TUOLUMNE COUNTY HISTORY
In 1806 Gabriel Moraga encountered the "Taulamne" Indians
at their village on the Stanislaus River, giving the future Tuolumne
County its name. Other early adventurers, such as Jedediah Smith,
Joseph Walker, John Frémont, French trappers, and early emigrant
parties, encountered the Central Sierra Me-Wuk Indians, a group who
remains here and in surrounding counties. Accommodating a succession
of prehistoric cultures, the county has a rich and varied cultural
past that began more than 10,000 years ago.
Tuolumne County folklore suggests that miners from Sonora, Mexico,
arrived here by 1848. These men, who gave the name of their home
state to the new settlement of Sonoran Camp, mined for placer gold.
It did not take long for word to spread that the precious metal was
easily found: soon thousands of men from all over the world migrated
to the county in search of gold. The story of Tuolumne County during
the first few years of settlement is similar to other Mother Lode
communities. Hordes of miners came. Water systems were developed.
Settlements grew up around successful and rich mining areas. Transportation
networks connected camps, first as trails, then as wagon roads. Farms,
orchards, and truck gardens sprang up. Saloons and fandango halls,
along with boarding houses, provided entertainment, bed, bath, and
sustenance to the miners. The bare bones of civilization in the form
of government, law, newspapers, and social lodges developed, and
violence became commonplace. Natural and man-made disasters, such
as fires and earthquakes, destroyed many of the structures of those
Placer gold deposits were exhausted by the mid-1850s causing a major
depression. Miners rushed to other strikes
in Nevada, Colorado, or Alaska, hoping to find work, while local
support industries collapsed or suffered. Farms were abandoned, businesses
closed and auctioned off, and the mines shut down. Tuolumne County's
population decreased by nearly 50% between 1860 and 1870. Up to the
early 1890s, the county suffered hardship and depression, only to have mining again enliven the area. The Lode Gold Rush lasted about 25 years—the
county experienced another major period of growth and a population boom when the miners sunk deep shafts into the Mother Lode. Hoisting
equipment was developed and pumps forced fresh air into the shafts,
while electricity provided power, with the added benefit of providing
some residential electricity.
Sonora and Jamestown boomed. A large increase
in assessed valuation allowed the county to construct a new courthouse
in 1898, build bridges, improve roads, establish a high school, and
generally reestablish county services.