Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Let's Talk About Calaveras County


Many of my regular readers know that I live in Glencoe, California. It's been a great place to live. It's a place that I have bragged about on various posts. And while I'm always making note of the fact that this is truly rural America, I've also made folks aware that we only have a population of 189 folks here and that we have to drive 17 miles to get our groceries.

Calaveras County is cattle grazing land, farm land, vast forests, pristine lakes, and of course mountains like no other. It's small communities that started out as mining camps, roads that wind seemingly endlessly pass ranches, wineries, dairies, and logging, and more.

This county was part of the birth of the American West. Our roots are ruins found in flatlands, the foothills, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, all in the heart of the California Gold Country.

Calaveras County encompasses 1,020 square miles of land and 17 square miles of water. Our population, as of April 1st, 2010, is 45,578. In 2015, our population was estimated at 44,828. Yes, our density is measured at 44 residents per square mile.

Imagine that for a moment. Compare that to where I'm from, the island of Oahu, Hawaii, which has 597 square miles of land. The island of Oahu, Hawaii, has a population of 953,207 as of the 2010 census. That means the density of just the island of Oahu is measured at 1,636 residents per square mile. Yes, though part of my heart will always be in Hawaii, I don't miss the congestion.

And for you folks who are wondering, the word "Calaveras" is the Spanish word for "skulls." The name came about after the remains of warring Native American tribes were discovered by the Spanish explorer Captain Gabriel Moraga in the 1830s.

It's said that in 1836, a party of men, which included early Californians John Marsh and Jose Noriega, went exploring in Northern California. They made camp along a river bed in the evening of a moonless night. When they awoke the next morning, they discovered that they had camped in the midst of a great quantity of skulls and bones. It was there and then that they gave the river the appropriate name of Calaveras.

Gold prospecting in Calaveras County began in late 1848 with a camp founded by Henry and George Angel. The brothers first arrived in California as soldiers, serving under Colonel Fremont during the Mexican War. After the war's end, the brothers found themselves in Monterey where they heard of the fabulous finds in the gold fields. 

They joined the Carson-Robinson party of prospectors and set out for the gold fields. The company parted ways upon reaching the area which later would became known as Angels Creek.

The Angels brothers tried placer mining, but it's said that they soon opened a trading post and really struck paydirt. By the end of the year, over one hundred tents were scattered about the creek and the settlement was referred to as Angels Trading Post, later shortened to Angels Camp. Toady the town of Angels Camp is our county's only incorporated city.

If Angels Camp rings a bell, Mark Twain set his story The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County in Angels Camp. The story goes that a young Samuel Clemens, a young man who would write under the pen-name Mark Twain, overheard a story in a hotel bar he frequented in Angels Camp. 

It's said that he lived in a small cabin up on Jackass Hill. And it was there during the fall of 1865, that Mark Twain penned the now famous The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. It was the literary work that made Mark Twain a household name. 

Of course today our county hosts an annual fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee, featuring a frog-jumping contest, to celebrate the association with Twain's story.

Besides gold, Mark Twain, and the jumping frogs, Calaveras County is famous for its lode and placer mines. But also, for many years it was the principal copper producing county in California. And yes, for years now, cement production from its vast limestone deposits has become one of the county's major industries in recent years.

As for placer mining, a lot of folks don't realize that the gold above ground played out pretty quickly. It's true, since at one point in Angels Camp's early history there were as many as 4,000 miners working the claims. The Surface gold however, quickly diminished, leaving only the hardrock mining industry which flourished until recently.

Because the surface gold was disappearing, there was an extensive gold-bearing quartz vein of the area's Mother Lode located by the Winter brothers during the mid-1850s, and this brought in the foundations of a permanent town. Believe it or not, the Winter's vein followed Angel Camp's Main Street from Angels Creek up to the southern edge of Altaville. Five major mines worked the rich vein: the Stickle, the Utica, the Lightner, the Angels, and the Sultana.

Of course there are other stories similar to the Winter's vein. Such is the story of the vein of gold bearing quartz which was discovered accidentally by a man with the unique name of Bennager Raspberry. 

The story goes that while out hunting one afternoon near Angels Camp, pioneer Bennager Raspberry took some time out to clean his rifle. Soon after starting the process, his ramrod became lodged in the barrel.

So now, Bennager Raspberry thought that the best way to free the stuck ramrod was to simply shoot the gun. So, it's said that he aimed his rifle at a nearby squirrel and fired. He missed the squirrel and sent his ramrod into some bushes. 

After going into the bushes to get his ramrod, he noticed on the tip a small piece of quartz rich with gold. It is said that that afternoon, he dug up $700 worth of gold using only his ramrod as a shovel. The following day, better prepared, he pulled out $2,000 worth of gold and $7,000 on the third day. 

