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California Gold Rush Ghost Towns

Bodie at Night - California Gold Rush Ghost Towns

California gold rush ghost towns , It is often hard in modern times for us to grasp that California gold rush ghost towns were once hustling and bustling centers of economics and opportunity, a land and country divided by distance with no established infrastructure bringing swathes of hopeful miners to these now ghost towns in the hope of riches and fortune all to be found with a pick and a pan.

Though while all that may remain in these California gold rush ghost towns may be the standing remains of once prosperous places, they leave behind a story, and a marker of cultural heritage that is worth its weight in gold.

California Gold Rush Ghost Towns


Caloma - California Gold Rush Ghost Towns

California gold rush ghost towns Settled, between Sutter’s Mill and Mormon Island lay one of the most consequential of all the gold rush towns, the town of Coloma, in which the first gold was found by James Marshall in 1848 and with that the great gold rush was on.

The owner of the now famous Sutter’s Mill was Johann Sutter, of whom James Marshall was an employee, had the intention of creating a settlement in the area, for which he even was granted 50,000 acres of land by Governor Alvarado, the Mexican governor of California, though with such a grand undertaking for what would one day join the list of California gold rush ghost towns and extensive amount of wood was required.

Johann employed James Marshall in the year of 1845 with one of his first tasks to oversee the construction of a sawmill in the Coloma valley, approximately 40 miles east of the settlement location, Marshall set about doing this with great effort however construction still was not able to commence until some two years later as given the terrain and location supplies were difficult to bring in.

When the mill of this one day future California gold rush ghost towns construction was nearly completed in 1848 during the month of January, Johann Sutter himself came to do an inspection of the work though while assessing the water flow of the Mill noticed a shining pea sized nugget of gold embedded within the stream, with that setting in motion everything that would then come to pass.

With that one simple discovery Sutter’s dream of a settlement was shattered forever, as like brushfire over 80,000 hopeful miners began to make their way into the area over the coming months into the future California gold rush ghost towns to seek their fortune, overrunning the existing township and greatly displacing the local native American tribes in the area.

The town was however already well developed with over 300 buildings in the town itself and a hotel partially under construction, it can be said it was a perfect storm of circumstances that sit atop the town, proving to be a perfect place for early prospectors from San Francisco to head initially all be it, the cost of living was extremely high, with basic mining tools such as mining picks and shovels costing over $50, which was a considerable amount of money in 1848, but this was a result of the “supply and demand” effect which was in full force in this future California gold rush ghost towns streets due to its remote location.

With such a great influx of people from all manner of surrounding locations as one might expect it brought its fair share of villains and scoundrels, to which the job of keeping law and order within Coloma’s booming borders fell to general store owner “Captain Shannon” who was widely respected within the community, public whippings,  brandings and of course hangings were all employed with great effect by Captain Shannon to keep the peace, and he later went on to become the first elected Mayor of the town.

February of 1848 saw the creation of El Dorado County, which in turn landed Coloma as the county seat, though as always with Coloma its remote region and great population caused strain on resources as a result a six mile ditch was created so that water may be brought down from the nearby mountains so that continued work could be done on the mining sites.

Though as time moved forward, the fate of Coloma was sealed and its path towards joining the list of California gold rush ghost towns sealed as in 1854 it lost its place as county seat to nearby Placerville due to greater mining activity, the population began to slowly diminish as prospectors began to migrate out into surrounding areas, the gold had been mined, the boom was over, and the once thriving Coloma slowly fell into decline.

While joining the list of California gold rush ghost towns, the population of Coloma is not entirely empty, approximately some 200 people still do live in the area, sadly, the original Sutter’s mill has long since been destroyed, but a replica has been created for tourists to visit, though many of the buildings in the original town do exist for those wishing to walk through the old town to see what remains or visit the old cemetery, the town lays listed as a heritage site located within the Marshall Gold Discovery State Park.


Bodie -  California Gold Rush Ghost Towns

By the 1850’s the Sierra Nevada western slopes had begun to see a decline, pushing prospectors eastward to search for more profitable locations, one of these, and future California gold rush ghost towns was made by William S. Bodey along with three other gentleman in the year of 1859 with gold being discovered in a place that would later be known as Bodie Bluff, all of them agreed they should stay silent about the discovery until the following spring season, but this was not enough to keep Bodey at bay who attempted to return with supplies for the winter in Monoville with his Cherokee Black Taylor but was sadly struck down on his return trip to the cabin by a blizzard.

Initially Bodie was largely ignored and looked over due to so many gold strikes already being made in surrounding locations, in 1861 a small mine was established by the Bunker Hill Mine but with only twenty or so residents remained small for some time, until that was 1877 when things for this future California gold rush ghost towns changed, the mine was sold to Standard Mining Company, in the subsequent weeks a collapse in one of the mines revealed a previously undiscovered rich vein, another uncovered in 1878 and over a million dollars’ worth of gold was produced within the space of 2 months.

