Community Profiles – Spanish Dry Diggings

waresmSpanish Dry Diggings (sometimes mapped as just Spanish Diggings) is located on the summit of a hill between two creeks, a site above the Middle Fork of the American River some five miles northwest of Georgetown and four miles north of Greenwood.

In the early mining days it was not the only settlement in this location, but was surrounded by other noted mining communities such as Spanish Bar, El Dorado Slide, Dutch Bar, Rockey (Ruckey?) Chucky and Canyon Creek.

This region, and especially Spanish Dry Diggings, has a history that goes back to the early days of the Gold Rush when, immediately following the discovery of gold in Coloma ,the Mexican government sent out a group of men to explore the region in an attempt to determine the full extent of the gold deposits.

In 1848, the Mexican government directed General (Don) Andreas Pico, brother of California’s last Mexican governor, Pio Pico, to organize a company of Mexican miners for a prospecting tour through the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Under his leadership, the group, mostly from the Mexican State of Sonora, proceeded first north to the Yuba River and from there south to the Stanislaus River, traversing and superficially prospecting along the entire Mother Lode.

At what would become Spanish Dry Diggings the company stopped to rest. General Pico directed several of his most experienced miners to prospect in the ravines, where they found rich prospects of coarse gold, some still in quartz.

Upon completing his prospecting tour, General Pico prepared his report which, almost immediately, became general knowledge amongst his countrymen.

From wherever they were in California or Mexico, thousands of Mexicans and “Californios” (Spanish-speaking former Mexican citizens, resident in California) headed for the nearby gold fields, many of them pioneering settlements along the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, one of those being Spanish Dry Diggings. These people would be historically referred to as Spanish-Americans or Spaniards.

As the word of the discovery of gold spread further and further, these early Spanish-American prospectors were soon joined by Americans, Germans and others.

Ironically, the first name given the settlement was Dutchtown, in spite of the fact that the Mexican miners had been the first settlers. But since the mines in the area were usually referred to in a group as the Spanish Dry Diggins, the name of the town was soon changed to conform with the wishes of the community.

In 1854, the first quartz-seam gold deposits were discovered in the area. Soon there were many working mines, the most celebrated of which were the Grit, Barr, Short Handle, Cherry Hill, Summit, Davis and Taylor. These mines were extremely rich, according to Paolo Sioli in his 1883 “History of El Dorado County”. He reports that, by 1883 the Grit and Barr claims alone had yielded some $800,000 in gold. He also mentions that on one day in October of 1854, O.B. Powell and his partner, M. Orr, took out 26 pounds of gold from one of these mines.

In November of that same year, eight men named W.D. Vincent, A. Barth, M. Orr, O. Powell, S. Searles, D. Ellis, S.P. Nye and John E. Stover removed 110 pounds of gold from a mine known as the Kelsey Claim, and that one Mr. Crawford reported that gold ore was seen being carried in full water pails from the mines, with single nuggets weighing as much as sixteen pounds.

In addition to the placer and seam-quartz gold claims, there were others, like the celebrated Sliger quartz claim, a well-defined gold laden quartz load, which was reportedly among the best in the whole county, if not the state. The mining claim was so rich that the owners of this claim, Messrs. Hunter, Wade (Ware?), Roush, Simpers, Hines and Grinnell, were able to work the claim without having to follow the normal practice of first raising outside capital.

Mr. Hines also owned another profitable claim about one mile north of the Sliger which was worked by a group known simply as Hines & Co.

Little is known about the business community of Spanish Dry Diggings, other than that the first store in town was owned by a Mr. Folger, who later moved to San Francisco and that a Post Office was established on February 12, 1875 with William R. Davis as the first postmaster. For some reason the Post Office was only open a few months, being closed and moved to Greenwood on December 22, of the same year.

In spite of this lack of knowledge about the commerce of this town, we know many of the names of the early settlers, such as Postmaster W. R. Davis, mine owner John Hines, T. M. Buckner, G.W. Hunter, G.W. Simpers, A. Rooke, James K. Easterbrook (James Kimball Estabrook?), Trueworthy Durgan and Andrew Deller. In his book, Sioli also mentions that the last six of these gentlemen were still residing in the community as late as 1883.

Even though Spanish Dry Diggings played an important role in the settlement of the northern part of our county, little, if anything is left of it other than a small cemetery on Sliger Mine Road, in which rest many of the early pioneers.

Now the names Spanish Dry Diggings, Sliger Mine, along with the names of other local mines and communities, show up only on road signs and old maps.

As an interesting note, the Spanish Dry Diggings Cemetery on Sliger Mine Road contains perhaps the only marked grave of a member of the Confederate States Army, Private William H. Ware, who served in Co. A of the 5th Texas Cavalry during the Civil War. He was a well known and well liked businessman in Auburn who died in 1915, according to his obituary.

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); “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.

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