Calaveritas, Spanish for "little skull," actually began as two camps. Lower Calaveritas, which no longer exists, was settled by Mexican prospectors in 1849 and quickly gained a reputation as a dangerous locale. Upper Calaveritas was founded the following fall by William Workman of Angels Camp, who was camping with his ox team and found gold. Lower Calaveritas soon disappeared, while Upper Calaveritas - now just Calaveritas - prospered.

By 1853 Calaveritas had grown to include several businesses, including a livery stable, two butcher shops, several stores, and a number of restaurants, saloons, gambling houses, and fandango houses (dance halls). It is said that Joaquin Murrieta, a famed outlaw, was a frequent visitor of the latter two. Calaveritas peaked in 1857, with a population of 800, most of which were Mexican or Chinese.

Calaveritas' prosperity came to a close August 3, 1858. A disastrous fire broke out in a vacant building at the center of town and destroyed all except a few buildings. Supposedly, a gambler named Shelton was upset after losing his gold dust during a card game at the gambling hall next door and started the fire. By this time, most of the gold had played out and Calaveritas never fully recovered. Another fire in 1865 helped to cement Calaveritas' status as an almost-ghost. Today the only original Gold Rush building left in Calaveritas is the store of Luigi Costa, built in 1852.

I Visited Calaveritas