The Last Lynching in California – January 6, 1947 Callahan, Siskiyou County

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The students arrived at Callahan Grade School in Siskiyou County, on a cold winter morning just like any other school day. But January 6, 1947 was different.  Strung up on the telephone pole in front of the school was the body of an African-American man with calfskin wrapped around his shoulders.  Bullet holes could be seen on the bloodstained man.

All eight grades attended the same one-room school, and the children were ushered into the school by the teacher as the police and coroner’s van arrived.  An hour or so later, a young boy went outside to use the outhouse and bumped into a tall man wearing a suit and a cowboy hat.   The first grader asked the man what had happened.  “That’s to teach you kids what happens when you rustle cattle,” he replied.

The teacher of Callahan School later told her pupils, “You are never again to talk about what had happened here today.”

On Friday, January 10, 1947 the Western Sentinel newspaper carried a front-page story about the lynching of the African-American butcher from Weed, California.   A few days later, the Etna Gazette carried the story about a butcher who was lynched after being caught stealing a calf. Soon afterwards, all the copies of the Sunday, January 12, 1947 issue of the Etna Gazette and all the copies of the January 10th issues of the Western Sentinel disappeared, including the Siskiyou County Library’s copy, and so details of this lynching are scarce.

What we do know is that in the early morning hours of January 6, 1947, near Gazelle in Southern Siskiyou County, California, a small mob of local ranchers shot, wounded and captured a suspected cattle rustler on a ranch owned by a well-known Yreka medical doctor. 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.  A cover-up was conspired by the so-called respected citizens of Gazelle, who with the help of local authorities managed to remove all documented evidence about the lynching.  Chances are good that at the time of this writing, some of the people involved are still alive and living in the area.

It was the last known lynching in California.