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Copperopolis Roads and Trails

Following the discovery of gold in 1848, hordes of eager argonauts swept into the Mother Lode. Although the lands near Copperopolis were not included in the boom-and-bust mining areas of the early Gold Rush, they came to have a front-row seat to the traffic to and from some of the greatest camps of the Southern Mines. At first, travel was by foot or on horseback, and most people used the established Indian route: the Antelope Trail. Also known as the “Stanislaus Trail,” the “Old Stockton Trail,” and “Marshall’s Trail,” the route followed the Antelope Trail up Rock Creek and through Salt Spring Valley; followed the Bear Trap Trail over Bear Mountain to Nassau Valley; and then went on to Angels Camp, Murphys, and neighboring diggings. At Felix, in Salt Spring Valley, routes led southeasterly to crossings at Central and O’Byrnes ferries on the Stanislaus River and then to the Tuolumne County camps of Sonora, Jamestown, and Columbia (1 – pgs.9-11).

Four of the historic ferry roads pass through or near the Flowers Ranch area: two early roads to O’Byrnes Ferry on the Stanislaus River, one to Knights Ferry, and another from Copperopolis to Sonora. All of these roads were depicted on the 1870 General Land Office (GLO) plat and the 1916 U.S. Geologic Survey quadrangle but were undoubtedly in use from the earliest years of the Gold Rush. Known locally as the “ferry roads,” they provided access to the Stanislaus River ferries and the diggings from first the Old Antelope Trail and later Reed’s Turnpike.

Over the ensuing years, the roads in the Flowers Ranch area were noted under different names. The road from McCarty’s Log Cabin Ranch to O’Byrnes Ferry, with a branch to Knights Ferry, was known as the O’Byrnes Ferry Road in 1858, the Salt Spring Valley and Knights Ferry Road in 1860, Stockton Road via Reynolds Ferry and the old Burns Ferry Road in 1870, and by various other destination designations as traffic and originations demanded (2).

Another ferry road, established in 1858, was known alternately as the Six Mile Bar Road, Upper O’Byrnes Ferry Road, Copperopolis and Knights Ferry Road, and Road to Burns Ferry. It courses southeasterly in sections 4, 10, and 15, T1N, 12E, to connect with the present Littlejohn Road to the east and continue on to O’Byrnes and Knights Ferries (3). A segment of a branch of this road southeasterly of the Flowers Ranch was previously recorded.

By the early 1850s, another road from Stockton to the mines, following the approximate route of State Route 4, came over Hog Hill from Shafer’s Store as far as McCarty’s Log Cabin Ranch, where it turned southeasterly toward the ferries. This road was known alternately as the O’Byrnes Ferry Road, Reynolds Ferry Road, Shirley Road, or Stockton and Copperopolis Stage Road, depending upon the destination of the traveler.

With the discoveries of copper ore at Quail Hill, Napoleon City, and Copper Cañon (Copperopolis) in 1860, the need for a good road to the mines was imperative. William K. Reed and Thomas McCarty had discovered the Union Mine in 1860, and soon a community developed around the site. Reed built an impressive two-story brick store, and other entrepreneurs and settlers built stores, hotels, saloons, churches, schools, residences, and the usual accoutrements of a bustling town.

Reed’s Turnpike, constructed in 1864–1865 to connect Copperopolis and the mines on Quail Hill to the main Stockton Road, was the result of a venture by Reed, the owner of the rich Union Mine, and built with profits from that enterprise. Several settlements sprang up along that route, including large important ranches such as McCarty’s, Shafer’s, Suits/Beardslee’s, and the community of Telegraph City, which boasted a population of several hundred persons during the boom years when all the mines were operating. The toll road existed until 1885, when it was taken over by Calaveras County. It has been superseded by the construction of State Route 4, slightly to the north, which was completed in the early 1930s.

  1. Madam Felix’s Gold, The Story of the Madam Felix Mining District, Calaveras County, California, Fuller, Willard P. , Jr.; Judith Marvin; Julia G. Costello p.167, (1996)
  2. General Land Office 1870; U.S. Geological Survey 1916
  3. General Land Office 1870; U.S. Geological Survey 1916