The very stones of Mt. Shasta vibrate with the hopes, dreams, triumphs, and heartaches of those who’ve climbed its 14,179’ peak. No story, however, is more unusual than that of Tom Watson’s and the horse Jump-Up’s 1903 ascent.

The very stones of Mt. Shasta vibrate with the hopes, dreams, triumphs, and heartaches of those who’ve climbed its 14,179’ peak. No story, however, is more unusual than that of Tom Watson’s and the horse Jump-Up’s 1903 ascent.

“It was a way for the muleskinner to get some drinking money and it was his only chance at fame,” laughed Perry Sims, Mount Shasta’s co-city historian who has an encyclopedic knowledge of Sisson history from 1887 to 1924. “It was a publicity stunt that paid off; photographs made into postcards became a source of income for him.”

The unlikely story of a horse ascending the mountain began in 1883 when Watson took the first mule, Croppie, to the summit as part of a federal government geological survey. “Tom knew he could get a four-legger up there; his dream for the next 20 years was to do it with a horse.”

Summiting with a horse was a popular dream, dating back to 1879, prompting all sorts of media coverage. In 1892, on his way up the mountain, Sisson Mascot editor Richard Beers Loos stopped at a horse corral, took a hidden quantity of ‘animal evidence’ in his camera case, then scattered it around the summit. He waited until climbers claimed that a horse had reached the top, then reported the event as fact!”

Between 1895-96, Watson, among several others, repeatedly attempted a horse summit. He claimed success, but lacked the requisite photographic proof. So the race to reach the top continued.

“Watson planned the 1903 stunt because of the Signal atop the mountain,” Sims noted. “It was the only mountain in the west where you could prove that you’d been there. The first 1903 climbers warned that the Signal would fall because it badly leaned, so Watson had a deadline.”

Actually, Watson, William Beem, and Alice Cousins atop Jump-Up summited twice that September. Little is reported about the first event; unfortunately every photo plate documenting their trip was blank. Three weeks later, they climbed again.

Sims noted, “A group left Dunsmuir in a three seated surrey; Jump-Up followed behind. They left the rig in McCloud then continued on horseback to the timberline and made camp. September 23rd, they rode horses to 13,000’, often dismounting to help the horses cross the difficult terrain.”

“They crossed 900’ of high angle ice above South Glacier, then continued to The Slide. Cousins dismounted and for four and a half hours, Watson coaxed Jump-Up up the 250’ of talus and scree hanging at the maximum angle of repose. Though the climb then eased, they had to lift the horse over many spots to reach the top.”

William Valentine took the summit photos of Watson, William B. Beem, and Alice Cousins atop Jump-Up. All were clustered around the summit.

Jump-Up was quite the horse, Sims noted. He was known as a rattlesnake alarm; when he heard a snake, he posed like a bird dog until the snake was destroyed.  His nickname was Jumping Joe because he loved jumping over logs blocking trails. The horses rented for outings were tied nose to tail to Jump-Up so he would lead them home. “He never failed to return them all to the barn,” Sims smiled.

Though Watson continued to work as a guide until he was at least 29 years old, the 1903 summit was his crowning achievement.  Because he never signed the summit register though he summited several times, Sims believed he was illiterate. His love of alcohol got him into trouble; one time, when inebriated, he stole $10.25 from a friend, which earned him 38 months in the Folsom Prison.

Although the legendary ascent was successful, the climb was not without cost. Sadly, Jump-Up could hardly walk when he returned to the Dunsmuir stables. Soon after the climb, he was chloroformed to end his suffering.

In 1936, the Watson climb made the big time when William Christman sent a copy of the photograph to the editor of Ripley’s Believe it or Not. However, many claimed it was impossible to get a horse up the last hundred yards of the climb, so Ripley demanded proof that it could be done.

Sisson pioneer John M. Schuler, his son, John W., and Dunsmuir Reverend Henry Rische took Bronco Ben to Mt. Shasta’s peak. They used still and motion picture cameras to document their success. Fortunately, Bronco Ben fared better than Jump-Up; he was driven from and to the stables and lived to a ripe old age, Sims noted.

The first climbers to reach the summit in 1904 found that the Signal had in fact fallen, Sims said. “Jump-Up, Watson, Cousins, Beem, and Valentine had the last opportunity to use the tower for their backdrop,” he smiled. “It was quite an achievement, becoming one of Mt. Shasta’s most unusual legends.”

Perry Sims, Mount Shasta's history detective

One hundred years hence, researchers will likely consider Perry Sims a Mt. Shasta legend.

The town’s co-city historian is an expert on Sisson’s history from 1887 to 1924. He modestly admits he has researched the town, its families, its legends and lore for 38 years. “One of the first photos I bought from the museum in 1972 made me want to know all about the people who lived here and their stories,” Sims smiled. “And boy, are there a lot!”

“What I have, I’m told, is a magnificent obsession about our town and its history,” he laughed. “I track down families, photographs, journals; I interview the great, and the great-great, and the great-great-great grandchildren of our first pioneers. I know all about our murderers, including the first murderer. I know about the suicides, the drunks, the prostitutes, the politicians, the business folks, the stars. I’ve tracked down pieces of family history that most thought were lost. I know the layout of streets from the beginning to today.”

“I am very passionate about Sisson history,” Sims chuckled. “I’ve even written the History Detectives TV Show to see if they could solve one of our mysteries. I promised them if they could, I would cry on the show.”

Sims has recently opened up a Yahoo group called Siskiyou Historians. “It’s a clearing house for people interested in local history. And a database where people can enter their names if they’d like to speak about our history,” he said. “I’m very hopeful that people will get involved with our research using that base.”

Despite his great love for Mt. Shasta’s history, Sims is looking for someone who would also carry the torch for its past. “I’m a 68 year old cancer survivor, and I’m getting close to thinking I’ve done as much as I can do,” he sighed. “I have files and files of information that need to be entered into a database, and I’m looking, really, for someone who would put all that information into a searchable database.”

Nonetheless, Sims continues to write articles about the stories he’s discovered. “I dream, too, of writing a book, the definitive Sisson history,” he admitted.

“Some say I’m obsessed with our history because I have to know every single detail about people, places, and things, and I pursue every possible angle to get answers.” His friends, in fact, have dubbed him a ‘micro historian.’ “Some of them even call me a nano-historian, but I think that’s going overboard,” he laughed. “Maybe.”

“I came to Siskiyou County in 1944 as a one year old and came back in 1972 in my VW bug full of Mother Earth News. Forty years later, I have a beautiful garden and greenhouse, and a great love of this town and its very rich, vital history. I guess I’ve become Mt. Shasta’s History Detective, and that’s quite an honor.”