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History of Jamestown, California

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Town History

The year was 1848. Through noble forests roamed a relatively peaceful group of Native Americans know as the Central Sierra Miwok. The Miwok gathered acorns, harvested various wild plants and hunted wild game. The area abounded with herds of deer and antelope, flocks of wild fowl, and streams alive with fish. The area was covered by towering pines, and cedars 300 feet high and often 12 to 18 feet thick, and groves of oak. The land, although wild, was far from being just a wilderness. The country, with its snow-covered summits in the distance, was one of the most picturesque in the world.

On a cold January morning in 1848, James Marshall discovered gold in the tailrace at Sutter's Mill (now called Coloma). Miners from all over the world began a stampede which changed the country forever.

In June of this same year, a mining company formed by Benjamin F. Wood of Clatsop Plains in Oregon, founded the first claim in Tuolumne County. The camp was known as Woods' Diggings and later as Woods' Crossing. It is now Jamestown and Main Street is located about a mile north where Woods Creek crosses under Highway 108 and where Mr. Wood found the first gold in Tuolumne County.

The richness of the diggings on Woods Creek became legendary. The creek was so rich that it was reported that Woods & Company extracted $200 to $300 (40 to 60 ounces) daily by simply prying nuggets from their resting spots with hunting knives. Comparing the $8 to $12 an ounce in 1848 to the price of gold today (about $300), imagine the excitement of finding that same 40 ounces today which would be worth $16,000.

One historian, Peter Justesen, wrote that in 1848, two miners of Woods' Crossing decided to purchase a bottle of brandy from town, located a quarter mile from their camp (probably Jamestown). The partner who went to fetch the brandy was advised to look along the road as he would be sure to find enough gold en route to pay for the bottle. This, he was able to do!

Another miner, according to local legend, desired to purchase a pistol from a fellow prospector. The owner agreed to sell the weapon for $200. The purchaser, armed only with a knife, pried this sum from the gold-rich crevices in Woods Creek in short order.

The winter of 1848 was a fierce one. The camp along Woods Creek was moved higher ground because of flooding to the approximate area where the south end of Main Street is located. Many miners suffered and perished from land scurvy due to the lack of fresh vegetables and fruits and pulmonary diseases as a result of exposure to the elements. During this harsh winter, many tales floated around San Francisco about the abundance of gold at Wood's Crossing. When spring came, hundreds of miners flocked to the area which soon became known as the Gateway to the Mother Lode. One of those who arrived was Colonel George James. He brought a wagon full of supplies and treated everyone to champagne. The people were duly impressed with the Colonel and immediately named the town in his honor (often referred to as Jimtown).

Colonel James had practiced as a lawyer in San Francisco, and because of this, the people appointed him to serve as Alcalde (chief judicial officer) of Jamestown. James also operated a hotel and store and gained considerable fame after serving as the defense attorney during the first murder trial in Tuolumne Country in the spring of 1849.

It all started when a gambler by the name of Atkins shot into the saloon, killing an Irishman named Boyd. The Irish and other foreign miners were all for hanging Atkins on the spot, but James set up a guard to protect him until an official from out of town, James Frazier, could arrive the next morning to hear a jury trial. Atkins was found guilty of murder, was fined $500 and given 24 hours to leave town. He paid his fine and took off for Northern California where he was later elected sheriff of Siskiyou County.

One morning, the town awoke to find that James had made a hasty exit during the night. Among his many activities, he had been paying script against investments in his mining projects. The scripts far exceeded any proceeds the project would produce. Many in the town were in dire financial straits. The miners were angry enough to change the town's name to American Camp; however, the post office had been established by the government so the name remained Jamestown.

In the early 1850's, John Capon Adams (referred to later as James Capen Adams in many accounts of his adventures) owned a trading post and tavern on the east bank of Woods' Creek. He was born in Massachusetts in 1812. Adams was a reckless speculator and careless in his business affairs. He was also a gambler. Penniless and embittered against mankind, whom he blamed for his financial problems, Adams deserted his wife and children to start life anew as a hunter and wild animal trapper in the Sierra Nevada. He became obsessed with hunting grizzly bears which led to him being known as Grizzly Adams. He died in 1860 while on tour with P.T. Barnum. Later his life as a hunter and alleged victim of injustice became the subject of several books and furnished the plot for a popular television series.

The glory days of large nuggets, big strikes, and easy placer mining were short lived. Even though many miners moved on, Jamestown managed to hang on. Other establishments that sold liquor, food and "Ladies of the Night" held the town together during the years after the goldrush.

On November 10, 1897, Jamestown boomed again when the Sierra Railroad arrived. The town became the lifeline between Tuolumne County and the outside world. Today, Railtown 1897 is a living museum as a 26-acre California State Historic Park. The original depot and a hotel were destroyed by fire, but another depot was rebuilt. The atmosphere at Railtown 1897 complete with its roundhouse lends a certain familiarity to its many visitors. It should because Engine No. 3, Engine No. 2, and Engine No. 28 have appeared in more than 300 movies including High Noon, The Virginian, Petticoat Junction, Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie and Back to the Future III. Owned and operated by the California State Railroad Museum, part of the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Railtown’s historic and famous steam engines take visitors on weekend excursions from May through Labor Day and on special events throughout the year.

Many of the historical structures of Jamestown have undergone reconstruction due to fires in 1855, 1966, and 1978.


You can see today evidence of the rich history of Jamestown, in the architecture of the buildings and homes along Main Street, at Railtown 1897, the state park that has preserved the turn-into-the-20th century beginnings of the steam Sierra Railway, and at Woods Crossing, the gold discovery site just west of town.

The first gold in the county discovered by whites (Indians knew about the gold, but did not value it) was found at Woods Crossing, pictured at left as it looked only a few years ago. The site had been preserved, even to the point of allowing Woods Creek to flow directly over the roadway, rather than building a bridge or culvert. Finally, a few years ago the county repaved the road after a storm and installed a culvert underneath.

That first gold was discovered by Benjamin Wood, from Oregon, and the crossing, and Woods Creek, which runs through Sonora and Jamestown, were named for the discoverer.

