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East Altaville

Placer Mining

Most of the land east of Altaville has been used historically for placer gold mining.  The mines in the area are located on the main Central Hill Channel, the Aetna Channel, or the No. 5 Channel, all formed by the Tertiary Central Hill River, creating a basin 1½ miles wide in some places, but cutting three distinct channels separated at places by bedrock.  These channels run from southeast to northwest.

When described in a study of the Tertiary gravels in 1911, the main channel was noted as marked by an extensive deposit of well-rounded gravel composed of porphyries, quartzite, gneisses, and granite, capped over a considerable part of the area by rhyolite and andesite.  The rocks extended from less than a mile north of Angels Camp continuously for four miles.  The channel had been worked in a few localities and found to be comparatively narrow with a gentle grade, averaging less than 50 feet to the mile, and yielding good values (Lindgren 1911:202).


Mining on Bald Hill

Drift mining on Bald Hill, immediately north of the Murphys Grade Road, evidently began in the early 1850s, as noted by someone named “Swoggle” in his discussion of Altaville:

Near here are several claims in the end of Bald Hill, that paid well for more than two years.  There is plenty of ground in the range, but it is deep and wet.  On the hill in ’52 and ’53, I helped to sink 246 feet and $5,000 [San Andreas Independent, February 13, 1858].

C. B. Demarest, lacking this account, stated that gold mining activities on the Central Hill Channel probably started in 1858-9 (Demarest 1977), when a shaft was sunk to 120 feet and drifted.  This was probably the original Calmo/Slab Ranch shaft in which work continued through the early 1860s with disappointing results.  About $25,000 worth of gold was produced, however, primarily from rim gravels, as the main channel appeared to lie farther south (Julihn and Horton 1938:47).  Another account noted that James McElroy sunk the first shaft on Bald Hill in 1858, reputed to be rich in gold (Buckbee 2005:106).

The 1860s and 1870s saw the most extensive development of drift mining in Calaveras County.  While the most productive mines were in the San Andreas and Mokelumne Hill regions, the Central Hill near Murphys and Fort Mountain near Railroad Flat also saw activity.  In the Vallecito-Altaville section of the Central Hill Channel, the San Domingo (Jupiter) Mine near Dogtown, the McElroy near Altaville, and Wild Goose in Vallecito also opened up.  These early developments, however, did not lead to any sustained activity and by 1880 the California Mining Bureau concluded that drift mining in the county had declined to near extinction (Limbaugh and Fuller 2004:34). 


1860s-1890s Mining Activity

A flurry of activity in the mid-1860s occurred at Bald Hill with the sinking of the McElroy and Matteson shafts.  Between the late 1860s and the mid-1890s, however, little mining activity occurred in the area.  Interestingly, however, many of the men who were to file gravel/drift mine claims on the Central Hill Channel were already living on their claims, or at least locally, by 1870 (U.S. Federal Census 1870), suggesting that some work was going on.  Most of those early mines, however, were later incorporated into those consolidated in the 1890s-1930s. 

In addition to work on the later Calaveras Central property, other early mining in the area occurred on the adjacent North Star claim, which carried on hydraulicking and groundsluicing operations during the period 1894-1900, and in an 800-foot tunnel driven before 1914.  Other mines operating then included the Amazon, Golden Treasure, and Jack Rabbit claims, all started prior to 1900.  In 1910 the Aetna Consolidated Quartz Mining Company patented many of the claims on Bald Hill and operated them in conjunction with several other mining properties in the area.  The company, which evolved into the Calaveras Central Mining Company, held the mineral rights with working privileges to the Ernest Johnson Ranch (Assessment Record 1936; see Johnson Ranch below). 


Beda Blood Mine.  Undoubtedly due to the renewed interest in mining occasioned by the hard rock mining boom in Angels Camp in the late 1880s, on June 25, 1888, Harvey Blood patented the Beda Blood Placer Mine (S ½ of NW ¼ of SE ¼ of Section 28, T3N, R13E, a 20-acre parcel). 

Harvey Blood, a prominent citizen of Calaveras and Alpine counties, served as an assemblyman to the state legislature in the 1890s.  A resident of Angels Camp, Blood and his family operated and maintained the Big Tree-Carson Valley Turnpike over Ebbetts Pass from 1864 to 1910.  Blood’s Station, located at Grizzly Bear Valley, was a major stopover on the road to the Washoe mines. 

On June 6, 1906, Harvey and Elizabeth Blood sold much of their Angels Camp property to James V. Coleman, a San Francisco mining entrepreneur who owned the Oneida Quartz mine and others in Angels Camp.  Included in the sale was the McCormick Quartz mine in Altaville, as well as the Beda Blood Placer Mine (Deed Book 50:14). 

