The southern edge of the gold country

There were other mining towns along the Merced River besides those on John Fremont’s Rancho las Mariposas. Coulterville, like Big Oak Flat, was on a well-traveled route to Yosemite Valley. In the area around the town, and particularly toward the east, were many rich gold bearing quartz veins, a great number containing such richly marked and beautifully colored threads of gold that these sites provided some of the best material for gold jewelry anywhere in the country. Hornitos, which means ‘little ovens’ in Spanish was one of the wealthiest and most active placer mining areas in the whole of the Southern Mines, but in general the gold deposits in the Mariposa area, though rich on the surface, were shallow and were quickly mined out.

Yosemite Valley by William Keith

Horseshoe Bend along the Merced River had four hundred miners in 1850. Other places such as Maxwell’s Creek and Peñón Blanco yielded large returns for a time, and in 1863 Peñón Blanco paid two men $16,000 for two months work. Ten miles east of Coulterville a spot on the top of Buckhorn Mountain paid incredibly well when it rained but at other times could not be mined for lack of water. In all, when compared with the total production of gold, the Mariposa area had fewer ditches than anywhere in the state with only two or three relatively small ones.



  1. Beautiful country. Hard to imagine that is once was filled with men who were pulling the gold from the ground. Now it has a new kind of gold, beautiful scenery. Lucky were the men who could pull the gold from quartz. Not so in Cripple Creek.

    • The country looks better and better as you get closer to Yosemite, Doris. I’m not sure how lucky men were to pull gold from quartz. It was hard, dangerous work, way underground, but maybe a gold shaft is preferable to an open pit if that’s how it’s done in Cripple Creek.

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