This was in the early summer of 1848, a few months after the famous gold discovery at Sutter's Mill that started the Gold Rush, about a hundred miles north of here at Coloma. Miners quickly came to the area, and for years afterwards, Woods Creek was filled with miners washing dirt that they dug out of the creek, seeking flakes or nuggets.

Many made significant finds in that first year. The gold at Sutter's Mill was discovered in January of 1848 and Sutter initially tried to keep it secret. This failed, and a large proportion of the settlers then in California traveled to the Gold Country to mine. However, that year--when the gold was easiest to find--mostly involved those already in the West. Although accounts of the gold discovery were published in Eastern newspapers, they were not widely believed, and it took time to get to California from the east. Finally, in December of 1848, President McKinley made a speech to Congress about the gold discovery, having received rich samples. In 1849, the mass migration of miners from the east began, by wagon, by ship around Cape Horn or in the two-stage ship journey via the jungles of Panama.

Jamestown, like many other such towns, went through a succession of booms and busts. Many towns in the area simply disappeared after the easy pickings of the Gold Rush ended. Jamestown survived, going through two major boom periods, although both eventually fizzled out, and it never grew as large as its bigger sister, Sonora, which became a business and government center and also sustained itself after the placer mining ran out by rich underground "pocket mines" beneath the city.

Jamestown was named for a man named Col. George F. James, a flamboyant attorney who came here from San Francisco with an entourage. He set up shop in a tent near Woods Creek and sold groceries, mining equipment. (The tent at the far right of the drawing here may have been James') He became the town's first alcade, a sort of combination mayor, judge, city clerk, and advisor to all that was part of the Mexican legal system in force at the time. James persuaded the town's population to invest in various schemes that did not pan out, and disappeared overnight, leaving many unhappy residents.

Jamestown enjoyed a second boom beginning in the late 1880s. It was known that gold could be found underground, but most of it was embedded in quartz rock. Although some of it, like that in the "pocket mines" of Sonora, was concentrated gold, most of it was lower grade, with relatively little gold per ton of quartz rock. There were a few quartz mines in the 1850s, but the effort faltered because of the difficulty of getting the quartz rock out and of extracting the gold.

However, in the late 1880s, pneumatic drills became available that made it easier to place blasting materials. Better techniques for extracting gold from the quartz rock were also developed, including chlorination, and another process, in which gold combined with chemicals, known as sulpherets, were shipped by wagon to furnaces in the San Francisco Bay Area that could recover the gold.

Jamestown was at the center of most of the new underground quartz mines, and it boomed again. This boom grew larger for Jamestown when, in 1898, a stream railroad was built to connect the relatively isolated foothills area to the Valley. The railroad first connected Jamestown to Oakdale, 35 miles to the west, which was already part of an extensive railroad network. Jamestown was picked to be the headquarters for the railroad, and many of the workers for the railroad lived in Jamestown, and a roundhouse (which can still be seen today) was built a few blocks from today's downtown.

The railroad made it easier, faster, and cheaper to transport quartz ore for processing to the chlorination plants and furnaces, and lumber, which began to be cut and shipped out in greater quantity in the early 1900s, to the rest of California. Supplies were shipped back to the county. Passenger service was also popular, with high school students traveling to school from all over the county to the train station in Sonora, and then walking up the main street to the new Sonora High School north of town.

Branch lines for the railroad were built from Jamestown to Sonora, to Angels Camp, and to Tuolumne City. Additional rail lines, financed by the same people who built the Sierra Railway, were built to extend the railroad deep into the forest. From Tuolumne City, where there was a lumber mill, a railroad was built by the West Side Flume and Lumber Company (they abandoned the idea of using a flume to transport logs, but kept the name). From Standard, a few miles east of Sonora, another lumber mill was built, and the Sugar Pine Railroad was built, again deep in the forest through what is now Twain Harte and extending to Lyons Reservoir and to branch lines in many parts of the forest where there were lumber mills.

Jamestown's boom persisted into the nineteen teens, but higher costs and shortages of needed supplies--many caused in part by World War 1, made mining more difficult, and mines began closing down. By the end of World War 2, only a few mines were still operating. The Sierra railroad's extensive rail network began shrinking, faced by competition from motor trucks. The lines to the forests were abandoned, as was the line to Tuolumne City and to Angels Camp.

However, the Sierra Railway itself, unlike the vast majority of other short railway lines, survived, and it continues today, mainly hauling (with diesel locomotives) lumber and lumber products from mills in Standard and Chinese Camp to Oakdale. Jamestown itself has also survived. It was the area's Red Light District until the 1950s, when Governor Pat Brown, then Attorney General, shut that form of entrepreneurism down. Jamestown's economy today is mainly tourism.

History of Tuolumne County CA

The Bartleson-Bidwell Party became the first emigrant party to cross the Sierra east to west in 1841. It is believed that they crossed somewhere in the vicinity north of Sonora Pass following the Stanislaus canyons into the foothills and the area where Sonora is located today.

In July of 1848 near what is now Jamestown, gold was found by Benjamin Wood and James Savage at the west end of Wood’s Creek.

1849 Friction between the insurgent Americans and the native Mexican miners increases. Called Sonoranians, the Spanish speaking miners vacate their camp and make a new camp at the east end of Wood’s Creek now the site of Sonora High School.

Tuolumne County was established by the California Legislature on February 18, 1850. The word Tuolumne is believed to be a transliteration of the Mi Wuk word “Talmalamne” meaning a cluster of stone dwellings. Originally the area was divided into six townships: Sonora, Mormon Camp, Jacksonville, Don Pedro’s Bar and Tuolumne. Representative Malcolm M. Stewart of the San Joaquin district in the Assembly went to that first meeting and called the town formerly known as Sonoranian Camp or Sonora as we know it today “Stewart". Thus "Stewart" became the county seat of Tuolumne County. Later that year the name was changed back to Sonora by petition and an amendment approved by the State Senate. In March John Walker, a member of the Hildreth Party finds gold near what is now Columbia. On September 9, 1850 California became a part of the United States. We also entered the Union as a "free state" as a result of the Compromise of 1850

1850 the Hildreth party stops to weather a storm and finds gold near what is now Columbia

Citizens vote on May 25, 1851 to consolidate both the Georgetown and Jamestown camps by one name, Jamestown. The City of Sonora was also incorporated by California legislature this year.

