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Last of the cattle drives, circa 1950s?

Our Economy

Cattle and the railroad combined to start Montague off on a strong foot economically. Located along trails that had been used for years by Indians and trappers, the first big cattle drive passed through the Montague area in 1837, with Ewing Young driving 630 head of cattle through to Oregon. Six years later Joseph Gale and company drove 1,250 cattle, 600 horses and mules, and 3,000 sheep through to Oregon. Homesteaders followed, settling in the Shasta Valley in the early 1850s and 1860s.


Montague itself was a child of the railroad. The Central Pacific Railroad built its line through the area to connect San Francisco and Portland and founded the City of Montague in a central location in the Shasta Valley. Land for the new town was donated by the Shasta Land and Cattle Company and by C.C. Webb, a landowner and sheep rancher. The tracks were completed on February 8, 1887 and Central Pacific's subsidiary conducted a huge promotional campaign, advertising in a San Francisco newspaper:

                        AUCTION SALE OF LOTS.
IN THE TOWN OF MONTAGUE, SISKIYOU County, California. Grand Railroad Excursion. Sale to take place SATURDAY, April 23d, 1887, at 10 A.M. A Special Train, with Restaurant, Dining and Pullman Sleeping Cars attached, will leave San Francisco, FRIDAY, April 22d, at 7 P.M. Returning, will leave Montague, SUNDAY afternoon, arriving in San Francisco early MONDAY morning. Three Days' Excursion Tickets, including Berth in Sleeper, Thirteen Dollars—($13.) For maps and further information, address F.S. DOUTY, Pacific Improvement Co., San Francisco.

Two saloons, two restaurants, a store, a stagecoach barn and the railroad depot went up before the auction even happened. Over a thousand people showed up for the auction, about 300 on the excursion train and the other 700 from the local towns of Yreka and Fort Jones and the Little Shasta and Montague areas. Thirty-four lots were sold in what the local newspaper called a lively sale, with the excursionists being the heartiest purchasers. Many of the successful bidders were Little Shasta farmers who stood to benefit greatly from having a shipping center nearby for their livestock. They bought lots and constructed buildings to lease out. Yreka merchants also bought property and opened branch stores.


After the auction the town grew like wildfire and soon became an important shipping center, with large herds of cattle, sheep, horses and hogs from the surrounding country, Butte Valley, southeastern Oregon and Scott Valley staying overnight at nearby ranches or in cattle corrals until railroad cars could take them to market. As many as 1,600 carloads of cattle were shipped in one season.


The new city's economy revolved around cowboys and cattle drives, with hotels and rooming houses springing up to house and feed them. Recreation, too, centered around cowboys, as one girl described it:

When cowboys drove cattle to Montague to be shipped they whooped it up all night, going from one saloon to another; they would sing all night. There were lots of saloons. You could hear the cattle in the pens bawling and the bells ringing (the leaders often had bells on).

Shipping livestock was not the only basis of this boomtown's economy. Besides the normal support businesses like dry goods stores, garages, drug stores and doctors' offices, there was a flour mill and two other large factories. A box factory made wooden boxes for packing fruits and vegetables, employing 100 men. And for recreation, an opera house held plays; every year the circus came to town by railroad; a community hall held dances.


Montague's thriving economy and bustling town life did not last, however. First to go were the cattle drives, with the advent of the trucking industry. A truck can pull up and load cattle at the ranch itself. The railroad continued to haul propane and timber products from nearby mills, but in 2008 the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad (CORP) closed the Siskiyou Line that went through Montague and up over the Siskiyou mountains to Oregon.


With the backing of the transportation departments of Oregon and California, southern Oregon counties, Siskiyou County, and private industry, CORP has gotten a $7 million grant to repair and improve the Siskiyou Line to accomodate 286,000 pound rail cars, which will revitalize rail infrastructure in the region and provide a boost to local economies.


Besides the promise of restoring rail transport, Montague is six miles from Interstate 5 and has a small airport that UPS flies into daily. But what really attracts businesses to this small city with a larger than life Western history are the economies of land prices/leases and other incentives available to businesses locating here. Take a look at the "Success Stories" tab.

City Hall Hours
Monday - Friday

7:30 A.M. to 3:00 P.M.
Phone: (530) 459-3030

After Hours Emergency

Phone: (530) 598-1020

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