Indian Diggings


The History of El Dorado County, California by P. Sioli, pages 196-198

Indian Diggings was first discovered by a company of white men from Fiddletown (Oneida), who were on a prospecting trip, in the fall of 1850. They found several Indians there at work panning out gold in the bed of the creek, which was suggestive of the name adopted. A town soon sprang up, rich gravel deposits having been discovered in the hills north of where the town is now situated. The distance from Placerville in a southeast direction is twenty-five miles; from Oneida (Fiddletown), Amador county, twelve miles--the line between El Dorado and Amador being only a few miles to the south from the place. Indian Diggings creek, upon whose banks the town was built, was among the richest surface or creek diggings in this part of the State, and have paid well by tunneling and by hydraulicking also. At one time (in 1855) the town was one of the most promising in the southern portion of the county. There were nine stores, five hotels, the usual number of saloons, etc., with a population of fifteen hundred persons. The necessary water for working the mines, etc., was brought in the camp by means of the Indianville and Cedarville ditches, built during the summer of 1852, tapping the South Fork of Cosumnes river, and a water-power saw-mill was built at Brownsville, where it has done a paying business for several years. In 1855 the number of ditches was increased by two, providing water from the Middle Fork of the Cosumnes from a point four miles above Py Py Valley. The expense of constructing these ditches was $200,000 for each. These ditches supplied the miners of Brownsville, Indian Diggings, Cedarville, Fairplay, Spanish creek and from thence it was taken across over the county like to Pokerville (now Plymouth), Arkansas Diggings, Michigan and Cook's Bars.

In 1857 all the water ditches in that section passed into the hands of J. M. Douglass, who held and operated them principally in his own interest until 1874, when they became the property of Charles E. McLane, of San Francisco, who is pursuing a more liberal policy towards the miners. There are several valuable claims still being worked at and near the old town, among which is to be mentioned the Bell and Dorsey claim, being owned and worked by McLane. Burrows & Co., Bell & Murry, Lamb & Co. and Patterson are successful miners in the vicinity.

On the evening of August 27th, 1857, the town was totally destroyed by fire, including every store and hotel of the place. Another big fire, that laid in ashes a large portion of the town, occurred in 1860. The history of the town is not entirely without those incidents that were the greatest necessity to make up a first-class California town. In the summer of 1855, a ditch superintendent left town, taking with him the funds of the company and another man's wife. He was overtaken at Nevada City and gave up the coin but stuck to the woman. In the fall of 1855, a man was shot at a circus by a man who had taken the wife of the injured party to the performance. The audience was considerably alarmed. After firing several shots, the party fled, and, by the aid of friends, escaped. The wounded man finally recovered, though crippled for life. A duel was fought to settle a dispute about a game of ten pins. Pistols were used without effect, when one party went back to his cabin for his rifle, with which he would "fetch him." The difference was settled by friends. In the flushest mining time the town had quite a communication with other parts and the outer world. In 1855 there were three stages running between the town and Sacramento, two of them daily, one tri-weekly--all doing a good business.

The miners on the different branches of the Cosumnes river were all supplied from this town. J. W. Gilmore was the first Postmaster, and one of the first hotel-keepers. He, as well as his estimable lady, will be remembered well by all who have shared his hospitality. They live now at the bridge spanning the Consumnes near Latrobe.

"Indian Diggings Lodge, No. 85, F. & A. M.," was organized in the summer of 1855, and continued with success until 1874, when it merged with Fiddletown Lodge. "Polar Star Lodge, No. 56, I.O.O.F.," was organized in September, 1856, and continued until October, 1863, when the hall and records were destroyed by fire. The hall was rebuilt at Fairplay. In 1858 a mill for sawing marble was erected by Messrs. Aitken & Luce, of Sacramento, which is worked successfully to the present time. The reputation of this marble for monuments, building and ornamental purposes is general, and is declared second to none yet discovered in the United States. A fine monument, as a specimen of this marble, was forwarded by the firm of Aitken & Luce to the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia.

In 1860 a dispute about a water right occurred between some miners living a few miles below town, on Cedar creek, and Dr. O. P. C. White, formerly of Tennessee. The miners went prepared to cut White's dam, and while in the act two of the party--McGee and Sweeny--were shot dead, the third--Delory--barely escaping with his life. White, by the aid of numerous friends, succeeded in avoiding the officers until the following spring, when he left the State and gave up his life fighting for the South. Dr. Eckelroth, now of Tuolumne county, being Coroner, started from Placerville for the scene of the murdered men, in company with Mike Welch. The party reached Buck's Bar at about ten o'clock at night. The water being high, Welch, taking the lead, plunged in, the doctor following. Welch was carried down the rapids and never has been heard from. The doctor escaped.

S. J. Ensminger, now of Evansville, Ind., familiarly known as "Big Sam," spent several years, in early days, in dispensing beef to the denizens of Indian Diggings and vicinity. E. H. Perry settled here in 1850. He now is a thrifty farmer, living within a mile of where he first located, at the head of the creek which bears his name. He was a Deputy Indian Agent in 1851-52. Indian Diggings was a central point for Indians in early days. It was no uncommon sight at a "fandango" to see collected together fifteen hundred or more Indians of the forest.

Politically, Indian Diggings was quite an important point, and more than a few of those who have gained prominence in this county made their debut from this place. Among those who have represented the county in the Legislature the following were from this town: George McDonald, two sessions ; Tyler D. Heiskell, H. C. Sloss, John C. Bell (who was killed during the session by Dr. Stone, of Georgetown), John Fraser, Ed. F. Taylor and Thomas Fraser, afterwards Senator, now of Placerville. Of candidates who failed to be elected we mention J. W. Wilcox, the "Mariposa blacksmith." A good story has been told bout John. On one of his evening rambles, with a companion, among his neighbors' turkey roosts, he concluded that, as Christmas was nearing they would have a turkey dinner. When reaching up to catch a gobler, the old chap commenced, in a loud tone: "Quit! quit! " John and his comrade, supposing it to be the owner of the premises, broke and beat a hasty retreat, leaving their game behind them.

Among the early settlers of Indian Diggings will be remembered the names of W. and L. Grubbs, T. D. Heiskell, P. Gibson, G. & J. McDonald, H. C. Sloss, L. S. Bell (occupying still the same premises he did in 1851), J. R. Head (now Fiddletown), B. R. Sweetland, Hall & McPherson, hotel-keepers; J. G. Busch, now of Potter Valley, Mendocino county; A. Riker, now of Salinas county; J. S. Locke, now San Francisco; J. P. Cantin, San Francisco; R. H. Redd, John Cable, John Patterson and A. J. Lowry, now Postmaster of Placerville. But the town as it is now there is little to say. No one at all familiar with its early history can now visit the place without a feeling of regret that a place once the scene of so much business, excitement, sociability and enjoyment should so nearly be blotted out from the list of towns, and to be the abode of not to exceed thirty persons all told, and to find--in place of the daily stages, express and teams, its two livery stables, etc.--the solitary mail rider, not even at the town--for the Postoffice* has been removed to the adjoining town of Mendon, formerly Brownsville--supplying the people with the mail once a week. Instead of nine stores we now find one; in place of six hundred or eight hundred voters, the precinct polls about forty.

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