In 1852 gold is discovered in Turn Back Creek near Carters-Summerville in Tuolumne Township. Also that year the first water company was incorporated the Tuolumne County Water Company would eventually gobble up its competition and dominate water distribution in the county. The Jamestown Methodist Church was founded in 1852. According to the census that year the population of Tuolumne County was 17,657

The East Belt mineral lode was discovered in 1853 and produced such important mines as the Confidence, Independence, Soulsby and Eureka Mines. Hydraulic mining is employed to cut down the outcrops on hillsides of alluvial gravel. The water flowing downhill washed the soil into large long sluices strung along the base.

The "Union Democrat" newspaper was started in Sonora in 1854 and continues to this day. That same year the Columbia and Stanislaus River Company (CSRWC), was formed. Frank and Elizabeth Summers settle near Turnback Creek near what is now Tuolumne.

Chinese Camp, the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church is finished in 1855.

The Tong War of 1856

Tensions between the Tuolumne County Sam Yap Company and the Calaveras County Yan Wo Company, both headquartered near Chinese Camp erupted in violence. In the Columbia Gazette of October 1856 a comment directed toward the Yan Wo by the Sam Yap stated “There are a great many now existing in the world who ought to be exterminated.” An estimated 2500 men fought in the battle that followed. Most were armed in traditional fashion, carrying long pikes, butcher’s knives, and tridents. The Sam Yap Company had purchased 150 muskets and bayonets in San Francisco in preparation for the confrontation and after a hundred rounds or so The Yan Wo clan were forced to retreat. Surprisingly there were only 4 fatalities were recorded.

The Strawberry Dam is constructed by the Tuolumne Water Company in 1856. The water is diverted to the gold fields in Columbia.

New Tuolumne County jail opens 1857.

In 1858 near the town of Tuolumne the Eureka Mine was established by Cornish miners in vicinity of what was then called Summersville. 1858 also saw the completion of over 70 miles of ditch and flume system owned by Columbia & Stanislaus River Water Company stretching from above Donnell Flat to Columbia.

The oldest Episcopal Church in California opens its doors in 1859. Named St. James Episcopal Church or as it is affectionately known. “The Red Church”

Built in 1860, the Columbia School House was two story brick structure that was used until 1937.

The Jamestown Methodist Church was constructed in 1861.

1864 was a big year, President Lincoln signed bill granting Yosemite Valley & Mariposa Grove to State of California, as inalienable public trust. The Sonora Pass Road opens. This toll road later becomes State Highway 108 and later that December, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) arrives at Jackass Hill, near Tuttletown.

In the year 1866 a California law was enacted that made the rancher responsible for any damages done when livestock trespassed onto another’s property whether there was a fence or not.

By 1870 California passed more fence line laws to keep livestock contained.

Big Oak Flat Road opened to Yosemite Valley and tourism flourishes in 1874

In the year 1879, the Bonanza Mine, lying just north of the “Red Church” yields a pocket of gold worth an estimated $250,000.

Thirty-one years later Hydraulic mining was outlawed in 1884.

1888 Summersville (Tuolumne) residents petitioned to have their own post office. Fearing confusion, the Postal Service denied the towns petition because an existing post office called “Somersville” in Contra Costa County. Later that December it was agreed that since the post office was located at the store of Charles Carter, the town would be called “Carters.” The request was subsequently affirmed and Carters-Summersville was born.

In the year 1890 Yosemite National Park is formed.

The Second Gold Rush began in 1893 at the Old Rawhide Mine, owned by Captain W. A. Nevills, re-opened and struck an immense body of rich ore with three shafts and 40-stamp mill; rekindled interest in quartz hard rock mining.

On January 1, 1897 the Sierra Railway of California was incorporated. Thomas S. Bullock along with William Crocker and Prince Andre Poniatowski, who represented wealthy French investors established the first forty-one miles from Oakdale to Jamestown by November 10, 1897. Bullock who had been competitively forced out of Arizona brought rails and engines from his original railroad investments used on the Prescott and Arizona Central Railroad. The new Jamestown depot hosted a roundhouse and the operations central maintenance facility. The connection line to Sonora was completed later the following year. The Emporium in Jamestown was also constructed this year. The Eastlake design building at 18180 Main Street was built by C. H. Wilson. Originally built as a pioneer department store, it served as the county telephone exchange from 1906-1923.

Construction starts in 1898 on the three-story Roman pressed brick building that is the new Tuolumne County Court House.

West Side Flume & Lumber Co. is established by Bullock in May of 1899 and the railroad adds another 12 miles to reach Carters-Summerville (later renamed Tuolumne after the fire of 1905).

By February 1, 1900 the end of the main line was completed with a depot located only a few hundred yards from the new mill of the West Side Flume and Lumber Company. The depot became known as the "Tuolumne Station". Later that year the WSFL&LC incorporates the Hetch Hetchy & Yosemite Valley RR (narrow gauge)

Standard Lumber Co. is incorporated. D. H. Steinmetz is the general manager. Thomas S. Bullock opens Turnback Inn and establishes a post office in the WSFL&LC main office in 1901.

Tuolumne County High School starts meeting in basement of Tuolumne County Courthouse in 1903. This is the predecessor to Sonora High School.

Stanislaus Forest Reserve renamed Stanislaus National Forest in 1905.

In Tuolumne, St Josephs Catholic Church was constructed in the year 1908.

The community of Carters / Summersville / Tuolumne is officially named “Tuolumne” in 1909.

In 1910 the Mi Wuk Rancheria is established near Tuolumne.

1916 the New Strawberry Dam (Pinecrest Lake) completed

The Pickering Lumber Company acquires the Standard Lumber Company and its Sugar Pine Railroad in 1921.

