Mokelumne Hill

The first gold discovery in this area was made along the Mokelumne River by a group from Oregon in October 1848. So rich was the discovery that the prospectors risked starvation instead of abandoning their claim to return to Stockton for supplies. Eventually, a man named Syree was convinced to make the trip for supplies, and upon his return he set up a trading post, selling goods at a premium that made up for the mining he missed. As word of the Oregonian's discovery spread, others arrived and a camp known as Big Bar developed.

One of the men that arrived at Big Bar was Samuel W. Pearsall, an ex-soldier from Stevenson’s Regiment. Pearsall made an even richer discovery 800 feet above Big Bar on Mokelumne Hill, and soon others rushed up to stake their own claims. The ground on the hill was so rich that claims were restricted to sixteen square feet; nevertheless some of these claims were reported to yield $20,000. By 1850, Mokelumne Hill was one of the largest towns in the region as thousands of prospectors had arrived from a wide array of nationalities, including French, German, Spanish, Chilean, Mexican, and Chinese. Racial tensions and violence were high in those early years, and in 1851 there were seventeen consecutive weeks where at least one person was killed. A vigilance committee was formed shortly thereafter, disbanding in 1852 after the criminals had been either caught or run off.

As long as the mines continued to pay, Mokelumne Hill continued to grow, even being chosen as the new Calaveras County seat in 1852. The town boasted not only the usual businesses and organizations, but also a race track, skating rink, rock quarry, and large brewery. In Chinatown, at the easten side of town, as many as 4000 Chinese lived in flimsily-built wooden homes. As with many towns on the Gold Rush, fires were a constant threat. Mokelumne Hill's first devastating conflagration occured on August 24, 1854, destroying all but two stone buildings. The town was rebuilt, this time largely of fire-proof materials.

In the 1860s, gold finally began to play out and Mokelumne Hill's residents moved on. Another great fire occured February 26, 1865, and in 1866 the county seat was lost to San Andreas. A third fire, on September 4, 1874 left only a few buildings standing in the business district, and as most had moved on, not much was rebuilt. Today, the town has less than 700 residents. Highway 49 no longer passes through the middle of town, but it's worth pulling off to explore.

I Visited Mokelumne Hill
9.10.2018

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