The Douglas Flat community

Most of the long-term settlers in the community came from Wales and Italy. The Welsh included the Roberts, Evans, Williams, Prothero, Thomas, and other families, with the Italians being represented by the Malatestas, Arratas, Malespinas, Copellos, Sanguinettis, Valentes, Lavagninos, Gagliardos, Grenittas, Bertattas, and others. Most of the men mined and farmed, especially the Italians.

It was not long before Douglas Camp was transformed into a community. By 1854 the miners had built a small building to serve as a church and town hall, and it soon served as a school as well, as more and more families settled in the area. The following year three merchants, a hotel keeper, a printer, a “ranchero”, and seven miners were listed as residing in Douglas Flat (Heckendorn & Wilson 1856:98) (Figure Store).

As the mines waxed and waned, it was the ranchers and farmers who supported the town. In the late 1850s the County Assessor noted more than 20 ranches on the flat and along Coyote Creek, ranging in size from 15 to 360 acres. By the 1880s, most of the smaller ventures had been absorbed into larger ranches by settlers who remained in the area for many years, some of whose descendents still farm the land (Calaveras County Assessment Rolls, various). The farm of Ansil Davis was described as a successful place of 40 acres, with 3,000 trees of all varieties of fruit. Included were apples, pears, peaches, and plums, as well as 3,000 grapevines of select varieties (Elliott 1885:92) (Figure DavisRanch).

By this time the Malespina, Bertatta, Raffetto, Copello, Sanguinetti, and other Italian families had established cattle operations on their ranches, practicing transhumance (Figure JoeBertatta).


Douglas Flat

The history of Douglas Flat is typical of many other towns in the California foothills, with its booms and busts, colorful characters, and reliance first on mining and then on agriculture (Figure GLO). The prosperity of the community was first based on the rich placer gold found in Coyote Creek and its tributaries Wild Goose Gulch, Missouri Gulch, and Pennsylvania Gulch.. First the “easy” gold was found in the streambeds and mined with pans, rockers, and long toms. The miners soon traced the gold’s source to the ancient Tertiary Central Hill Channel beneath the Table Mountains. Shafts were sunk (Figure mining), drifts and tunnels were run under the tables and, when water became plentiful, the hillsides were scoured with hydraulic monitors.