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California Genealogy and History Archives


Amador County History

A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California
Chicago, Lewis Publ. Co., 1891



        This county is seventy miles long by twenty broad, though narrowing in the eastern portion to four or five miles.

        The eastern half of Amador, extending into the high Sierras, is elevated and rugged, the surface being cut by many deep ravines. In this elevated region are several small but deep and beautiful lakes, the water cold and of surpassing purity. This part of the county is covered with magnificent forests of pine, spruce, and cedar. The western half of Amador occupies the foothill country, more sparsely timbered, but almost as rugged as the mountain section, these foothills being the site of the gold mines. The upper part of Amador is one mass of granite, the geological formation, lower down, consisting mostly of slate, belts of limestone, and diorite (greenstone).

        Amador, while admirably adapted for fruit and vine growing, possessing also some other agricultural resources, is notably one of our foremost mining counties, its annual bullion product being now the largest, probably, of all counties in the State. There are in this county not less than twenty-five quartz mills, nearly all of them in active operation. These mills carry a total of over six hundred and fifty stamps. Along the broad gold-bearing belt, known as the "mother lode" of California, which holds its course across the county, the principal mines and mills are situated, there being here within a distance of fifteen miles, as many as twenty large companies engaged in vein mining, the properties of nearly all being equipped with first-class plants.

        Besides her quartz mines and auriferous deposits, Amador produces some copper and coal (brown lignite), and is rich in marble, limestone, freestone, etc. At a number of localities in the county, notably near the towns of Volcano and Oleta, diamonds have been found by the miners engaged in gravel washing. Some of these diamonds have been of fair size and good quality, and occurred in sufficient quantity to have made search remunerative, had the gravel accompanying them been more easily disintegrated. Some of the stones found here sold in the local market for $50 or $60, their intrinsic value having been much greater.

        In the famous trip across the mountains, Fremont and Carson traveled northward from Walker's River, crossing the river bearing Carson's name in their course, and making the crossing of the summit by way of Truckee and Lake Tahoe. The river was then named in honor of Carson, the pass and valley being named from the river, so that it is quite probable that Carson never crossed the mountains at that point until 1853, when he came through with a division of United States troops under Colonel Steptoe.

        The first authentic report of the presence of white men in the county was in 1846, when Sutter, with a party of Indians and a few white men, sawed lumber for a ferry-boat in a cluster of sugar pines on the ridge between Sutter and Amador creeks, about four miles above the town of Amador and Sutter.

        At this time (1846) the country was one unbroken forest from the plains to the Sierra Nevada, broken only by grassy glades like Ione valley, Volcano flats and other places. The tall pine waved from every hill, the white and black oak alternating and prevailing in the lower valleys. The timber in the lower foothills and valleys, though continuous, was so scattering that grasses, ferns and other plants grew between, giving the country the appearance of a well cared-for park. The quiet and repose of these ancient forests seemed like the results of thousands of years of peaceful occupation; and at every turn in the trails which the emigrants followed, they half expected to see the familiar old homestead, orchard, cider-press and grain-fields, the glories of the older settlements in the eastern States. These things, after years of residence, are beginning to appear. How much the ancient sylvan gods were astonished and shocked at the irruption of the races that tore up the ground and cut the trees, the poets of some other generation will relate.

        In the latter part of March, 1848, Captain Charles M. Weber, of Tuleburg (now Stockton), fitted out a prospecting party to search for gold in the mountains east of the San Joaquin Valley; but haste and want of experience prevented them from finding any of the shining metal until they reached the Mokelumne River in this county, when they found gold in every gulch to the American River. They commenced mining at Placerville, on Weber's Creek. Afterward they found fine specimens of gold south of the Mokelumne, and a mining company was formed which afterward gave name to Wood's creek, Murphy's Creek, Angel's Camp and other places. Then commenced the general working of the "Southern Mines," and the rush of miners and the general immigration which finally filled the country.

        In 1850, the two places contesting for the county seat were Jackson and Mokelumne Hill. After the election, when the first count or estimate was made out, Mokelumne Hill was said to have been the successful town, and a team was sent to Double Springs to remove the archives; but a subsequent count by Judge Smith made Jackson the county-seat. Smith was openly charged with fraud in the second counting. The whole affair was probably as near a farce as elections ever get to be. The seat of justice remained at Jackson until 1852, when it was transferred by election to Mokelumne Hill.

