Angels Camp and Murphys

Ten miles southeast of San Andreas and three or four miles from Carson Hill sat Angels Camp, named for Henry and George Angel who had accompanied James Carson south from Weber Creek. A lot of placer gold was found in Angels Creek and the gulches and flats around it. In 1852 two brothers named Winter washed nine thousand dollars in gold through a common sluice from a plot of two hundred square feet of surface earth. Below the dirt they came to a layer of limestone containing gold mixed with … [Read more...]

The character of early miners

There were a huge number of mining camps in the area commonly known as the Northern Mines, generally regarded as the region where rivers like the American, Yuba and Feather emptied into the Sacramento River and also sometimes including the Consumnes and Mokelumne Rivers that drain into the swamps and sloughs of the delta midway between Sacramento and Stockton. Each of these rustic camps, though most have long been abandoned and many almost entirely forgotten, had its own special history, its own … [Read more...]

The women of Rich Bar

With the addition of Dame Shirley there appear to be only four women in the whole of the Rich Bar mining camp at the end of 1851. One, the 25-year-old hostess of the Empire House, was apparently permanently tanned dark by her trip west across the plains. When she set out for California she left behind a nursing baby eight months old along with two other children, and at the time of Shirley’s arrival she had a brand new two-week-old infant. Since she spent most of her time cooking and tending to … [Read more...]

A woman’s account of Rich Bar

Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe, the wife of a doctor who wrote under the pen name of Dame Shirley, arrived in Rich Bar from Bidwell’s Bar after a rough trip on mule back in the middle of September 1851. She found the town charmingly fresh and original. It lay in a narrow valley or gorge 800 yards long by about 30 wide where flowed the blue-bottomed North Feather River, and was surrounded by high, almost perpendicular hills covered with fir trees. Through the middle of the valley ran the main … [Read more...]

Downieville and the North Yuba River

French Corral, on a ridge near where the Middle Yuba merges with the main stream, was at the lower edge of the gold bearing gravel and soon became valuable mining territory. Other places along the Middle Fork of the Yuba, like San Juan and Foster’s Bar, and Camptonville, Allegheny City and Forestville along the North Fork, all became thriving mining towns. But the most interesting and richest mining town was Downieville. In June 1849 a Scotchman named William Downie arrived in San Francisco … [Read more...]

Gold found in California, an eyewitness account, Part 3

On a rainy winter day soon after the gold was found, Henry Bigler went duck hunting downriver. He returned that evening with no ducks but instead had a half ounce of gold tied up in a handkerchief and the story that he had found it in at least a dozen places along the river. The excitement must have grown then because Brown tells us that the work on the mill was “pushed with vigor to completion.” It was about this time that Marshall informed Sutter of the find. But William Johnson decided he had … [Read more...]

Gold found in California, an eyewitness account, Part 2

By the middle of January the sawmill was given it’s first test but it was set too low and the mill wheel wouldn’t work properly. While the mill itself was being raised the gates of the force bay, at the millrace dam, were opened at night to let the water wash away loose sand and gravel while the Indians removed the larger rocks during the day. Marshall became curious about the granite bedrock in the millrace and thought it might contain gold. Brown got a pan from their cabin’s kitchen and they … [Read more...]

Gold found in California, an eyewitness account, Part 1

James S. Brown, a member of the Mormon Battalion that had come to California during the Mexican War and who was at the sawmill on the American River when gold was first found in 1848, wrote his account of what happened there 46 years later. The following articles are based on his recollections. On August 26, 1847 about 150 members of the Mormon Battalion, with the intent of traveling east across the Sierra Nevada to the new Mormon settlement at the Great Salt Lake, camped along the … [Read more...]

Overland stagecoach service to San Francisco begins

John W. Butterfield was born in 1801 and began driving stagecoaches from Albany to Utica by age 19. He soon opened his own stage line but expanded into steamboat service on Lake Ontario and then into railroads. In 1850 his company, Butterfield, Wasson and Co., joined with other express companies owned by Henry Wells and William Fargo to form the American Express Co. Two years later these same men were also instrumental in forming Wells Fargo. Then in 1857, under Butterfield’s leadership they … [Read more...]

The Stagecoach King, Ben Holladay

Ben Holladay once controlled over 2,000 miles of stage lines and earned the title of Stagecoach King, but it was by hauling much needed supplies to early settlements in Utah and California that Holladay most deeply aided the development of the American West and made a fortune doing it. Born in Kentucky in 1819 to a father who was a guide for wagon trains crossing the Cumberland Gap, young Ben grew up around the freight business, and as a teen he made a hard trip overland to Santa Fe. Then he … [Read more...]