1923 O’Shaughnessy Dam (Hetch Hetchy) completed. The Turnback Inn burns to the ground.

1924 the Don Pedro Dam completed.

In 1925 Pickering acquires the West Side Lumber Company and its railroad.

1929 the Melones Dam completed.

1930 Lyons Reservoir is rebuilt.

Built in 1936 on the site where the Turnback Inn had stood The Tuolumne Veterans Memorial Hall was erected in Art Deco style with funding from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal Public Works Project. The Sycamore trees that line the park and streets of Tuolumne were planted about the same time.

1938 Sierra Railroad’s last regularly scheduled passenger train ends service in Tuolumne County.

In 1945 the Columbia State Historic Park is established.

1949 Harry T Meyer and Arch Selby lost their lives in the worst wildfire since 1935.

Dodge Ridge snow ski recreation area opens in 1951.

In 1952 the motion picture "High Noon" with Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly filmed at various Tuolumne County locations, including St Josephs Church in Tuolumne.

West Side Lumber Co. discontinues narrow gage railroad operations in 1961 after a decision in favor of using logging trucks.

A year later in 1962 West Side Lumber Co.’s Tuolumne saw mill is shut down by a strike and burns down later in the year never to reopen.

"Petticoat Junction" TV program filmed in Tuolumne County using Sierra Railway equipment in 1963.

Fiberboard Paper Products purchases Pickering Lumber Company in 1965.

Columbia College opens in 1968.

In 1983, Pacific Gas and Electric sold a portion of the ditch system known as
The Tuolumne Water System to the County of Tuolumne. State of California
Parks & Recreation opens Railtown 1897 State Historic Park; steam excursion and interpretive living history

The Sonora Mining Company in Jamestown started a high volume open pit gold mine in 1986. The ore was transported to Nevada for gold extraction due to California environmental restrictions.

In September of 1987 the Stanislaus Complex Fire scorches 147,000 acres.

"Back to the Future III", starring Michael J. Fox & Christopher Lloyd was filmed in the red hills area in 1989

1992 marked the year that Tuolumne County consolidated with the Tuolumne Regional Water District. Phoenix Lake and most of the remaining ditch assets were transferred to the newly formed Tuolumne Utilities District (TUD).

In 1993 largest crystalline gold specimen in North America was found on
Christmas Eve at the Sonora Mining Co.

Sonora mining closes after 8 years in 1994.

In 1995 Sierra Pacific Industries acquires the Louisiana Pacific lumber mill in standard.

The "Back to the Future III" set is burned to the ground in 1996 after a fire in the Red Hills.

The original West Side Lumber Co. property was sold at auction to Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians for housing development in 2002.

2009 Sierra Pacific Industries discontinues mill operations in Standard, 108
years after it opened as the Standard Lumber Company.

Early History of Tuolumne County

The Miwok People

The first known inhabitants of the area now known as Tuolumne County were the Miwok bands. Miwok (also spelled Miwuk, Mi-Wuk, or Me-Wuk) can refer to any one of four linguistically-related groups of Native Americans, indigenous to Northern California, who traditionally spoke one of the Miwokan languages in the Utian family. The word Miwok means "people" in their native language. Anthropologists commonly divide the Miwok into four geographically and culturally diverse ethnic subgroups. These distinctions were unknown among the Miwok before European contact. The subgroups are:

Plains and Sierra Miwok: from the western slope and foothills of the Sierra Nevada, the Sacramento Valley, San Joaquin Valley and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Coast Miwok: from the present-day area of Marin County and southern Sonoma County (including the Bodega Bay Miwok and Marin Miwok).
Lake Miwok: from Clear Lake basin of Lake County.
Bay Miwok: from the present-day area of Contra Costa County.

The Miwok lived in small bands without centralized political authority before contact with European Americans in 1769. They had domesticated dogs and cultivated tobacco, but were otherwise hunter-gatherers. The Sierra Miwok preferentially exploited acorns from the California Black Oak. In fact, the modern-day extent of the California Black Oak forests in some areas of Yosemite National Park is due in part to preferential cultivation by Miwok tribes. They burned under-story vegetation to reduce the fraction of Ponderosa Pine. Nearly every other kind of edible vegetable matter was exploited as a food source, including bulbs, seeds and fungi. Animals were hunted with arrows, clubs or snares, depending on the species and the situation. Grasshoppers were a highly-prized food source, as were mussels for those groups adjacent to the Stanislaus River. The Miwok ate meals according to appetite rather than at regular times. They stored food for later consumption, primarily in flat-bottomed baskets. Miwok mythology and narratives tend to be similar to those of other natives of Northern California. Miwok had totem animals, identified with one of two moieties, which were in turn associated respectively with land and water. These totem animals were not thought of as literal ancestors of humans, but rather as predecessors. In 1770, there were an estimated 500 Lake Miwok, 1,500 Coast Miwok and 9,000 Plains and Sierra Miwok, totaling about 11,000 people, according to historian Alfred L. Kroeber, although this may be a serious undercount; for example, he did not identify the Bay Miwok. The 1910 Census reported only 671 Miwok total and the 1930 Census only 491. Today there are about 3,500 Miwok in total.

The Miwok of Tuolumne County lived in scattered, but permanent, villages, which typically were built below the heavy snow line near creeks, springs, or other sources of fresh water. During summer months, the Miwok would establish temporary hunting and gathering camps at higher elevations. The permanent villages contained a few different styles of structure. Every village had a large storehouse in which they stored a plentiful supply of their primary dietary staple: acorns. Each village also contained a sweathouse and a roundhouse, the former being a small shelter with a fire pit that was used primarily for healing ceremonies and the latter being a larger ceremonial building that was used for religious and social activities. The homes were cone-shaped shelters, usually comprised of bark, each with a fire pit in the center and a smoke hole in the top.

