History of the Plumas-Eureka Mines and Johnsville,
Collection Scope and Content Summary
Title: California. Division of Parks and Recreation.
Plumas-Eureka Collection, Plumas-Eureka State Park,
Date Range: 1866 - 1952
Date (bulk): (bulk 1880 - 1920).
Collection number: 321.1
Collector: California State Parks
Blairsden, CA 96103
72 cubic ft.
California State Parks
Plumas-Eureka State Park
Abstract: The Plumas-Eureka Collection is a collection
that illuminates the history of gold mining and its impact on the
settlement of the Plumas County region of California during the great
decades of the California Gold Rush. It consists of materials, including
legal records and a nice collection of photographs, that reflect the
history of the Plumas-Eureka region, and life in the mining towns of
Johnsville and Jamison City, California.
Physical location: For current information on the
location of these materials, please contact the Plumas-Eureka Ranger
Station at 530-836-2380.
The collections are open for research by appointment only.
Appointments may be made by calling 530-836-2380.
Property rights reside with the California Department of Parks and
Recreation. Literary rights are retained by the creators of the records
and their heirs. For permission to reproduce or to publish, please
contact the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Plumas-Eureka
Suggested citation of these records is: [Identification of item], Plumas-Eureka Collection, Plumas-Eureka State Park, 321.1,
California State Parks.
This collection was accumulated over a number of years from many
donors, including the descendants of the Maxwell and Sorracco families of
Johnsville. Many of the maps and other mining records in the collection
were acquired from Mr. C.A. Lundy, who bought and consolidated mining
claims on Eureka Peak in the 1950s.
The collections had limited processing work done by Park Association
volunteers in 2001. In 2002, the Department of Parks designated funds
to hire an archivist to organize, arrange, and house the collection
according to established archival procedures and produce a finding aid for
the collection contents. During the processing of the collection, items
that had been individually foldered were consolidated with like items
to reduce bulk, all metal fasteners were removed and replaced where
necessary with inert plastiklips, all photographs were sleeved in
PAT-passed polypropylene sleeves and photocopied, documents in need of cleaning
were surfaced cleaned using an archival-quality document cleaning pad,
and the collection was housed in archval-quality containers, additional
containers ordered when needed. The containers were labeled with an
archival-quality acid-free label using an inert adhesive.
The collection was organized into three major record series with
subseries as appropriate to give a sound intellectual organization.
History of the Plumas-Eureka Mines and Johnsville,
(The history of Johnsville and the surrounding area of Plumas
County, California, is inseparable from the history of gold mining operations
in the area in the mid to late 19th century. This narrative, adapted
from histories compiled by George Ross, Plumas-Eureka State Park docent,
lays out the general chain of events surrounding the discovery of gold
on Eureka Peak (Gold Mountain as it was formerly known), the
establishment of the Plumas-Eureka and Jamison Mines, and the founding of the
town of Johnsville and other communities organized around the mining
Plumas County as a region had been virtually bypassed by the hoards
of people flooding into California at the news of the gold discovery at
Sutter's Mill in 1849. Since the major gold discoveries were on the
western flank of the Sierra Nevada, the closest many 49ers got to the
region was more than fifty miles away, along the trail forged by Peter
Lassen a couple of years prior that wound across Nevada through the Feather
River Canyon on its way to Oregon, with forks in a pair of places
reaching south to the gold mining regions in the foothills. Lassen's trail
traversed the area of today's Plumas County most significantly at Big
Meadow, an area now covered by the waters of Lake Almanor. It was at Big
Meadow that weary wagon trains would stop to rest and feed their
animals in preparation for the final push to the coast.
History has it that a man who got lost discovered gold in the Plumas
County region. A '49er of questionable intelligence and integrity named
Stoddard had gone hunting one day and promptly lost his way. His wagon
train not willing to wait, he and a companion were left to fend for
themselves. In their wanderings, they chanced upon a lake and discovered
gold in the sands, theirs for the taking. With winter approaching,
however, the men had more pressing needs and decided that the riches of
their "Gold Lake" would have to wait until the spring.
Stoddard spent the winter of 1849-50 visiting the gold camps of
Nevada City, Grass Valley, and Downieville, all the while telling
magnificent stories of his "Gold Lake" just waiting to be rediscovered. "The
Gold Lake Excitement," as it came to be known, was not altogether
convincing to many, but by the spring of 1850 Stoddard had a hand-picked party
of 25 miners ready to accompany him back up to the high country along
old Maidu Indian trails in search of the lost lake of gold.
Over a month of searching got them nowhere, and many of the party
lost faith in their leader Stoddard. By June they issued an ultimatum
that Stoddard took as a threat and he stole out of camp one night, this
time not getting lost as he made his way out of the region. The rest of
the party, deciding to head back homeward, stopped to pan for gold in
the streams along the way. They were not disappointed. Although they did
not discover the famous Gold Lake of Stoddard's tales, they did
discover a number of placer streams and many of the party were richly rewarded
for their efforts. Too ill equipped to last the winter in the high
country, they journeyed to the Central Valley to stay the winter and plan a
return to the region with the spring thaw.
