Monthly Archives: September 2013

Community Profiles – Spanish Flat

Spanish Flat Miners

Miners at Spanish Flat

Spanish Flat was once one of the most important mining towns in what was known both as the Kelsey Township and the Kelsey Mining District. It was located on the Placerville to Georgetown stage road (now Highway 193), about six miles south of Georgetown, north of Kelsey, and near another early mining town known as American Flat.

Its name is derived from the fact that it was first settled by Spaniards, which is the term loosely applied to the Mexican citizens who were in California when it was ceded to the United States (Californios) and also those miners that came from almost any of the countries in Central and South America.

The name of this town is known world-wide because of a single daguerreotype (photograph) entitled, “Miners at Spanish Flat, El Dorado County”, that appears in nearly every book about the Gold Rush. Attributed to an early photographer name Joseph Blaney Starkweather, the often printed photo shows four miners, two of whom are black, working together in what appears to be conditions of equality. The original of this photo is kept at the California State Library and was prominently on display at the Oakland Museum’s Sesquicentennial of the Gold Rush exhibition a few years ago. It is believed to have been taken in 1852.

The richest early diggings around Spanish Flat were close to the town, at a claim first worked by the “Spanish” miners. Later this claim was known as the “Frazier Claim” or “Deep Hole”, and was worked by a group known as M. S. Frazier & Co., that consisted of John Kennedy, George Hunsucker, Amos Blundell and John Hunsucker.

Together, this group was able to remove over $100,000 of gold, which is a large amount, since at the time gold was valued at around $16 an ounce.

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.

Community Profiles – Somerset

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Gravestone of Deputy Joseph M. Staples – Union Cemetery, Placerville

At the intersection of Mt. Aukum Road (E-16), Grizzly Flat Road and Buck’s Bar Road is the small town of Somerset. It was first settled in 1856 by some former residents of Somerset, Ohio, who probably searched for gold in the nearby North and Middle Forks of the Cosumnes River, along with local streams and ravines.

Within a few years, there were several permanent residences in the area and a hotel named the Somerset, Sommerset or Summerset House, depending upon which historian’s work or maps one reads.

During its early history, the town was little more than a trading stop for people going to and from Grizzly Flat, Fair Play and Indian Diggings. However, In 1864, when the Somerset Hotel was owned by the Reynolds family, this small Gold Rush town became the centerpiece of an important and oft told part of the history of El Dorado County.

It was between 9 and 10 p.m. on the night of June 30, 1864 a dozen miles east of Placerville near a place called Bullion Bend that six men leveled guns at the drivers of two coaches of the Pioneer Stage Line, Ned Blair and Charlie Watson. They were carrying silver bullion from the mines of Virginia City and the robbers wanted it.

First Ned’s coach was halted and he was asked to throw down the Wells Fargo & Co.’s strong box. It wasn’t on his stage the robbers found out, but, in searching the coach they did find six bags of silver bullion.

When Charlie, who was not far behind Ned, stopped, thinking Ned was having problems with his team, the highwaymen gave him the same order and found he had the strong box and an additional two more bags of silver bullion.

They helped themselves to the bullion and the strong box and then presented the drivers with a receipt for everything that stated that the money was for “out-fitting recruits enlisted in California for the Confederate Army”. The receipt was signed “R. Henry Ingrim, Captain Commanding Company C.S.A.”

The robbers, who were believed to be members of Quantrell’s Raiders, a much feared band of guerrillas, rode only a short distance where they cached the bullion. They then struck out in a southeasterly direction, ending up at the Somerset House. Shortly thereafter, all but a few coins and a silver bar were recovered by officers of the law, although for years people would ignore that fact and search the area hoping to find the “hidden bullion.”

Community Profiles – Smith Flat

Smith Flat House

Smith Flat House

Located just three miles east of downtown Placerville, the town known at various times as Smith’s Flat, Smith Flat and Smithflat, was not only an important stop along the Placerville wagon and stage road, but also a mining town of some renown. It is believed to have been named after a pioneer farmer or rancher named Jeb Smith, who was the first person to settle there, although there is little evidence to support that belief.

The first hint of the richness of the diggings in the area of Smith Flat occurred in 1849 when a miner, while searching for new diggings, leaned over and picked up a nugget or two. Hearing of this new find, flocks of miners rushed to the area rapidly staking out their claims.

Since this led to conflicts between miners, mining laws were soon drawn up for what had become the Smith’s Flat mining district.

These laws specified the size of the claims, the number of claims one miner could hold (two, one by location and one by purchase or two by purchase), and provided numerous rules on staking, recording and working claims. To reduce the possibility of fights among the miners, the mining laws even outlined the means by which a jury of miners would be selected to settle any difficulties.

As was usual in these mining camps, for the first few months or so the gold was easy to find, and many miners “struck it rich.” However, soon these surface deposits were depleted and most miners left for new diggings, with a few staying to form partnerships. These partnerships, or “companies” as they were more commonly known, provided the manpower needed to start serious exploration into the ground.

Using a mining method called drift mining they drove tunnels into the ground following gold bearing deposits known as leads (pronounced “leeds”).

Soon they discovered that much of the area was underlain by an ancient (Tertiary) riverbed – rich in gold.