The Mining Towns of California 1873

Article is from The Atlantic to the Pacific: What to See and How to See it (1873), by John Erastus Lester

Tourists will naturally desire to visit some of the towns, where they can observe closely the various operations connected with gold-mining, which is such an important industry of California. This can be done by leaving the main line of railroad at any station in the mining-region and going a little way into the country. Indeed, on the main line of the Central Pacific are several towns, where almost the only occupation of the people is gold-digging.

A short description of some of these towns, and suggestions as to the routes to be taken, will not be out of place. Dutch Flat, which lies in a hollow near the station, of same name on the main line of Central Pacific, is an important town of 2,000 inhabitants, where the chief pursuit is mining.

Three miles to the north-west is Little York, a mining-camp of 500 people; and six miles on You Bet, of about same size; and eight miles further Red Dog, another camp. These are all located in what is called the Blue Lead section, and are easily accessible points, where to study both the operations of mining and the life of the miners.

Near the station, Gold Run, two miles west of Dutch Flat, can be witnessed hydraulic mining. Even as you ride along the railroad the numerous flumes for conducting the water to the mines are seen. Thirteen miles north of the station called Colfax, and which is thirteen miles to the west of Dutch Flat, is Grass Valley, which is to-day the most important mining-town in the State. It contains about 6,500 people. Quartz-mining is the mode, and the numerous 'stamps' at work, and the richness of the rock in gold, have given the town the importance of having produced more gold than any other.

In 1850 it was first discovered that the rock was gold-bearing, and next year the first mill was set up, and increasing from that time, they are now numbered by scores. The most approved and costly machinery and appliances in mining have been introduced. The town is fortunate in having good hotels, and the tourist will find here much that will interest and instruct him.

Four miles from Grass Valley on Deer Creek lies the old settlement called Nevada City, and which is the seat of Nevada County. The town has 4,000 inhabitants, good hotels and good society. As within a few miles of the town in any direction may be seen extensive mining operations, both hydraulic and quartz, I doubt if there is a more advantageous spot from which to set out upon excursions among the towns of this section of the State.

An excursion of much interest can be made from Sacramento to the North as far as Marysville, over the Oregon division of the Central Pacific, which is in course of construction through the Sacramento Valley.

Marysville, the county seat of Yuba county, which takes its name from Yuba river, is one of the most prosperous towns in the State, and is ranked fourth in commercial importance. It contains a population of 8,000, and is growing rapidly. In the county around Marysville there are twelve quartz mills and twenty-six companies owning water-rights for hydraulic-mining.

By the same road you go to Yuba city, on the eastern bank of Feather River, an interesting old town and the seat of Sutter County. From the hills adjoining the site of the city is had one of the most magnificent views of mountain scenery in the whole State. Away to, the North rises Mount Shasta, to the height of 14,440 feet, and although 220 miles away stands in full view, its dark sides crowned with a wreath of white snow; to the West the peaks of the Coast Range come in sight; to the South the Contra Costa mountains, and Mount Diablo overtopping all, while from the North to the extreme South stretches the snowy line of the Sierra Nevada.

A trip over the Sacramento Valley Railroad cannot well be omitted. This line pierces the Sierra Nevada, and was the first railroad built in California. A journey of twenty-five miles brings us to Folsom, on the South bank of the American River, and where may be observed placer-mining still carried on to some extent.

The railroad terminates at Shingle Springs, and from here a stage ride of 12 miles brings us to Placerville, the seat of El Dorado county. This town has uncommon interest, for it was only eight miles from here that gold was first discovered in January 1848.

From Placerville, by stage or carriage, the old town of Sonora is reached. This town was once a prosperous city, but now its glory has departed, and it is called a decayed town. Its beautiful climate remains, and so do the old lovers of the place. They say at Sonora, 'If you visit the town you will want to stay, and if you stay two weeks you will stay all your life.' The people here seem contented with the delicious climate, and the cheap and easy living which they obtain. The great brick and stone stores and warehouses are no longer used, the grass is growing in streets which once were busy marts of trade, property is depreciated to five per cent. of its former value, and still there are people who prefer to remain in the old town with all its misfortunes than move to a more prosperous place.

Sonora is only one of many Californian towns which have fallen into decay when the gold was gone. The people have not as yet learned to cultivate the soil, and those who remain obtain a precarious living by panning over again the 'tailings,' and thinking of the days which have gone.

On the journey to the Calavaras Grove of Big Trees a short visit ought to be made to Mokelumne Hill (accent on second syllable), which is the seat of Calavaras county, and was one of the earliest mining settlements, having had its birth in 1848. Many historical incidents are connected with this town, and much that is old and primitive in mining can still be seen in the vicinity.

Mariposa, another decayed mining town, is on the road from Merced to the Yo-Semite, and is full of interest in making observation of mining operations. Bear Valley, seven miles from Mariposa, is another town of importance as the headquarters of the Mariposa Company. At the office of this Company information as to visiting different parts of the property can always be obtained.

I might add more, but the points which I have mentioned are sufficient to direct the tourist, who will find at any of the places referred to, people who will gladly give him the local history of the town and aid him in making excursions into the country.

These old towns are all full of interest. Customs and habits of the old mining days, when what was said at a miners' meeting was the law, have been preserved. Spots will be pointed out where gold enough in a few months was taken out for a nation's ransom, and he will find remaining some of the old settlers who seem to be living still in those prosperous days.

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