        El Dorado County was first organized with Dry Creek as its southern boundary; Calaveras County, with the same stream as its northern limits. From these two territories, Amador was afterward carved, first on June 14, 1854, by setting off the territory north of the Mokelumne from Calaveras, and in 1856–'57, by the addition of the strip from El Dorado lying south of the Cosumnes, the boundaries further east being rather indefinite.

        The first officers were William Fowler Smith, County Judge; John Hanson, Sheriff; Colonel Collier, County Clerk; A. B. Mudge, Treasurer; H. C. Carter, Prosecuting Attorney. Pleasant Valley, better known as the Double Springs, was designated as the county-seat. The courts were held in a long tent, eight or ten feet wide, imported from China. The first grand jury held its session under a big tree. According to all accounts, justice was anything but a blind goddess.

        In 1853–'54 the Legislature passed an act calling for a vote of the people in regard to division, fixing the 17th of June following as the day and appointing W. L. McKimm, E. W. Gemmill, A. G. Sneath, Alex. Boileau and Alonzo Platt as commissioners to organize the new county in case the people voted for a division. The bill was drawn by E. D. Sawyer, one of the senators from Calaveras, Charles Leake being the other senator. The name originally given in the bill for the new county was Washington; but the name Amador was substituted in the Assembly and concurred in by the senate. The bill was read three times and passed in one day, the motive for such haste being expected opposition. A delegation from Mokelumne Hill had arrived to oppose the measure, but they had been wined until all ideas of county seats were obliterated; so a bill was hurried through before the drunk was off, lest convincing arguments should be urged against it when they returned to their senses. Ione, Sutter Creek, Volcano and Mokelumne Hill were the rival aspirants for a county seat. The election resulted in giving a small majority for a division of the county; but a thorough examination revealed the fact that the returns from several precincts had been tampered with; still it was resolved to proceed and organize a new county. The votes for county-seat were, for Jackson 1,002; for Volcano, 937; for Sutter Creek, 539; and for Ione, 496. The two first mentioned were therefore declared to be the seats of government for the respective counties, and real-estate in those towns and in their vicinity went up with a boom.

        Amador County was named in honor of José Maria Amador, who mined in that county in 1848 with a number of Indians. There was nothing remarkable in this man's character or position, but his father, Sergeant Pedro Amador, was a faithful servant of the Government for many years. He died in 1824, at the age of eighty-two years. As a common word, amador is Spanish for lover.

        The general vote in 1851 was, Democratic, 1,780; Whig, 1,207. The county officers elected in 1852 were: Sam. Booker, District Attorney; A. Laforge, Treasurer; Joe Douglass, Clerk; Ben. Marshall, Sheriff; C. Creamer, District Judge. For President of the United States,—Pierce, 2,848; Scott, 2,200. In 1853 the officers of Calaveras County were: A. Laforge, Treasurer; Joe Douglass, Clerk; Ben. Marshall, Sheriff; Win. Higby, Prosecuting Attorney; and Henry Eno, County Judge. Members of the Legislature; Senators—E. D. Sawyer and Charles Leake; Assemblymen—A. J. Houghtaling, Martin Rowen, W. C. Pratt, C. Daniels vice Carson, deceased. The vote for Governor was: John Bigler (Democrat), 2,545; Wm. Waldo (Whig), 2,212.

        In 1856 the vote of the county for President of the United States was, Democratic, 1,784; Know-Nothing, 1,557; and Republican, 657. In 1860, Douglas (Northern Democratic), 1,866; Breckenridge (Southern Democratic), 945; Bell (Constitutional Union), 178; and Lincoln (Republican), 995: total vote for that year, 3,984. In 1864, Democratic, 1,200; Republican, 1,392. In 1868, Democratic, 1,223; Republican, 1,098. In 1872, Grant, 964; Greeley, 772. In 1880, Garfield, 1,345; Hancock, 1,411.

        The Representatives to the State Assembly from Amador County have been: A. B. Andrews, 1863; John H. Bowman, 1860; R. M. Briggs, 1858; A. C. Brown, 1863–'66, 1869–'70; J. C. Brusie, 1887; L. Brusie, 1873–'74; R. Burnell, 1861; A. Caminetti, 1883; H. A. Carter, 1875–'76; Cyrus Coleman, 1871–'72, 1880–'81; W. W. Cope, 1859; R. C. Downs, 1880; Thomas Dunlap, 1875–'78; John A. Eagon, 1859, 1871–'72; James T. Farley, 1855–'56; Miner Frink, Jr., 1865–'66; J. B. Gregory, 1867–'68; U. S. Gregory, 1885; T. M. Horrell, 1861; J. M. Johnson, 1869–'70; P. C. Johnson, 1860; Homer King, 1858; Harvey Lee, 1865– '66 ; J. Livermore, 1857; Robert Ludgate, 1877– '78; W. B. Ludlow, 1863–'64; S. A. Nott, 1875–'78; L. Miller, 1873–'74; J. W. D. Palmer, 1855; George M. Payne, 1867–'68; G. W. Seaton, 1862; W. M. Seawell, 1857; E. M. Simpson, 1863; Robert Stewart, 1883; W. H. Stowers, 1873–'74; C. B. Swift, 1881; Wm. A. Waddell, 1862; George W. Wagner, 1856; Chapman Warkins, 1881.

