The mysterious town of Callahan, CA

by ShastaPaul on August 20, 2009

Side view of Callahan Ranch Hote Side view of Callahan Ranch Hotel












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:


{ 44 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. I wanted to write a piece from the perspective of a motorist from another area just passing through.

Callahan is a beautiful place that evoked alot of emotions as I stood on Hwy 3. No offense meant to anyone who lives there.

Thomas Shekoyan, DDS Col, Ret. November 13, 2015 at 5:11 pm

I was married to Sharon Hertajger. We have one son Mark Thomas Shekoyan, PhD. Univ of Oregon. Mark just bought a home in Portland close to his mother( about an hour away). We still have our condo in Eugene. The Hertajger’s owned the saw mill (Callahan) and planning mill in Yreka. It’s beautiful country.

Ben Wright November 30, 2015 at 1:02 pm

Don’t forget about the lynching in ’47.

sherry March 7, 2016 at 9:59 am

I’m sure everyone would like to FORGET about the “lynching” in ’47. What a horrible thing to bring up. I’m sure everyone that was involved is DEAD NOW, so why must you be so unkind. Lynching’s happened all over this UNITED STATES , DEAR. Get over it. MOVE ON.

Linda H March 18, 2016 at 12:39 pm

I love the little town of Callahan. My husband and I first came upon it in 1993 right after visiting the Forest Station that precedes the small town, as we stopped there to inquire about a great place to backpack on our honeymoon. I had never backpacked and the rangers told us about the trail to the South Fork Lakes, where we spent 9 days, 6 of them all to ourselves. It was spectacular, so much so that it became our favorite place to go as an anniversary celebration. The charm of the little town of Callahan grew in our hearts over the years, between 1993 and 2011, as we made annual or biennial trips to the place we honeymooned, eventually bringing our one and only child, our daughter, backpacking on her first trip at just under 5. We have incredible memories. We always looked forward to our last stop before at the Emporium for anything we needed last minute on the way in, which always included a treat of maybe an It’s It, popsicle, or ice cream bar, along with a drink before embarking on our trail venture. And with great anticipation, it was our first stop on our way home after leaving the trailhead, where I would get another It’s It and this time tall bottle of iced-cold Pale Ale. Yum! We would chat with the amicable owner for a spell, bid her adieu until next year, take a few pictures to add into our memory book, and continue our journey to Willits for our next stop at Round Table where we would gorge on a large thick-crust pizza–our first oven cooked meal in days–and, well, a little more beer. Awwww, good times. Thank you, Callahan, for beings such a special part of our memories that we look back foodly upon. We miss you!

Linda H April 15, 2016 at 9:12 am

Whoops! Correction to my above post. Our journey was to Weaverville after Callahan. Silly me. 🙂

Darcie May 20, 2016 at 12:42 am

I’ve just been cruising over google maps and came across Callahan. I’ve been reading all I can find about this quaint town. I’d love to visit here someday, maybe even buy some beautiful property! It was fun and enlightening to read all your memories of this town! Hope I can read more!

Stephen Goode July 30, 2016 at 7:17 pm

I happened upon this site being curious about an Antique Radio. I’ve had in in storage for years and decided to fire it up. A sticker on the inside says” Mary Davis phone# 24F5 Callahan, Calif.” in faded blue ink on a yellowing Zenith sticker. The radio is almost mint condition “Zenith Transoceanic” it is a 1954 model, complete with the original owners manual (a rarity its self). Any relatives still around? I live in the San Joaquin Valley I was in Yreka once never heard of Callahan.

Keith Kays September 3, 2016 at 5:42 pm

I lived in Callahan from about one year old until about ten. I lived in one of the building picture, shopped at the Farrington Store, and the Emporium. Went to the one room school house, which I believe is now the lawyers office. I know many of the people who are mentioned in the above posts, and went to school with many. As I moved to the middle of the valley and lived there for a couple of years before moving on to Etna. I completed schooling there while working summers on many of the cattle/farming ranches in the are. I still visit as often as I can and do attend the High School reunions in Etna most every year. I am mad of the stuff of that Valley, plan to be buried there along side my parents.

Keith Kays September 4, 2016 at 4:15 pm

Re reading what I wrote noted several sp errors etc. …but will leave it alone at this point…..would very much like to make contact with any and all who would be interested. Thanks, Blessings

Rob Hackworthy October 19, 2016 at 1:37 pm

Worked as a Firefighter at the Station – USFS- In Callahan – 1978- 79- Mike Short – Engine Boss – Great Crew – Great Country – Looking forward to coming back for a visit. Base Camp in North Idaho now.Wonder if the Forest Station is still active?

