Water at Mokelumne Hill

West Point, about twelve miles directly east from Mokelumne Hill, was well known for its pockets of rich quartz, and five or six miles south of West Point the miners of Independence and Rail Road Flats gained their own fame for the way they defended themselves against the domination from the bigger, wealthier Mokelumne Hill.

Mokelumne River, California

As it was in most areas of the mines, and particularly in the Southern mines, the greatest difficulty was a lack of available water for mining operations. To remedy this shortage a number of ditches were built. There was one ditch in particular that took water from the South Fork of Mokelumne River below Independence and Rail Road Flats and carried it to Mokelumne Hill. When valuable deposits were uncovered in Independence and Rail Road Flats another ditch was dug to supply water to the pipes and sluices there. And, while this new ditch returned all the water to the Mokelumne River above the dam that supplied the water for the ditch to Mokelumne Hill, it was so full of silt and sediment that the miners of there complained heartily about it, and with good reason.

Mokelumne River and Amador Canal

Since those at Mokelumne Hill claimed the rights to the water because they had been the first to tap into that source, they sued the men of Independence and Rail Road Flats and got an injunction against the use of any more water in the upper ditch. The county sheriff and a posse of deputies were sent from Mokelumne Hill to enforce the injunction and tear down the dam. But as soon as the posse arrived and began to break apart the dam an alarm was sounded and several hundred armed men quickly showed up, stopped the work, repaired the breach in the dam and then sent the sheriff and his men packing.

Panning on the Mokelumne

While no one was harmed in any way, the miners made it clear that they would vigorously oppose any more attempts to interfere with the means to their livelihood and, in spite of their actions being a clear case of contempt of court, they showed how several hundred armed men with the backing of the entire neighborhood were stronger than any court of the time. The miners of Mokelumne Hill were now compelled to use muddy water from there on despite the court judgment in their favor.



  1. Cripple Creek mining district didn’t use water, but the mines, especially on the lower levels had a water problem. Cripple Creek wasn’t even where the main gold deposits were located. That was Battle Mountain, near the town of Victor. The two cities had their competition going also, but not like the above story. The post was fascinating.

    • Water has always been key to separating the heavier gold from the sand and rock, and early on people fought for what water was available. They dug miles of ditches and flumes, some through solid rock and even altered the flow of rivers to mine the gold on the river bed. They still fight over water here in California. Thanks for writing.

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