Columbia, the gem of the Southern mines

Douglas Flat, about a mile south of Murphys and located on the limestone belt, was another rich mining site. Along the Sanislaus River five miles south of Douglas Flat and about the same distance southeast of Angels Camp sat Vallecito, but the largest and most interesting place along the Stanislaus River system was Columbia. In March of 1850, five miles south of Vallecito and the same distance north of Sonora, gold was discovered, most likely by Mexican miners although Thaddeus and George Hildreth also mined there at about the same time and the site was once called both Hildreth’s Diggings and American Camp.

1852 Columbia

By the next April there were six thousand people working within a radius of a few miles from town and by 1852 there were eight hotels, four banks, seventeen general stores, two firehouses, two bookstores, a newspaper, three churches, and over 40 saloons. Like many locations in the mining country there was tension between the American miners and those of other nationalities, which might explain the different viewpoints on who first discovered gold there. But, in spite of the racial unrest Columbia became one of the liveliest of the towns in the Southern mines. At one point there were 143 active faro tables operating with a combined capital of up to one and a half million dollars.

Cold Spring, a mile northwest, and Springfield, a few miles south, were also on the limestone belt and named for the springs that flowed out from streams in the fissures in the rock. Flowing under Knapp’s Ranch, just to the east of Columbia, and only reached by climbing 150 feet down a hole and continuing on another 100 feet by rope, was a four foot wide by twelve foot deep river of clear water. Another nearby hole led to a subterranean channel that ran past Jamestown some eight miles away. Until ditches and flumes brought a more available water supply miners would haul their ore in carts to one of the springs so that they could process it, making an average of ten to twenty dollars a day per man. There could be 150 carts working on any given day and an exceptional cartload of ore might pay as much as a thousand dollars.



  1. Fascinating!

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