Hangtown, the first dry diggings

Panning for gold

Jared Sheldon and William Daylor worked a 20,000-acre land grant near Deer Creek Slough and the Consumnes River together. When they heard the incredible stories of the gold discoveries nearby they set out with a neighbor, Perry McCoon, and a number of Indian workers. At first they mined along Weber Creek but after one of their men reported seeing gold along a small steam not far away, they moved their operation.

When Colonel Mason visited July 7, 1848 he saw men working both the steam bed and the ravines that ran into it. From one of these gullies $17,000 worth of gold had been mined in a week. $12,000 had been taken out of another and Mason reported that there were more yet to be mined.

Miners in the Sierras, photo Ad Meskens

That summer this became the hottest spot in the gold country. But, because the ravines carried no water, the ore had to be carried to the stream in order to pan the gold and the area became known as the Old Dry Diggin’s. Men would often work with only a knife and a crowbar, prying nuggets from fissures in the exposed rock. At first miners found 10 to 20 ounces of gold a day—quite a sum at $16 an ounce. But as more men came, and the summer drought dried the stream, the daily take averaged less than four ounces.

Old Hangtown

By winter a city of tents, shacks, and  50 log cabins had been built near the stream. Stores saloons, and restaurants soon followed, but as more men arrived the robberies and murders grew. Criminals were dealt with quickly, and the Old Dry Diggin’s earned the name of Hangtown.  Today we know it as Placerville.






  1. Susan Marlow says

    You have a nice website! I have a question about the photograph of old Hangtown. Is this photo in the public domain? If not, do you know how I can go about getting permission to use the photo? (I actually took a photo of this picture, which hangs in the Placerville Historical Museum). Do you suppose the historian there would know about permissions? Thanks!

  2. Nice one. Most of the folks who made money in CC were the investors. That of course became a point of contention of the Labor Strikes. (Simple version)

    • The glory of the California gold rush was that there was so much easy to find and easy to mine placer gold spread over such a large area – roughly a 100 mile wide belt in the Sierra foothills that extended from Mt. Shasta in the north to Mt. Whitney in the south. The first men in almost any place in that belt could not help but get rich. After the easy gold was gone things changed and within 5 years it took a major investment to find the underground gold.

      • Thanks for the update. So fascinating. Seems the story of the hunt for gold is in my blood.

        • There must have been a lot of gold around Hangtown. There are stories of men digging a grave and hitting gold. The poor soul who was to occupy the grave had to wait. Coloma, where the gold was first found was the first boom town in California. Hangtown was the second. Coloma is a ghost town today.

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