The mysterious town of Callahan, CA

by Paul Reichow on August 20, 2009

Side view of Callahan Ranch Hote

Side view of Callahan Ranch Hote












The tiny town of Callahan, population 50, is located about 30 miles west of Mt. Shasta, CA.  Normally, such a small town would not gather much interest, but if you ever happen to be passing through on Hwy 3, Callahan is worth checking out.  It’s one of the strangest places you’ll ever see.

Callahan is a ghost town in the making:  in the town center, many of the buildings are boarded up or falling apart.  The gold-rush era brick Wells Fargo bank building sits empty with steel plates covering the window openings.

The town’s main store Farrington’s closed a couple years ago.   But if you peek in the window, the inside looks exactly like the shopkeeper left it on the day they decided not to open.  The inventory is gone, but the cash register and all the other shelving fixtures are still intact.   A notepad with some handwritten notes sits on the counter…one of many signs of a hasty departure.

The stately Callahan Ranch Hotel (picture above), built in 1854, sits vacant as it has for decades.  If you get close enough, you can see box springs in some of the rooms, the mattresses have long rotted away.   All these things remain as silent witnesses to a time long gone.

Callahan MapThings weren’t always this way. Callahan was once a booming town at the southern end of Scott Valley, founded around 1852 by a merchant by the name of Mathias Bernard Callahan.

Legend says that while crossing the river, his pregnant wife fell off her horse and was rescued by an Indian, but went into premature labor and gave birth to a son.  The Callahans stayed in the area, and bought a lodge nearby to provide food and lodging for travelers on the stage line between Oregon and California.

A gold rush in the area followed, leading to many people moving to the area.  The nearby towns of Etna and Fort Jones were founded.  After the gold rush died out, many stayed in the area and a ranching boom took off.  The town remained a vibrant community for many decades until the main north-south routes of travel moved to the east on Highway 99, and later Interstate 5.

Despite the building closures and setbacks, Callahan is not dead yet: the town bar is still open, and an adjacent store called the Emporium is still open.   A small sign across the street advertises a local lawyer.

I stood in the middle of Hwy 3 taking pictures in the bright sunshine.  It’s quite a stretch calling it a highway…it’s only a two lane paved road with a yellow center stripe.  Whether it is a highway or road, I had no worry about being hit by traffic.  During the twenty minutes I was there, only a single car drove by.

Gasping from the heat, I looked around for a convenience store.  I saw that one of the buildings called the Callahan Emporium had signs of life, and went in to buy a cold bottled water.

The place was stuffy and hot from the August heat, and a floor fan buzzed nosily near the door.   Besides the toilet paper and the canned food for sale, a surprising amount of shelf place held miscellaneous old and trinkets for sale…the kind that can be found in your grandparent’s attic.

Muted voices could be heard from the side, and I realized that the bar next door was connected directly to the store by a walkway.  I walked into the bar and saw a couple guys in their 20′s at the counter drinking beers.

Walking back outside, I saw a community message board covered with notes and things for sale.  One note mentioned a half steer for sale, another was selling a bike for $10.

Looking across the street to the Callahan Ranch Hotel, I wondered what kept the last remnants of this town alive.

This is what ghost towns must be like in their final days before they become actual ghost towns.  Who makes the decision to be the last to turn off the lights for good?


Callahan Ranch Hotel, 1937

Interesting Factiod: Callahan has a claim to fame:  the fight scene from the 1978 made-for-TV western “Standing Tall” (starring Chuck Connors and Linda Evans) was shot in the bar here.

By the way; the Callahan Emporium has a number of positive reviews on Yelp.  Evidently their BLT’s are to die for:


{ 72 comments… read them below or add one }

Mildred (Wright) Hunt August 30, 2015 at 9:09 am

Love Callahan, it is my home town. It is wonderful to read all about the nice things people are saying. I still have a lot of family living there.

John Dillman August 30, 2015 at 11:28 am

My family (Dillman, Timmons, Browne) has a long history with Callahan and Etna. My brother Jim and I grew up on a small ranch near Fay Lane, now owned by Carl Hammond. After the death of our father, Bob, our mother (LaVerne Timmons-Dillman), remarried, and in 1954 we moved to Alaska. Our mother is buried in the Cemetery above Callahan. I haven’t visited Callahan in several decades. It’s time to go back. Thanks for this site.

