As It Was: Indian Killer Builds Kelsey National Recreation Trail

Sep 17, 2018

As Western gold miners moved inland, expanding their reach from coastal ports, it became necessary to build supply trails.

In 1853, Crescent City, Calif., officials saw promise in connecting the port to Yreka.  At the time, it was taking months to get supplies to the short-lived Fort Jones and Yreka.  The route from Humboldt Bay to Shasta City and up the Sacramento Valley, covered about 250 miles, a distance that could be reduced to 100 miles by a new trail.

The man they chose to oversee the project lived along the Klamath River and claimed he knew the shortest distance between the two cities.  However, “Indian Killer” Ben Kelsey was a wanted man.  He and his followers faced murder and arson charges following a genocidal spree among California coastal Indians. 

Kelsey had escaped north where he became a land speculator before going broke.  Regardless, he was hired.  He recruited Chinese laborers to help build the trail in 1855.

For 25 years, mule teams took three-week treks across the Siskiyou Wilderness to sustain the inland miners.  The route still exists as the Kelsey National Recreation Trail on geological survey maps.
 

Sources:  Parker, Ph.D., John. "The Kelsey Brothers: A California Disaster." Academia.edu, edited by Richard Price, CEO, 1 Dec. 2012, www.academia.edu/5539505/The_Kelsey_Brothers_A_California_Disaster. Accessed 20 Aug. 2018; Evans, Barry. "The Kelsey Trail." North Coast Journal, 20 Nov. 2014, www.northcoastjournal.com/humboldt/the-kelsey-trail/Content?oid=2766886. Accessed 20 Aug. 2018.