Harvey Blood died in San Francisco in 1910 at the home of his daughter Reba, for whom Mt. Reba was named.  James Coleman died of pneumonia at his San Francisco mansion in 1919, and his estate continued to be assessed for the Beda Blood Placer Mine through the 1930s (Calaveras County Assessment Rolls, various).  As no improvements were ever noted on the property from the 1880s through the late 1930s, nor was it mentioned in the mining literature, it apparently never amounted to much.  The two placer mining piles along the unnamed drainage could have been prospected at any time from the Gold Rush years and the land on the knoll groundsluiced with water from the ditches above.


Sabini/Quijada House

The cellar, foundation piers, and outhouse feature located on the property on the south side of the Murphys Grade Road were long associated with the home of two families, those of Giovanni Sabini and Antone Quijada, both married to women of Me-Wuk ancestry who were born on Washington Flat.  Giovanni was married to Amelia Ginn, and Antone to her niece Edna Tarr.  The families raised their children in the home, which was torn down in the early 1950s (Neal 2010; Stemler 2010). 


The house, however, appears to have been constructed by, or for, miner Peter and Francesca Ravaschietti, natives of Italy, who were assessed in the early 1900s for a house and fence, valued at $50 and $150, respectively, on a 70 x 150-foot plot of land located in the area (E ½ of NE ¼ of SE ¼ of Section 28, T3N, R13E) (Assessment Rolls 1903-1907).  Peter and Francesca were residing in the area with her brothers, also born in Italy, in the early 1900s and through 1910, but disappeared from the record thereafter (U.S. Federal Census 1900, 1910). 


Sabini.  Although not definitively noted in the assessment record, it appears that miner Giovanni (John) Sabini followed the Ravaschiettis in the house, which was located to the north of the Beda Blood placer mine, on land owned by the Aetna Consolidated Mining Company (Banchero 2000).  The Aetna Company operated the mines on Bald Hill (later the Calaveras Central Mine), and acquired the area in a consolidation of their placer mining claims. 

Sometime in the early 1900s, Sabini, born in Italy in 1854, moved into the house.  It appears probable that the home was located on or near the mining claim of James Lee and John Sabini, who in 1896 were assessed for the “Old Claxton” Mine.  The gravel mine was described as located on Bald Hill, bounded north by the McElroy Mine, east and south by E.W. Johnson, with a whim and car track.  The mine was valued at $100 and improvements at $100.  James Lee was assessed solely for the same claim in 1890, but was residing in Altaville. 

In 1889 Sabini was married to Amelia (Melia) Ginn, the daughter of Henry Ginn and Indian Mary, who was born on Washington Flat in 1870.  Melia died in 1903 and John raised their three children (Andrew, Theresa/Dolly, and John) in the home.  In 1910 he was noted as having been naturalized in 1882 and working in a gold mine.  By 1920 he was listed as renting the home, a widower, and occupied in general farming.  He was still residing there in 1930, but with no occupation (1910, 1920, 1930 Federal Census).  Sabini died in 1932 and his niece Edna Quijada and her family moved into the home. 


Quijada.  The next family to reside in the Sabini house was that of Antone Quijada and his wife Edna Alice Tarr.  Antone Quijada was born in Calaveritas in 1876, the son of Antonio Quijada and Francisca Guiterra, who were married in Mokelumne Hill in 1866.  The senior Quijada was born in Chile ca. 1843, and naturalized by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  The family resided in several places in Calaveras County:  Mokelumne Hill, Mosquito Gulch (Glencoe), Calaveritas, San Domingo Camp, and Esmeralda, with Antonio noting his occupation as “farmer” (Calaveras County Great Registers of Voters, 1866, 1888). 

Antonio Quijada died in 1890, leaving his 80-acre ranch, located on the ridge between Calaveritas and San Domingo creeks, to his sons Louis and Joseph.  The Genocchio family, for whom Antonio worked, then took care of young Antone (Neal 2010).  By the early 1900s Antone had homestead property near Esmeralda, selling it in 1903 (Deed Book 44:651).  From 1902 to his death in 1951, Antone was registered to vote in the Altaville Precinct, noting his occupation as “laborer” (Calaveras County Great Registers of Voters, various), where he worked on ranches, on the nearby Calaveras Central Mine, and for the Works Progress Administration (WPA). 

When Antone married Edna Tarr in 1915, they were attended by his brother David and Dollie Sabini, Edna’s cousin (Calaveras County Marriage Book G:257).  Edna, who was one-quarter Mi-Wuk, was born on Washington Flat, the daughter of Margaret Henderson and Jasper Tarr (married at the Slab Ranch in 1889).  Edna was deaf, due to a childhood illness, and others, including her daughter Tillie, translated for her.  The Tarrs resided in a home on the Angels Deep Mine (Slab Ranch Mine) property, where Jasper worked. 

