image of wagon trainThe Golden One
October 1999

El Dorado, Spanish for "Golden One", was one of the original 27 Counties of the State of California. These 27 County boundaries were conformed as a matter of an Act, signed February 18, 1850. Though there were many discoveries of precious metals in the area now known as the State of California, the discovery of gold in Coloma on January 19, 1848 by James W. Marshall produced "gold fever", and the population exploded as hoards of men swarmed into the area.

Surely thinking they were going to strike it rich. In essence, the discovery of gold put California "on the map" and furnished incentive for exploration and development of the whole far western section of the United States. Along with those seeking their fortune, there were bands of organized desperadoes who laid in wait at the mining camps. The only law was that which people took into their own hands to stop crime. Mostly, the "law" resulted in the suspect being hanged.

There are a few stories of how Placerville became known as Hangtown. One is that Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Tibbet had traveled across the plains, finally arriving in 1849 at a mining camp in El Dorado County. Shortly after their arrival, one morning Mrs. Tibbet went into the backyard and found four men hanging in a tree as a result of an evening's brawl. Mrs. Tibbet promptly said she was going to call the place Hangtown and the name stuck. Though it was later changed to Placerville, Hangtown is still a familiar term in the area.

Also in 1849, a man named William E. Shannon, a New York lawyer and Captain in the New York Volunteers, joined the mad rush for gold. However, Mr. Shannon made his living by setting up a lucrative general mercantile store, then adding a hotel. General Riley, the Military Governor, soon appointed Shannon to be the Alcalde (Spanish for Mayor/Justice of the Peace), because there was no formal Government or effective law enforcement. When California became a State on September 9, 1850, Shannon reportedly moved to Sacramento where he resumed his law practice. According to the 1850 census roll taken in Coloma in November, William Rogers was listed as Sheriff, the first one in El Dorado County. Sheriff Rogers is also named as Sheriff in 1864-65. Through the early years the role of Sheriff took on different activities. Additionally, there was usually a Constable in the area for law enforcement.

There are so many notable characters and events that were famous and infamous in the history of El Dorado County, it is very hard to profile only one or two. Probably the most well-known is the Bullion Bend robbery. Reportedly, a band of men, led by Thomas Poole (who had earlier in his life been an Undersheriff for Monterey County) and Ralph Henry aka Captain R. Henry Ingrim, sought to raise funds for the Confederate Army. Their plan to get the money was to steal it. They rode to a spot 14 miles east of Placerville, and on June 30, 1864, stopped two Pioneer Stage Line coaches traveling with their shipments from Virginia City, Nevada to Placerville, California. After stopping the stage and appropriating over $40,000 in silver, "Captain Ingrim" wrote out a receipt to Wells Fargo & Co. certifying that he had received cash. The stage was allowed to leave, and the band, mounting their horses, stopped at a spring where they hid all the money except for two silver bricks and the strong box cash.

Meanwhile, the stage reached Thirteen Mile House and telegraphed the news of the holdup to Sheriff William Rogers, who immediately set out with a posse to look for the robbers. The gang rode hard until they arrived at the Somerset House, a large hotel on the north fork of the Cosumnes River where they spent the night. In the morning, two of Sheriff Rogers' deputies, Joseph Staples and George Ranney, rode up asking Mrs. Reynolds, the proprietor, if she had seen any strangers around. She nodded her head and motioned them to a side door. Deputy Staples rushed into the room yelling, "You men are all my prisoners!" whereupon he was met by a barrage of gunfire, killing him instantly. Word was sent to Placerville of what had happened.

With a price on their heads, the bandits fled El Dorado County. They stopped at a farmhouse south of San Jose and told the farmer, Edward Hill, of their plan to rob the payroll for the workers of the New Almaden Quicksilver Mine. He quickly notified John Adams, the Sheriff of Santa Clara County. Sheriff Adams formed a posse and ultimately captured several of the group. Some of the money was recovered. Tom Poole, however, stood trial alone for the murder of Deputy Staples. On September 29, 1865 he was hanged on the Placerville gallows.

Today El Dorado County is a contrast in lifestyles from the ski slopes to remote little communities to a bustling Placerville, Cameron Park and El Dorado Hills. County Government and retail business constitute a large part of the economy. Though some of our residents go out of County to work, they retreat at the end of their day to the sunshine and peacefulness of the Country.