Peanut: How a Postmaster's Snack Changed a California Town's Name

2 min
Peanut, California got its name when the local postmaster was snacking on...you guessed it. (Courtesy Jim French)

A lot of us Californians like to hit the open road, explore miles of highway and venture off onto some back roads. Sometimes, we come across towns with some pretty bizarre and surprising names. For this installment in our series “A Place Called What?!” we head to Peanut, in Trinity County.  

Know a California spot with an unusual name? Send a note to: calreport@kqed.org.

"It all started with the post office," Jim French says.

He lives in Weaverville, down the road from Peanut, and is a board member of the Trinity County Historical Society. "I spend time in every nook and cranny in the county, and I consider myself a student of Trinity history."

French says the town now known as Peanut sits along one of the old historic trails from Weaverville to the coast. It was a frequent stopping point for travelers, because it had good water and a natural spring. It was also the site of a famous murder trial in 1892. But back then, the place was called Salt Creek.

Salt Creek school in what is today Peanut, circa 1895.
Salt Creek school in what is today Peanut, circa 1895. (Courtesy Jim French, Trinity County Historical Society)

In 1908, the town applied for a post office, and was told it had to have just a one-word name.

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One day, Joe McKnight, a teacher from Salt Creek School, was talking to A.L. Paulsen, the area's postmaster.

"They were talking about this dilemma and how they were going to have to change the town's name," French explains. "Mr. Paulsen happened to be eating bag of peanuts. So he looked over to his friend, Joe McKnight, and said, 'let's just call it Peanut!' They cracked up for a little while. Then Mr. Paulsen remarked, 'Well, they'd never stand for that. But what the heck, let's turn it in!'"

They checked with the U.S. Postal Service. There was no other post office named Peanut. So the application was forwarded to Washington, D.C., where it was approved by the postmaster general. The place has been called Peanut ever since.

George Patton at Peanut, with coyote pelts and a pair of six-shooters, circa 1940.
George Patton at Peanut, with coyote pelts and a pair of six-shooters, circa 1940. (Courtesy Jim French/Trinity County Historical Society)

Today, French says, there are just a few old horse barns and a few dozen residents nearby.

"It's just one of those places time forgot."