Miwok men were responsible for hunting, while the women gathered other edible items and crafted baskets, among other things. The Miwok often met with members of other tribes, with whom the Miwok would trade acorns, baskets and other things for items such as obsidian, pine nuts and salt. A replica of a Miwok village stands at the Summit Ranger Station on Highway 108 (at the Pinecrest turnoff). Located next to the Yosemite Museum and Visitor's Center is the Indian village of Ahwahnee, where basket weavers work at the ancient Miwok craft.

Early California Visitors and Westward Migration

Prior to the discovery of gold in California, the area had few visitors. Portugal's Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, England's Sir Francis Drake and other European adventurers explored California's coast as early as the mid-16th century. In the late-18th century, Spain began colonizing California. Spain's missions failed when Mexico sought and won independence from Spain in about 1820. As a result, Mexico took control of California. Richard Dana's published account of his visit to California in 1834, in which he described California's land, climate and lack of inhabitants, created a great deal of interest in California in Easterners. Other writers described the God-given right to expand the U.S. Westward expansion began to catch on in earnest in the 1840s. In 1844, James K. Polk utilized a platform that included expansion of the western frontiers and was elected President. Polk worked with England to obtain a major portion of the Oregon Territory for the U.S. and also attempted to purchase California from Mexico. The U.S. annexed Texas in 1845, despite Mexican protests. The Mexican-American War, which began in 1846, was the result of Mexican and U.S. territorial tensions. That war concluded in January 1848, when the Gold Rush was just beginning in California. The annexation of Texas and Oregon, the war with Mexico and the Louisiana Purchase expanded U.S. territorial boundaries from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

Americans moved westward in slow stages after the American Revolution. The Lewis and Clark Expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition, was the first transcontinental expedition to the Pacific coast undertaken by the U.S. Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, it was led by two Virginia-born veterans of Indian wars in the Ohio Valley, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific in 1805. The 13 states showed little interest in the uncharted wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, however. The first settlers to reach Oregon arrived in 1836 and by 1840 that route west was well-known. The Bartleson-Bidwell party became the first settlers to reach California. After the discovery of gold in California, westward travel exploded. More than 30,000 individuals went west in 1849 and another 55,000 went west in 1850. By 1857, 165,000 people has crossed the continent overland. by the time the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869 (connecting Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California), 350,000 settlers had made the journey west along the Oregon/California trail. With the railroad, travel time from east to west was reduced to a week from six months.

Gold in Tuolumne

In the early 1840s, James Marshall wandered down the Pacific coast from Oregon and began working for John Sutter. Sutter was building a farming empire, which became known as Sutter’s Fort. In August 1847, Marshall became Sutter’s partner and agreed to build a sawmill to support many of Sutter’s activities. In January 1848, Marshall discovered gold in the raceway of the sawmill in a valley called “Coloma” by the local Native Americans on the south fork of the American River. When Marshall and Sutter realized that they had found gold, they attempted to keep the discovery a secret for fear the farming lands would be overrun by gold seekers. Sam Brannan had come to Sutter’s Fort earlier and opened a general store there. Brannan was one of the first to hear the news of gold as it leaked out. He also was first to see an opportunity to make his fortune by supplying shovels, picks and other simple mining supplies to the gold seekers. Brannan purchased enough gold dust to fill a jar and traveled to San Francisco and walked the streets shouting and showing the gold. These events precipitated "gold fever" and the race for gold began in California in early 1848. Back east, people were not sure that this was the real thing until President Polk verified the gold discovery on December 5, 1848, when he made his official annual message to Congress. He reported that gold was being found daily in California, worth large sums of money, and displayed a small box filled with gold dust that had been sent to him by courier from California.

In the summer of 1848, gold was found in the streams and rivers that drained the Sierra Nevada and the foothills in what is now Tuolumne County. An Oregon prospector, Benjamin Wood, and his party, including James Savage, found gold on the banks of a branch of the Tuolumne River. The party named their camp Wood's Crossing and called the creek Wood's Creek. By the end of the summer 1848, Col. George James build a mining camp above Wood's Crossing and named it after himself - Jamestown. About the same time, a Judge Tuttle had found a rich site of gold on Mormon Creek and set up a log cabin and a camp known as Tuttletown. Similar camps were springing up rapidly at Melones, Don Pedro's Bar and Shaws Flat. In March 1849, some Mexicans and Chileans were working claims upstream from Wood's Camp in the area known today as Columbia Way in the northern portion of Sonora. The new gold diggings became known as Sonoranian Camp, named for the State of Sonora, Mexico, from which Mexican miners had come. Shortly thereafter, waves of immigrants began arriving in Tuolumne County. Gold strikes were found at places such as Curtis Creek, Sullivan's Creek and Savage Diggings. The town of Jacksonville developed where Wood's Creek met the Tuolumne River. Texas Bar and Indian Bar, Robinson's Ferry and Soldier's Gulch all became active mining camps. South of the river, in Big Oak Flat, gold was discovered on Rattlesnake Creek. Chinese Camp was established by the rapid growth of Chinese immigrants that lived and worked the gold diggings in that area.

Tuolumne's foothills were swarming with miners and other fortune-seekers. Since there were no California laws or system of courts, disputes were settled by each settlement individually. Residents used the old Mexican Alcalde system (similar to mayors and sheriffs) to select "lawmen", often bestowing those duties upon veterans of the Mexican-American War. Justice was questionable, at best. With the population of the Tuolumne area rising rapidly, conflicts broke out frequently between miners. Because of the overwhelming proportion of foreigners in the area, anti-foreign sentiment was prevalent throughout the county. In the spring of 1850, the Foreign Miners Act became a law, which required foreigners to pay a $20 per month tax for the privilege of mining in California. As a result, many foreigners left California, which also lead to several failed businesses. Some foreign miners struck back with violence and robberies and murders became prevalent. Vigilante groups formed in an attempt to hamper the crime wave, but many suspected criminals were hanged without be allowed legitimate trials to prove their guilt. Even after the repeal of the Foreign Miner's Tax, things were never the same between American-born and foreign-born individuals.