Margaret/Maggie Henderson was the daughter of Mary Ginn and Sanford Henderson.  Mary was a full-blooded Mi-Wuk who was later married to Washington Flat rancher Henry Ginn (owner of the later Massoni Ranch on property where her family had resided for generations).  Although married to Euro-Americans, the Mi-Wuk women continued to reside within a few miles of their ancient village for several generations after the Gold Rush (Calaveras County Native American Genealogies). 

Antone and Edna had nine children, five of whom lived to adulthood (Annie, Josephine, William/Billy, Tillie Bessie, and Martin Bert) in various locations near the Slab Ranch (Rolleri Ranch).  After their marriage they resided in a home located on the east side of the present Rolleri Bypass, just south of the quarry (Edith Ross, personal communication 2000), then at the Birney Ranch (originally the Allen Taylor Ranch, now part of the Rolleri Ranch) where their children Frank and Julia died in 1927 (Calaveras County Inquest Records), and daughter Tillie was born in 1930, delivered by her aunt Tillie Jeff (a Mi-Wuk), for whom she was named.  After the death of Edna’s uncle John Sabini in 1932, the family moved to his former home where their son, Martin Bert, was born in 1935 (Neal 2010). 

The Quijada family (Edna, Annie, and Josephine) was signed up on the Indian rolls by Romie Rolleri when the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) conducted their Census of California Indians (1928-1933).   

Sometime thereafter the Quijadas moved into the Johnson house on the neighboring ranch, then owned by Romie Rolleri, where one of Antone’s primary occupations was irrigating the Rolleri’s Slab Ranch property (Banchero 2000; Neal, 2010). 

When Quijada died in 1951, his occupation was noted as “pensioner,” evidently to the Rolleri family (Register of Deaths Book 8:307).  Edna died in San Andreas in 1992, at over 100 years of age.  The Johnson house stood vacant after his death until Romie Rolleri tore it down in 1955 (Banchero 1994; Calaveras County Assessment Roll 1955).


House.  The house on the homesstead was recalled by Antone and Edna’s daughter Tillie Quijada Pullen as the “Little House,” the “Big House,” being the Johnson house (Neal 2010).  The Little House was a one-story frame building with a corrugated metal roof and single-wall vertical board and batten siding.  The house had a kitchen, pantry, and two bedrooms.  A cellar, with an entry on the west side, was located beneath the house and was entered through a door from the outside porch, which was located on the north primary façade and wrapped around the west elevation.  A woodshed adjoined the house on the east side.  A large oak tree stood by the house, where the family hung their food in screened boxes to keep it cool. 

An outhouse, with a concrete floor, was located “down the hill” from the house, while household garbage was dumped into a “big hole,” also down the hill.  Water was obtained from a well near the Murphys Grade Road; when it went dry, Tillie and her father had to haul water.  The house was torn down by Tillie and her father in the early 1950s and the lumber sold to the La Honda summer resort, where it was used to build a cabin that stands today.

The family never grew vegetables or raised livestock on the property, but purchased all their goods at Tony Oneto’s “little” store, located across Main Street from the Serbian Orthodox Church.  Tillie noted that the family ran a tab at the store, and found out later that they had been cheated.  When Tillie was older she lived in town, babysitting, ironing, and cooking for a family, returning home on weekends. 

Tillie, who worked 25 years as a nurse at the Mark Twain Convalescent Hospital, and her brother Martin are the only surviving children of the family.  She recalled her uncle Joseph (known as Yellowjacket) fondly, but noted that he was the town drunk.  She also recalled that her mother took care of her grandfather Jasper Tarr, and that she later visited her aunt Susie Tarr, who worked many years as a nurse in San Francisco (Neal 2010). 


Johnson Ranch

Located north of the Murphys Grade Road, and later known as the Johnson Ranch, the property had at least three owners prior to the Johnsons’ tenancy.  In 1857 a newspaper account mentioned the garden of the “Hockman and Reynolds Ranch” containing a general variety of trees, plants, and flowers, but most especially the “Longworth’s Variety” strawberry (San Andreas Independent, November 14, 1857).  Sometime prior to 1860 the ranch became the property of Philip Schwartz, who sold it that year to George A. Stoddardt (Deed Book E:543).  In 1861 Stoddardt was assessed for a 100-acre ranch, with ten acres enclosed (fenced), on the Altaville and Murphys Road, at a value of $600 (Calaveras County Assessment Roll 1861). 

Ernest William and Margareta Johnson, both natives of Prussia, purchased the ranch from Stoddardt in 1867 (Deed Book Q:142).  Johnson had immigrated to California in 1853, and naturalized under Section 6 (naturalization of his father), although the 1891 Great Register noted that he was naturalized in Tuolumne County Superior Court in 1880.  By the late 1850s the couple had settled in Murphys, where Ernest was engaged in mining.  In 1858 they were assessed for a house and lot with one-quarter acre of land, possibly the ranch on Saw Mill Gulch which they mortgaged in 1862.  The Johnsons also operated a bakery, selling it before moving to the Stoddardt Ranch near Altaville (Francis Bishop Notes). 

