Sonora and mining along the Tuolumne River

The chief mining locales along the Tuolumne River were Big Oak Flat, Chinese Camp, Jacksonville, Montezuma, Poverty Hill, Jamestown, Algerine and Sonora. But it was a party of men from Philadelphia, led by the Reverend James Woods, who first discovered gold here along a small tributary of the Tuolumne that runs south from the neighborhood of Columbia which they called Woods Creek in honor of their leader. They settled into a spot they called Woods Crossing and had a phenomenal success mining gold from the sand and gravel of the stream.

Tuolumne River

Perhaps hearing of the great finds of the Woods party a group of Mexicans from Sonora came along and pushed higher up the stream until they found still another wealthy, productive location for placer gold that first was called Sonranian Camp then later simply Sonora. Only three or four miles below Columbia and fifty miles due east of Stockton the town of Sonora sat on slate rock that lay over the same limestone belt that was loaded with gold bearing quartz veins, and as such the town was exceedingly rich.

Campfire at Yosemite by Albert Bierstadt

By early in the summer of 1849 so many men traveled between Stockton and Sonora that at night the campfires burned close enough to each other that if a man chose he could find his way easily in the dark by following the flames. And the town itself was so near to Columbia, the other major mining town just across the ridge between the Tuolumne and Stanislaus Rivers, that the two cities resembled the twin mining towns of Grass Valley and Nevada City in the Northern mines, as both sets of towns were situated where rich gravel deposits and quartz veins came together. But while the Sonoran and Columbian mines at first exceeded their Northern brothers in the amount of production in the early years they did not yield as much in total nor did they hold out as long as the mines around Grass Valley and Nevada City.


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