In 1853, other gold mining camps were established above the Mother Lode near Soulsbyville and beyond. The Confidence, Independence, Mary Ellen, Payboy and Little Jessie mines were established. In about 1855, the Cherokee and Arastraville mines were established just north of the Tuolumne City area and placer gold was located in Turnback Creek in 1856. That year, Cornish men discovered the Eureka Quartz mine in Soulsbyville.

Mining techniques evolved from simple knives and pans to special sluicing devices, such as rockers and long toms. That graduated into the diverting of waterways, damming, re-routing entire segments of rivers and dredging, which was the procedure of using a floating barge to scoop ore from the bottoms of rivers and creeks. Eventually, miners turned to hydraulic methods to wash small hillsides, which graduated to the use of nozzles and monitors at extremely high pressure that could wash portions of mountains. Hard rock mining where the gold was integral to the quartz required devices such as arastras and stamp mills, used to crush ore and separate the gold with water, mercury and cyanide. Each new concept increased the efficiency of mining and the extraction of gold. Major damage to the environment was a direct result of mining and logging activities during the Gold Rush era.

A second gold rush began in Tuolumne County in 1893 at the Old Rawhide mine, owned by Capt. W. A. Neville, when the mine was re-opened and miners struck an immense body of rich ore. The mine utilized three shafts and a 40-stamp mill and also rekindled interest in quartz hard-rock mining.

The Sierra Railway provided freight and passenger service to and from Tuolumne County. The railway brought in box cars from all over the U.S., loaded with grain, coal, crude oil, dynamite and lumbering machinery and took out produce, lumber and mining ore. At one time, Tuolumne County was one of California's leading mining districts, with over 300 patented mines and about 1,000 ore stamping facilities.

Tuolumne Becomes a County

In late-1849, the acting governor of California, General Bennett Riley, called upon John Sutter to assist in the writing of a state constitution, even though California technically not a state, or even a U.S. territory. In an attempt to cope with the large and growing California population, Riley organized a convention without authorization from the U.S. Congress. Seeking statehood in September 1849, forty-eight delegates, representing the diversity of Californians from all walks of life, gathered at Monterey. The delegates adopted a bill of rights, which was based on the federal Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. The California Bill of Rights also included a ban on slavery. They debated the boundaries of the state and eventually settled up the present-day boundaries. After six weeks, on October 12, 1849, their work was done. In November 1849, the first general election was held in California and voters approved the State of California Constitution. Four senators and nine assemblymen were elected to represent California in the first State Legislature, located in San Jose. The next month, the legislature met and selected Col. John Fremont to be California's first senator.

On February 18, 1850, Tuolumne County was established by the California Legislature and the county was divided into six townships: Sonora, Morman Camp, Jacksonville, Don Pedro's Bar and Tuolumne City. The word Tuolumne is believed to be a transliteration of the Miwok word "talmalamne", meaning a cluster of stone dwellings. The town of Sonora became Tuolumne County's seat, though Malcolm M. Stewart, representative of the San Joaquin district in the Assembly, changed the town's name from Sonoranian Camp to Stewart. The name Sonora was restored by petition and amendment, approved by the State Senate on April 18, 1850. On September 9, 1850, California became was admitted to the United States as a free (slave-free) state - result of the Compromise of 1850. By May 1851, Sonora was an incorporated city. The Union Democrat newspaper was established in Sonora in 1854 and continues to this day. The oldest Episcopal Church in California opened its doors in Sonora in 1850, called the St. James Episcopal Church, or simply as "The Red Church". Built in 1860, the Columbia School House was a two-story brick structure that was utilized until 1937. The Jamestown Methodist Church was constructed in 1861. In 1898, construction began in Sonora on the three-story Roman pressed-brick building that became the Tuolumne County Courthouse, still in use today.

Agriculture and Ranching

In the early days of California's history, economic life was centered around the cattle industry. A few hundred head of stock brought from Mexico by early settlers multiplied into thousands by the early-1800s. By 1825, grazing lands grew to the point that hundreds of square miles were required to support a single herd. The Gold Rush changed a lot about California, but agriculture and ranching always has been the mainstay of economic security for California's residents. As early as 1849, produce gardens in Tuolumne were planted in order to meet the local demand for fresh fruits and vegetables. Vineyards and orchards planted during the Gold Rush were irrigated by water from placer mining ditches and flumes. Twenty years later, fresh produce was being shipped by wagon over the Sonora-Mono Road to the new gold strikes at Bodie and Aurora on the east side of the Sierra Nevada. Fruit, apples in particular, became one of Tuolumne's most popular agricultural products. When placer mining dropped off in the 1870s and hydraulic mining was outlawed in 1884, many of the water supply systems were abandoned, making the irrigation of orchards difficult. Yet, by 1910, apple products shipped by the Sierra Railway were a major export of Tuolumne County.

From the late-1890s to the 1920s, Tuolumne County agriculture was a major activity, with livestock being the most important. There were a number of large ranches in the area. Cattle were driven into the mountains in the spring to pasture, then returned to the foothills in the winter. Livestock was not only important, but also profitable, as the Sierra Railway became a major source of exporting good from Tuolumne County. Today, California's agricultural and ranching enterprises as as diverse as any in the world.

Timber and Lumber

The timber and lumber industry in Tuolumne County was shaped by early gold miners. Wood was a basic building material for gold mining devices and was required for transport of water by way of flumes. When places mining played out and as hydraulic mining was being curtailed, underground hard-rock mining expanded. The demand for timber grew rapidly. Lumber also was becoming the primary building material for homes and commercial businesses, which replaced the canvas tents and shelters used at the initial settlements. In 1848, planks of lumber were made by hand-sawing timber with whipsaws. Man-powered sawmills were common in mining camps. As the demand for timber grew, water-powered sawmills were established. Lumber production in that way was greatly improved, but still was limited to a few thousand board feet per day. The year 1850 saw the development of steam-powered sawmills in Tuolumne County and, by 1856, two dozen mills of various types were operating in Tuolumne County. It was not until the Sierra Railway incorporated in 1897 that large mills were conceived and built to cut lumber for local use and for export.

