It is New Year’s Day! And Deelow wants another adventure. Since we ate to our hearts delight last night, Deelow and I figured out to explore some more historical towns in the mother lode. This time we decided to move northwards to Angels’ Camp like our same route. We went through but instead of turning right to 120 towards Yosemite in the Oakdale intersection, we went straight and turned right later on to 26 mile road and turned right to Highway 4. It took almost an hour to reach our destination. We passed by mountains, field and the long winding road.
We also saw the abandoned town of Copperopolis (we would find out later the history behind it). We were greeted by commercial buildings as we enter the town and going to our first destination. Here is the beginning of the history of the town.
“Henry and George Angel arrived in California as soldiers, serving under Colonel Frémont during the Mexican War both from Rhode Island. After the war’s end, the brothers found themselves in Monterey where they heard of the fabulous finds in the gold fields. The tales proved too strong a lure, so they joined the Carson-Robinson party of prospectors and set out for the mines. The company parted ways upon reaching what later became known as Angels Creek, with the Murphy group heading east and the Carson party continuing south. It was September of 1848.
Henry set up camp and began placer mining the area, trying his luck in Dead Horse Ravine, Dry Creek, China Gulch and Angels Creek. But gold mining was truly hard work. Prospectors walked for miles carrying heavy loads to and from their claims. They worked for hours on end under the burning glare of the summer sun, or in the freezing winds, rain, and snow of the icy winter. Digging, shoveling, swinging a pick, lifting sand, gravel, and rocks out of their way in search of bedrock. And let’s not forget the insects; the lice, ticks, gnats, flies, mosquitoes, wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, and the friendly tarantulas, scorpions, lizards, and rattlesnakes which all enjoyed sharing the miners’ bedroll.
After a few weeks of this back-breaking labor, Henry realized there were easier ways to make a living, and later that fall gave up mining to open a trading post. George joined his brother in operating Angels Trading Post, which did business from a simple canvas building located at the confluence of Angels and Dry Creek. The business thrived (shirts sold for $50, mining tools reached $200) selling provisions to the incoming miners and neighboring camps. By the end of the year, over one hundred tents were scattered about the creek and the settlement was referred to as Angels Trading Post, later shortened to Angels Camp.
Many rich placer strikes were made during the camp’s first year of life; in fact, the grounds were so rich that claims which produced two ounces of gold per day or less were ignored. With returns like these, the miners swarmed into the region and it is estimated that several thousand miners were camped along a one-mile stretch in Angels Camp during 1849.
The problem with placer mining is, the placers eventually give out. After a few years of great prosperity, Angels Camp began to fade away as the streams played out and could no longer provide the abundant returns they once did. The town’s future looked grim. Until gold-bearing quartz veins were discovered running practically under the main street of town.
While out hunting one afternoon near Angels Camp, Bennager took some time to clean his gun, and his ramrod became lodged in the barrel. Thinking the best way to free the stuck ramrod was to shoot the gun, he aimed the gun at a nearby squirrel and fired, missing the squirrel and sending the ramrod into the bushes. When he extracted the ramrod he noticed on the tip a small piece of quartz-rich with gold. That afternoon he dug up $700 worth of gold using only his ramrod as a shovel. The following day, better prepared, he pulled out $2,000 worth of gold and $7,000 on the third day. Angels Camp jumped into the quartz mining age and the town’s survival was assured, for, with the advent of hard rock mining, miners and merchants once again poured into the born again town. Stores, homes, schools, and churches were built as families settled down to stay.”
After that, we drove on and highway 49 and we started to suspect that we made a wrong turn because we haven’t seen any old buildings. But we eventually did saw the Angels Camp Museum, but I guess since its New Year, it was closed. So we headed on to the Visitor Center where they have parking. We were also surprised that it was opened and the lady was very welcoming that she gave us some pamphlets about the town and the upcoming events. As we walked out I noticed the green frog in front and then we looked at the magazine and learned some information who was the frog dedicated to and it was from Mark Twain’s short story. While here is some more information about this place
“One of the most extensive gold-bearing quartz veins ever discovered in the Mother Lode was located here by the Winter brothers during the mid-1850’s. Created some 160 million years ago, during the Jurassic Period, the Davis-Winter vein followed Main Street from Angels Creek up to the southern edge of Altaville. Five major mines worked the rich vein: the Stickle, the Utica, the Lightner, the Angels, and the Sultana. These mines reached their peaks during the 1880’s and 1890’s when over two hundred stamps were at work, crushing quartz ore brought in to several mills by hand cars via track from the mines.
Angels Creek ran milky white from the mill wastes and it’s said that when the last mill finally ceased operations, the townspeople couldn’t sleep, the silence was so loud. The five mines are credited with producing a combined total of over $20 million in gold.
