The geographic area that we know as Calaveras and Amador Counties has always been a popular locale for a wide range of people. The Camanche-Pardee segment reflects this in the ruins you find out on the trails. Although one might believe that the population has always been growing in these parts, history shows us a different pattern.
The First People
Prior to Western influence, the people of the Miwok Tribe inhabited the area, benefited from the mild climate, and relied upon the fruitful resources of acorns, edible plants, salmon, and abundant wildlife found in the region. Many historic village sites have been documented throughout Calaveras and Amador Counties. Chaw’se (meaning grinding rock in the Miwok language) State Park is an excellent example of a Miwok village site. A Creation Myth told by elders of the Tribe says that the Miwok were actually created on top of Buena Vista Peaks, just south of the town of Ione, during the time when the Sacramento Valley was flooded. Native American archeological artifacts recently recovered in Calaveras County are estimated to be 5,000 years old. In the 1500’s, when California was “discovered” by the Spanish, the estimated Miwok population in and around Calaveras County was 15,000 to 20,000. By the 1850s, the number was closer to 3,000.
The Gold Rush
Most of us have heard of the gold rush of 1849 and the adventurous pioneers who flocked to the area, but once you dig a little deeper, you can glimpse the very seeds of our local culture and communities. Some areas have blossomed since those early days and others have simply faded back into the landscape.
Angels Camp Developed in 1848 as a trading post by wannabe prospectors George and Henry Angel, who found the challenges of mining unpalatable, Angels Camp quickly became a significant place of commerce during the years when gold was abundant. At its peak, there were as many as 4,000 miners working the digs around the “Camp”. Much of the hard rock gold ore was processed in the town’s stamp mills. It was said that when the last mill finally ceased operations, the townspeople couldn’t sleep, the silence was so loud.
Although the 49ers and mills are only echoes today, the town is still vibrant and active, hosting the County Fair, where the legacy of Mark Twain’s Jumping Frog of Calaveras County is celebrated with annual competitive frog jumping events. Angels currently has a population around 3,100.
Camanche A settlement along the Mokelumne River west of Lancha Plana, once called Limerick, became the town of Camanche in 1849. Mining in nearby Cat Camp, Poverty Bar, and Sand Hill brought its population to a peak of about 1,500. River water, brought in from the Lancha Plana and Poverty Bar Ditches, sustained local development. An innovative insect powder made from pyrethrum flowers was manufactured on the nearby Hill Ranch. The product, Buhach, is still commercially available. The Camanche townsite was inundated by Camanche Reservoir in the 1960s. Today, nearly 450,000 people flock annually to Camanche Recreation Area to camp, fish, and enjoy a variety of water sports.
Jackson The town site for Jackson, named after Colonel Alden Jackson, was founded in 1848 adjacent to a year-round spring. Jackson became an important supply and transportation hub for miners in the neighboring towns and by 1850 the population had reached an estimated 1,500. First developed as a watering hole for cattle, then as a hardrock mining area, it has continued as one of the earliest and most durable communities in the Mother Lode. Today, the town has about 4,000 residents and is the most populated city in Amador County.
Lancha Plana Today, there is still tangible evidence of bygone mining activity along the river where the Lancha Plana ferry once carried miners and materials across the Mokelumne River, just west of where Camanche Parkway crosses the eastern side of Camanche Reservoir. From there, one can look west and see the hummocks left by hydraulic and dredge mining on the Amador side.
In 1848 the site was a Mexican camp called Sonora Bar. Because of the ferry crossing located there, it was was later renamed Lancha Plana, meaning flat boat. In 1850, what is now the Buena Vista Store, was built by John Fitzsimons. Later, Chinese miners found gold under the foundations, a deal was struck, and the building was moved 6 miles north to the town of Buena Vista.
By 1858 the population had grown to 1,000. On March 3, 1860 the Lancha Plana Dispatch was born; in November 1860 the newspaper was moved to Jackson and later became the Amador Dispatch. From 1904-1923, the river was dredged on a large scale by the American Dredging Company.
Mokelumne Hill Founded in 1848 by a group of Oregonians, Mokelumne Hill was one of the richest gold mining towns in California. The bounty was so great that the miners often risked starvation rather than heading to Stockton for supplies.
By 1850, the town was one of the largest in the area, with its population reaching as high as 15,000 and including people of many nationalities: Americans, Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards, Chileans, Mexicans, Chinese, working side by side…but not always smoothly. In 1851, local officials recorded at least one murder every week for seventeen consecutive weeks. Today, the quiet town is really just a gentle shadow of those early raucous times, boasting a population of about 800.
San Andreas Settled by Mexican Gold Miners in 1848, San Andreas quickly bloomed into a major population center and by 1850 one could view over 1000 tents erected to house weary miners. The first church, built in 1852, was named for St. Andrew (San Andreas) and the name of the town was taken from that church. In 1866, the town became the Calaveras County seat. In 1859, over $500,000 in gold dust was shipped out of the area. However, hampering the mining efforts was the chronic lack of water. Early “municipal water systems” in the form of the earthen miner’s ditches were completed to bring water to the area. Remnants of these ditches can often be seen along hillsides as subtle monuments to the ingenuity of the early settlers. Today, the population of the town is around 2,500. Valley Springs According to the 1880 federal census records, the population of the Jenny Lind Township (which includes Valley Springs, Burson, Wallace, Milton, and Jenny Lind) was 874. In 1885, the San Joaquin and Sierra Nevada Railroad Company completed a narrow-gauge railroad from Brack’s Landing (10 miles west of Woodbridge on the San Joaquin Delta) to Valley Springs. The railway was an important supply route during the early development of the area and, as a result, the population in 1890 had increased to 1758. The line eventually became the property of Southern Pacific Railroad, and a standard-gauge line into Valley Springs was substituted. Today’s population is around 2,500.