Tuolumne County's first major lumber operation was incorporated in 1899 as the West Side Flume and Lumber Company, later renamed West Side Lumber Company. In 1900, West Side Lumber opened a large mill in Tuolumne City and eventually added a drying kiln, planing mill and box factory. The second major lumber operation in Tuolumne County was the Standard Lumber Company, headquartered in Sonora and later moved to the company town of Standard. Standard Lumber was incorporated in 1901 by D. H. Steinmitz, who was joined later by T. S. Bullock after West Side Lumber was sold to a Michigan corporation. Standard Lumber was formed by the acquisition of S. S. Bradford's mountain sawmill, timber land, planing mill and sash-door company in Sonora. In addition, N. L. Knedsen's mill and lumber yard in south Sonora were taken under lease as part of the holdings of Standard Lumber.

Pickering Lumber Company acquired Standard Lumber, along with its Sugar Pine Railroad, in 1921. In 1925, Pickering also acquired West Side Lumber and its railroad. However, Pickering Lumber ceased all operations around the end of the Great Depression of the 1930s. In 1934, West Side Lumber and its railroad were returned to their former owners. In about 1937, Pickering re-opened its remaining operations after the company received a federal economic recovery aid loan. With the improvement of roads for automobile and trucking traffic, logging trucks were chosen over railroads as the preferred method of transport. In 1961, West Side Lumber Railroad was discontinued for good and, four years later, the Pickering Lumber Railroad (formerly Sugar Pine Railroad) followed suit.

Fiberboard Paper Products purchased Pickering Lumber in 1965. Following that company's bankruptcy, the company was purchased by Louisiana Pacific. In 1995, the company was purchased by it current owner, Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI). The Sierra Railroad hauled freight and processed timber products, as well as contracting to haul logs from out of state, which were then processed by SPI, which continued to operate next to the old company town of Standard. In 2009, SPI closed the Standard mill, ending 150 years of major timber/logging industry in Tuolumne County. Two years later, SPI re-opened the mill and operations continue there today.

Sierra Railway

The Sierra Railway of California was incorporated February 1, 1897. Thomas S. Bullock, William Crocker and Prince Andre Poniatowski (who represented wealthy French investors) founded the railroad. Bullock brought rails and engines from his original railroad investments in the Prescott and Arizona Central Railroad. The first 41 miles were built from Oakdale to Jamestown by November 10, 1897. The roundhouse and central maintenance facility were erected at Jamestown. Over teamster objections and other delays, the connection to Sonora was completed on February 16, 1899. From Sonora, the railroad added another 12 miles to reach Carters-Summersville (later renamed Tuolumne City). By February 1, 1900, the end of the main line was completed at Tuolumne City, with a depot located only a few hundred yards from the new mill of the West Side Flume and Lumber Company.

The Sierra Railway was the main connection between Sonora, Jamestown and the company lumber towns of Standard and Tuolumne City. The West Side Lumber mill at Tuolumne City and the mountain mills of Standard Lumber Company furnished the largest source of revenue for the Sierra. West Side Lumber's railway and Standard Lumber's railway fed the Sierra Railway. The Angel's Camp branch of the Sierra Railway brought freight and passengers to the bustling gold mining towns in Calaveras County. After struggling with changes in elevation, which resulted in steep grades, a system of four switchback spur tracks was designed to bring the Sierra Railway 19 tortuous miles over trestles and bridges to Angel's Camp. The Angel's Camp branch was completed on September 15, 1902 and operated until 1935.

The Sierra Railway connected directly to the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific railroads in Oakdale, which provided access to the national rail network. It reached its peak passenger service in the years just before World War I, when ten regularly-scheduled trains ran every day. The Sierra Railway was used to supply the Don Pedro Dam project on the Tuolumne River and the Melones Dam project on the Stanislaus River in the early-1920s. It also supported the Hetch Hetchy Dam project (O'Shaughnessey Dam) in the 1920s and had access to the Hetch Hetchy Railroad, which ran up to the Hetch Hetchy Valley's major construction sites. The Sierra Railway also supported the Tri-Dam project, consisting of Tulloch, Beardsley and Donnell.

The Great Depression saw the Sierra Railway go into receivership and then emerge in 1937 as the Sierra Railroad. The last passenger service run was completed on May 12, 1939. In 1955, the railroad began to use diesel-electric engines and to haul freight exclusively. The original Jamestown complex of roundhouse, turntable and steam maintenance shops were sold in 1982 to the State of California Park and Recreation Department, which in turn opened the site to the public as the Railtown 1897 State Historic park, where steam passenger excursion trains operate today during spring, summer and fall months.

The Sierra Railway also is famous for its role in the film industry. It all began in 1919, when Hollywood discovered the old steam engines and rolling stock and then began to use them in silent movies. The Jamestown station became one of the first field facilities to use movie sound on location. More than 200 films and television programs, many of them notable, have been filmed using Sierra's rolling stock and steam engines and the station continues to play a role in filmmaking today. Among those films are titles such as The Virginian (1929), starring Gary Cooper and Walter Huston, High Noon (1951), starring Gary Cooper, The Cimarron Kid (1952), starring Audie Murphy and James Best, Apache (1954), starring Burt Lancaster, Jean Peters and Charles Bronson, Rage at Dawn (1955), starring Randolph Scott and Forrest Tucker, The Great Race (1966), starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood, Finian's Rainbow (1968), starring Fred Astaire and Petula Clark, Bound for Glory (1976), starring David Carradine and Randy Quaid, Pale Rider (1985), starring Clint Eastwood and Richard Dysart, Back to the Future Part III (1990), starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd and Mary Steenburgen, Unforgiven (1992), starring Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman, and many others. Among those television programs are titles such as The Lone Ranger (1956), starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels, Rawhide (1960), starring Clint Eastwood and Eric Flemming, Lassie (1961-1962), starring Jon Provost, June Lockhart and Hugh Reilly, Petticoat Junction (1963-1970), starring Bea Benaderet, Edgar Buchanan and Linda Kaye Henning, The Wild Wild West (1964), starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin, Gunsmoke (1971), starring James Arness, Amanda Blake and Milburn Stone, Bonanza (1972), starring Lorne Greene and Michael Landon, Little House on the Prairie (1975-1983), starring Michael Landon, Karen Grassle and Melissa Gilbert, The A-Team (1984), starring George Peppard and Mr. T., among many others.