A devastating fire in 1855 resulted in Main Street being rebuilt in stone, and what you see today is almost entirely how it looked at that time. As for mining the main quartz vein extended from southern Altaville to Angels Creek and all along Main Street were the mines: The Sultana, the Angels, the Lightner, the Utica, and the Stickle. Ore was pushed by hand cars over tracks from the mines to the mills where the “crash” of over 200 stamps was produced each day during the mining peak of the 1880s and 90s.”
Now we knew that Mark Twain has something to do with it so we went to look around the downtown and like the other mining towns, we visited an antique shop up near the visitor center. It was opened and I looked for something interesting while Deelow wandered around.
We took some photos and I didn’t find anything nice and also it was a bit pricy. So we went downward and visited some more antique shops and some of the buildings have historical significance that markers were dedicated to them.
“Built in the early 1850’s, year not documented, by Frank Egan, as the Central Park Hotel. Then, it included a brothel upstairs. The hotel was sold to Mrs. Mitrovich and renamed The Waverly Hotel. Blagoje “Billy” Ratkovich bought the hotel in 1922 and died in 1940. Dorothy Ratkovich Soracco, Billy’s daughter, inherited the property.
Her husband, Mel Soracco, who had worked in the hotel since 1932, took over the property, closed the hotel and renamed it Mel’s Central Corner. Later, when renamed Mel’s Corner, it featured billiards and cards in the back room. Mel retired in 1974. Cecil Hale, owned Mel’s Corner from 1974 to 1982. Rand and Betty Claussen bought the bar and renamed it Claussen’s Corner in 2003. The current owners of the building are brother and sister, Michael Tarbat and Roberta Hoffman, who are directly related to Billy Ratkovich.”
Calaveras County Bank
“This building was constructed in 1898 as a bank for John Raggio by Joe Gazzola from hand cut stone, hauled from the Peirano Quarry a mile east of Angels Camp. It housed the Calaveras County Bank downstairs. Stockholders were listed as Ernest Denecki, Henry Breuner, A.A. Hale, John Raggio, F.J. Solinski, C.D. Demarest, George Tryon, Warren Rossi, J.A. Peirano, Charles Martin and M.HA . Manuel. In 1930 this bank was taken over by Bank of Italy and later by Bank of America. The latte moved to a new quarters in 1937.
In 1938 the Calaveras Meat Market set up business which continues to this day. Upstairs the second telephone office in Angels Camp was located and it remained there until the 1920’s. In 1926 saw Dr. G.B. Wilson open a dental office upstairs and he was joined in the business by. Dr. George W. Cooper in Dr. Cooper still has his office in that location. From some time in the late 1920’s until February 1977 the Angels fire siren was on the rooof of the structure.”
1889 A. Brosemer Building
“Andrew Brosemer followed his childhood sweetheart, Elizabeth Huberty, from Belgium. She came with her family from Luxembourg to Calaveras County in 1886 to join her uncle who had homesteaded a ranch in the 1850’s. Andrew properly courted and married her. Their eight children were all born in Angels Camp, he was with the Utica Mining Company.”
As we walked around we found an interesting store. There were stories in Stones, a store full of rocks, minerals, bones and fossil. We went inside, it took most of our time walking around and exploring the items. It was beautiful there were a variety of colors and textures. They were shining and glittering with some as tall as me. Deelow bought a lot of fossil at the end our exploring in the store. They also have a huge collection in the back store. The owners were very nice and try to explain everything to us. As for me I bought an open rock with its own stand. Here is the link about the store and stones and fossils inside.
After that, we continued walking down and entering a few more antique shops and as we walked along we found some information about the colorful people of Angels Camp.
“Angels Camp had its share of characters, notorious badmen, violence, and mob justice during its early years. The fiendish Joaquin Murieta is said to have skulked about the back streets, frequenting the town’s rougher saloons. Black Bart is also known to have passed through town, on his way to or from one of his many stage hold-ups.
On September 25 of 1856, a man named William Colbrook stabbed and killed Dr. Thomas Armstrong during an argument in which Armstrong allegedly called Colbrook a thief. Immediately taken into custody by the town constable, Colbrook was soon forcibly taken from the protection of the law by an angry mob and promptly hanged. Another such event occurred in 1858. Edward Sargent and a fellow named Brooks quarreled over a game of cards. Later that day, Sargent (an elderly man) was dozing on a bench in front of a local saloon. Brooks stealthily approached and cut Sargent’s throat, a jagged, mortal wound. Arrested and put in jail, Brooks met his maker late that night when a group of vigilantes broke him out of jail and hanged him on a convenient tree.”
