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Indian Diggings Field Trip with the El Dorado Mineral and Gem Society
May 2003

Written by Peggy B. Perazzo

On Saturday, May 18, 2003, my husband Pat and I joined Bob Graton, a local forester, and some of the members of the El Dorado Mineral and Gem Society on their field trip to the Indian Diggings Cemetery, Indian Diggings town site, and the Indian Diggings marble quarry area. This area is near Omo Ranch southwest of Placerville in El Dorado County, California. (The land on which the old town site of Indian Diggings and the Indian Diggings marble quarry area are on private land today, so you must obtain permission before attempting to visit. The area is gated and fenced.)

On our way to the Indian Diggings Cemetery, we found the roads to be very narrow, dusty, and they are not marked so finding the Indian Diggings Cemetery and the gate to the Indian Diggings marble quarry area would be very difficult without a guide. Also, there is a locked gate at some point after the Indian Diggings town site and the quarry area as this is privately owned and not open to the public.

Indian Diggings Cemetery

We stopped at the Indian Diggings Cemetery, which is a small cemetery located on a hill amongst the trees and is elevated a bit above the road. There are several old marble stones left in addition to a few newer granite cemetery stones. One thing that I noticed that was unique to this cemetery is that all of the bases are made of marble rather than the more usual granite bases. I photographed the old marble stones. Pat and I checked all of these stones for carver/company signatures, but Pat only found one marble stone that may have at one time had a signature carved into the bottom as there were some orderly marks at the lower right corner of one cemetery stone, although it was impossible to read it. (There are photographs of the cemetery and some of the cemetery stones in the section preceding this account.)

There are many bare areas that may well cover other unmarked cemetery graves as Indian Diggings was a well-known town in the gold rush era.

Indian Diggings Town Site and the Marble-Lined Well

After we entered the gate, we traveled past the area in which the Indian Diggings town site once was located. At one point in the area, we stopped at a field on which there are a couple of fallen-down structures. At this site there was a marble-lined well. You can get very close to the well and clearly see the marble used to line the well. There is nothing in the well at present. (There are photographs of this well in the section preceding this account.)

We drove on and eventually reached the town site of Indian Diggings. There is not much left there now but a few fallen-down structures in the open fields. Bob noted that the town might have been further away from the present road as the original road appears to have been situated further into the meadow with the town located on both sides of the old road.

Hydraulic Mined Areas

At the farthest extent of the original Indian Diggings town site, we stopped to view the remains of mining tailings and a hydraulically-mined area situated off the road. The limestone lens can be viewed from this overlook in addition to the hydraulic mine area.

Creation of the Town of Indian Diggings/Diggin's and
Gold Panning out of a creek near the Omo Indian Village at Telegraph Creek

At one of the stops we made, Bob indicated that it was the spot where some men saw Indians panning gold "out of a creek near the Omo Indian Village at Telegraph Creek." (The indented italicized quotations in the following section are all from Bob Graton's notes on Indian Diggings.)

"In the fall of 1850, several gold prospectors from Fiddletown found some Miwok Indians panning gold out of a creek near the Omo Indian Village at Telegraph Creek. The men soon discovered other rich deposits in the hills north of the first site. Soon there was a rush of miners to the site. A town quickly sprang up on the creek. By 1852 there were about 50 cabins and two large wood buildings that contained a hotel, store, saloon and gambling house. The town grew more rapidly after ditches were dug to the (Sopiago Creek)."

In Doug Noble's article on "The Carson Emigrant Trail to Carson Valley," in the Mountain Democrat Online" April 22, 1999, he states that "The Carson Emigrant Trail was the most widely used route for settlers and prospectors coming to California until the development of a wagon road across Johnson's Cutoff and the Echo Summit in the late 1850s." He notes that this route also served the southern mines in Amador County and that there was "...a branch via Grizzly Flat led to Brownsville (Mendon), Indian Diggings and Fiddletown."

