Monthly Archives: January 2013

Community Profiles – Kirkwood

Kirkwood Inn - 1940

Kirkwood Inn – 1940

There were many inns or stations along the original Kit Carson emigrant trail over which the early pioneers who braved the treacherous trip overland into California traveled. As it was with other early roads, the inns and trading posts were located at very close intervals along this road, which, after significant modification, a portion of which would become a part of Highway 88.

Places with names like the Hope Valley Hotel, Hoboken Hotel, Shipley and Dupont’s at Tragedy Springs and Leak Springs Trading Post disappeared when this immigration route, much of which had been pioneered by a large group of Mormons heading eastward towards Salt Lake City, was soon replaced by the easier Johnson’s Cut-Off route along the American River Canyon to Placerville.

When the mines in the Comstock area of Nevada came into production, this road, which had become the boundary between El Dorado County and the newly formed Amador County, was improved as a route to Nevada from Amador County. It would be along this road, in a high mountain meadow, that a dairyman named Zack Kirkwood would summer his herd.

In 1861, the citizens of Amador county unsuccessfully attempted to issue bonds to improve a connecting road from a point about 25 miles east of Jackson to the immigrant trail. In May of the next year they were more successful and obtained the backing of the voters.

Eight citizens of Amador county were given the franchise to build the road and collect tolls along it. Bonds were issued at 12 percent interest to finance the road which was to be 16 feet wide with no grade of more than 18 percent. By August of that year the road reached Silver Lake. Just a couple of months later it connected with the immigrant road on a ridge just east of Tragedy Springs (Iron Mountain Road / Mormon Immigrant Trail intersection with Highway 88).

Freight wagons used what soon became known as the Amador-Nevada Road, Amador Wagon Road or Alpine Highway to haul Amador County produce and lumber to the Comstock mines, although most traffic going that way continued to pass through Placerville and up the American River Canyon.

Community Profiles – Kelsey

Ben Kelsey

Ben Kelsey

Kelsey was not only the name of an early El Dorado County town, but also an entire mining district. Because of this, the history written about Kelsey may include things that occurred in nearby mining communities, places with wonderfully descriptive names like Rich Flat, Louisville, Spanish Flat, American Flat, Columbia Flat (a.k.a. St. Lawrence), Sailor Flat, Chicken Flat, Irish Creek, Dutch Flat, Flea Town, Elizaville, Yankee Flat and Union Flat.

The town and the mining district were named for two brothers, Benjamin and Andrew Kelsey, who came to California with the Bartelson-Bidwell party, which left Independence, Missouri on May 8, 1841.

Their reason for coming was a “glowing” report on the area from Dr. John Marsh, an very early resident of California who had a ranch in what is now Contra Costa County, near the base of Mt. Diablo. Later, Benjamin’s 18 year old wife, Nancy, and baby daughter, Martha Ann, would join him and be the first white women to enter California by the overland route.

After the discovery of gold by James Marshall in early 1848, the Kelsey brothers prospected from the South Fork of the American River up Dutch Creek to a point about five miles east of Coloma and seven miles north of Placerville. Stopping at a plateau, they settled down and established the town that now bears their name.

In the short but flush times of placer mining, Kelsey was the business center for the mines that were located nearby on numerous creeks, ravines, gulches and flats. At one time the town supported twelve stores, a couple of dozen saloons and gambling houses, half a dozen hotels, hay yards, cattle corrals, meat markets and much, much more.

Community Profiles – Kanaka Valley

Kanaka Valley riparian area

Kanaka Valley riparian area

During the Gold Rush “Kanaka”, the Hawaiian word for “person” or “human being”, was the common designation for a native of the Sandwich Islands, a place sometimes referred to as “Owyhee” (Hawaii). As with many terms that refer to ethnic identity, Kanaka can suggest ethnic pride in some contexts while in others it may be taken as derogatory.

There are records of Kanakas in California as early as the 1830s, some time before even Sutter arrived. By 1847, the year before the Gold Rush, they constituted nearly one fourth of the “foreign” population in San Francisco.

Rarely did a ship land in San Francisco that didn’t have several Kanaka crew members, many of whom decided to stay. After all, the Sandwich Islands were a logical supply stop for traders sailing between North America and the Orient and nearly every whaling ship that hunted in the Pacific Ocean stopped there, often picking up natives to replace lost crew members. A group of them even came with John Sutter who arrived in California by way of the Sandwich Islands, working as crew on the ship and later for him at his fort.

Kanaka was often used in the place names of mining camps because many Kanakas worked in the mines during the days of the Gold Rush.

The Kanaka miners – excellent swimmers since early childhood – were often seen diving for gold in the middle of the rivers, rather than using conventional methods, something non-swimming, white miners thought gave them an unfair advantage.

Community Profiles – Indian Diggings

Indian Diggings School - 1906

Indian Diggings School – 1906

The first report of the discovery of gold at what would become the town of Indian Diggings, occurred in 1850 when a party of white men from Fiddletown (formerly called Oneida and then a part of El Dorado County) came across several Indians panning gold in the bed of what would soon be known as Indian Diggings creek.

Located some twenty-five miles southeast of Placerville near the Amador/El Dorado County line, the town of Indian Diggings soon became one of the richest surface and creek “diggings” around, and by 1855 was one of the largest towns in the southern part of El Dorado County with nine stores, five hotels, the usual number of saloons and some two thousand people.

The Indian Diggings post office was established on November 22, 1853 with Jacob Wolf ans its first postmaster. Because of a decrease in population, on June 15, 1869 it was moved a few miles north to Mendon (a Gold Rush town that no longer exists). It was moved back to Indian Diggings (now changed to Indian Diggin’s) on March 23, 1888 and then moved to Omo Ranch on November 30, 1935.

Indian Diggings was one of the County’s earliest school districts (1856). The Indian Diggings Elementary School District still exists and is now one of the two smallest districts in our County (Silver Fork being the other).

The first school was located about half way between Indian Diggings and Omo Ranch, some three miles distant. When the mining town was effectively abandoned, the school was closed and moved from the canyon up onto the ridge.