Simanaitis Says

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INNES IRELAND WAS awed by California redwoods in yesterday’s Part 1 of “California Gold Rush Country,” R&T, February 1987. Today in Part 2, he encountered California lore specifically linked to that precious metal.

Today, we pick up with Innes’s adventure in Auburn, on the aptly named California Route 49. This and other images from R&T, February 1987.

An Auburn Tale. At Auburn, Innes noted, ”The surface gold here was exhausted fairly quickly and had it not been for a man called Jenkins, the town might not exist today. He had built a ditch to carry water to his diggings, and when the water stopped flowing one day, he found it was pouring into a gopher hole further up the hill. Taking a close look into the hole he saw the bottom to be covered with the precious metal and in one month extracted $40,000 worth of it.”

Names Good and Bad. “In the bad old days,” Innes wrote, “Placerville was named Hangtown, for the locals were quick to string up the badmen who invariably followed the gold rush. But there were good and industrious citizens as well, some of whom became household names.”

Innes cited Philip Armour (a butcher who made good through his gold findings), Mark Hopkins (whose shovel sales to miners led to other entrepreneurial endeavors), and John Studebaker (a brother who came west, made wheelbarrows, and returned the profits to aid the Indiana family wagon-making firm).

A Volcano Side Trip. “I particularly enjoyed the sporting road that leads to Volcano,” Innes recalled. “This sleepy little place, completely original and without a trace of artificiality, was one of the highlights of our journey. Picturesque old buildings lining one side of the gently sloping main street are a delight. The St. George Hotel, with its three stories and nicely proportioned windows, was built in 1862 and is still a resting place for visitors to the area.”

“Many come in the spring time,” Innes continued, “to see the four acres of daffodils that bloom every year in some 200 varieties close by on Daffodil Hill. Its origin came from some Dutch settlers who planted bulbs to remind them of home.”

The Murphys’ $1280 Blanket. Innes recounted, “Another similar town to be sought out is Murphys, named after the two young brothers who first found gold there. The native inhabitants were Indians who had no use for gold, so the Murphy brothers decided it was easier to trade with the Indians than dig for it themselves. After one of the brothers took the precaution of marrying the chief’s daughter, the brothers would trade goods and worthless trinkets for gold.”

“Once, in a flush of overwhelming generosity,” Innes continued, “the Murphys gave one Indian a blanket in exchange for a 5-lb. gold nugget! With gold at $16/oz. then, the blanket cost $1280, perhaps the most expensive in the world! They must have had lots of trinkets to trade for it is recorded that in the autumn of 1848 they cashed in gold to the value of $1.5 million!”

I can imagine Innes, single-malt at hand, still regaling this and other rich California lore. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021

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