Spanish Hill – Placerville’s Mountain of Gold (January 2005)
– by Anthony Belli © 2004

image of Gold NuggetFollowing Marshall’s historic discovery at Sutter’s Mill in January, 1848 the “48ers,” mostly men from California at the time descended on Coloma as the first wave of gold seekers to man the California Gold Rush. They came well in advance of the 49ers and within months every streambed within 30 miles of Coloma was being mined.

Capt. Weber was one of the first to make his way along today’s Weber Creek, followed by two others, Perry Mc Coon and William Daylor. At first, all three successfully placer mined on Weber Creek, but Mc Coon and Daylor relocated to today’s Hangtown Creek. Under the penumbra of of Spanish Hill in the hollow of that creek the two men struck it rich, and the camp of Dry Diggings was raised.

Daylor & Mc Coon were now the new owners of the latest windfall mining company which hired on four other men along with 100 Miwok and Maidu laborers. Initially the production from Hangtown Creek paid out a little more then 1,000 ounces per week. As word spread the rush for Dry Diggings was on.

Before the 49ers the only experienced mining men locally came from Georgia, some Cornish tin miners from Wisconsin, what few other were emigrants from Mexico, Peru and Chile. Although these experienced men offered to teach mining techniques to anyone who’d stay long enough to listen, most men opted to acquire their education from the University of Bloody Knuckles.

Although no documentation exists to support the myth, the legend of Spanish Hill says that it was among these experienced Latin American miners who’d first cast a fond gaze upon Placerville’s Mountain of Gold and Spanish Ravine where they commenced mining… Hence there place names.

It was mid-48` when California’s Military Governor, Colonel Richard B. Mason reported to President Polk on the mining conditions of California. After visiting Dry Diggings Mason reported California was a golden bonanza, observing that… “All live in tents, in brush arbors, or in the open air, and men frequently carried about their person thousands of dollars worth of gold.”

With the close of January, 1849 Dry Diggings had taken on the name Hangtown and by late spring the 49er’s were making progress over the Sierra range. Men crowed into the diggings which were rapidly expanding as men were finding gold almost everywhere they looked along the western slopes.

By fall of that year the miners working Hangtown Creek had discovered a stratum of ancient river gravel laying exposed on both sides of Spanish Hill which separates Hangtown and Weber creeks. They observed a distinctive blue color to these gravels which they soon discovered paid well, especially where the blue lead rested on bedrock.

The Spanish Hill miners began “coyoting” under the hill where they found the blue gravel drifting in channels generally running west by southwest. Names such as “Coon Hollow Channel” and the “Deep Blue Lead” were adopted by the miners to identify these gold producing drifts. One 49er, J.M. Letts described the process of coyoting at Spanish Hill… “It was by digging holes or pits in the ground – generally into the base of the mountains – sometimes penetrating to a depth of 50 – 100 feet with an opening just sufficient to admit a man.”

Another 49er at Spanish Hill was Bernhard Marks who worked at the Golden Gate Mine. In a letter back home he describes the back breaking work of drift mining… “We worked two at a time, that is, one stands up and works with all his might as long as he can stand it, generally from eight to ten minutes. He then lays down and the next goes through the same operation by which time the other is recruited… After we had gone about 200 feet, the air by continual respiration had become so vitiated that it would not support two men with two candles. We were obligated to dispense with one and even that would scarcely burn for want of oxygen… In this way many thousands of feet are dug through the hills of California.”

Mining at Spanish Hill paid extremely well but remained primitive until 1854 when the South Fork & Placerville Canal Company completed 16 miles of flume which brought much needed water to Spanish Hill and Coon Hollow. Now the men could push far more gold bearing deposits through their sluices. That year the two largest Spanish Hill mines, the Golden Gate and Hook & Ladder began hydraulic mining. In December the entire top of Spanish Hill had been washed out to a depth of 60 feet.

Although the Frazier River rush of 1858 pulled many miners from the area there was no slow down at either the Golden Gate or Hook & Ladder Mines. In 1859 mining activity had pushed through the ridge from one side to the other. From 1855 through the early 1860’s these two mines extracted $6,000,000 in gold when it sold from $12 to $16 per ounce. This was an incredible amount of gold, especially when the take for the entire Placerville Mining District during this period was $25,000,000.

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Sources:

Norman Wilson, Charles Blanchard, & Susan Lindstorm, Spanish Hill – Placerville’s Mountain of Gold, (Fairfield, Ca., James Stevenson Publisher, 1994) p. 7 – 47
Jack R. Winkler, Old Hangtown, (Placerville, Ca., JRW PRESS, 2000) p. 221, 259 – 260
Mountain Democrat- Spanish Hill – Curious Mining Enterprise, January 12, 1856
Mountain Democrat – Battle Lines Drawn Over Future of Spanish Ravine, March 21, 1991