Native Americans have lived in the Salmon River watershed for several thousand years. The Karuk, Shasta, and Konomihu Tribes all inhabited the area.
The Salmon River remains culturally significant to the Shasta and Karuk people, some of whom continue to reside on the river. Sixty seven percent of the watershed is in the Karuk Tribe’s Ancestral Territory and the remainder is within the ancestral territoyry of the Shasta Tribe. The Konomuhu Tribe was fairly small and was eliminated by genocide in the early days of the Gold Rush.
The Karuk know the area at the confluence of the Salmon and Klamath Rivers as Katamin, the “Center of the World”. The tribe’s World Renewal ceremonies continue to be held at Katamin. Salmon, or “Ama” in the Karuk language, was and still is a major source of food for the Karuk and other Tribes in the area.
The discovery of gold triggered a substantial European, Chinese, and Euro-American emigration to the Salmon River beginning in the summer of 1850. Gold miners first settled at Bestville Flat on the North Fork Salmon, immediately downstream from Sawyers Bar.
Towns were soon established at Forks of Salmon, Cecilville, Sawyers Bar and numerous other more dispersed locations such as Black Bear Mine and Snowden. At one time the population of the Salmon River Watershed numbered several thousand. Sadly, during the mid to late 1800’s, miners and other settlers displaced, sickened, and killed a substantial portion of the Native American population.
By the 1920s, mining had declined substantially and rural life was reduced to a core of established families, many of whom had business or family connections to the nearby Scott Valley. Communities saw a small resurgence during the Great Depression when mining activities increased temporarily. Mining continued to influence the local economy into the 1990's when the last commercial gold mine closed. Most mining activity today is pursued at a part-time or hobby level by individuals.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s another small population boom occurred as “back to the land hippies” moved to the Salmon River looking for a simpler, communal way of life. Most settled at the then new Black Bear Ranch Commune, located on the ridge between the North and South Forks of the river. The commune still functions and is the longest continuously running commune in the country. Many of the original inhabitants of the Black Bear Ranch Commune still reside in the watershed as do some of their children and grandchildren.
Commercial logging of the federal lands in the watershed didn't begin until after World War II. The vast majority of logging took place between the mid-1970's and the early 1990's, fueling a local economic boom while simultaneously compromising the watershed's ecosystem and creating high fuel loads that have contributed to numerous large wildfires, most notably in 1977, 1987, 2006, 2008, 2013, and 2014.
Learn more about Salmon River history (1849-present) by viewing our multimedia Salmon River history timeline.
The Salmon River watershed is currently inhabited by an estimated 250 people with areas of population clustered around Somes Bar, Forks of Salmon, Cecilville, Sawyers Bar, and Big Flat. Almost 99% of the land is in federal ownership and is administered by the Klamath National Forest. Over 45% is federally-designated wilderness area.
Only portions of the watershed have telephone and high-speed internet service and this is provided by Siskiyou Telephone's high tech microwave relay network. There is no municipal power service on the Salmon River with the exception of the lowermost three miles of the Salmon River Road which is connected to utility lines coming up from the Klamath River corridor. The town of Sawyers Bar is the only area with municipal water service.
The watershed’s only school is the Forks of Salmon Elementary School which typically has between six and 15 students in its K-8 program.
Local employers include the Salmon River Restoration Council, Otter Bar Lodge Kayak School, the Siskiyou County Roads Department, Forks of Salmon Elementary School, and the Salmon River Outpost. Many residents support themselves through small businesses and cottage industries including wilderness guiding, art, soapmaking, music, car repair, etc.