Judy McCulough Gay August 30, 2015 at 3:05 pm

I was raised in the Callahan area for the first 13 years of my life, lived at the ranger station, and on Masterson Route which used to be called grouse creek road. My mother, grace McCullough (still going strong at 96) worked at the Emporium for several years, also worked at a fire lookout for the forest service. Had a brother Bobby, and three sisters, DeAnne (deceased), Mona and Linda. I love this little town and would love to live there again but at 72 years of age will probably not happen. My cousin Carl Martin still lives up Masterson Route. Wonderful people and wonderful memories

Kristi August 30, 2015 at 5:02 pm

Sandie, It looks like you didn’t get an answer to your question yet, so here it is…. About an hour to the nearest hospital either by going through Etna and Fort Jones to Yreka or over Gazelle Mountain, to either Yreka or Mt Shasta. The same for most doctors. There is a clinic in Etna and a dr and a dentist in Fort Jones, as well as Quartz Valley. There are small stores in Etna and Fort Jones, but most people do their shopping in Yreka or go to Medford, OR, for their bigger shopping trips. Medford is a little over 2 hours away. (Also the site of the nearest commercial airport)

Forest Sidebottom August 31, 2015 at 12:11 am

Lived there for several years in the big 2 story house on the hill across from the church. Beautiful little town to grow up in. Haunted as hell for sure known by personal experience

A.A.P August 31, 2015 at 1:26 am

If you do not mind, I am able to answer the questions you posed to Corina.
There are no medical services in town and the nearest medical services are in Etna which is 12 miles away. There are two choices for hospitals, each roughly an hour away, one in Yreka and another in Mt. Shasta.
The nearest grocery store and general needs shopping is also in Etna, as is the nearest gas station. Fran at the Emporium has many essentials also, and can get anything you need if asked, and her prices are very reasonable!
Mr. Ernest Hayden, author of “Along Our History’s Trail”, recalls a story to the readers of above mentioned book about a turn of the century fiddling miner who stated, “Callahan is a strong man’s weakness.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself, and that quote gives an idea of what life is like living here.

Deanna August 31, 2015 at 9:43 am

My mother’s family is from this area. I can remember going to (I think it was called) Callahan days. They had a parade, music and my aunt would be a can can girl! Callahan and the surrounding area is a great place to visit and for me it represents family!

Dick Cowardin August 31, 2015 at 6:57 pm

The Siskiyou century passes through Callahan and is held the week end after labor day. Great ride.

Shannon Bryan August 31, 2015 at 11:09 pm

Oh yes, the Callahan Jubilee…..Can Can Girls kickin up their fishnet stocking covered legs on the stage in front of the Emporium….circa 1970….magic! (I was four or five years old, so my memory may be faulty on the location of the girls, but they were there in their fabulous costumes, and I wanted to be a Can Can Girl so badly!) …. so we are loving the show and suddenly shots were fired!! Cowboys from both directions came thundering in a horseback from all directions! Dust was flying, people were shouting, the hero wearing a white hat leapt down from his steed, guns holstered, he was waiting for his foe, the Black Bart of Callahan was approaching at a gallop from the west! I couldn’t believe what I saw! “Mommy!! That’s Daddy!! He’s not really the bad guy is he?.” There was no time for discussion, the scene played out in front of my four year old eyes… daddy leapt of his horse, cigarette clenched in his teeth, black hat low over his eyes, spurs ticking on the road as he paced toward White Hat, absolute silence from the crowd. his hands hovered over his holstered pistols …. But White hat was the good guy! Shots were fired! (Blanks) …my daddy went down, blood spurting from his chest! (Ketchup)…..and I exploded in hysterical agony. My poor mom……she had to explain… was all a show! he isnt the bad guy! Daddy isnt dead! Which was true, because he got up after the applause ended and walked over to me and my mom, So he wasn’t really dead, he he was still my very alive dad, and he tucked me in to bed that night with a lovely story and a kiss on my forehead. And after that, I REALLY wanted to be a Can-can girl.

