logging actually took place miles up the Klamath, out of the Beswick area. The north bank, above which most of the trees were felled, was steep and presented a considerable obstacle to transporting the logs to the mills. The logging companies solved this by cutting into the hill, and lining the cut with handhewn logs to make a chute down to the river. Horsedrawn "big wheels" pulled the logs to the head of the chute; then they were shoved off, to slide 2650 feet into the river. The chute was steep - an 834 foot drop - so the logs routinely achieved speeds of 90 miles per hour. The logs struck the water with such force that spray rose more than 75 feet into the air. Sometimes the logs split upon impact, which no doubt discouraged disobedient boys from the temptation of trying to ride one down. Besides, once in a while, the sliding logs - and probably the chute too - caught fire from the friction. What a spectacle that must have been in the dusk, a flaming log hurtling down a hill at 90 miles per hour, streaming a thick, black plume of smoke. If the chute was coated with frost, the logs might shoot clear across the river, rather than landing in it. Once the logs were all safely in the water, they were then sent downstream to the mills to be cut.

Like most boom towns, Klamathon was given to complicated business arrangements, forbidden love affairs and brawls. One story sufficiently melodramatic to make it into present-day documentation was the tale of the loves of Clara Troy.

No one said what Clara looked like, and it can only be guessed how she met her suitors. Perhaps she was a dancing girl; perhaps she was a modest and enterprising baker, making her quiet fortune selling pies to miners sick of their own cooking. Regardless, Clara was in love with a man named Sears. She had also come to the attention of another man, named Rhodes. Perhaps Rhodes spoke boldly of her, and Sears challenged him; maybe he sneaked a kiss or a squeeze, but somehow he offended Clara or her love, and the two men fought over her. Alas, Rhodes stabbed Sears, and he died. The bereft Clara then killed herself in her grief, and brought the story to its tragic end. Even before his untimely end, it appeared that Mr. Sears had had his own share of trouble. Another man, named Stemler, was said to be wanted for the murder of Mr. Sears' father. He was arrested, but before he could be brought to justice, he was forcibly removed from the jail and lynched along with three other men in Yreka. Frontier justice had its own way of working things out.

Klamathon had skirmishes with fire like all western towns. It was an unavoidable hazard in a time when houses were all lit and heated with open flame. Nevertheless , even by old-West standards, Klamathon went out in a blaze of glory, in a 1902 fire more spectacular than any before it. There is no record of the cause of the fire, but it burned eight million board feet of lumber, a sawmill, two box factories, thirty other businesses and more residences than anyone counted. The estimate of damage, in 1902 dollars, topped $500,000.

Stories and memories are all that remain of these places. The ties to the past surround us, reminding us that they have made us what we are.

Every time we see the names on a map, or drive past them through windswept volcanic valleys, every time we fish a creek that a miner once panned or cross a bridge named for a town that died a fiery death a hundred years ago ---every time we do these things, we add to their stories. We're making new ones in new places, for other people to tell, a hundred years from now.

by Kathy Dias, publisher in their Siskiyou Yearbook 2002 insert
Reprinted with permission from the Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, CA

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