The Yurok Tribe had long lived along the banks of the Klamath River by the time European and American explorers found the waterway. Those included a group of miners aboard the Cameo on its second voyage exploring the Northcoast in 1850.
The vessel docked and the group sought the mouth of the Klamath River. The Yuroks helped the explorers across the river and the group claimed land on its south bank.
A gold rush to the region would disrupt salmon spawning in the waterway that the Yurok depended on. The name Klamath comes from the word Tlamatl, that means swiftness in Chinook.
In March 1850 a vessel built in Baltimore, Md., sailed along the Northern California coast in search of an entrance to the Lost Coast. The Laura Virginia, captained by Lt. Douglass Ottinger, left San Francisco and sailed northward looking for Humboldt Bay.
They passed the entrance to the bay due to the shape of the coastline and the sea crashing into the breakers, however. On their northbound voyage past Humboldt Bay, Ottinger and his crew reconnoitered – or inspected – the coast from Cape Mendocino to Point St. George.
While in the area of what is now Crescent City, they discovered the Paragon, a 125-ton fishing boat from San Francisco, stranded on the beach. The wreckage of the Paragon is considered the first vessel to be lost along the Del Norte Coast.
A few days after finding the Paragon, the Laura Virginia turned southward, eventually “finding” the mouth of the Klamath River. Ottinger’s second officer H.H. Buhne was deployed in a small boat to inspect the river, though he did not attempt to cross it or move upstream.
From Buhne’s mission, Ottinger reported: “The Klamath is a river of considerable magnitude … with but few little breakers on its bar … This stream, I have no doubt, can be safely entered by vessels of 50 or 100 tons, and rafts of timber floated to ships outside where the anchorage is good …”
From the Klamath, the Laura Virgina continued south until stumbling upon the elusive entrance to Humboldt Bay. Ottinger named the bay after Baron Alexander von Humboldt, a German naturalist, geographer and explorer.
The sailors on the Laura Virginia then named themselves the Laura Virginia Association and began settling the area. Within four days of discovering the bay, Warnersville was founded with Arcata and Eureka soon to follow.