Thursday, July 8, 2021

Calaveras County & Ironstone Vineyards' Crown Jewel

I love hearing from you. Some of you ask some very interesting questions that I would have never thought about. Some of those questions have to do with Old West gunfights, historical figures, and some of you send me on searches of things that I never thought about looking into. Of course, some of you ask more personal questions.

Granted, I usually simply answer in your emails and not here. But, since I've been very busy with fixing fences, painting, general maintenance around my property, and still trying to finish my second book, I decided that this would be a perfect time and place to answer one of your questions.

Some of you want to know where Glencoe, California, is located and what sort of a place it is. Well, as for Glencoe, California? During the 1849 California Gold Rush, this area was known as Mosquito Gulch. Someone changed its name many years later, I believe the late 1880s, and we've been known as Glencoe ever since.

Our little "town" is more or less a blink in the road. Glencoe is located in the California foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 2700 ft elevation. We are right at the snowline and have a population of 189 give or take a few. Our grocery shopping is in the bigger town of Jackson. Jackson is our main hub with a population of about 4,700, it's about 20 or so miles away. Glencoe has a post office and an American Legion post. For right now, that's it.

Since they don't serve drinks and burgers at the Post Office, our American Legion post is our community center. It's a small post with less than a hundred members. But we are an active post as far as our doing things and being the hub of our community. I've been the 2nd Vice Commander at our post since 2010. Among the other things that keep me busy are my responsibilities as its 2nd Vice. I'm in charge of the kitchen, the bar, organizing special events, conducting ceremonies, and other things. Some say I run the place, but it really is a team effort.

This area is the heart of the California Gold Country. It's rich with history, good people, ranch land, farmland, loggers, vineyards, and big trees. Glencoe is in Calaveras County. The word "Calaveras" might hit a nerve with my Spanish-speaking readers. The word "Calaveras" means "skulls" in Spanish.
This county takes its name "Skulls" from the Calaveras River which got its name from Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga during his 1806 – 1808 expeditions. He named that river "Calaveras River," or "Skulls River," when he found the skulls of waring Indian tribe along the banks of the river. While some say it was a few dozen skulls, others say there were hundreds of skulls.

While there are those who want to blame the Spanish for the skulls found there, saying they were a result of epidemic disease which was acquired from interacting with other tribes near the Spanish Missions on the coast, there is zero proof to support that theory.

Gabriel Moraga himself is said to have described the scene as a battlefield. Skulls and bones being found with evidence of wounds are in direct contrast to people dying of sickness. Morago is said to have believed they had been killed in territorial wars between various tribes. It's believed those wars were over hunting and fishing grounds. And yes, if you're wondering, us knowing this is just more evidence that Europeans were not the only people killing others over land. Conquest seems to be a human desire.

Gabriel Moraga believed the Lakisamni Indians of Central California were hostile. Since the Lakisamni lived adjacent to the Miwok tribe, who were seen as friendly and not warlike, he believed the skulls may have been the result of conflicts between the two tribes.

Almost 30 years after its discovery, the Spanish named the Stanislaus River, which forms the southern boundary of Calaveras County, in honor of a Lakisamni Yokut Indian named Estanislao. He is said to have been a part of those living at Mission San Jose and escaped in the late 1830s. He reportedly raised a group of men to fight the Spanish. Using their crude clubs and spears as weapons, it's said they were "decimated" by the Spanish and Mexican governments of California.

In 1836, a party made up of Spanish and newly-arrived Americans were exploring the area when they made camp on the Calaveras River. The story goes that it was dark with they decided to make camp on the riverbed. When they woke that next morning, they found that they camped amongst a huge number of skulls and bones. That was when the river and the area were reaffirmed as the Calaveras.

Calaveras County was one of the original counties of the state of California. Established in 1850 at the time of admission to the Union, it was initially very large. I've written about the quiet town of Mokelumne Hill a few miles from Glencoe, actually on the way to Jackson. It might be quiet today, but it wasn't back in 1851 when it was reported in the newspapers that the town of Mokelumne Hill experienced a murder a week for 17 weeks straight. It took the militia and vigilantes to stop the killing there. That is until later during the Tong War when Chinese immigrants were killing each other by the boatload.