Jae September 1, 2015 at 3:08 am

Sandie. The closest hospital would be Yreka or Mt Shasta. A good hour either direction. Doctor is in Etna during the day, 15 minutes away.
You can buy through the Emporium, Etna or Weed or further either direction depending on what you want to buy.
And there was a local indie film, Heathens and Thieves that had scenes filmed in the Callahan Grange. There will also be films shown at the grange this Sept during the first Scott Valley Flixx Festival.

wayne September 1, 2015 at 9:20 am

the population is more like 250 i don’t know where you are getting your imformation.

Shannon September 1, 2015 at 9:33 am

Sandie, we have a health clinic in Etna, 12 miles north of Callahan. We have three grocery stores in Scott Valley. Sadly, they just broke ground for a Dollar General. Nearest hospitals are Yreka and Mt. Shasta.

Barbara Grimes September 1, 2015 at 10:47 am

We’ve lived in Etna for 38 years and have been to and through Callahan many times. Last year we stopped in Callahan, while showing the valley to out of town friends. I bought three pair of earrings at the Emporium, made from gold that was mined there. Very nice jewelry and the granddaughters loved them for Christmas. Our kids, three boys and a girl, all went to school here and all went to good colleges, thanks to the great schools in Etna.

Linda September 1, 2015 at 2:48 pm

The Ewell and Virginia Baker farm house by the river that Mona Nunley spoke of was my Great GrandParents, Charles Aka Chub and Clara Ferguson’s original ranch when they came to Callahan as pioneers. My mother grew up in Callahan! I have nothing but the best memories of that beautiful town. The Farrington’s store, the Emporium, the town dances etc. It may not be the gold rush town of the past but it is still very much alive with many great families still living where their ancestors lived and work!

tina ilano (henson) September 1, 2015 at 3:42 pm

So crazy I grew up there and don’t remember this town. I so want to go back and hold this old towns hand. Let her die with love.

Gary Thomas September 2, 2015 at 6:00 am

You gotta love responsible journalism.
This idiot reporter “if you wanna call her that” decided to go to a random town and talk a certain amount of trash about something she had no idea about. Not one single question was asked from the town’s population, this story is pure speculation and a horrible shot in the dark. Your journalism is a disgrace, for future reference, please take any pens or pencils, your laptop, tour typewriter and your smart phone and gently toss them into the largest and deepest body of ocean you can find. You are a disgrace to anything positive.
Not one single person living in this town was interviewed.

Craig September 2, 2015 at 12:37 pm

What happened to the annual summer Callahan Jubilee? Once a year there was a crazy street celebration there, and street party that lasted all weekend. Does anyone remember? It was crazy… unreal… the old west!!!


Cindy Mills (Williams) September 2, 2015 at 2:55 pm

I remember Callahans back in the 60′s thru 80′s. The last time I was there was in 2004 for the Wolford familly reunion. We would usually go up once or twice a year to see our grandparents. Grandpa Lawerence Wolford had a big cattle ranch on the old road outside of town. The ranch is still working today by my cousin. It was a wonderful old town to visit and to this day I love old country towns. Miss the old way of life. Hope to visit the valley next summer its been to long.

Emmett Markulis September 2, 2015 at 3:17 pm

I was born in an old house in Callahan in 1976.
Very proud of that. My father was a rancher whom worked fro Frank Hayden and my mother helped on the property.
Callahan is my home.

Pamela Junkans September 4, 2015 at 6:54 pm

We were just there last month, when we were kids Grandpa Lawrence would take us into town for a few hours while we were up there, fond memories of the place. Betty Wolford was my mother.

Lee Crouch September 22, 2015 at 11:18 am

Punky Hayden, I’m trying to locate a cousin named Ed Begley. He might be about your age and attended Callahan School. Do you know him or remember him? Any info might be helpful.
Thank you,

Lee Crouch

Paul Reichow October 5, 2015 at 2:30 pm

Hey Gary;
I’m not talking any trash about Callahan…this story is just creative writing…Callahan is a beautiful place that evoked alot of emotions as I stood on Hwy 3…no offense meant to anyone who lives there.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: