Angels Camp

Image of Angels Camp

The histories of Angels Camp and Altaville are typical of many other towns in the California foothills, with their booms and busts, colorful characters, and almost century-long dependence on mining. The prosperity of the communities was first based upon the rich placer gold found in Angels Creek and its tributaries of China Gulch, Six Mile Creek, Cherokee Creek, Greenhorn Creek, and their drainages. It wasn’t long, however, before both communities had become trading centers for the neighboring mines. Angels Camp had a population of over 300 by the spring of 1849 (Wood 1955:9). Altaville, also known as Forks-in-the Road and Cherokee Diggings, took its present name at a town meeting in 1857 (Gudde 1969:8).

It was not until 1854 that the first important quartz locations were made, all on the Davis-Winters Lode where the Winter Brothers and Davis & Co. were ground-sluicing. This lode roughly paralleled present Highway 49, running southeasterly from Altaville down to Angels Creek. Over the next few years the vein was developed all the way to the creek, but the low grade of the ore, coupled with the difficulty of processing the sulphurets bound up in it, ended the boom.

There was intermittent activity through the 1860s, and another small boom in the 1870s, but little sustained mining industry until the late 1880s (Leonard 1968:1) when advanced mining and milling technologies and the availability of foreign capital combined to warrant large-scale underground mining. Although not a consistent employer, the industry experienced several significant revivals, particular in the late nineteenth century and again in the early twentieth, and provided the lifeblood of the Angels Camp area (Marvin and Costello et al. 1994:15-18).

All the mines in the town of Angels Camp closed during World War I, never to reopen. On the western fringes, the Gold Cliff Mine struggled on for a few more years, as did the smaller family-operated mines in the area. Only the Melones Mine at Carson Hill provided steady employment until it, too, closed during World War II.

The preeminence of mining, however, ensured that all other local industries would be its auxiliaries. Transportation, lumbering, water, power generation, and ranching have all been directed and influenced by the mining industry (Davis-King and Marvin-Cunningham 1990).

The City of Angels, the only incorporated town in Calaveras County, was formed by joining Altaville and Angels Camp in 1924, reflecting the hopes of that era for increased prosperity. Although slumbering for several decades, the Angels area, like the rest of the foothills, has recently experienced a rapid growth in population; the economy is presently dependent upon employment by units of government, service industries, manufacturing, construction, tourism, and agriculture (Marvin and Costello et al. 1994:17-20).


Angels Camp & Murphys Transportation

The earliest routes into the gold regions followed long-established Indian trails. The first route into Angels Camp and the Stanislaus Diggings followed the Antelope Trail, also known as the “Old Stockton Trail,” and “Marshall’s Trail.” The most direct route from Stockton to Angels Camp, Murphys, and the Stanislaus River ferries, it was promoted by Ben Marshall, one of Calaveras County’s earliest sheriffs. By 1854 it had been improved to accommodate wagon traffic.