Downieville and the North Yuba River

Flying Cloud

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 on a clipper ship from New York. He immediately made his way to Sacramento where he took a job rowing a launch up the Sacramento and Feather River to Nye’s Ranch near present day Marysville and then assisted in driving a mule train into the mountains to Bullard’s Bar on the Middle Yuba River where he began to mine, but met with little success. He even spent some time as a trader until early that fall when he met two men who’d been working upstream and paid for their purchases with gold nuggets that were larger than the fine scales found nearby. Like so many others, Downie had the idea that the gold washed down the rivers from the mountains and this was all the proof he needed.

Downieville, CA 1854

He went upriver to Foster’s Bar where he bought a horse, mule and mining provisions. There he met an Irishman named Michael Deverney and ten black men. In spite of warnings about the winter weather further up in the mountains and the unpredictability of the local Indians there, they left on October 5, headed northeast and accompanied by an Indian and a Kanaka named Jim Crow. Soon they reached a spot called the Forks, where a river known today as the Downie River met the North Yuba. The terrain here was so rough that their mules had to be hauled up or down cliffs with ropes. At Zumwalt Flat Jim Crow speared a 14-pound trout and after boiling it they found a large nugget in the pot. They mined there for a while, making three to five ounces per day each but soon moved upriver closer to the Forks and the site of present day Downieville where they were able to mine 13 to 15 ounces of course gold apiece each day from crevices in the rock.

Some of the men then went to a spot called Tin Cup Bar where a lone man could fill a pint sized tin cup with gold each day, but Downie again moved up the North Yuba to a place where he took out over six thousand dollars in gold in four days with the help of one other man. But winter had arrived and they were out of food. Jim Crow and seven others were sent downstream with all the animals for supplies. When they failed to return, Downie, Deverney and the two remaining black men were forced to move down river. The next spring when they accidentally came upon Jim Crow mining at a spot now called Jim Crow Canyon, Deverney wanted to kill him but Downie talked him out of it. Downieville is located in some of the most remote and steep parts of the gold country. The trail that led to it descended 2800 feet in four miles, and along the river to the east of town the Sierra Buttes rise over 8500 feet.



  1. Jim Crow was not Indian rather a Kanaka, Kiwi or Hawaiian.

  2. Fascinating. Cripple Creek, although not as difficult to get to was up there. Here is a link to Battle Mountain, where the major gold deposits were found.,%20Colorado.%201903..html

    This is where they are still mining.


  3. Also, I loved the video.

  4. David Ethridge says

    My great grandfather was William A Morse. He settled in Downieville after selling his clipper ship 1849 in San Francisco as family knows from my grand father Raymond Finnimore who married Williams and Sarah’s daughter Clara Morse.
    I wish I knew the name of his clipper ship though.
    I have a large gold nugget from his mine.

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