Echoes Of The Past
By Gary VanDeWalker
Historic City of Fort Jones
Story: Gary VanDeWalker Photos: photographybytaryn.com
Small towns carry echoes of greatness. Where Highway 3 passes through Fort Jones, the footsteps of great people are heard by the traveler who stops to listen. Small shops, galleries and homes line the road, whispering of frontier beginnings. Originally named Scottsburg, the pioneers planted their homes, one mile from Fort Jones, taking on the name of the outpost itself in 1860 after the Fort had been abandoned. Second Lt. George Crook called it “a large ant’s nest where miner, merchant, gambler, and all… carried their lives in their own hands.”
Great men spent their days away from the Fort buying personal affects and entertaining themselves along the main street here, men whose names would soon be known in every household in the nation: Future generals George Pickett, Phil Sheridan and John Hood all called Fort Jones their home. Ulysses S. Grant was appointed commander of the outpost, but resigned the Army before taking command.
Sixteen miles west of Yreka, the town no longer bustles with the harried activities of miners, fur trappers and soldiers. Today, backpackers, fishermen and travelers come to enjoy the beauty of the Scott Valley. Underneath the 128-foot flagpole, townspeople and tourists mingle in the peaceful shadow of the Marble Mountains. Saturday afternoon softball games and weekend flotillas of innertubes on nearby rivers set the pace for summer, giving way to the harvest of crops and herds of deer as the brisk autumn air fills the valley.
The original Scott Valley Bank continues to guard the assets of those who work in the valley. The Hummingbird House Bed and Breakfast is a Victorian home dressed in pinks and purples, giving one a hometown experience, with a hostess who was a student in a local one-room school and cooks an unforgettable breakfast. Locals gather for lunch at Astrid’s Main Street Deli, where everyone who walks through the door is welcomed with a smile. The Old Methodist Church and Carriage House cast the past into the present.
The town museum also draws attention, as its walls are made from various native rocks of the valley, including obsidian and fossils encased in rock homes. Inside, the chronicles of the past century fill the walls and display cases. A rare ceremonial white deer skin, gold mining tools and household items of pioneers are windows into earlier lifestyles. Small children touch the Rain Rock outside the museum, where Native Americans once pounded holes in the rock to call the rain, and then covered the rock to stop it.
Nothing remains of the fort. A quick half-mile trip south on Highway 3 to East Side Road finds a lonely sentinel at the site, a historical marker, summing up the brief history of the U.S. Army’s presence. Those who served here moved to the great conflict of the War Between the States. Yet almost 150 years later, Fort Jones is a place of delightful wonder. If Grant had taken his command, perhaps he would have thought of this place when he said, “Let us have peace.”