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Calaveras County

Angels Camp ~ Murphys ~ San Andreas ~ Mokelumne Hill

Calaveras ~ cal-uh-vair'-us; Spanish: Skulls

Calaveras County is one of the original 27 counties in California, established February 18, 1850. Named by Lt. Gabriel Moraga of the Royal Spanish Army, who was stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco, Calaveras means "El Rio de Las Calaveras", River of Skulls. It was so named because of the many skulls found in the river as a result of an ancient Indian battle fought on the banks. Gold was discovered in county in 1848, and the second biggest gold nugget in the world, weighing in at 160 pounds, was found at Carson Hill in 1854. Mark Twain and Bret Harte made the Calaveras County famous with their stories: "Jumping Frog of Calaveras", "Outcasts of Poker Flat", and others. There are three historic limestone caverns and 41 registered landmarks in the county.

Places of interest, in addition to the mines listed below:

  • Hotel Leger and 3-story I.O.O.F. building in Mokelumne Hill
  • County Museum in San Andreas
  • Restored Courthouse and Jail (housed Black Bart) in San Andreas
  • California Caverns in Cave City/Mountain Ranch
  • Jumping Frog Jubilee (3rd weekend in May) in Angels Camp
  • Moaning Caverns Park in Vallecito
  • Mercer Caverns, Murphys Hotel, and Old Timers Museum in Murphys
  • Calaveras Big Trees near Arnold


Angels Camp ~ This is near two gold camps, Douglas Flat and Vallecito, and nine miles from Murphys. Benneger Raspberry helped prolong the population boom here by firing his gun in disgust at the ground when the ramrod stuck. The rod broke off a chunk of gold-bearing quartz, bringing new life to the camp. The large waterwheel on the south side of town was used to operate an arrastre, or ore-grinding mill. Mark Twain got the information for The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County from bartender Ben Coon here at the still-standing Angels Hotel, as frog jumping contests were a favorite diversion for the miners in the 1860's. There is a modern-day Croaker College in San Francisco, where future-Olympian frogs are trained for jumping contests. Upon successful completion, each graduate dons cap & gown and bounds up to the podium to receive his W.J. (Will Jump) degree. These duly trained frogs, along with ordinary and unlettered croakers, have a chance each year to win the crown at the Calaveras Jumping Frog Contest held in Angels Camp.

Murphys ~ The "Queen of the Sierras", this well-preserved town was settled in 1848 by the Murphy brothers, John and Daniel, who left a year later with a fortune from placer mining here. It is now a base of operation for and gateway to Calaveras Big Trees State Park and Ebbets Pass ski areas, such as Mt. Reba. The c.1855 Sperry Hotel, now the Murphy's (or Mitchler) Hotel, has original guest registers with the signatures of Mark Twain, Ulysses S. Grant, and Black Bart, and bullet holes in the doorway from an earlier gun battle.

San Andreas ~ Calaveras County seat, it sits eight miles from "Moke" Hill. The courthouse here was the scene of Black Bart's trial. The tree in front was a "hangin' tree". The Sheep Ranch Mine was owned by George Hearst, father of William Randolph Hearst of newspaper fame, and contributed to the family fortune. Mercer Caverns were discovered by Walter J. Mercer while he was prospecting in 1885.

Mokelumne Hill ~ "Moke" Hill is seven miles south of Jackson. Founded in 1848, it was one of the largest, richest, and at times most violent of the Mother Lode camps. During one 17-week period, there was an average of one murder a week. Feuds with sister town Jackson are well documented.



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