Murderer’s Bar

It is still known as Murderer’s Bar, just as it was in 1849 when, in late April, six or seven miners from Oregon prospected up the Middle Fork of the American River until they found a rich strike just below a waterfall. They decided to stay and mine so several of them left to buy supplies in Coloma. One story says that Indians had been camped nearby and undue liberties with their women had been taken, but whatever the reason, when the men who left camp returned they found their companions dead while the gold they had mined was still there. The men rushed back to Coloma and accused the local Indians, many working for John Sutter and James Marshall, of the foul deed. A large number of innocent natives were eventually killed in the El Dorado Indian War that followed.

Mariposa Indian camp, Albert Bierstadt

At about this time Captain Ezekiel Merritt, Thomas Bruckner and an Indian boy named Peg also were working their way upstream on the middle fork when they came on a plundered camp and an ash heap that held still unburned human bones. The next day, just past a rocky point along the river below the waterfall, sixty or so well armed Indians appeared but there was no fight and after several hours the Indians filtered back into the forest. Bruckner took his knife and carved the name ‘Murderer’s Bar’ into an alder tree and the three crossed the stream to another more defensible sand bar and set up camp. Here they found more gold and determined to stay. The Indians never returned and by June the area teemed with miners.

Murderer’s Bar, 1850

Summer 1850 saw 1500 men working below the falls and finding from half an ounce to several pounds of gold a day, but the bed of the river was known to yield several ounces of gold to the pan. The miner’s of Sailor’s Claim, Murderer’s, Bruckner’s, New York and Vermont Bars all joined together to build a giant flume to carry the river’s water and leave it’s bottom free for mining. After much hard work the structure was finished on a Saturday in early September. The men decided to wait until Monday to begin gold recovery, but Sunday morning two men who could not wait slipped into the stream bed and found nine and a half pounds of gold before breakfast. Black clouds rolled in later that day and high in the Sierra torrents of rain fell. By Monday water cascaded down the river, swamped the flume and rushed over the dam until the whole structure gave way, with the flume washing several miles downstream before breaking apart. The flood of 1850 was long remembered in the mines.


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