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 Mining El Dorado – The Greenwood Mining District
© 2005 by Anthony M. Belli

For those 48ers who arrived a year before the tsunami of 49ers to man the California Gold Rush, Long Valley was the name they gave to modern day Greenwood. Just who first found gold at Long Valley isn't clear and probably not all that important, the fact is the locale sits over the northwest portion of the Mother Lode so it wasn't long after the 48ers started arriving in the American River mining region that someone found gold here.

By the spring of 1849 hundreds of men in small mining camps were mining everywhere along the Middle Fork of the American River. By the end of summer that number would easily rise in to the thousands. During this time Long Valley had grown into a small village that took on the name Louisville in honor of the first white child born in camp whose name was Louis.

With the approach of fall that same year most mining camps still consisted of shanty lean-tos constructed from tree limbs and cloth, which made up most domiciles. For lack of winter lodging plenty of the new arrivals didn't want to risk their first winter in the mountains, many left the river opting to winter at a lower elevation. For those who had a canvas tent or perhaps a roughly hewn log cabin, these structures represented the Taj Mahals of the mining camps. Most who were prepared for the winter were 48ers, for them the chilly mornings and shorter days seemed less ominous. At nearby Murderer’s Bar just five men choose to winter in camp that first year.

These five 49ers, William Harris, Elisha Hardin, James Hardin, Freeman Eldridge and James Lee each pick out a cabin site high up on the hill overlooking the Middle Fork where they erected their winter quarters. The arraignment seemed to work well up until the 1st of December when the river rose over 60 feet in a single day and removed all five crudely built cabins from the face of the earth.

Lucky enough they escaped with their lives; one recalled running out of his home as water suddenly rushed in. After running up hill for his very life he was glad to find his four neighbors alive further up and waiting on dry land. They all watched from a safe distance as all five cabins vanished from view in the rising waters. Records indicate that the water did not begin to recede until the 9th of January 1850. The five homeless men from Murderer’s Bar walked to the nearest village located 5 miles east at Louisville.

At Louisville the men talked it up to the locals about the hazards of placer mining along the Middle Fork during winter months, but not one of them was going to give up his claim. They’d picked up plenty of free gold, which then was still easy to find so there was no problem getting re-outfitted at Louisville. Determined to resume mining the five bought enough provisions to get them through the winter and headed right back to their inundated camp at Murderer’s Bar. This time however wisdom had taught them well to re-build on higher ground, which is just what they did.

It was during this time (late 48 – early 49) when John Greenwood opened up his trading post at Louisville, followed by a general store, and a butchers shop. The camp was now the only re-supply destination for miners in the mountains working the Middle Fork from African Bar west to Louisiana Bar at the confluence with the North Fork. In 1852 a post office was established and the town changed its name to Greenwood as the name Louisville was already in use by another mining town in El Dorado County just south of Spanish Flat. That Louisville had previously established their post office a year earlier in 1851.

The name Greenwood not only identified the town site, but the vast valley to the west was known as Greenwood Valley. This area quickly became the Greenwood Mining District and once extended to the North Fork of the American River. In the years to come the Greenwood Mining District was developed into one of the richest gold producing regions in California. And while industrialized mining in this area lasted strongly into the 20th century, during the early days of the Gold Rush people remained transient when mining was any man’s game, and anyone could stake a claim.

Greenwood developed into a mining boomtown by 1851 housing two theatres, a number of restaurants, fourteen stores, a brewery, with several hotels, and blacksmiths. Mining towns were famous for providing the miners with a wide variety of the entertainment of that era, which somehow centered on 3 things… booze, gambling and the ladies. Of course hangings always brought a crowd into town, and Greenwood had its favorite tree. It was proven sturdy on many occasions.

In contrast to the explosive expansion of the town in 1851, just one year later J.D. Borthwick passed through here during the summer of 1852 and wrote…

“For several miles I traveled down this [Greenwood] valley: the bed of the creek which flowed through it, and all the ravines, had been dug up, and numbers of cabins stood on the hillsides: but at this season the creek was completely dry, and consequently no mining operations could be carried on. The cabins were all tenantless, and the place looked more desolate than if its solitude had never been disturbed by man.”

Unlike the deserted wasteland Borthwick describes passing through to arrive in the town of Greenwood, once here he finds accommodations quit suitable. After checking into his hotel Borthwick noted he was pleased to find… “recent copies of the Illustrated News and the New York Herald..”

Extensive quartz veins and free gold was found throughout the district. Hard rock and seam mining were the only methods during the early period of the Gold Rush. As time passed and mining became more industrialized the district saw much hydraulic mining. Around five million in gold was mined from the Greenwood District, of which half is said to have come from the Sliger Mine alone.

image of Greenwood Mine Frigot Specimen

The Fricot Specimen was pulled from the Grit Mine in the Greenwood Mining District. [Image courtesy of the California State Parks]

Other big producing mines were the Nagler or French Mine, which during the 1880s was still in operation reporting two million in gold harvested. The Taylor and The Rosecrans Mines were major hard rock mines, Spanish Dry Diggings, The Black Oak Mine, and The Rosecrans all produced millions. Most mining in the Greenwood Mining District was geologically restricted to the Greenwood Seam Belt and the Mariposa Belt.

The Fricot specimen is one of the grandest finds from the days of the California Gold Rush. Weighing in at an impressive 201.40 troy oz. (about 13 lbs.) miner William Russell Davis found this incredible specimen in August, 1865 on the Grit Claim in the Greenwood Mining District at Spanish Dry Diggings. The specimen was on display at the Paris Exposition in 1878 and today can be seen at the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa, California.


This story has been publish unedited. All credits and research were done by the Author, Anthony Belli, 2005