(The link from which this information was obtained is no longer available on the web site: <http://www.mtdemocrat.com/archives/index.inn?loc=detail&doc=/1999/July/19-309-columnists1.TXT> You will find a list of Mr. Noble's online articles at this URL: <http://www.mtdemocrat.com/columnists/doug_noble/>)

The account goes on to say that the Indian Diggings Post Office opened for business in 1853.

"By 1855 (the) population was about 1500 and commercial buildings included nine stores, five hotels and numerous saloons. Stages ran daily to both Placerville and Sacramento. That year town was even prosperous enough to rate a visit by a traveling circus. Placer mines in operation included the April Fool, Hidden Treasure, Little Bill, Lucky Jack, Peacock Yellow Waster, Omo and Yellow Jacket. Lode mines included the Black Oak, Polar Bear, Gold Note and Stillwagon. Masonic and I.O.O.F. halls built in 1856."

Today, it's hard to imagine all of these people and buildings in this area as all you see now are the open fields where buildings may well have been located, but today there are only the remains of a few fallen-down buildings to view. The roads are so narrow and dusty, travel must have been very difficult, especially in bad weather in the winter season.

"But disaster struck in August 1857 when a fire roared through the town and destroyed most of it. But the town was quickly rebuilt. In a county election at the time, Indian Diggings vied with Placerville as a county seat. The town lost by only a few votes. In 1859, marble was discovered by (Israel Luce) who formed a company to quarry the marble which was a crystalline limestone. And again in 1860 another fire destroyed the rebuilt town, but for a second it was rebuilt.

"The town prospered in the 1860s and in 1867 the Indian Diggings School District was formed in March. (There may have been a school early as 1856 or 1860, but records are incomplete.) The school was not built at the town site, but three miles away midway between the town and Omo Ranch, at the junction of Cedar Creek an Dark Canyon Creek (NW corner of Sec. 7). Near the end of the decade there was a slight decline at Indian Diggings while mines at nearby Brownsville prospered. So in June 1869 the Post Office was transferred to Brownsville...."

"Prices for supplies at the Indian Diggings Store in 1886 included: one dozen eggs - 25 cents, 10 pounds sugar - $1, 5 pounds beans - 40 cents and 6 pounds bacon - $1.04.

"In March 1888 the Post Office was returned to Indian Diggings and the displaced Justice of Peace, John Kohlert, became postmaster. He held the job for 22 years. Population by 1930 however was about 100. At the turn of the century the town was a center for drift mines. Buildings included a hotel, store, post office, saloon, some homes and cabins. Augustus Jinkerson built a large two story home for his family. The house had marble foundations and New England style dormer windows. There were a few Chinese remaining, including a herbalist named Quat who substituted as a doctor for the townsfolk."

The Indian Diggings Marble Quarries of Israel Luce,
Monument Company Owner and Stone Carver in Sacramento, California.

To view Israel Luce's marble quarry from an historical perspective, the following is a letter that was written by Israel Luce to Secretary of the State Agricultural Society in Sacramento on January 2, 1866. (This letter was contributed by Leeanna Rossi.) It is interesting to note in the letter that he writes of "quarries" rather than one quarry. He also indicates that in 1862 they "erected a steam mill, with three gangs of saws." So far, none of this has been rediscovered in the area.

"California Marble
Sacramento, January 2d, 1866
Mr. I. N. Hoag
Secretary of the State Agricultural Society:

Sir:-In compliance with your request, I give you some information in regard to our marble quarries. The quarries from which we procure the marble known as 'Indian Diggins marble,' are located in El Dorado County, about three miles from the line that divides El Dorado from Amador County, twenty-five miles east of south from Placerville, thirty-two miles east of Latrobe, and sixty-two miles from Sacramento City. A branch of the new Amador road from Virginia City, Silver Mountain, etc., leads within one half mile of the quarries.

"These quarries were first seen by me in the winter of eighteen hundred and fifty-three and four; at that time there was nothing to attract attention to them except the quality of the marble, which was as fine as the best Italian.