Those were interesting and macabre in this small town and being called “Angel.” Anyway we walked across downtown and near the end of the main street was a downhill where we reached the historical Angels Hotel. It was a nice looking hotel and a lot bigger compared to the other buildings in the downtown. Also at the front of the hotel is the California Historical Marker. Here is the history of that famous hotel.
“The Angels Hotel was erected by C. C. Lake in 1851 at the northeast corner of Main Street and Chinatown Road (Birds Way). At first it was a huge canvas structure that was quickly replaced by a one story wooden building. Here miners tripped to the strains of the fiddle, fife, and drums. Their partners, fellow gold washers, wore patches on their blue jeans which signified that they were ladies for the evening. The favorite dances of the miners were the Masurka [sic], the Polka and the Quadrille.
In 1855 Lake had the frame hotel torn down and on the site began the construction of a one story stone building, to which a second story was added in 1856. The stone, a rhiolite [sic] tuff of volcanic origin, was quarried within about one mile of town, from a high lava cap. Lake’s commodious hotel was dedicated January 1, 1856 at which time a grand ball was given. It was during these early days that Mark Twain who lived for a time with his friend Steve Gillis at Jackass Hill in Tuolumne County made visits to Angels Camp (1860’s) and stopped at the Angels Hotel.
On one of his visits, Ross Coon, a bartender and part owner at the hotel, told him of the frog jump which had taken place on Main Street between Scribner’s store and the Hotel. Mark Twain, thinking this a humorous event, on his return to Jackass Hill, wrote the story “The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”.
Lastly we reached an intersection where the main downtown ends and in front of a building is a monument of stone with a marker. We came closer and I wasn’t surprised what it was about. Mark Twain’s The Jumping Frog. I don’t know a lot about it so here is a summary of that short story so we can get an idea of what it is about.
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
“A man from the East comes to a western mining town. At the request of a friend, the narrator speaks with Simon Wheeler in order to ask after a man named Leonidas W. Smiley. Instead of giving the narrator the information that he asks for, Wheeler launches into a tall tale about a man named Jim Smiley.
The story goes something like this: Jim Smiley was a man who would bet on anything. He turned a frog into a pet and bet a stranger that his frog, Dan’l Webster, could jump higher than any other frog. While Smiley wasn’t looking, the stranger filled Dan’l Webster with quail shot, and Smiley lost the bet. Before he could figure out what happened, the stranger disappeared with the $40 he won by cheating.
Sick of the long-winded tale about Jim Smiley and his frog, the narrator tries to escape from Wheeler before he launches into another story. The narrator realizes that his friend probably intended for him to suffer through Wheeler’s tedious tale.”
” An interesting glimpse of the Gold Country can be seen through the eyes of two writers who spent some time in Angels Camp and the vicinity during the wild days of the Gold Rush. Bret Harte visited the gold regions for a few short months, teaching school at a camp in the Southern Mines, and then mining for a brief time at nearby Robinson’s Ferry before returning to San Francisco.
The harsh life of the gold camps was not for him, but during the short time he spent there, Harte accumulated enough material and first-hand experience to last his literary career. Stories such as The Luck of Roaring Camp, M’liss, and Outcasts of Poker Flat gave the world a unique view of the western frontier and are still in print today.
Mark Twain was a frequent visitor to Angels Camp while staying with the Gillis brothers at Jackass Hill.
One of his favorite haunts was the Angels Hotel saloon, since it contained a billiard table and Twain was a billiards fanatic. On February 20 of 1865, he visited the saloon where Ben Coon, the bartender, told him a story about a man and a jumping frog. Back at the Gillis cabin, Twain turned this story into a “villainous backwoods sketch” entitled Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog. Published later that year in newspapers throughout America and Europe, the story earned Twain world-wide recognition. Reprinted in 1867 in a collection of Twain’s western writings, the story was re-titled The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, by which it is known today.
The world’s premier frog jumping contest takes place each May at Frogtown, located at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds near Albany Flat just south of town. Thousands of spectators watch as the contestants position their frogs on the starting circle and then begin their efforts at frog provoking. Frog jumping is a lot of fun, but it’s also serious business, with many contestants bringing in their stable of thoroughbred frogs. Visitors are encouraged to participate as rental frogs are available and no license is required. The winner is the frog who jumps the farthest in three consecutive jumps.”
The story helped Mark Twain rose to be one of the greatest writers. Now that was over with we headed back up the small hill of Angel’s Camp back to our vehicle. It was a nice adventure going to another small town created by the mining boom during the past century. Like other mining towns this one was also preserved to maintain its charm. It was getting a little late anyway because of the winter season. Besides that, the shops would be closing soon because of its New Year!
Here are the links for more information: