Skip to main content

Mining in the Douglas Flat-Vallecito Area

Like many regions in Calaveras County, gold was mined in the Douglas Flat-Vallecito region with pans, rockers, and long toms along Coyote Creek, and by drift mining on both sides of the creek and under Table Mountain, as well as by ground sluicing the gulches with water from the various mining ditches on the hillsides. Although the exact locations of most of the individual claims have been lost to history, many of their names and associations have been preserved in documentary and oral records.

Two of the resources in the area, in addition to the ditch systems, were related to these activities. Placering in Pedro Ravine and Pedro Flat on the northwest-facing gulch appears to date to early-day mining activities, and to have been worked with water from the Calaveras County Water Company Ditch, completed in 1856, as well as from Peppermint Creek ditches (also fed from the CCWC ditch) lower on the hillside. When mapped by the General Land Office surveyor in 1874, the gulch was noted as mined 700 feet wide (Beauvais 1874), so it was evidently worked sometime from the 1850s to 1870s. A cabin foundation or tent platform and associated placer mining activities also appear to relate to this early era. When mapped in 1921, several “old ditches” were depicted, as well as the notation that the area had been “worked hard.” The derivation of the “Pedro” name is unknown, but may have referred to an early-day placer miner, as Pedro Hill to the southwest is also depicted on the map of the Vallecito Mining District in the early 1920s (Alling and Brunel 1921).

The Stone Cabin on the southeast side of the creek is located on a 40-acre parcel of land patented in 1877 as the Pennsylvania and Coyote Creek Placer Mining Claim by Giovanni Bertatta and Giacamo Malispino (Calaveras County Deed Book E:228), but may date to a much earlier claim. Bertatta, however, was assessed for a small house on the claim through the 1920s.

The name of the first person to mine in the area is unknown, but according to some accounts, it was a man named G. B. Douglass, a member of Stevenson’s Regiment who panned coarse gold there in the summer of 1848 with the Murphy party (Limbaugh and Fuller 2004:19, Black 1988). In 1855 Douglas Flat was described as within one mile of Murphys and an excellent mining district, as well as “the point where the Table Mountain was first tapped and its rich treasures discovered” (Heckendorn & Wilson 1856:97).

One of the earliest to describe the activities on the Flat was editor John Heckendorn, later of Columbia, who wrote of the naming of Pennsylvania Gulch in 1849:

"In December 1849, when one of my partners and myself went to prospect Pennsylvania Gulch near this place (Murphys), and being the first Americans to work it, it took its name from us, being called the Pennsylvania Company. On going down the Gulch we came to a precipice of rocks where the water was running over; we noticed several pieces of Gold on the rocks, in washing a few pans and picking up what we saw, we had about half an ounce, started to go home intending to try a few pans further up the Gulch; put our dust on a small flat rock, my partner was carrying it, with his hands carelessly behind his back, and when we came to look for the gold, he had turned the rock upside down, and our prospects were gone; and nothing to show our success to the other partners" (Heckendorn & Wilson 1856:96).

The two earliest tunnel companies in the area, organized in 1852 (on claims worked since 1851), were the Southwestern and the Ohio, but the miners did not “cut the lead” until 1854, when they took out nearly half a million in a short period (Heckendorn & Wilson 1856:97). The mines in 1852 were described as deep, rich, and extensive, with the diggings on the south side of Coyote Creek, discovered in 1852, and owned by the Texas Company. In the spring of 1853, four or five companies were at work with varied success, as they had problems with too much water, and were primarily surface mining, with a few hydraulic claims and tunnels on the west slope of the hill (San Andreas Independent, November 21, 1857).

The biggest problem in mining the area was the great quantity of water seeping through the main lead, which required the miners to cut drains from their claims on Coyote Creek in order to mine the channel. In 1857, a reporter described the workings on the north side of Coyote Creek. He mentioned the Hitchcock, first worked as a surface claim in 1850, but 40 feet deep and still drilling in 1855. The claim was owned by I. P. Hitchcock, who would later establish his homestead nearby (see below), J. Wells, and J. B. Burgess (San Andreas Independent, XXX), and was later known as the Dolly Varden. Other Coyote Creek claims included the Lone Star Company and Harper & Co., who in 1854 cut a drain from their claims on Coyote Creek 700 feet long, 13 to 18 feet deep and 4 feet wide; “the drain was cut in seven weeks by eight men at a cost of $2000, but most of their claim was sluiced out by a spring which arose.”

The Harper claim yielded 1,600 oz. of gold dust in 1854, and the company erected a 12-horsepower steam engine but could not reach the depth. To drain all the claims another tunnel was cut 1600 feet from the claims on the creek, first running 3000 feet in an open cut, then in a tunnel 1300 feet long, through which the water was removed from all the claims connected to the enterprise. The cost of the tunnel was $6000 but the miners had previously spent $10,000 to keep the water out of their claims. The first three claims on the west side of the creek at that time were the Towle, Gillett & Co., Harper Claim, and Lone Star Claim, which produced over $130,000. Others operating in the 1850s were T. M. Lewis & Co. and the long-lived Texas Co. who erected a steam engine to raise both water and dirt from their 114-foot deep shaft (San Andreas Independent, November 21, 1857).

An account the following year described Douglas Flat as being famous in the annals of “big lumps and rich strikes,” although mining was on the decline, but some rich hill claims were being worked (San Andreas Independent, October 9, 1858). In February of the following year it was noted that new diggings were finally struck and making money on the old Douglas Flat Lead, that the prospect was 65 feet deep, with 7-9 feet of pay dirt, and with 12 men in the company (San Andreas Independent).

Another mention of hydraulicking was noted in February of 1859, when Pygall & Co. were opening a claim on the gulch, and Healey & Co. had the most extensive hydraulic claim. Towle, Burgess, and others were also taking advantage of lots of water and good weather (San Andreas Independent, April 23, 1859). Two months later it was mentioned that the deepest shaft in the Southern Mines, 440 feet, had been bored into Table Mountain a few miles east of Douglas Flat by three companies of miners (San Andreas Independent, April 23, 1859).

The town, however, developed slowly. In 1857, it was described as having a permanence on account of its agricultural facilities and conveniences for irrigation. The mines were deep, rich and extensive, with most of the diggings on the south side of Coyote Creek. The camp, however, was described as now dull, with few people in town, having no post office or express office in the place. Most of the families were Welsh or Italians, with 28 children in school (San Andreas Independent). The post office was at Murphys, which also served many of the other nearby placer mining communities (Heckendorn & Wilson 1856:105).

Although several mining companies continued to work their claims on Coyote Creek, including some companies of Chinese, the most extensive mining in Douglas Flat shifted to the Ohio and Buckminster hydraulic claims below Table Mountain northwest of the town. Three of the most long-lived claims, the Wild Goose, Missouri, and Texas, southeast of town, were sold by the Hitchcock estate to various persons, prominently John Manuel, in 1880. Hydraulicking ceased about 1900 when the tailings pond south of the highway was filled, although a long, north-trending tunnel was prospected intermittently from the 1930s to the early 1950s (Clark and Lydon 1962:201).

Drift mining, however, continued in the early 1900s on the Central Hill Channel at the Texas, Wild Goose, and Forty Nine mines on Coyote Creek near Wild Goose Gulch. In 1915 the Texas mine was noted as a drift mine with a 90-foot shaft. The Forty Nine Mine had a 185-foot shaft to bedrock and 2000 feet of drifting north and south, with two 80 h.p. boilers, a double drum water-power hoist, and 4500 feet of 4-inch pipe on site. The Missouri and Dolly Varden mines had a 92-foot shaft to bedrock, with the gravel treated in a revolving screen, sluice boxes, and jigs on site. All, however, were noted as idle (Hamilton 1915:118, 119).

The area today is overgrown with vegetation, but evidence of placering activities may be found throughout the claims, including piles of waste rock, gravel, stone foundations and fences, and other mining features. The Texas Claim was located partially on the Hitchcock/Davis property, and lay along both sides of Coyote Creek between Ansil Davis Road and Monge Ranch Road (formerly the Dave Copello ranch). From the 1850s through at least the 1880s, various miners also resided on their claims. During this period they were assessed for houses, barns, fences, livestock, and other amenities, and the archaeological remains may still be detected within the claim boundaries. The Wild Goose Placer Mine was located in Wild Goose Gulch, southerly of Monge Ranch Road on the line between Sections 16 and 17, with the Dolly Varden and Missouri placer claims in the flat to the west on Coyote Creek. 

Within the area, later dredging and other early 1900s activity has erased many of the features of the early-day placer mines along the creek. Mining activity on the Flat, however, continued sporadically until the 1950s, with a dredge on pontoons working up Coyote Creek from Vallecito through Douglas Flat in the 1950s (John Davies 2007). There has been no appreciable activity since that time.