Tuolumne Me-Wuk Tribal History

The Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians is a federally recognized Indian tribe located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in Tuolumne County, California. The Tuolumne Rancheria was purchased on October 26, 1910 and established as one of two local reservations for landless Indians. The original acquisition consisted of 289.52 acres. Today there are over 1700 fee and trust land acres. There are approximately 200 residents living on the Rancheria and an additional 200 non-resident members of the Tribe.

The governing body of the tribe is the Community Council composed of 87 members. The officers of the Community Council are Chairperson, Vice-Chair, Secretary and Treasurer. Recommendations are made by Tribal Committees and are brought to the Council for approval. These committees are Business and Finance, Constitution and By-Laws, Planning and Development, Social Services Advisory, Personnel, Health Board, Enrollment, Housing Authority, Education, Cultural and Historic Preservation and Tribal Law Enforcement.

The first known contact on record of Native perspective of the Spanish Explorers was the Moraga Second Expedition to Central California through Tuolumne County in 1806. However Me-Wuk peoples have a very long and rich history dating back for thousands of years. The Me-Wuk have always been knowledgeable about the resources of the land, and hunted and gathered what they needed. If the resources were not readily available on their land, Me-Wuk would migrate in order to trade with others. The primary food staples were fish, acorns, and deer meat. The diet was also supplemented with various wild berries, seeds and nuts. The typical village consisted of umachas (cedar bark homes), chakkas (acorn granaries) and a hangi (ceremonial roundhouse). The ceremonial roundhouse was the epicenter of village life and should be respected as would any place of worship. The roundhouse was used for a variety of purposes by different groups. It is typically 30 to 40 feet in diameter and is covered by earth, bark, or shingles. Dances are still held in the roundhouse as a way of giving thanks and respect for all that the Earth Mother gave to the people.

Other traditional activities practiced by the Me-Wuk were acorn processing and basketry. There are many stages involved with making acorns suitable for consumption including gathering, sorting, storing, cracking, pounding, leaching and cooking. Baskets were used throughout the stages of acorn processing, as well as for other tasks. Coiled Basketry was the most common style utilized. Approximately 20 different traditional basket types could be made with this one style. Willow was the most widespread material utilized for basketry. Women were responsible for creating and maintaining the family’s baskets. Men had separate responsibilities, including hunting.

The California Gold Rush era impacted the Miwok people in many traumatic ways, changing their lives forever. In a very short time, the land and environment that had sustained the people for generations was irreparably altered. Stream channels were disturbed, sometimes re-routed, and eventually the land was blasted away causing huge amounts of soil to enter the streams and rivers, destroying the habitat of fish and other aquatic species that once were food for the Miwok people. Gathering areas that had supplied the Miwok with many foods were unintentionally damaged or cleared for cattle grazing. The cattle also ate the acorns, a major source of food for the Miwok people. Disease brought in by the newcomers entered the world of the Miwok taking many lives due to the people’s lack of immunity. There were many attempts by miners and militias commissioned by the federal government to address the "Indian problem," to control or annihilate the Miwok population. The Miwok people were forced to flee from their homes and seek refuge in more isolated areas for protection and survival. Prior to outside contact, the Sierra Miwok population was somewhere around 10,000. This number fell drastically to 679 during the 1910 census.

"The slow, but eventual loss or abandonment of many traditional customs and traits, yet the perseverance of others, characterized Me-Wuk culture change during the 20th century," (Davis-King, Shelly TMTC CRPP, p. 12). In 1924 two significant events in Miwok history were observed. First, the Miwok name officially came into use. Before this time Me-Wuk people were referred to as Digger Indians. On Sunday, April 20th, 1924 an effigy of a digger Indian was burned in a ceremony to change the Tribe’s name from Digger to Miwok. This was the culmination of a three day celebration, part of an annual cry ceremony that was held each year by the local Miwok. Then on June 2, 1924, Congress granted citizenship to all Native Americans born in the United States.

Today, the Me-Wuk culture is alive and still widely practiced. There are traditional events that have been created to keep the traditions alive. The Acorn Festival, established in October of 1966, attracts people from all areas to celebrate local tradition. It is now held annually the second weekend of September. It features cultural demonstrations, traditional foods, dance, and Native American vendors. The Indian Market, celebrated in the spring, is another annual traditional event. It is a time to highlight the many traditional activities of the Me-Wuk, including basketry, acorn processing, sharing and games.

Game playing and gambling are not foreign to the Me-Wuk. They have played games of chance for most of their history. One of the more popular games is the "Hand Game," played while singing gambling songs. Teams compete in guessing the "bones." The Tuolumne Band joined the approximately sixty other California gaming tribes with the opening of the Black Oak Casino on May 15, 2001. It was re-designed, re-built and re-opened May 18, 2005 . It features four restaurants, a lounge nightclub, bowling alley and family fun center- along with over a thousand slot machines and 20 table games. The Casino has enabled the Tribe to broaden the range of services not only offered to the Indian community, but the broader community at large. Black Oak sponsors a wide range of community events.

In January of 2005 the Tribe opened the Tuolumne Me-Wuk Indian Health Center. It is a tribally owned and operated primary care health center located on the former Westside Property in the city of Tuolumne. It provides pediatric, obstetric, psychiatric, general medical care, minor surgery, and general health education. It continues to grow to meet the needs of the community, for example an on site pharmacy was opened in September of 2006 and the new, state-of-the-art Dental Clinic opened up in April of 2008 on Greenley Road in Sonora.

The Tribe continues to fight assimilation and advocates cultural event participation, knowledge and utilization of traditional methodology, self-determination and Indian sovereignty. The Tribal Vision Statement accurately expresses this sentiment. It states that "The Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians is a sovereign nation that is dedicated to uphold social and economic stability through self reliance and to promote the health, safety and welfare of our Indian people."