The spring of 1851 saw the original group return, along with a group
of nine additional miners following. Not finding much panning room
along the streams, the nine decided to cross the crest of the mountains.
Setting up camp in the shadow of a mountain, along a creek on the east
side of the crest, two members of the nine set off to inspect the
surrounding terrain. What they found was nothing less than miraculous. The two
men, Meriwether and Peck, had stumbled across an exposed ledge of rose
quartz about 20 feet wide that slanted uphill about 400 feet. The ledge
was full of gold.
The fortunate nine sent word of the discovery along the trails to
men still panning the creeks, and within days, by June 5, 1851, the
Eureka Company was formed with 36 men. A flood of people followed and the
rush to Eureka Peak had begun. The creek was named Jamison Creek and more
surveying and prospecting begun. 76 men came together to form the
Washington and '76 Mine Company, laying claim to another outcropping not far
from the Eureka. A half-mile south, 40 more began the Rough and Ready
Mine. To the north, another 80 men started the Mammoth Mine. Within a
month of the Eureka discovery, Eureka Peak was being blasted and tunneled
in a series of claims along its surface.
The progress was not easy. Of the four mines established that June
of 1851, two put far too much capital into infrastructure and the
failure to gather enough gold-bearing ore the first year left them insolvent.
The '76 Mine had invested heavily in an expensive stamp mill near
Jamison Creek and a wooden chute over 1500 feet long to bring the ore down
the mountain. They also developed a small town, the City of '76. When
the following spring's ore produced only $200 in gold the mine folded,
the company disbanded, and assets were sold for cash, with only a handful
of men willing to stay and work the claim. The Rough and Ready also
lived up to its name, investing in its own mill and suffering through a
series of starts and stops. While the claim was worked until 1854 with
meager success, the company eventually disbanded, leaving its claims
unworked for many years.
The men of both the Mammoth and Eureka Mines persisted, however, and
their persistence eventually brought its rewards. Not invested in the
overhead of the other two companies, relying on rudimentary tools and
learning from the experiences of miners from other regions, the companies
both built arrastras, mule-driven grinding facilities that were a less
expensive means to pulverize and pull the gold from the ore, a slower
but wiser process. The arrastras were used until the blasted ores
produced enough revenue to merit the building of stamp mills, although use of
the arrastras did not cease entirely.
The formation of the mining companies introduced the need for a host
of support. The town of Jamison City, just below present day
Johnsville, started along Jamison Creek and soon gathered a reputation for wild
living and easy women. Activities related to mining soon sprang up all
along Jamison Creek, with claims along the stream supplementing the
claims further up the mountain. Prospecting took place all over the region,
with gold strikes along the Yuba River, the three branches of the
Feather River, tributary streams and other rock outcrops. With the flood of
miners came additional people laying land claims, and soon farming was
in place to provide the area with foodstuffs that would otherwise
require transport from distant communities such as Marysville via mule
train. The building of mills, flumes, outbuildings, and homes helped a
logging industry take hold that still persists today. Over the next decade,
as the industries took hold the population grew from a fledgling 200
people to over 5000.
By the 1870s, ownership of all of the mines had undergone changes as
miners discovered they were not necessarily the best managers and
wealthy interests from San Francisco and other financial centers moved in.
With new ownership came better management and efficiency, and soon the
mines were producing thousands of dollars a month in gold. John Parrott,
a wealthy San Francisco banker, had been the first of the major owners
to buy up and consolidate mining operations, his Eureka Mine competing
with the Mammoth as to who had the richer tunnels. Eventually he was
bought out by the Sierra Buttes Mining Company, a London-based outfit,
which then proceeded to buy the Mammoth Mine and other claims along
Eureka Peak. At the time of the sale, the Eureka Mine employed about 70 men
for eight months out of the year and Jamison City was still lively.
When the Eureka Mine's stamp mill at Eureka Lake collapsed in 1872,
the Sierra Buttes Mining Company built a new and much-improved mill
near the mouth of the Upper Mammoth Tunnel further up the mountain. This
resulted in the enlargement of the tunnel and development of an entirely
new town, Eureka Mills, on level with the tunnel workings. Not long
after the new mill went into operation Eureka Mills became a substantial
community, with a boarding house for 200 miners, a school, a church, two
stores, a hotel with a saloon, two additional saloons, a livery stable,
a blacksmith, company offices for the mine, and several homes.