In 1854, parts of the Calaveras County's territory were reassigned and became part of Amador County to the North. Ten years later in 1864, some of Calaveras County became Alpine County to the West.

As for Mark Twain, he spent 88 days in this county in 1865. Besides being known for getting into trouble for publishing some false news stories, fake news, he actually made his mark here when he heard a group of miners telling a story about a jumping frog contest. He in turn wrote and published that that story. He called it "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." As you can tell by its title, Twain set his story in this county. As for how important that story was to his fame, it is said that that's the story that kicked off his career.

Did that story really put Calaveras County on the map? Well, the California Gold Rush did that. Of course, since Calaveras County is part of the San Joaquin Valley, the Gold Country, and the High Sierra Nevada Mountains, that means this place has traditionally been about cattle, farming, logging, mining, and wineries. Frankly, while mining is not as big as it once was here, the rest still exists.

Of course, like everyone else, today we love the tourist. And frankly, Calaveras Big Trees State Park which is a huge preserve of giant sequoia trees is the place everyone should see. Those giants are absolutely incredible. And by the way, credit for the "discovery" of those giant sequoias is owed to Augustus T. Dowd. He was a trapper who made the discovery in 1852 while tracking a bear. The fact is, he sort of stumbled upon them. And no, no one knows if he ever got the bear.

While I can go on with stories about this county, believe it or not, Calaveras County is known for having its own kind of gold. The uncommon gold telluride mineral discovered in this county was named "Calaverite." This type of gold was discovered when it was found in the Stanislaus Mine in Carson Hill near the town of Angels Camp in Calaveras County in 1861. It was named for this county by chemist and mineralogist Frederick Augustus Genth. He differentiated it from the known gold telluride mineral sylvanite. He formally reported it as a "new gold mineral" in 1868.

If you've gone exploring the California Gold Country, one of the things you might find is stamp mills. Stamp mills were important to gold mining because all of the rivers and streams had been picked clean of placer gold, loose gold, often nuggets, within just a couple of years after the first discovery of gold. Because of that, it didn't take long for miners to follow a gold strike deep into the Sierra's.

Because gold found in California is often in quartz, which is typically hard rock mining, miners mined in vertical or horizontal shafts. Unlike fine gold that was recovered using hydraulic mining. A system that washed always mountainsides for very little in return, gold trapped within these deep mountainous veins could produce thousands of ounces of gold. That's how hard rock or "lode" mining began. Stamps mills were an efficient way to crush the rock into powder. In that way, the miners could extract even fine particles of gold.


So now, let's talk about Ironstone’s Crown Jewel. 

It is believed to be the world’s largest piece of crystalline gold. It is truly a giant gold nugget. It was unearthed at the Sonora Mining Corporation mine in Carson Hill, California on December 24, 1992. Heck of a Christmas present.

It was found with other gold-heavy quartz pieces. And believe it or not, those there that day initially thought they found some old pieces of damaged machinery. Several days later, after being examined, they realized that they had found one of the biggest pieces of gold ever to be found. to be full of gold. Among the several pieces was what we know of as "The Crown Jewel." It was the largest of the pieces encased in quartz, weighing in at 63 lb troy.

It's said that almost immediately its discovery had the Gold Trust and Reinsurance company of the West Indies make an offer of $20 million for it. It's said that the French government also offered to buy the huge nugget. In April 1993, Sonora Mining offered the gold specimen as a bond to Tuolumne County, California. The county ultimately declined the offer simply because it could afford it. The man who ultimately bought it was John Kautz.

John Kautz is Chairman of Ironstone Winery and owner of Kautz Farms. These days he oversees over 7,000 acres of wine grapes. But no, he didn't start out with a silver spoon in his mouth. He is a man who has worked for everything he has today.

It is said that after the death of his father in 1952, that he took over the family farm to become a second-generation farmer in Lodi, California. At the time, he only owned 38 acres of land that his parents had purchased through Farmers Home Administration (FmHA).

