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The Call of Gold (1936) by Newell D. Chamberlain


In 1849, a mining camp of considerable importance was started on Burn’s Creek and was named Quartzburgh. [Editor’s note: usually spelled Quartzburg, even when first founded—dea] The rich, dry diggings attracted a large number of miners and many comfortable log huts were soon built and quite a village sprang up. Among the first settlers were Colonel Thomas J. Thorn and B. M. Pool, with their families and negro slaves. By November, 1850, fourteen rich gold-bearing quartz veins had been discovered.

In 1850, about two miles below Quartzburgh, the town of Hornitos was started by some Mexican miners, gamblers and dance-hall women, who had been expelled from Quartzburgh, by a well-armed “Law and Order Committee”. The name means “little ovens” and was given to this settlement because of the presence of some odd Mexican graves, built of stone on top of the ground, and shaped like small bake-ovens. Several of these can still be seen in the little cemetery on the hill.

Hornitos was first a tough town, with gambling and reveling prevalent. When the placers of Quartzburgh gave out, its citizens moved to Hornitos and the whites soon outnumbered the Mexicans. An election was held, the town incorporated into a city and ordinances adopted straightening up many of the social abuses. It is said that the first ordinance passed was that of placing a license on dogs as a means of reducing the great number of dogs, possessed by the Mexicans; and the second ordering the Mexicans to remove the bodies of their dead from vaults, situated on top of the ground, near the main street.

Hornitos soon became one of the most important points in the route of travel between Stockton and Los Angeles. About a mile from town, Dr. John Kellet, in 1851, operated a quartz mill, by water-power, with a wheel forty-five feet in diameter.

William S. Moses, who came to Hornitos, in March, 1851, to install a quartz mill, at the Washington mine, for Milner brothers, is speaking: [Editor’s note: orinally printed in Mining and Engineering Review and Electrician (San Francisco) and reprinted in the Mariposa Gazettedea] “The Milners had brought six negro slaves from Georgia, who were excellent axe-men. They cut and hewed all the timber for the mill, as there was no lumber except what came from San Francisco and that was shipped from Baltimore, around the Horn, and cost $250 per thousand feet, plus the freight from San Francisco to Hornitos.

“Our tables were puncheons, sawed from the sugar pine. They were smoothed off with an adz and dressed with a jack plane. When a miner died, we split a log in two, dug out the inside, like a mummy case, laid the body in it and pinioned it together with wooden pins.

“Miners worked from sun to sun, generally about fourteen hours a day. For the first three months, there was not a watch or clock in the camp. I made a sun dial on top of a stump by alignment with the north star and got the noon hour very closely. There was not a candle in the camp and we used faggots of light wood, prepared by the negroes from the fat pine stumps, for lights at night and for working in the tunnels.”

Joaquin Murietta, [Editor’s note: Joaquin Murrieta—dea] the famous bandit, at one time used Hornitos as a rendezvous and had a secret tunnel under the main street, for use in escaping from a saloon to a stable, where he kept his horse. His wife had been mistreated and killed before his eyes, for which outrages, he vowed vengeance and succeeded in killing every one of the participants. It is definitely known that he committed at least one murder near Hornitos. A Mexican had informed a deputy sheriff that the bandit was stopping in an adobe building near the edge of town. The deputy, with a posse of fifteen men, went to the building at midnight, when ensued a most desperate fight, in which five of the posse and the deputy sheriff were wounded. A week later, the body of the Mexican informant was found hanging from a tree near by.

The people of Hornitos knew Murietta so well, that when the State of California, in May, 1853, authorized the organization of a Company of twenty-five well-armed and well-equipped horsemen to traverse the State, for the purpose of capturing, dead or alive, this famous bandit and his associate robbers, the California Rangers were organized at Captain William J. Howard’s ranch, on Burn’s Creek, four miles west of Hornitos.

In July, this Company, under the leadership of Harry Love of Quartzburgh, killed Murietta, when they came upon his band, in the lower San Joaquin Valley. Murietta’s head was taken to Millerton, placed in alcohol and transferred to Quartzburgh and Hornitos for identification, then to San Francisco, where it remained an exhibit of the real, wild days of early California history. One of the members of the posse that killed Murietta was Bill Burns of Hornitos, after whom the creek was named; and he is reported as being the man who fired the shot that killed this famous early-day bandit.

George W. Coulter, in the Spring of 1850, arrived in the Mariposa gold fields and started a little store, at the mouth of Solomon’s Gulch, on the Merced River, where there were then rich placers. Shortly afterwards, he heard that there were a great many miners on Maxwell’s Creek and no store close at hand to furnish supplies. Deciding to take advantage of the opportunity, he secured five loads of goods from Mariposa, four loads from a store on the Tuolumne River, and meeting a pack train loaded with supplies, he bought out the entire pack load; and with these, he went to Maxwell’s Creek. He had a round tent of blue cloth, and tying it up to the limb of a large oak tree, he spread it out and made a store. Mining was very rich in the vicinity and a town soon resulted, which was called Banderita, meaning “a flag”; so-named from an American flag which Coulter always had flying above his tent.

Good paying quartz was discovered shortly afterward and a post-office established, which was first called Maxwell’s Creek but the citizens soon changed it to Coulterville, in honor of its popular founder. Coulter had considerable trouble with Indians, losing an outfit of mules one night and on another occasion the most of a trainload of goods from Stockton. In the sixties, he built a two story hotel to handle tourist travel. Water for this hotel was pumped from a well by two Newfoundland dogs.

The Coulterville gold area proved to be of large extent, its width extending from New Year’s Diggings to Hazel Green, a distance of nearly fifty miles. The French mill, near Coulterville, was built in 1853 and operated by a French Company. Their methods were crude and the Company only lasted while there was rich ore within easy reach. The old stone chimney of the mill still stands.

In 1851, with but fifty-seven post-offices in the entire State, three were in this area, within a radius of twenty-five miles; namely, Mariposa, Agua Fria and Quartzburgh. Two years later, the Postal Record shows post-offices at Agua Fria, Mariposa, Maxwell’s Creek, Mt. Ophir and Quartzburgh.

Some of the odd names selected by the pioneers, for their settlements, in the area on the gold road to Yosemite, include: Burn’s Diggings, Blue Tent, Phillip’s Speech Gulch, Boneyard, Cow and Calf, Drunken Gulch, Poverty Flat, Dogtown, Cat Town, Potosi, Bootjack, Texas Tent, Hell’s Hollow, Hog Canyon, Pinon Blanco, Buck Horn, Poison Springs, Break-neck, Windy Gap, Tarantula Flat, Bear Trap, Pokerville, Fly Away, White Rock, Red Gulch, Eldorado, New Year’s Diggings, etc.

Next: 6. Indian WarContentsPrevious: 4. First Settlers

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