The Birth of a Mining Community: A Rhode Islander Makes Good
Image of Henry Angell courtesy of the University of the Pacific
Rich strikes on the Mokelumne, Stanislaus and Tuolumne Rivers and their tributaries occasionally led to establishmining camps. Some even lasted long enough to matureinto semi-permanent towns but once the surface depositsof placergoldplayed out, many communities struggled to survive. The lucky ones developed other resources andremained past the initial boom. Angels Camp was one ofthose fortunate few.
In 1848, Rhode IslanderHenry Pinkney Angellis said to have joined the James Carson and John Robinsonexpedition of 92 men who left Monterey in May to head for the gold country. By July, they found themselvesmining on Weber Creek. Moving on again, they stopped to try their luck on a small tributary of the StanislausRiver. Where that unnamed tributary met Dry Creek, theprospectors finally found great promise and set-up camp.At the newly established camp Henry Angell opened the first store in a tent, trading essentials forgold. By the spring of 1849, the camp had grown to 300 miners on Angels Creek.
The available placer deposits around Angels Camp began to deplete within a year and a half but enough of the town’s expanded trading center remained to sustain it. In 1854, the first importantquartz discovery was made on the Davis-Winter’s claim where the Winters brothers and Davis & Company had been ground sluicing. The vein of quartz was 10 to 90 feet wide and ran roughlyparallel to today’sHighway 49. By 1858, several arrastras, four steam powered stamp mills andnine water powered mills were working along the vein.
Fate Takes its Toll: Down But Not Out
Mining camps often experienced a metamorphosis from tent towns to wood-framed structures which were susceptible to fire. Angels Camp was no exception with major conflagrations in1855 and 1856. Out of the ashes grew better buildings and the determination to prosper.
By the end of 1865 the Winters-Davis vein yielded 20,000 to 50,000 ounces of gold but it wasnot enough to sustain the industry.
A Second Chance: Another Rush is On
The technology to advance the mines deeper than ever before was finallyavailable by the 1880s. This transformationcame about largely due to outside investors providing the necessary capital. Theindustrial mining era had finally arrived. The Sultana, Angels Quartz, Lightner and the Utica mineswere the majorplayers and employers. The 1890 censusrecorded the population of Angels Camp at 917, almost triple what it was 10 yearsbefore. The boom years of the 1890s sawCalaveras mines produce more than 10% of California’s total gold output.
The prosperity and change of the 1890s was reflected in the growth of ethnic diversity in Angels Camp. Serbians, Italians, French, Irish and Chinese immigrants all contributed to avibrantcommunity.
With the 1902 arrival of the Sierra Railway in Angels Camp, local farmers, ranchers and lumbermen hoped to reach the expanding markets of the larger population centers in the Valley.Unfortunately, the rail lines did not extend far enough into Calaveras County to encourageextensive development.
Rest and Rebirth: History and Heritage
Due to the rising cost of operations and labor shortages brought on by World War I (1914-1918), many mines began shutting down. The 1930s brought a renewed interest in mining untilWorld War II with the fateful closing of all gold mines as non-essential industries in 1942. The war-time scrap drives left only a few surviving bitsand pieces of physical evidence to remind us of themining era.
In 1925, the Angels Booster Club was founded topromote interest and growth in the area. When an Oakland preacher came to speak to the Club, he suggested that Calaveras County adopt officialCounty colors, gold for mining and green for Jim Smiley’s jumping frog. A few years later in1928the Calaveras Jumping Frog Jubileewas initiated to celebrateMark Twain’sfamous work and thepaving of downtown Angels Camp.
Today, Angels Camp’s legacy includes a world renowned annual Frog Jump, prosperous farms, vineyards and ranches and the ever-present romance andlure of the gold rush, an indelible partof a remarkable history.