Motorists zipping north on Interstate 5 pass through Siskiyou County, over the Siskiyou Summit, at an elevation of 4,310 feet, and cruise into Oregon, going at least 55 mph. Few realize that they are traveling over much of the original Siskiyou Trail, which once extended from Fort Vancouver and the Hudson’s Bay Company headquarters south to the San Francisco Bay Area. The trail followed beaten footpaths tromped by generations of Native Americans.
In 1834, Ewing Young herded horses and mules over the trail into Oregon. In 1837, he drove 700 head of cattle over the path. The task took three months, but it helped clear an even wider road. In 1841, a U.S. Exploring Expedition’s scientists and cartographers passed through.
Traffic increased during the California Gold Rush, although crossing the summit was so arduous that travel was limited to mule trains and horses. Not until the 1860s were toll roads established, allowing stagecoaches to travel north and south.
The first telegraph line followed the trail in 1864, followed in 1887 by the Central Pacific Railroad track, and in the mid-1910s by the Pacific Highway, later called U.S. Highway 99. Interstate 5 replaced Highway 99 in the 1960s.
Sources: Fiorini-Jenner, Gail L. and Monica Hall. "Western Siskiyou County: Gold & Dreams." Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2002/2005, pp. 26-28. http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Siskiyou-Trail.
— As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.