Later in 1873, the mines were put under the charge of William Johns,
a brilliant manager of mining operations, who, through a series of
moves and processes made the mines much more efficient, and a string of 25
successful and profitable years began. With an influx of capital to
build the mill and a pair of other improvements, the mines gave up a
prodigious amount of gold. Even old tunnels that were thought to have been
played out were discovered to have more "paying ledges." In less than a
decade, the London investors had their original investments returned
and shares of the company increased in value, making them very wealthy
Life in Eureka Mills was very different from that of its sister town
further down the mountain. More families lived there year round, as the
mine continued work through the winter to extend the tunnels, lay track
from the tunnels to the mills for mule-drawn ore cars, and maintain a
sawmill. By 1873 there were over 300 men on the Plumas-Eureka payroll,
nearly a hundred of them Chinese. Their community was patriotic and
religious, more of a family town than the wild Jamison City. With
prosperity and the stream of gold came improvements in their way of life. The
Central Pacific Railroad crossed the Sierra Nevada at Truckee in 1869,
making Eureka Mills closer by days to a major source of supplies. A wagon
road was opened from Jamison City to Eureka Mills, and in 1874 the
telegraph line reached the town via Downieville and Sierra City.
William Johns planned and built a second stamp mill, the Mohawk, a
40-stamp mill completed in 1878. As with the Eureka Mill, an adjacent
town was organized. Johns laid out a town site in 1876 and a Jamison City
man named John Banks claimed land and built the first building, a
hotel, in the town that was first called Johnstown. Two conflicting stories
circulate to this day as to the original naming of the community of
Johnsville, whether it was named for John Banks or William Johns. No
definitive evidence survives. Johnsville didn't grow much until work on the
mill was begun in earnest, but by 1878 Johnsville was a community. As
the stamp mill began its work and gold ore was crushed by the ton,
Johnsville grew and flourished. In 1882, Johnsville was a thriving town with
two hotels and stables, three general stores, two meat markets and a
number of saloons.
The mines on Eureka Peak were successful for a number of years, but
by 1887 much of the gold had been taken. Dividends, for so long up in
the 15% range, for the next couple of years dropped to a meager 2-3%.
The shareholders, knowing that profits were not much longer in coming,
decided to withdraw their investments in the Sierra Buttes mines and put
the properties up for sale. Other owners, lessees, tributors, and
miners in several combines continued to work the Plumas-Eureka until the
turn of the century, but mining was essentially over by 1897. Persistent
hopefuls into the 1940s produced a trickle of gold. When all was
finished, Eureka Peak had given up some 18 million dollars in gold and another
2 to 3 million came from Jamison Creek placer mining. Today there are
some 62 miles of tunnels in the mountain, many of which are still intact
With the decline in the mines, so went the towns. Jamison City and
Eureka Mills did not survive, and Johnsville nearly went the way of the
gold dust. The hardy families who loved the town, were born and raised
there, persisted as long as they could. Johnsville shrank to a town of
15 people by the Depression years, but in the 1970s, new blood infused
the town with life. A group of local homeowners was formed to help
preserve many of the original structures that had fallen into disrepair and
today Johnsville is a community of some 100 people, completely
contained within Plumas-Eureka State Park.
Collection Scope and Content Summary
The Plumas-Eureka Collection at Plumas-Eureka State Park consists of
records, artifacts, and memorabilia connected with the historic Gold
Rush-era town of Johnsville, California and the surrounding region, as
well as the primary gold mining operations that took root on Eureka Peak
in the mid-19th century. The collection contains a good selection of
material relating to two of the major gold mining companies of the area,
the Sierra Buttes Mining Company and its Eureka Mine, as well as the
Jamison Mining Company. Life in the town of Johnsville is reflected in
the many photographs in the collection, along with journals of various
social clubs and school memorabilia. The Sorracco family, first of
Johnsville and later the town of Portola, were successful merchants as well
as involved with the mining industry, and their records reflect
information about social life and activities in Johnsville, the centers of
trade for the region, along with the types of goods and services supplied
to the community.
Significant items of note are the pair of maps of the Plumas-Eureka
Mine and its labyrinth of tunnels, rises, and drifts drawn by the
surveyor and rail man Arthur W. Keddie (1877-1921), as well as a complete
log book filled in meticulous detail with data on the daily operations
and production at the Plumas-Eureka Mine and its major tunnels.
The following terms have been used to index the description of
in a library's online public access catalog:
Library of Congress Subject Headings
Arthur W., 1877 - 1921.
Gold mines and
Plumas Eureka Mining
Additional information about Plumas County, the Plumas-Eureka
Mine, other mines on Gold Mountain, and Johnsville may be found in the
Bancroft, Hubert Howe, 1832-1918.
History of California.
San Francisco, CA:
The History Company,
Blodgett, Peter J.
Land of Golden Dreams:
California in the Gold Rush decade, 1848-1958.
San Marino, CA:
Californi's Gold Rush
Country: a Guide to the best of the Mother Lode.
California. Division of Beaches and Parks.
The History of Mining in
the Plumas Eureka State Park area, 1851-1890, by W. Turrentine Jackson.
State of California, Division of Beaches and Parks,
Rush for Riches: Gold
Fever and the Making of California.
University of California Press,
Nadeau, Remi A.
Ghost Towns & Mining
Camps of California: a History and Guide (5th ed.).
Santa Barbara, CA:
Shoup, Laurence H.
A Century of Gold Mining
in the northern Sierra: history of the Gibsonville region, Sierra and
Plumas counties, California, 1850-1942.