Such was the way of life before the Angels Camp area mines reached their peaks during the 1880s and 1890s when over 200 stamp mills crushed quartz ore brought in by hand cars on track from the mines. By the time hard rock mining was done in that area, five mines there had producing a total of over $20 million in gold.

But besides Angels Camp, the following places were early day mining communities in Calaveras County: Mokelumne Hill, Glencoe, Calaveritas, Old Gulch, Douglas Flat, Vallecito, Murphys, Sheep Ranch, San Antone, Rich Gulch, Campo Seco, Copperopolis, West Point, Middle Bar, Carson Hill, Robinson's Ferry, Jesus Maria, Mountain Ranch, El Dorado, North Branch, Camanche, Railroad Flat, Blue Mountain City, Telegraph City, Petersburg, Gwin Mine, Fourth Crossing, and Jenny Lind.

The largest gold nugget found in the United States was taken from the Morgan Mine at Carson Hill in November of 1854. When weighed on Adams Express Company's gold scales in Stockton, it balanced the scales at 214 pounds and eight ounces Troy.

Another interesting fact about gold and Calaveras County is that the gold "telluride" mineral "calaverite" was first recognized and obtained in 1861 from the Stanislaus Mine, Carson Hill, Angels Camp, in Calaveras County. Yes, it was named for the County of origin by chemist and mineralogist Frederick Augustus Genth who differentiated it from the known gold telluride mineral "sylvanite", and formally reported it as a new gold mineral in 1868.

The first grove of Big Trees, "Sequoia Gigantea," discovered in California was the Calaveras Grove of Big Trees. Credit for the discovery of giant sequoias here is given to Augustus T. Dowd, a trapper who made the discovery in 1852 while tracking a bear. Dowd was a hunter for the Union Water Company which was at that time building an aqueduct from the Stanislaus River to the town of Murphys.

Calaveras County is home to Calaveras Big Trees State Park, a preserve of Giant Sequoia trees, which is located in the county a few miles east of the town of Arnold just off of Highway 4. And in case you were wondering, when the bark from the "Discovery Tree" was removed and taken on a tour around the world, the trees soon became a worldwide sensation and one of the county's first tourist attractions. 

Besides big trees, Calaveras County has a number of deep caverns. And also, a California Department of Forestry report lists the county's area in acres as 663,000, although the exact figure would be 663,477.949 acres of forest.

Court was first held in our county in a large tent in Double Springs. Later a small court house was built with camphor wood imported from China. The old building is still standing at Double Springs today. 

Calaveras County was one of the original counties of the state of California, created in 1850 at the time of admission to the Union. It  incorporated on February 18th, 1850. Parts of the county's territory were reassigned to Amador County in 1854 and to Alpine County in 1864. 

The county seat was moved to Jackson in 1850 where it remained until 1852 when Jackson was about to become part of Amador County. Yes, the town of Jackson was actually in Calaveras County first. 

In 1852, the county seat of Calaveras County was moved to Mokelumne Hill where it remained until 1863. After an election in 1863, San Andreas was declared to be the county seat. Legal action followed this election, and it was not until 1866 that the county seat was actually moved to San Andreas where it has stayed to today.

The Calaveras Chronicle, the first weekly newspaper published in California, was first published on October 28th, 1851, in Mokelumne Hill. And besides the first weekly newspaper in California, the first three story building erected in the interior of California was in Mokelumne Hill.

And if you want to know how truly tough the town of Mokelumne Hill really was back in 1851, imagine a town so tough that there was a killing every week for 17 straight weeks. Yes, it was a lot rougher than most towns in the Old West.

Don't think so? Then tell me what other town in the Old West had merchants actually dig underground tunnels for their customers to use just so they would be able to get from one side of the street to the other. All so that they wouldn't be shot crossing the street in broad daylight. None to my knowledge. No other town went through that. But then again, I covered that in Mokelumne Hill was bloodier than Tombstone

While many of my regular readers have seen me mention where I live, and can surely tell just how much I love this place, you probably don't know that I'm not very fond of the quality of some of the new people moving here. And no, it's not just Glencoe. I'm not real keen on some of the people moving into this county.

Frankly, you may be surprised at what you find out about what's taking place today in Calaveras County. I will have that information for you in upcoming articles. To give you a hint of where I'm coming from, I wouldn't recommend anyone moving to this county right now -- and certainly not in the near future.

In the near future, I will be writing more about Calaveras County. I will explain why things are getting bad around here. I'll explain who is coming in and why they have to be stopped. I promise you, you will be surprised.


Tom Correa






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