Mark Twain’s Hilarious Account of the Naming of Yreka, California

Although many people believe the town of Yreka was named after the Shasta Indian Tribe's word for "white mountain," Mark Twain has a different account of the story

The small town of Yreka, California, sitting just to the north of the mighty Mount Shasta, has a prominent history in the early settlings of Northern California. Many people believe that the town is named after the Shasta Indian Tribe’s word “Yreka” meaning “north mountain” or “white mountain.”

This is the most probable source of the name of the town, but according to American literary legend Mark Twain, there was a different reason the town bares that name.

The original Yreka Bakery was founded in the town by Frederick Deng in 1856. Early on, the townspeople realized that the name of the business was a palindrome, meaning that it is spelled the same way forward and backwards. In fact, a Yreka Bakery advertisement that was placed in the Yreka Semi-Weekly Journal in 1863 read “spell Yreka Bakery backwards and you will know where to get a good loaf of bread.”

In Twain’s autobiography, he had a different story of the naming of the town:

“Harte had arrived in California in the [eighteen-]fifties, twenty-three or twenty-four years old, and had wandered up into the surface diggings of the camp at Yreka, a place which had acquired its mysterious name ”when in its first days it much needed a name” through an accident. There was a bakeshop with a canvas sign which had not yet been put up but had been painted and stretched to dry in such a way that the word BAKERY, all but the B, showed through and was reversed. A stranger read it wrong end first, YREKA, and supposed that that was the name of the camp. The campers were satisfied with it and adopted it.”

It has to be mentioned that Mark Twain was a well-known satirist. It’s entirely possible that upon learning of the catchy palindrome, Twain decided to create an interesting story in the naming of the town.

Although Mark Twain’s entertaining accounts of history are never necessarily based in fact, he always seemed to make everything fun. And in this story, the town of Yreka was based off of a palindrome of the word bakery. Now that’s a good story.

Active NorCal

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