History of the County

The earliest residents

Some archaeological studies suggest the presence of people in Calaveras County as long as 12,000 years ago. However, more abundant evidence exists for the relatively recent descendents of ancient Great Basin tribes occupying the area during the last 2,000 to 3,000 years. Approximately 500 to 1,000 years ago the Northern Mi-Wuk Indians arrived in the area. They intensified use of the acorn as a staple food and utilized milling stations with multiple grinding holes. Great examples of these are found in Indian Rock State Park near Pine Grove in neighboring Amador County. The Mi- Wuks lived in tribal groups identified by family lineages, and moved seasonally through elevations in their territories.

Captain McKenzie standing next to some bedrock mortars and pestles near the Rich Gulch Hotel. Photo taken October 1906.

The first major contact between the Mi-Wuks and outsiders, other than the occasional trapper, occurred in the latter half of the eighteenth century when Spanish explorers and missionaries arrived. Several decades later, those Mi-Wuk still living in their traditional territory were overrun by gold seekers and settlers, who appropriated their hunting grounds and limited their access to other resources.

Although many among the general public today assume that the Mi-Wuk were an ancient people who “passed from the scene,” they are, in fact, alive and well, and working to maintain as much as they can of their cultural and religious traditions. Today the Calaveras Mi-Wuk community is centered on the area around West Point, on the ridge that separates the North and Middle forks of the Mokelumne River.

The Gold Rush helped define many of the townships of Calaveras County

The Gold Rush

The Gold Rush helped define many of the townships of Calaveras County, and the museums in these towns tell the colorful and rich history of that era. As an example, one can find out about Mokelumne Hill, which was founded in 1848. It was among the richest of the gold mining regions. It was so rich that mining claims in some areas were confined to as little as sixteen square feet. San Andreas, the current County Seat, was settled by Mexican Gold Miners in 1848, and by 1850 more than 1,000 tents occupied the hillsides of the area. Two infamous names from the Gold Rush often tied to San Andreas, are Black Bart and Joaquin Murrieta. In the early years of the Gold Rush, several good strikes were made in Angels Camp by early miners and within the year over 4,000 miners were working the surface gold. The source of gold played out quickly but hardrock mining kept the gold industry flourishing. The town is honeycombed with tunnels from the many successful mines.

Calaveras County is famous for its lode and placer mines, and for many years it was a principal copper producing county in California. Cement production from its vast limestone deposits became one of the County’s major industries in past years.