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The Raggio Family and Mill

The Raggio Mill on San Domingo Creek was operated by four brothers from the pioneer Raggio family, natives of Italy, whose parents came to California in 1854 or 1855. They mined first at Michigan Bar, then moved to El Dorado (Mountain Ranch), where Vincenzo and his wife Theresa (De Voto) went into the store business. When the placer mines in Mountain Ranch were declining and quartz mining started up they moved to Sheep Ranch where they operated another store. After Vincenzo retired, he turned the store over to sons Joe, Ernest, and John, while Enrico took contracts cutting wood for the Sheep Ranch mine. They then established a stage line, running to Murphys, Angels Camp, Mokelumne Hill, West Point, San Andreas, Valley Springs, Milton, and points in-between. When Sheep Ranch mining declined, they moved their store to Angels Camp.

In 1900 John Raggio and Mr. Bruner organized the Calaveras Bank, the first in Calaveras County. The Calaveras County Bank, a fine rhyolite tuff building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was erected on Main Street in Angels Camp. In 1904, John, with other associates, then organized the Commercial and Savings Bank in Stockton, holding the presidency of both banks until his death in 1921. The banks were sold to the Bank of America in the late 1920s. 

In 1888 Enrico (Dick) Raggio was taking contracts delivering wood to the Sheep Ranch mine, managed by William Clary, as well as for Charlie Lane at the Utica mine in Angels Camp. Needing more money for his operation, he formed a partnership with his brothers Joe, Ernest, and John, retaining a one-half interest. The brothers secured timber rights from the old Miller place (Sections 25 and 26, T4N, R14E, on present Highway 4), setting up a camp west of the present Red Apple.

Within a couple of years the Raggios were supplying all the logs to the Utica and Lightner mines in Angels Camp, and in order to secure more timber for their contracts they had different family members and others take up claims for homesteads. The Raggios paid the claimants $50 for the timber rights and a free trip to Sacramento to sign papers. The homesteaders were required to build a cabin, and to live there for six months. The cabins were built using poles for framework, with shake siding to the ground, which was the floor, and were later used by the log peelers in the winter season.

The timber claims ran from the top of the canyon below the Forester place up the San Domingo Canyon, and over to Cowell Creek. Other land was purchased, with a total of over 5,000 acres of timber land, with the four brothers cutting all the timber. After the round timber business faded, in 1905 a sawmill was built on San Domingo Creek.

After the timber in the San Domingo Creek Canyon was acquired, it was determined that the top of the canyon was the most feasible spot to work from. A barn was built, which housed 14 animal teams. In addition, a blacksmith shop, four dwelling houses, and other cabins were erected. By 1896, the assessment record noted improvements valued at $350 on the lands patented by Flora Raggio on the ridge between the Big Trees Road and San Domingo Canyon. They consisted of a cabin, blacksmith shop and tools, farming utensils, six wagons, harness, 10 American horses, one other horse, and 16 mules (Calaveras County Assessment Rolls 1896-1901). In 1901 the families moved to Raggio Camp, where they resided for six years before moving down the hill to Murphys, then to Angels Camp (Calaveras Californian, April 3, 1980).

Roads were built into San Domingo Creek with a one-horse slip scraper, pick and shovel, and a wheelbarrow. The lumber was sawed at the mill on San Domingo Creek and then hauled by donkey engine to the top of the ridge where there was a drying yard near the Big Trees Road. A planing mill was also part of the operation. (Las Calaveras 1955).

Improvements assessed at the sawmill on San Domingo Creek from 1906-1910 consisted of a steam power saw mill, edger planer, donkey hoist, trucks, boarding and bunk houses, and sheds valued at $7,000, but dropped to $5,000 by 1910. The assessment noted that the timber in the area was partly cut. The company, now incorporated, controlled 10,170 acres of timber land, with $840 in improvements including cabins and the buildings on Flora’s land at the top of the ridge (Calaveras County Assessment Rolls 1906, 1908, 1910).

At one time six 14-animal teams delivered timbers to the mines in Angels Camp, as well as other stock in the woods; close to 100 head. The Raggios hired many teamsters, or long line skinners, but Joe Schachten was the outstanding one. The teamsters went to work in the spring as soon as the roads were dry enough to support the loads, then stopped when the rains came in the fall. The mules were on the road by six in the morning, and worked until six in the evening. Teamsters made $80 a month and were given room and board.

With the timber in the San Domingo Canyon cut, in 1910 the mill was moved to Cowell Creek. After moving to Cowell Creek, the assessment for improvements at the mill increased to a steam power sawmill, edger, logging donkey engine, hoisting donkey engine, trucks, lumber tramway, dwelling house, blacksmith shop, boarding and bunk houses., two barns, and sheds valued at $7,500.

Although the following description is from the Cowell Creek mill, the operation must have been about the same as on San Domingo Creek:

Just above the mill was the cook house, boarding house, a social building for card games, etc., and many small logger’s cabins scattered amongst the trees. The log pond on Cowell Creek was adjacent to the mill. The mill consisted of a large circular saw and carriage. Boards fell off the left side of the saw and were placed on the cabled, trailed tram car which was pulled up to the landing by a steam donkey engine. The blacksmith shop was located here. The steam operated three wheel traction engine, with one or two wooden wheeled trailers, hauled logs to the mill from the tree falling area (Sola 1988).

The Raggios paid their workers well, but they worked long hours, with mill hands working ten hours, while men in the woods worked nine. Highest wages were earned by the fallers in the forest and the sawyer in the mill. Men worked seven days a week, with only Sundays off. Meals were served at lunchtime in the cookhouse dining room, and again in the evening after work. A chuck wagon traveled into the forest to serve the loggers on site. Meals were substantial, and usually included pasta (Davis XXX).

The teams were kept on the Big Trees-Murphys Road hauling timber until 1917; trucks took over after that. Timber was harvested until 1924 when it was finally all cut. The mill was sold to the Manuel Estate for their Arnold sawmill operations and the Raggios went out of the logging business.

Refrences

  1. Calaveras, County Of. var. Assessment Rolls
  2. Davis, David. (Forest Service manuscript) 
  3. Las Calaveras. 1955 “Sawmills Above Murphys.” Las Calaveras, Vol. 3, No. 3. Bulletin of the Calaveras County Historical Society, San Andreas.
  4. Raggio, Lester (son of Enrico/Dick Raggio) n.d. Raggio Family information. Manuscript on file, Calaveras County Archives, San Andreas.
  5. Raggio Family File. Calaveras County Archives, San Andreas.
  6. Sola, Alfred. 1998 Raggio Sawmill (Cowell Creek). Manuscript, on file, Calaveras County Archives, San Andreas, San Andreas. 

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