"Becoming California, a series that brings the California Gold Rush alive with the people who lived it."

They Came for the Bright Metal
And Are Remembered in Dull Stone


by Don Baumgart

We learn about the past in different ways. Those few of us with enough sense listen to the older folks in our families before they take their living history and depart. Others read books, delighting in the first-hand accounts of people who recorded their parts in exciting times.

One California woman read her history in cemeteries. Loni Patterson, in her book The Forgotten Pioneers of the Gold Country, comments, "They came in search of gold and dreams of a better life and here they remain."

Her account of the former residents of Graniteville comes from the grave markers that are perhaps the only permanence of the Forty-Niners who built the town.

First named "Eureka" it was forced to become "Eureka South" when its residents wanted a post office in 1867, because there already was a Eureka on the postal records for the state. Ten years later the place became "Graniteville."

Mining at Graniteville began in the spring of 1850, dependent on water which dried up in summer. In winter there were as many as 600 people living in the town; summers the population shrank to less than 200. If the summer was a particularly dry one, you'd find as few as 20 or 30 miners there.

Ms. Patterson says it was "...a lively, thriving town until the surface claims were depleted in about 1858. In 1866 the excitement of mining the gold from quartz got the town going again..."

In 1869 Graniteville had two hotels, five saloons, two stores, blacksmith and carpenter shops. By 1878 it had added a brewery and a bakery.

The three forks of "Poorman's Creek" flow from Graniteville merging into one stream before feeding the South Fork of the Yuba River near the town of Washington.

A dam built on Big Canyon Creek in the Graniteville area created Bowman Lake on the site of the Bowman Ranch. It was joined with other reservoirs by more than a hundred miles of ditches to supply water for mining at lower elevations. "Shand," which provided a stage stop and boarding house for travellers and miners was bought by the Quinn family and renamed "Quinn Ranch."

The real story of the land and times is to be found on the grave markers at the Graniteville cemetery. Take the Browns, for instance, probably all unrelated except by their passion for the yellow metal. Margaret Brown lived to be 83, William Brown came from Pennsylvania to be part of the Gold Rush. He died in a mining accident on Poorman's Creek. He was 27.

Death wasn't always kind to those whose memories are set in stone. Thirty-five-year-old Michael Clark died in a landslide, James Cassin came from Ireland to die in a fight. Another Irishman, John Doolan, was shot in the head. Jeremiah Franklin came from Michigan to meet his end when a carpenter's chisel fell off the towering structure of the Magenta Flume, being built in 1859 to channel water to the mines. Clinton Patterson died lost in the snow near Bowman Lake the winter of 1876.

There were the young deaths; six months, 8 and 36 years; and the older; 73, 72, 78 and 74. A local saloon keeper, Robert McLean, poured drinks in Graniteville until he was 86.

The miners who lived in Graniteville during the Gold Rush were typical of the inhabitants of the scores of towns that can now only be found by a foundation or a few building stones. They came from everywhere, settled and created communities.

One wrote, "I know certainly of but two now living who crossed the plains with me away back in '49. Those who delved with me in the mines of California have probably all, or nearly all, laid aside the pick and pan of mortal life and 'gone over the divide' between time and eternity."

Brought by the lure of gold, they stayed on to become merchants, hotel keepers and civic leaders. As the reasons for their locations faded, they grew older and moved to more comfortable places like Grass Valley and Nevada City.

Whether or not they found riches, they brought wealth with them to the new land. People like Isaac Newton Robison helped the land become California before they "went over the divide" to the cemetery at Graniteville and their places in history.

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Copyright Don Baumgart, 2003


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