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As It Was: Ingenuity Delivers Mail in 1920 Siskiyou Winter

The winter of 1920 in Siskiyou County, Calif., was destined to become a severe one.

By mid-November, travel over Salmon Mountain was closed to trucks and cars.  When it became impassible for horses and mules, backpacked men on skis carried the mail over the summit.
When mail accumulated at the Etna Post Office, Bill Smith and John Ahlgren, held a conference on New Year’s Eve.  Because the deep snow had become frozen, they figured they could  load five mules with light packs and follow two horses shod with “snow shoes” to the summit for transfer to a “side-hill sled” that the two men would navigate down to the Springs on the Salmon River.  From there, mules would pack the load to Snowden for delivery by stage to Sawyers Bar and Forks of the Salmon, where mules would deliver it to Somes Bar, the end of the line.

Within three days, the mail was delivered and the return mail headed back to Etna. 

One old-timer speculated that 1920 was the worst winter since the epic one of 1889-90.


Source: McNeill, Jim. "The Mail Carriers." Siskiyou Pioneer, vol. 3, no. No 5, 1961, pp. 56-59.

Gail Fiorini-Jenner is a writer and teacher. Her first novel "Across the Sweet Grass Hills", won the 2002 WILLA Literary Award. She co-authored four histories with Arcadia Publishing: Western Siskiyou County: Gold & Dreams, Images of the State of Jefferson, The State of Jefferson: Then & Now, which placed in the 2008 Next Generation Awards for Nonfiction and Postcards from the State of Jefferson.