Trouble along the Tuolumne River

Shortly after California was granted statehood in 1850 the legislature imposed a $20 tax on every foreign miner in the gold fields. Throughout the mines this ill-conceived, shortsighted piece of legislation caused numerous problems to towns across the state. Many of the more affluent and productive of those affected simply left the country while the lower classes scattered to remote, secluded places thereby almost depopulating many settlements and seriously hurting the business of a great number of merchants. But it also brought into the open the festering racial tension that had prompted the law in the first place resulting in any number of anxious situations across the mines.

Tension in the mines

By now Charles Bassett, who had organized the pioneer police squad in Sonora during the fire, was operating several businesses in the town. During the height of excitement over the new law, when there was open talk of reprisals against the Americans, a rumor circulated in Columbia that an uprising had occurred in Sonora and Bassett had been taken prisoner and was about to be killed. A group of armed men was organized immediately and marched off to Sonora flying the stars and stripes. But when the small army arrived and found Bassett alive and well and completely at liberty they invaded his store, restaurant, butcher shop and dairy stand and literally ate poor Bassett out of house and home.

Gold rush justice

Fifteen to twenty miles south of Sonora John D. Savage, who came to Woods Crossing with the Reverend Woods and who was also known as the first white man to enter Yosemite Valley, discovered gold in a bed of gravel from two to twenty feet deep over the granite bedrock. He employed a large number of native Indians in his mining operation and paid them with supplies and blankets. He soon developed a warm personal relationship with his workers and endeavored to protect them from the encroachment of the white miners.

But when, after an argument, a Texan named Rose killed the Indian Chief, Lotario, and was himself slain by the tribesmen, the local whites took up arms and, without inquiring into the facts, killed a number of Indians and came close to causing an all out war. But Savage managed to calm his native workmen and interceded with the whites to achieve a truce, then went with his Indian allies farther into the mountains and safety. Today the area is known as Groveland and is a common stop on the road to Yosemite but the town’s heyday was in the early 1900s with the construction of a dam at Hetch Hetchy Valley that provides the water supply to San Francisco.

Hetch Hetchy Valley by Albert Bierstadt


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