        In 1855 a band of twelve robbers and murderers was formed, consisting mainly of Mexicans who undertook to execute vengeance upon the white settlers disregarding that clause in the treaty that required them to respect the rights of the Mexicans to their lands. These brigands committed many depredations in this region, creating consternation among the people generally; for a time business was suspended; extravagant rumors of the intention of the Mexican population to rise and take the country got into circulation, and the result was that the Americans arose and disarmed and even expelled the Mexican people from the town of Rancheria. The most criminal class of the Mexicans were the horsemen who rode about the country helping themselves to whatever they wanted, and thus obtaining a livelihood without honest work. Many outrages were committed.

        The famous bandit Joaquin commenced his career in El Dorado County, when it included Amador. His first operations were to mount himself and party with the best horses in the country. Judge Carter, in 1852, had a valuable and favorite horse which for safety and frequent use was usually kept staked a short distance from the house. One morning the horse was missing. Cochran, a partner in the farming business, started in pursuit of the horse and thief. The horse was easily tracked, as in expectation of something of this kind the toe corks on the shoes had been put on a line with the road instead of across it.

        The track led Cochran across Dry Creek, across the plains and thence toward the mines several miles, where the rider seemed accompanied by several horsemen. Coming to a public house kept by a Mr. Clark, he saw the horse with several others hitched at the door. Going in, he inquired for the party who rode his horse, saying that it had been stolen. He was told that it was a Mexican, and was then at dinner with several others. Clark, who was a powerful and daring man, offered to arrest him, and, suiting the action to the word, entered the dining room in company with Cochran, placed his hand on Joaquin's shoulder (for it was he) and said You are my prisoner."I think not," said Joaquin, at the same time shooting Clark through the head, who fell dead. A general fusilade ensued, in which one of the Mexicans was shot by the cook, who took part in the affair, Cochran receiving a slight wound. The Mexicans mounted their horses and escaped, leaving Carter's horse hitched to the fence.

        Charles Boynton was the father of the newspaper in Amador County. Though many recollect him, few can give an idea of his character, which seemed to be as changeable as a kaleidoscope, now foaming over with fun and good nature, now seriously discussing political economy, now poring over some old volume of forgotten history and now going for the gold in the bed of the Mokelumne with all has might, mind and strength, with a woman's emotion and a man's power. He was in some way connected with the Mokelumne Hill Chronicle; at any rate he had sufficient access to the types and press to work off several numbers of the Owl, 1853—'54, which set the whole country crazy with its fun. This, however, being of a local nature is now understood only by those who remember the incidents referred to. It is said that Boynton used to swim the river with the edition tied to the top of his head; and that he never went over to the Hill without having a fight or two on account of the little paper.

        Soon after the organization of the county he started the Sentinel, an independent paper devoted to no party or clique. O. D. Adaline, from Fort Wayne, Indiana, became the proprietor of it about 1857 or '58, and continued its publication until the great fire of 1862, when he abandoned it and went to the war.

        The Amador Ledger was started by Thomas H. Springer in Volcano in 1855, during the boom in that town. It was at first independent, then Republican, then Democratic and finally Republican again.

        Up to 1860 the placers yielded undiminished returns; the quartz mines were beginning to show their inexhaustible treasures; agriculture had assumed a permanent and profitable character; schools were established and in a working condition; churches and other beneficial institutions were prosperous, proving that society was being built on a healthy basis; and, last though not least, the county finances had been generally economically managed, so that, notwithstanding the unavoidable expenses of organization and inaugurating a government, moderate taxes were sufficient to liquidate all expenses. According to the assessor's report there were fifteen saw-mills, cutting 11,500,000 feet of lumber per year. Thirty-two quartz mills crushing yearly 61,000 tons of quartz; 600 miles of main canal, besided distributors; 10,000 acres of cultivated land, yielding 6,000 tons of hay, 34,800 bu. of wheat, 46,000 of barley and 28,000 of corn, besides other produce. There were nearly 10,000 head of cattle, 1,700 head of horses, 6,000 swine, 60,000 fruit trees and 300,000 grape vines.

