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Man recalls Siskiyou County lynching

California's last lynching seems to have occurred in 1947 in nearby Callahan. The Internet contains very few details, partly because it claims that all copies of the local newspaper covering the story were destroyed, including copies from the Siskiyou Public Library. The victim of this crime was black, so I was wondering if this was racially motivated, or what other details you might be able to provide.

— Steve I., by email.

Steve, there are quite a few reports about the Callahan lynching online, but some very basic facts are missing, including the dead man's name. Some of that is probably due to the fact that, as you noted, copies of the newspapers that carried the story were confiscated and destroyed. But, drawing from a number of sources, including a man who said he saw the body hanging when he came to school on the morning of Jan. 6, 1947, we can give you the outlines of the story.

In a copyrighted post, Edward J. Begley said he was 6 years old when he and his classmates arrived at the Callahan schoolhouse to find the body of a black man hanging from a utility pole. Begley said in his post that "a small mob of local ranchers wounded and captured a suspected cattle rustler on a ranch owned by a well known Yreka medical doctor near Gazelle in Southern Siskiyou County, California. From there the black man was taken to the village of Callahan and hanged from the utility pole in front of Callahan's one room school house."

Begley said he was in the first grade at the time, "and lived six miles down the Scott River from Callahan, across the road from Clyde Munsen's sawmill." The small community of Callahan is about 13 miles south of Etna on Highway 3 and about 25 miles west of Weed as the crow flies.

Begley said when he went outside to use the outhouse that morning, he asked a man wearing "a suit and a cowboy hat" what had happened and the man replied, "That's to teach you kids what happens when you rustle cattle."

Begley said the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Department and California State Police responded to the scene and the county coroner removed the victim's body "just as Miss Mary Roff's students were allowed outside for first recess."

He said that on Jan. 10, 1947, the (Etna/Scott Valley) Western Sentinel newspaper carried a front page story about the lynching of a butcher from Weed, Calif., but that in the ensuing weeks an effort was made to "recover" all the copies of that paper "and the school students were told that they were never to discuss the incident again."

There is no evidence one way or the other to indicate whether the lynching was racially motivated although there appear to be no stories of white cattle rustlers being strung up. The details have been lost to time and an apparently effective cover-up. No one was ever arrested in the case.

Begley's story is corroborated on numerous other websites. To check out more details, search online for "Callahan California lynching." 

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