This was the spark that lit the keg of dynamite on this future California gold rush ghost towns heavyweight contender as over 10,000 residents came to make Bodie their new home within a year, bringing with it all the likes of new businesses of the shadier side such as Brothels, Opium Dens, Gambling Halls and Saloons.

The local beer breweries were in operation at all hours of the day and over 100 gallon of whiskey barrels were brought into the town alone, some attempts were made to bring order to the town by the churches and local banks that sprung up in Bodie, but this future California gold rush ghost towns code was lawlessness, it was a rough and unforgiving place, with danger at every foot.

One young child Is quoted as saying “Were going to Bodie, Goodbye God” in reaction to her family’s announcement of moving to the town to search for fortune, further echoed by the words of Reverend F. M. Warrington in 1881 who stated “Lashed by the tempests of passion and lust, Bodie is a sea of sin”, Murders a daily occurrence, robberies even more frequent, it was in many ways the personification of the Wild West.   

Despite the towns prosperity, the boom for Bodie was short, the population of the town had been reduced to almost half by the year of 1882, with those leaving the town for prospects in surrounding locations, though the future list maker of California gold rush ghost towns did go on to produce over 100 million dollars’ worth of gold over the next twenty years due to a successful merger between the Bodie Mine & The Standard Mine companies.

In 1892 a fire destroyed the business district and again in 1898 another fire saw the destruction of the towns mill, though that was subsequently repaired shortly after, like a testament to those that sought their future, the town continued all the way through to after world war II when the last of the active mines, Lucky Boy was shut down by that time, two of the remaining six residents were murdered and the others perished in mysterious circumstances,  the once prospering Bodie had officially joined the ranks of California gold rush ghost towns.

Despite it joining the ranks of Gold ghost towns, its historic value was recognized in the year of 1962 when it was declared a Historic State Park and further again in 1964 when it was declared a California Historic Site, it is without a doubt one of the best known ghost towns in California, and while it was never been restored, it Is eerily well preserved with some 168 original structures still remaining, along with the local cemetery, which is rather amazing to consider the construction at the time of the 1860’s and all the local weather the town has endured over the years.

A Historic site such as Bodie with its colourful past would not be completed without its own Ghost stories, fact or fiction they are still a lot of fun, some Rangers say the town itself is cursed and if anyone takes anything, no matter how small from the town, they will be met with bad luck, the rumours of this curse only confirmed with countless tourists often returning small nails or wood chips they took as souvenirs year after year to the rangers office via post, apologizing profusely to appease the Bodie Curse, perhaps this is what brought the end of the last remaining residents? Or perhaps their last will to make sure their home was not disturbed; we shall never know.


Calico - California Gold Rush Ghost Towns

On the southern slopes of the Calico Mountains in 1875 silver was discovered in small quantities, initially not stirring much interest in what wold become one of the California gold rush ghost towns, later in 1880, some five years on a discovery was made yielding $500 per ton causing a minor silver rush to follow, a tent city was created around one of the largest mines “Silver King” in 1881 with some adobe buildings being built around the area.

By the late 1800’s Calico was one of the richest mining areas, producing over $86 million dollars’ worth of Silver as well as $45 million dollars’ worth of Borax, but it was not without its high and low points, a stamp mill began to work in the area in the year of 1882, but when Borate was discovered years later many head to that to seek their fortunes.

In the year of 1882, after recent discoveries, misfortune befell the town, causing most of it to burn to the ground, but this future member of the California gold rush ghost towns was bolstered with a further 2,500 residents as it rebuilt with the discovery of more silver, poor man’s gold, in the year of 1884.

At this time a railroad was constructed in 1888,  narrow gauge, to connect the Oro Grande Mining company with the Silver King mine, causing a boom to business within the region, destined for membership on the California gold rush ghost towns list, it had Gambling Halls, Saloons, Dance Halls, and Brothels, strengthening the economy of the town, until the official railroad to the site shut down in 1907, the death sentence of the town.

While other California gold rush ghost towns have been left to themselves, Calico has been somewhat rebuilt to give a feel of the old west to tourists, the site itself purchased in 1950 by the Knott’s Berry Farm by proprietor Walter Knott, saw most of the town re-developed, as he had fond memories of silver mining at the town in 1913, wanting to protect the historic site, a new railroad was built, offering tourists an experience in the old west.

Calico is a fun destination for those wishing to experience the old west, the old bars serve Sarsaparilla though  it is usually only root bear, and there area  fair share of ghost stories as well, ranging from Tumbleweed Harris, Calico’s former Marshall walking the streets to Lucy Bell King Lane, who’s home has been turned into a museum, though some say she has been seen walking around the town and her armchair seems to move all of its own in this historic place.

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