Calaveras County History

History Index



California Genealogy and History Archives


Calaveras County History


A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California
Chicago, Lewis Publ. Co., 1891

The name "calaveras " is a corrupt form of the Spanish word for skulls. Some incline to the belief that some devout friar, desirous of commemorating the crucifixion, slightly changed the name Calvary.

        The stream was named by Captain Moraga, who headed the first expeditions made on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. He encamped on the stream, and was surprised in the morning to find that he had stopped among numerous bones and skulls of men. He had  chanced upon an ancient battle-ground, where had taken place a sanguinary conflict between two tribes of Indians. It is said that 3,000 dead remained on the field. Some think, however, that these dead were the remains of those taken by the fearful scourge of 1833, referred to elsewhere in this volume.

        When Calaveras County was organized, February 18, 1850, Double Springs became the county-seat, for a short time only, however, for it was captured by a stratagem and transferred to Jackson, where it remained for nearly two years. From that place it was transferred to Mokelumne Hill, as the result of a choice by the people. But the politicians asserted that men on the south side of the Mokelumne River got the offices, and they went to work to convince the people that their interests would be better served by having a new county organized. By this time (1853) there were several ambitious towns willing to take charge of the county seat and furnish "grub" and whisky, particularly the latter, and all were rich enough to indulge in the luxury of going to law. It was also urged, with too much reason to be disputed, that the public funds were being wasted at Mokelumne Hill, where the officers were behaving themselves very loosely.

        June 14, 1854, according to act of the Legislature, the people by vote set off Amador County, containing Jackson, from Calaveras.

        Calaveras County had Mokelumne Hill for the seat of government, its gilded mountain having acquired for it the preponderating influence, until in 1866 the more central San Andreas gained the supremacy. (By the way, it is claimed that this name should have been spelled San Andrιs.) Mokelumne Hill became prominent in 1850; suffered severely by fire in 1854, and began to decline in the '60s. San Andreas was laid in ashes in 1856, but is now a flourishing town.

        Southward, Carson and Angel hold positions corresponding to the Volcano quartz group. Copperopolis sprang into prominence for awhile as a productive copper mine about the same time that the silver lodes called attention to the higher ranges eastward, and prompted the organization of Alpine County in 1864, with the seat at Silver Mountain, named for the highest peak of the county, and subsequently at Markleeville. Its hopes in these deposits met with meager realization, and its lumber and dairy resources languished under the decadence of Nevada as its chief market.

        Although most of the mining camps of Calaveras and Amador declined after a brilliant career, agriculture flourished in many sections, particularly in the fertile western parts, around towns like Ione City and Milton. Among prominent ancient mining towns were Yeomet, which had a promising position at the junction of the Cosumnes north and south forks; Mule town, which was kept up awhile by hydraulic mining; Drytown, which received its final blow from a conflagration in 1857; Fiddletown, which grew until 1863; Plymouth, which began to gain in 1873; Lancha Plana, which was supported by bluff mining, boasted a journal and claimed nearly 1,000 inhabitants in 1860; and Murphy, which was flourishing in 1855. Carson's Flat was the great camp in 1851; and Copperopolis arose in 1861, and in 1863–'64 shipped over $1,600,000 worth of copper net via Stockton.

        In 1850 Calaveras stands credited with farms worth $76,800, containing $172,800 worth of live-stock and $14,700 in implements. The census of 1880 gives it 467 farms, valued at $756,000, with live-stock at $262,000, and produce at $308,000,—the total assessments standing at $1,871,000; yet the population fell from 16,299 in mining days to 9,090 in 1880.

        For the Stockton & Copperopolis Railroad--the only thoroughfare of the kind running into the county—see under head of San Joaquin County.

        The members of the State Assembly from Calaveras County have been: Isaac Ayer, 1865 –'68; James Barclay, 1863; E. T. Beatty, 1855 –'57; Tunis S. Bever, 1867–'68; C. L. F. Brown, 1871–'72; James Burdick, 1859; Thomas Campbell, 1862; William Childs, 1861; M. M. Collier, 1865–'66; F. F. Davis, 1863; B. Dyer, 1864; Edward Fahey, 1873–'74; P. A. Gallagher, 1860; John L. Gibson, 1871–'72; George W. Gilmore, 1873–'74 ; Martin W. Gordon, 1854: E. L. Green, 1869-70; J. W. Griswold, 1862; A. J. Houghtaling, 1854; W. P. Jones, 1852; L. Langdon, 1864; C. A. Leake, 1853; C. W. Lightner, 1859; John Y. Lind, 1851; B. L. Lippincott, 1861; B. F. Marshall, 1858; F. W. McClenahan, 1887; C. A. McDaniel, 1854; F. G. McDonald, 1863; W. S. McKim, 1852; Otto Menzel, 1867–'68; H. A. Messenger, 1880; Charles E. Mount, 1859; D. W. Murphy, 1851; Thomas O'Brien, 1858, 1861–'62; W. A. Oliver, 1853; Eustace Parker, 1858; S. N. Parker, 1864; James Pearson, 1855–'56; W. P. Peek, 1873–'74; William C. Pratt, 1854; J. B. Reddick, 1875–'76, 1881; W. M. Rogers, 1853; Martin Rowan, 1854; N. G. Sawyer, 1865–'66; L. M. Schrack, 1871–'72; H. A. Shelton, 1860; George L. Shuler, 1857; S. B. Stephens, 1855; T. W. Taliaferro, 1855–'56; Mark S. Torrey, 1885; Joseph S. Watkins, 1857; A. R. Wheat, 1877–'78, 1883; W. S. Williams, 1869–'70; Samuel Wilson, 1860; A. R. Young, 1869–'70; George E. Young, 1852.


Transcribed by Kathy Sedler.