The couple raised nine children on their ranch:  Lewis, Mary, Maggie, Nellie, Caroline, Matilda/Tillie, Susan, William, and Henry (U.S. Federal Census Rolls, 1870, 1880, 1900), the oldest of whom, Lewis, assisted his father in the ranching business.  Lewis later purchased a large ranch (CA-CAL-1373H) on the northeast side of the Altaville to Murphys Road in 1881, where he resided with his family.

By the early 1870s Johnson’s assessment noted that he had a house, barn, and fence valued at $120 on his property (Calaveras County Assessment Roll 1873-4).  The improvements continued to be valued at the same amount through the decade, with the assessor noting personal property including a wagon, harness, horse, colts, sheep, poultry, sewing machine, furniture, and dog valued at $436 (Calaveras County Assessment Roll 1878-9).  

By 1880 E.W. Johnson was assessed for 160 acres of land, as well as the same personal property.  The ranch was patented December 1, 1882 (Calaveras County Patent Maps).  Although Johnson was listed as a rancher and farmer in the Federal Census Rolls in 1870, 1880, and 1900, his first occupation was noted as “miner” when he registered to vote in Murphys in 1866.  He evidently continued his lifelong interest in mining, patenting the Johnson Placer Claim in 1891, and building a cabin and sluices on the property northeast of his ranch (Calaveras County Assessment Rolls 1891).  In 1897 he filed a water right to 80 inches of water from Angels Creek, and constructed a ditch to his claim where he washed the gravels (Water Rights Book A:75).  He later purchased the Kinney, Bull Pine, and Black Oak placer claims, also located near his ranch property (Deed Book 56:53, Mining Claim Book W:590).

Most of the Johnson children never married, and evidently continued to reside on the ranch with their parents.  During the early 1900s sons Henry and William assisted their father with ranching operations, listing their occupations respectively as farmer and stockman or rancher (Calaveras County Great Registers of Voters, various). 

After Ernest Johnson’s death in 1911, the ranch passed to his widow Margareta and daughter Matilda (Tillie) and son Henry.  Margareta died in 1916 and the house became the home of their sons Bill and Henry.  Bill died in 1945, and Henry soon thereafter. Margaret died in 1931, Caroline in 1940, and Tillie in 1961.  By the late 1940s the property was assessed to Tillie and Henry (9/16 and 7/16, respectively).  It continued to be assessed to them through the early 1950s, but in care of neighboring landowner Romie Rolleri; by 1953-54, it was assessed to Rolleri alone (Calaveras County Assessment Rolls, various).  The house was torn down about 1955 and its location now subsumed beneath the Angels Camp Bypass.


Murphys and Altaville Toll Road.  Before 1865, the road from Altaville extended only to the junction of the Hawkeye to Murphys Road, about where it meets lower French Gulch Road.  The present Murphys Grade Road was constructed by the Murphys and Altaville Road Company in 1865 and remained a private toll road until it was declared a free public road by the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors in 1911.  It was widened and resurfaced in 1943 (Wood 1952:57).  Another more local road coursed southerly from the Murphys Grade Road along the old fenceline to connect with Main Street in Angels Camp through Purdyville (Banchero 2000, Neal 2010).     



Banchero, Nat.  Neighboring rancher.  2000    Notes on Interviews of 1994 and 13 January 2000.  On file, Foothill Resources, Ltd., Murphys. 

 Buckbee, Edna Bryan, 1932    Pioneer Days of Angels Camp.  Calaveras Californian, Angels Camp.

2005    Calaveras County Gold Rush Stories.  Edited by Wallace Motloch.  Calaveras County Historical Society, San Andreas. 

Demarest, C. B., 1977    “Chronicles of Calaveras.”  Las Calaveras, Vol. 25, No. 3.  Bulletin of the Calaveras County Historical Society, San Andreas.

Julihn, C. E., and F. W. Horton, 1938    Mineral Industries Survey of the United States.  Mines of the Southern Mother Lode Region, Calaveras County.  Bulletin 413.  Bureau of Mines, Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.

Limbaugh, Ronald H., and Willard P. Fuller, Jr., 2003    Calaveras Gold, The Impact of Mining on a Mother Lode County.  University of Nevada Press, Reno and Las Vegas. 

Lindgren, Waldemar, 1911    The Tertiary Gravels of the Sierra Nevada of CaliforniaProfessional Paper 73.  United States Geological Survey, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 

Stemler, Emily Genocchio.  Friend of Quijada family., 2010    Notes on Interview of 25 March 2009.  On file, Foothill Resources, Ltd., Murphys.