Mokelumne Hill

Of all the gold rush towns in the region Mokelumne Hill was both the richest and most famous. It sat on a flat between hills five miles south of Jackson and a half-mile south of the river. Like other towns around the area soldiers from Stevenson’s New York Regiment first settled there in 1849. Then, that fall, a company of Frenchmen working a nearby gulch dug out enough gold over the course of only a few weeks to bid adieu to California, quite satisfied with their stay, and return to their homeland. Mokelumne Hill got a reputation as a good place to mine in the winter and a number of men settled there.

Mokelumne Hill 1854

Then in 1851 another group of Frenchmen discovered extraordinarily rich deposits on a nearby hill, soon dubbed French Hill, that attracted several thousand more miners, and in the scramble to acquire the best claims a dispute arose between the Frenchmen and the Americans. This led to a quarrel and then to a fight, and though few men were involved in the original fray the controversy soon involved almost the entire population. For a time it seemed that things would disintegrate into an all out war. Messengers were sent in all directions for men and arms and soon two small armies had been assembled and camped opposite each other. But cooler heads prevailed among the French and the tricolor flag was hauled down, talks were held, concessions made by both sides and peace restored.

Celestial empire in California by Britton & Rey

Afterwards more rich discoveries were found and more miners flooded in. It seemed that good fortune attended all the diggings and three to four thousand men soon inhabited the town. In 1853 more water was brought in from above the town and the active and bustling prosperity continued. Rare was the ravine that hadn’t been worked over and the hillsides about were white with the tailings from hydraulic and tunneling operations. But after a while all but the more extensive operations were abandoned to the Chinese who paid well for the claims and then patiently washed and rewashed the already exhausted earth until even they gave up and the placer mining ceased entirely, and there was nothing left but memories.


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