Bucks Bar is not, as some suppose, named after a tavern or saloon located on Bucks Bar Road. The name refers to a specific gravel bar in the North Fork of the Cosumnes River, east of Diamond Springs, which allowed for a relatively easy river crossing for traffic heading to and from Somerset, Fair Play, Mt. Aukum, Uno and the other towns in the southern part of El Dorado County.
The original mining community of Bucks Bar was located upstream of today’s bridge, although in time most of the businesses moved to the main road. Water was brought in by ditch from Camp Creek to turn stamp mills and sluice the gravel.
Bucks Bar, it is said, was named by some gold seekers who stumbled upon a group of male Indians (often referred to by the miners as “Bucks”) working the gravel bar for gold. The Indians had taken up mining when the gold, which they had generally ignored for many generations, turned out to be very valuable to the immigrant miners.
This location in the canyon of the Cosumnes was chosen by the Indians because it was remote and the chances of being discovered were slim. It was also an area rich in fish and acorns, staples in their diet. Above the river’s high water mark are numerous locations where there is evidence of bedrock mortars where they crushed their acorns.
Once the immigrant miners found that this route to the southern part of the county was some two hours shorter and often a much safer route than the one from Hank’s Exchange south through Ladies Valley across the Cosumnes to Sandridge and then to Somerset, most of the traffic moved to it. Because of that and the fact that there was gold here, the Indians were soon driven out.
Almost immediately after it was discovered, this shorter route across Bucks Bar became the main road servicing the southern part of the county. Apparently the time saved was very valuable, because the narrowness of the canyon created a swift flow in the river and made crossing, especially during the rainy season, often quite treacherous.
This fact was borne out in 1860, when in response to a double murder at Indian Diggings, the coroner at that time, Dr. Eckelroth, left Placerville for Indian Diggings in the company of a Mike Welch. About 10 o’clock that evening they reached Buck’s Bar and found the water running quite high. Welch led the way across and was washed down the rapids and never seen again. Fortunately for him. Dr. Eckelroth escaped.
By 1857 the whole road, from Bartram’s Mill (Gutenberger’s Place) to Somerset had become a public right of way. Although it was a privately owned toll road, this classification meant the tolls were regulated by the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors.
Daniel Hoag was the owner of the Bucks Bar Turnpike and Bridge Co., the entity that maintained the road and built a bridge upstream from where the present bridge is located. Because the water in this narrow canyon was uncontrolled, and subject to rapid changes in level, Mr. Hoag’s bridge had washed out twice by 1860. A man who had filed a claim on the bar and Bucks Bar Pasture (later Carson Valley) upstream of the bridge, one Daniel Robert Carson, sold his claim on the bar to two Chinese miners and bought the Bucks Bar Turnpike and Bridge Co. from Hoag.
Daniel Carson was well known in the area, both because he was one of the first miners to file a claim in this canyon and because he was the brother of the famous Kit Carson. Daniel Carson rebuilt the bridge, but the next winter brought nearly 80 inches of rain and, like Hoag’s two bridges, this one also washed away. In 1864 Carson sold his ranch to Edwin Holt and, in 1867, turned over management of the toll station to Holt, moving to Ladies Valley (in 1873 Carson died without heirs and the state of California took title to the road and his Ladies Valley property). That winter the bridge again washed out.
In 1889, the county would declare the road to be a public road. Strangely, it would not be until 1915 that a new bridge would be built at Bucks Bar, even though the swift running waters of the Cosumnes River at this location would take many lives, teams, and many freight wagon loads of property during this half-century period (there was a suspended walkway during a portion of this time).
It was the advent of the automobile that forced the construction of a new bridge at Bucks Bar. Funds were raised by holding dances at River Hill Hall, which was located at the top of the grade, west of Bucks Bar. These benefit dances, along with donations by local citizens, raised some $700, which was enough to construct the approaches and piers for the new bridge. Fortunately, the Board of Supervisors came up with an additional $3,000, which was enough to finish the construction of a covered wooden bridge at the location of the now realigned Bucks Bar Road. This bridge would be replaced in 1940 or 1941 by the present 70-foot bridge, which was built using the still solid 1915 approaches, masonry and piers.
On April 1, 1878, the River School District was organized to serve the residents of the area. The first school burned and, in 1910, a new one was built at the corner of Bucks Bar Road and Sandridge Road, on property donated by Charles O. and Ida M. Wentz. In 1947-48, this school and the Willow School were combined, followed in 1958 by a formal consolidation of River, Mountain, Fair Play, Mt. Aukum and Willow schools to form the Pioneer Union School District. Upon closure, the school reverted to the Wentz family and became a residence.
The Bucks Bar route is still the shortest way to the southern part of El Dorado County from the Diamond Springs area. Although realigned several times, the road is quite winding and the bridge, which was under water in January 1997, has barely room for two vehicles to pass.
Because of this, several years ago the county installed a “Yield” sign for traffic coming from the west to help with this problem .
The Bucks Bar area is also very popular with rock climbers, whose vehicles can be found parked just west of the hairpin turn on Bucks Bar Road were it is descending into the canyon. Several climbing areas, with names such as Bucks Bar Dome, Dinkum Gulley, Granite Cove, Gutenberger Wall, Iraqi Wall, Midway Rocks, Struggler Cliff and Ten Minute Cliff are popular in the summer months. Climbers must recognize the dangers associated with this area, including poison oak and the rushing river. Over the years several climbers have died.
Sources for this story include: “History of California”, by Theodore Hittell (1897); “California Gold Camps”, by Erwin Gudde (1975); “California Place Names”, by Erwin Gudde, 3rd Edition (1974); “Mother Lode of Learning – One Room Schools of El Dorado County” by Retired Teachers Association of El Dorado County (1990); “I Remember…, Stories and pictures of El Dorado County pioneer families”, researched and written by Betty Yohalem (1977); “Short Stories Regarding the History of South El Dorado County” by D.A. Wright (1998); “Mines and Mineral Resources of El Dorado County, California”, California Division of Mines (1956); “History of El Dorado County”, by Paolo Sioli (1883), reprinted and indexed by the El Dorado Friends of the Library (1998); the archives of the Mountain Democrat (1854-Present); and the wonderful people at the reference desk of the El Dorado County Main Library.