        The following notices of mining claims were once found posted up:


" tack Notes thee unter singd clant two Huntent foot Sought on thes Loat from thee mans Neten bushes

February 12 1863

Clamte sought ter Pint three

Nota Bean Is here By given notes ter tinter signed clame too cooben clames of too Hunter feet square sought Nort too 200 hunter feet


No 5

AmTore contry feb 12 63

Takes Notes the untersiGent chlames North 400 foot to a mains nee ten Bush for Preubens of Mining Coper

Febuary 12 one thousand 800 63


        Lest people should think this style was owing to the absence of the schoolmaster, the following notice for the sale of property in Berkeley in the shadow of the university is appended:

Ferr Sall Tar Mes Ezi.


        Amador claims to be the leading mining county in the State. This claim rests upon the amount of its output of gold—$2,145,997.63 in 1885, which sum was larger in 1886, but the official figures are not at hand; the small size of its mining district, and the almost certain possibilities for largely increasing the yield of bullion through the coming into being of new mines now being prospected. The mining district is much smaller than any in the State and the yield of bullion is exceeded only slightly by two counties, both many times larger.

        While gold-bearing quartz is found in almost every portion of the county, the section that has attracted the most attention is comparatively small in area. The historical "Mother Lode" belts the county entirely across, extending north into El Dorado and south into Calaveras, and in Amador are found the most important and most numerous leads upon it. From Plymouth south to the Mokelumne River, there is a succession of paying quartz mines, the equal of which is found in no other mining district in the world. Along this line are most of the leading towns and the bulk of the population of the county.

        More than one-sixth of the gold put into circulation in the State from its mines comes from "Little Amador," and the leading mines which produce this vast sum yearly are not on the market, and never have been, which should serve as an indication that legitimate mining is here carried on, and the mine owners have the utmost confidence in their property. In good truth, mining in Amador County is carried on for legitimate profit and not for speculation, and the results fully justify the confidence of those who invest their capital.

        The prevailing idea of the uninitiated as to a mining region is that it is a barren, rocky soil, where vegetation does not exist and where civilization is at a low ebb. No greater fallacy could exist than such a view regarding the mining region of Amador. Green fields and trees stretch in every direction; the soil is most fertile, and it is by no means an unusual sight that of a bearing orchard on top of ground where underneath thousands of dollars in gold are taken out monthly. In 1887 there were 1,132 men employed in the mines, operating 582 stamps. Besides, there were probably 250 more men engaged in prospecting and operating smaller mines.

        The Q ranch was taken up in 1850, by James Alvord, Dick Tarrier and others. Henry Gibbons, who was a member of Company Q of the Ohio volunteers, gave the ranch its name. A D ranch was named after a brand used on the cattle there. The 2 L was similarly named. Perhaps the largest orchard is that of the



in Ione Valley, containing 120 acres of orchard and vineyard, and famous from the early days of this county for its great fertility, and as being the home station of the Forest line of stages, that were such an important factor to the traveling public in the ante railroad period. Many an old resident of the county remembers when on a summer's day, after a hot, dusty ride over the plains from Sacramento, with what delight the long, shady road of this beautiful ranch would break on the vision. Then it was devoted to raising corn; now the greater portion is in bearing fruit trees, and the beauty of former years is enhanced by the long avenues of different varieties of trees, all pruned in beautiful symmetry over a ground clean as a garden.

        There is much more rain in Amador County, than in the valley, and during the winter the temperature sometimes falls ten to fifteen degrees below freezing point. The desiccating and destructive north wind is not so bad as in the plains below. While much irrigation is not needed for fruit culture in the foothills, there is very little land in this county which  cannot be irrigated. The water problem, which is a cause of so much trouble and expense in the southern part of the State, is no bugbear here, as thousands of inches of water that could be utilized are running to waste. On the south the county is bounded by the Mokelumne River, and on the north by the Cosumnes River. Jackson, Sutter, Rancheria, Amador and Dry Creeks flow through it, having numerous branches. Numerous canals and ditches take out the water, which primarily is used for mining purposes, but which can again be taken up and used for agriculture. The McLaughlin ditch property of Volcano in its various branches carries 3,000 inches of water, nearly all of which could be applied to irrigating the twelve miles width of country between Volcano and Jackson. The Amador Canal carries 4,000 inches from the Mokelumne River to the mines, and could all be utilized below the mineral belt, after it has done service in running the mills, for purposes of irrigation. So could the Empire Mine Ditch, of Plymouth, which takes water from the Cosumnes River. Other ditches take water from the different creeks, and in all the present water supply of the county will not fall short of 13,000 to 15,000 inches. This supply could be largely increased by conserving the supply in the higher Sierras by means of reservoirs. The water supply is immense and capable of supplying the wants of many times the present population, and its purity is not excelled, as the major portion of it is fed from the snow-clad mountains to the east. In the towns of Jackson, Sutter, Amador and Plymouth, the water supply for domestic purposes is furnished by the Amador Canal.