For people who have never heard of the Farmers Home Administration, it was a federal government agency established after World War II, actually in August 1946. It was designed to replace the Farm Security Administration (FSA) which was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal agencies. It was created to fight rural poverty during the Great Depression.

The Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) was in operation until 2006. The Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) programs extended credit for agriculture and rural development. Direct and guaranteed credit went to individual farmers, low-income families, and seniors in rural areas.

Over the years, John Kautz expanded his farm. In 1965, he was recognized for his hard work and was given the distinguished honor of being named "National Outstanding Young Farmer." In 1969, the Ford Foundation named him, "Top Farm Manager USA." After that, he received the Goodyear "National Award for Soil Conservation" to again acknowledge his dedication, commitment, and enthusiasm, which was reflected in his hard work.

Americans are always asking me where are those people who young men and women should emulate? I say John Kautz and his family are made of the stuff that has made America the envy of the world. Besides working hard to succeed, he is very active in civic and community organizations. His belief that "Giving back to the community is just a way of life. It's something that I feel is very important" is something reflected in his obtaining "The Crown Jewel."

Because he felt that it is a huge part of California's history, certainly a significant part of Calaveras County history, he purchased it for an undisclosed amount and today keeps it in his Ironstone Vineyards' Heritage Museum in Murphys, California. Yes, not that far from where it was unearthed.

Ironstone Vineyards Crown Jewel is believed to be the world's largest piece of crystalline gold. Besides its size, it is very rare. In fact, crystalline gold is one of the rarest and most precious natural gold formations known. Sources say it's made of "gold deposited between layers of quartz, clay, maraposite, decomposed shale, and pyrite." Ironstone Vineyards Crown Jewel weighed 63 pounds when it was discovered. But, soon after it was purchased by Mr. Kautz purchased in 1994, the piece spent almost a year in an acid bath to reveal the incredible nugget that we see today.

So, go to Calaveras County to see the giant sequoia trees, go to see quiet Mokelumne Hill which was bloodier than Tombstone, and go to Angels Camp and walk the same street that Mark Twain. In Calaveras County, you can go from a few hundred feet elevation to over 8,000 ft elevation and be in the same county. This place is over 1,036 square miles and has a population of about 46,000 residents.

This is not the California that people see on television. We have nothing in common with Baywatch, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area. As for people here being mostly Conservatives? We are pretty proud of it. In fact, there is a saying here, "Even our trees lean to the Right."

We have more in common with other Conservative places where folks are concerned with upholding American traditions and supporting Judeo-Christian values. Folks up here gather and pray on Memorial Day. We praise God and Old Glory. We take our guns, freedom, and property rights very seriously. Most here live American individuality to its fullest. And most know, this is a great place to live. I call it America's best-kept secret.

If you visit, drive up Highway 4 to Arnold and head for Lake Alpine. The scenery of the mountain country is something that you really need to see. On your way back, visit Murphys, and don't forget to step into Ironstone Vineyards jewelry store and Heritage Museum. It is there that you will see an incredible lustrous chunk of 99% pure gold that is found nowhere else in the world. It's on display in a vault for all of us to see. And yes, it might make you wonder, as it did me, what other pieces of gold are still waiting to be found in Calaveras County?

Tom Correa 


  1. Great post, Tom! Actually, we in American live up to our individuality, not individualism. There is a difference. One is per individual, and the other as society as a whole. One values and prizes each individual's personality, and the other values only society as a whole. Individuals are made in the image of God. A social group is not. One acts on revelation from God, and the other does not. Anyway, that's how I see the definition. Also, as far as Golden California and its gold; I've heard it said that the richest strike is waiting to happen in the near future--one that will pay-off the state's debts and the nation's debt. It is so large a strike that it will not necessarily have to be mined to do its work; this all in preparation to spread the gospel world-wide and welcome the greatest world-wide awakening of the church ever experienced.

  2. Hello Elizabeth, Good catch on individuality versus individualism. I made the correction. Also, I pray that you are right about a world-wide awakening. God Bless you! Your friend, Tom


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