Dale cramer December 2, 2016 at 3:50 pm

I have lived in the same house all my life in Callahan i was born in etna in 1957 ,my mom lived in Callahan all her life , she had a lot of pictures and history of this town and I now have all these pictures, I just want to say our town is not a ghost town . there are alot if people who have lived here all our lives , I guess not alot to some people but to us 50 people is alot and realy plenty , just right, and I just want to say that passing through. it must seem quite as the auther wrote it but to us locals who lived it and still live it we know it as very much a different place than it must seem to a passed byer , it’s nothing out of the ordenarie to us its just our town our home , kind of funny how other people perceive our town and our way of life , I guess I’ve just been in these mountains too long. Dale cramer

Nancy Steinbeck January 8, 2017 at 4:00 pm

We lived up the road from the dredger camp in 1968….a newly married hippie couple from San Francisco. My husband, Paul Harper, had lived there as a child when his father worked as a saw filer at Hertajger’s mill. Paul immediately got a job at the mill and we lived in an abandoned cabin on a mining claim.

Does anyone remember the Cox brothers, who lived at the dredger camp when they weren’t working as boilermakers? They came from Oklahoma.

There was also a couple who lived near them…the husband’s name was Tom and the wife tragically committed suicide after we left.

Callahan will always have a special place in our hearts….beautiful country and friendly people who were open-minded enough to welcome us with our long hair and hippie trappings.

Nancy Steinbeck January 9, 2017 at 4:58 pm

Does anyone remember the Cox brothers who lived at the dredger camp in 1968? They were boiler makers from Oklahoma.

There was a couple who lived near the camp…the husband’s name was Tom and his wife tragically committed suicide.

We lived up a dirt road from the camp in a cabin on a mining claim. The owner didn’t charge us rent. That whole area is very special….loved the remote beauty and friendly people. My husband, Paul Harper, lived there as a child when his father was a saw filer at Hjertager’s lumber mill. I believe Erling Hjertager hired him because he remembered my father-in-law. Your article brought back wonderful memories.

Rich schubert February 20, 2017 at 7:40 pm

My wife and I went to visit our daughter who just bought a house in Callaghan and we love the town

Rich schubert February 20, 2017 at 7:41 pm

We love the town

Steve Sheehy March 7, 2017 at 10:00 am

Does anyone know if Callahan Lava Flow in Lava Beds National Monument was named after M. B. CLlahan?

liz hodge May 2, 2017 at 3:06 pm

I would like to share some information, my dad and I just were looking at this site and love it. my parents and I lived there back in the early 80s in the old school house. my mom renee hodge at the time and my dad steve hodge kinda saved town from someone who tried to set fire to some buildings there and my mom saw some smoke and went out to see with my dad and a man was trying to set a fire from the sidewalk and they were able to find some more people and get a water hose and contact the fire dept. and they were able to put it out. The man was arrested for arson and later found out that he had set fire in other towns back then. My dad still lives in the area up on the salmon river and I will always call that my home.

Dolores June 3, 2017 at 9:09 am

Hi Dale Cramer…I don’t know if you remember me but I spent many summers with you and your family when Ruth Frank would take me to Callahan. I remember all the camping, the jubilee, cutting alfalfa, and gold panning. Great times and I think of you and your family often with fond memories!

Jeanne MAsterson September 19, 2017 at 6:21 pm

I would love any information about Callahan and Gazelle. My fathers, father I understand had the Masterson Ranch in Callahan, My father visited it shortly before passing about 20 years ago. He said their was a few locals who knew the Masterson history in the area.
Anyone who would like to share their knowledge of the history of the ranches in Callahan/Gazelle, I would love to hear from you. I do have a good deal of census information of my families history in the area and would love to learn more. Thank you!!

Jeanne MAsterson September 19, 2017 at 6:29 pm

There is a posting from “Jake Callahan” 5.11.2014 that interests me as my Masterson lineage came from Ireland to Siskou County as well. Again, anyone wanting to connect about heritage and this area. I would love to share information.

Doug Halvorsen December 3, 2017 at 12:52 pm

My wife and I spent the day in early November touring Scott Valley and visiting the towns of Fort Jones, Greenview, Etna and lastly, Callahan. As a big fan of local history, Scott Valley didn’t disappoint and we’re looking forward to a return trip next year. Callahan contains some awesome historic buildings, we only wished each building had a placard noting its history (reading about the Wells Fargo bank building was a bonus observation). The highlight of Callahan for us were the two small cemeteries located on the hill above town. We love visiting older cemeteries since they contain a wealth of history of the first settlers to town and the Catholic and Protestant cemeteries didn’t disappoint. It’s too bad we can’t post our own photos here, we took a few good pictures of Callahan.

Athena B. December 16, 2017 at 10:33 pm

While doing some family history, found a Frank Cunningham family living in Callahan in 1910 census. He was a supervisor for Shasta National Forest (not sure exactly what he did). I loved finding this story and pictures on the internet as it gives me a better picture of their life at the time and the area. Thank you for posting, even if it was just a quick, personal item!

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