        The grains and deciduous fruits do well in Amador County; and fine timber is inexhaustible. Commencing four miles above Volcano the forests run up thirty miles into the high Sierras. They are of spruce, fir, yellow and the beautiful and rare sugar pine, towering from 200 to 300 feet skyward, many feet in diameter, and which provide a quality of lumber whose superior is not to be found. These forests are ample for the requirements of the county forever, and it would require very heavy export drafts to cause any perceptible diminution of the supply. Four saw-mills supply the local market:

        In 1887 $5 to $8 per acre would buy good uncleared fruit land, and $10 to $30 improved property near the towns; but the land is of course rising permanently in value.

        The taxable property in 1887 was over four million dollars, and the debt of the county was but $11,000. Population, about 4,000.

        The Amador branch of the Central Pacific Railroad runs from Galt to Ione, within twelve miles of the principal towns of the county. The San Joaquin & Sierra Nevada Narrow Gauge Railroad runs through the northern part of San Joaquin County to a point within twelve miles of Jackson. Both these roads are now operated by the Southern Pacific Company.

        The location of the county-seat at Jackson, in 1854, gave that place great prosperity; but the town lost heavily by a flood in 1861, which carried away some twenty houses and destroyed property to the amount of about $50,000; and August 28, the very next year, the place was almost totally destroyed by fire. In 1878 another flood occurred, causing as great a loss as that of 1861. For several years past Jackson has been improving substantially. Besides the court-house, it has also the county hospital, erected in 1887 at a cost of $8,000 to $10,000. Three newspapers were then published there,—the Sentinel, Ledger and Dispatch. The Ginocchio Brothers have a large Alden fruit-drier.

        Ione Valley, one of the most beautiful in California, is situated about twelve miles west of the county-seat, and is formed by the junction of Dry Creek, Sutter Creek and Jackson Creek, soon after they leave the mountains. The first white men to settle in this valley were William Hicks and Moses Childers, in 1848, who had crossed the plains five years previously in company with J. P. Martin. Hicks built the first house, an adobe covered with poles and hides, on the knoll where Judge Carter's house now stands. He and Martin bought cattle in Southern California and fattened them here for the market. The grass was "as high as a man's head." In the spring of 1849 Hicks converted his house into a store, the first in the valley, with Childers as manager.

        This valley was named before the town was started, by Thomas Brown, who had read a historical romance of Bulwer entitled Herculaneum, or The Last Days of Pompeii, one of whose heroines was a beautiful girl named Ione. The town, however, was first named Bed-Bug, and then Freeze-Out. It is 270 feet above tide water.

        The first flour-mill in Ione Valley was built in 1855, by Reed, Wooster & Lane. There are now two well-equipped flouring-mills. This town has the fair-grounds of the district agricultural association.

        Sutter Creek, four miles north of Jackson, is one of the prettiest towns in the foothills. Quartz-mining has recently been revived there. Two foundries are in operation, also an ice-factory, etc.

        Amador City, a mile and a half north of Sutter Creek, is also a thriving town.

        Drytown, three miles north of Amador, is in the "warm belt," and most favorably situated for fruit-raising. Sulphuret works exist here, and also at Sutter Creek.

        Plymouth, three miles farther on, is also prosperous, is the seat of a consolidated mining company which employs 25 men, mostly men of families. Their mine has paid nearly $2,000,000 in dividends. There are also other mines in that vicinity.

        At Oleta, six miles east of Plymouth, the curious-minded can see two genuine cork trees (Quercus suber), twenty-eight years old.

        Clinton, six miles east of Jackson, is in the midst of a fine vineyard section,

        Volcano is a mining town twelve miles from Jackson.

        Pine Grove, Aqueduct City, Buena Vista and Lancha Plana are other towns in Amador County.


Transcribed by Kathy Sedler.