Mokelumne Hill Gold Country
by David P.
The area around Mokelumne Hill on Highway 49 in California's Mother Lode gold country has incredible treasure hunting potential for you. Mokelumne Hill was one of the most important gold regions in the Southern Mines. The first mining in the district was at Big Bar on the Mokelumne River where the present Highway 49 crosses the stream. At that time Mokelumne Hill was a trading post on a hill above Big Bar. The two grew rapidly and became the county seat of Calaveras County from 1852 to 1866. The town was a center of great hustle and bustle. With this artifacts that must still be in the ground today, let alone the wonderful antique bottles that remain in good condition in gold country soil. Today, Mokelumne Hill is smaller and quieter than in gold rush days.
Gold was recovered around the Mokelumne Hill zone in amazing quantities. In 1848 four Frenchmen found 138 pounds of gold from one gulch near Mokelumne Hill. Three Frenchmen retrieved 180 thousand dollars worth of gold off French Hill. An 80-ounce nugget of gold in the shape of a hook was found in two days from a small gulch. One of the best primary accounts of mining around the Mokelumne Hill locality is John Doble's Journal and Letters from the Mines 1851-1865. Doble penned in 1852, "Thousands upon thousands of gold has been got from this place; some holes have been dug here and large quantities of gold found to the depth of 180 feet."
When the initial abundance of gold and depleted water was needed in the area to allow for more gold gathering. It was found necessary to build a canal fifty miles up the Mokelumne River in order to raise the water far enough above its natural channel to insure a constant flow to Mokelumne Hill. The enormous job of supplying water through precipitous mountains on wooden flumes opened up vast fields of new mining endeavors including hydraulic mining.
A number of ancient river channels went through the Mokelumne Hill territory. One of the richest was the Stockton Ridge Channel. The yields from its gravels were so high that claims were limited to areas of 50 feet square; the north end of Stockton Ridge is dotted with old shafts, which are seldom as much as 100 feet apart. The gravels were carried down the hill to washing plants in the flat. Coarse gold and nuggets which are seen today on the eastern slope of Stockton Ridge and even in the streets of Mokelumne Hill after heavy rains, are said to come from spilling of these gravels on the way to the old washing plants. The ancient river channel can be driven through today as you travel on a road near Stockton Hill.
The elusive and mysterious Black Bart robbed stages not far from Mokelumne Hill. Bart robbed at least 27 stages in a nine year period of banditry in California. Bart was a lone highwayman who dressed in a mask and a linen duster. Even though he always traveled on foot, Bart's once remarkable endurance allowed him to cover great distances. He once robbed two different coaches 60 miles apart in mountainous country within 24 hours. Black Bart would often cache the larger amounts of loot to return at a later time for recovery. It is likely that he did not recover all of the hidden treasure and some lucky person is yet to find some of Black Bart's stash.
As in the case of most Calaveras County towns, Mokelumne Hill was a haunt of the notorious bandit Joaquin Murieta. Often disguised, Joaquin would play cards in various saloons and discuss problems of his capture with the miners. The womenfolks of the Murieta gang would live in the town and gather information about the shipments of gold that went through Mokelumne Hill. Joaquin is said to have friends in town that sheltered and shielded him. On the side of Schrack Mountain in the vicinity of Chile Gulch was said to be a cave used by the bandit. Murieta probably operated this shelter as a resting spot where he could survey the surrounding countryside without being seen. I wonder if anyone has searched in the cave and surrounding area with good detection equipment?
Mokelumne Hill was the site of numerous bull and bear fights in the 1850's. The diarist Byron MCKinstry saw such an encounter in 1852. The fight took place on Brown's Hill in front of 400 persons. The bear won. On another occasion, two bulls were to take on a single grizzly bear. The bear, "General Scott", was estimated to weigh 1200 pounds. "General Scott" severely injured both bulls in short order! At the bull and bear fights miners made bets as to the outcome of the event. It seems that gold coins or nuggets would easily be lost in the excitement of the skirmish. Perhaps a valuable coin is still resting where an agitated mind dropped it.
There are many ghost towns and mining camp sites in the region. The names of a few are Jesus Maria, Middle Bar, Rich Gulch, Paloma, Big Bar, Sandy Bar, Butte City, Independence Flat, and Whisky Slide. Wayside inns and trading posts were in great abundance. Doble wrote, "We passed through Butte City which is on a small flat about a mile from the ferry & consists of some 50 canvas tents and clapboard houses. At the foot of Butte Mountain (Jackson Butte) is a small camp of some 50 tents where there has been some rich diggings." The entire Mokelumne Hill area was an "ant hill" of activity. The Mother Lode Treasure Hunters Club has searched a town site that had been drowned out by the damming of a river. Drought conditions exposed the sited to their hunting efforts. Some nice items were recovered. In the "Mok Hill" locale, the searcher with appropriate equipment has the possibility of finding anything, anywhere, at any time.
Life was not a bed of roses for the early miners in the Mokelumne Hill zone. The early newspapers tell of robberies, murders, and all manner of human difficulties associated with people living under trying conditions. French Hill was the focus of a short war between Frenchmen and Americans. At Chile Gulch, two miles south of Mokelumne Hill the Chilean War began where Chilean miners took aggressive action against American miners. Further south a struggle began at Central Hill between the American and Mexican miners for dominanace of Six Mile Creek. An American miner and a Mexican were killed in the fighting . The battle was followed up by several lynchings.
Even though life could be difficult each miner kept striving for a goal. This treasure hunter ambition was to find the richest gold strike that had ever been found, an objective for which all treasure hunters yearn. I have a Mokelumne Hill aspiration similar to the early miners, and I invite you to imagine it with me.
Visualize yourself cruising along a road near Mokelumne Hill. You notice a man in a gulch amid green grass and golden poppies. He is pointing a contraption that has three antennas attached to its front side. This is an unusual sight so you stop your car to watch. The antennas seem to point in the direction of a big oak tree. The man walks to another spot and sweeps the machine through the air. The antennas point, independently it seems, to the same oak tree. The man walks to the spot where the antennas pointed. He takes a sleek looking metal detector from an olive drab backpack that you hadn't noticed before. After a short search he pulls a cache recovery tool from the backpack and begins to excavate a hole.
Unable to passively watch any longer you go over to introduce yourself and get a closer look. You find that the man is me, the box with the antennas is and Electroscope® by Thomas, and the sleek detector is my C-scope. Together we unearth a metal box. It contains gold coins. A few of the coins you recognize as the super valuable, octagonal, Mt. Ophir gold slugs. We split the cache into three equal shares: a share for you, a share for me, and a share for the land owner. We don't mind sharing because there is probably plenty more where that came from in the Mokelumne Hill gold country.
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