"In the winter of eighteen hundred and fifty-six and seven, the solid ledges were uncovered by hydraulic mining, from which we have been taking marble since the summer following, from eighteen hundred and fifty-seven to eighteen hundred and sixty-one. We quarried only for monumental work. In eighteen hundred and sixty-one we erected a steam mill, with three gangs of saws, by which we have been able to supply the increasing demand for this material.

"The marble is more easily worked, more free from iron, flint, or other outside matter, as it is as susceptible of as high a polish as the best Italian, there is no reason why it should not, in a few years, supersede the use of imported marble altogether. For general purposes, there is no marble in the United States that can compete with it; and, as you are well aware, we have exhibited it at all the State fairs since eighteen and fifty-eight, in competition with foreign or domestic production. And we have the proud satisfaction of knowing that California has carried off the palm in marble, as she has in everything else in which she has come in competition with other parts of the world...."

The Indian Diggings Gold Mines

Doug Noble, columnist for the Mountain Democrat Online , has written a few articles that provide information on the Indian Diggings area's gold mines and limestone/marble quarries. The quotations from Doug Noble's articles are used with his permission.

In his article entitled, "Indian Diggins: the true life Wild West," in the June 25, 1999, issue of the Mountain Democrat, Mr. Noble writes:

(The following quotation is used with the permission of the author, Doug Noble.)

(The link from which this information was obtained is no longer available on the web site: <http://www.mtdemocrat.com/archives/index.inn?loc=detail&doc=/1999/June/25-295-zcolumn35.txt> You will find a list of Mr. Noble's online articles at this URL: <http://www.mtdemocrat.com/columnists/doug_noble/>)

"The first report of the discovery of gold at what would become the town of Indian Diggins occurred in 1850 when a party of white men from Fiddletown came across several Indians panning gold in the bed of what would soon be known as Indian Diggins creek."

"Soon even richer gravel deposits were discovered in the hills to the north and a town sprang up along the banks of the creek.

"Located some 25 miles southeast of Placerville near the Amador-El Dorado County line, the town of Indian Diggings became one of the richest surface and creek 'diggins' around. By 1855 it was one of the largest towns in the southern part of El Dorado County. It had nine stores, five hotels, the usual number of saloons and some 2,000 people...."

"The town, including every store, hotel and saloon, was totally destroyed by fire on Aug. 27, 1857. It was rebuilt, but fire swept through the town again just three years later, leaving much of it in ashes.

"The third fire occurred many years later, when Justice Jinkerson ordered the burning of a row of shacks called the "Street of Painted Ladies.'...."

"The State's ban on hydraulic mining spelled the end of Indian Diggings' prosperity. Its post office, the daily stages, the nine stores and most of its 800 voters were gone by the 1870s and most of the gold mines had closed.

"The area's mining industry had been reduced to just Aitken and Luce marble saw mill. Starting in 1858, it was still producing fine marble for monuments, building and ornamental purposes."

In the article entitled, "Greenwood: originally a Louisville trading post," written by Doug Noble, columnist, in the May 19, 2000, issue of the Mountain Democrat Online, Mr. Noble explains when and how the name of Indian Diggings was changed to "Indian Diggins" in 1888. (The following quotation is used with the permission of the author, Doug Noble.)

"Indian Diggins: Located four miles south of Omo Ranch, in the southern portion of El Dorado County, the post office was established on Nov. 22, 1853 with Jacob Wolf as the first postmaster. The name was given to the area by early white miners who found a group of Indians mining gold along the creek. Service at the post office was discontinued on June 15, 1869 when it was moved one-and-one-half miles to the northeast and the name was changed to Mendon.

"Mendon Post Office: Established on Dec. 2, 1857 with J. Edmondson serving as postmaster, the community was generally known as Brownsville. However, Mr. Edmondson wanted to name the post office after himself. The U.S. Post Office Department would not allow him to do this, so he rearranged some letters from his name and came up with Mendon. The Mendon Post Office was discontinued on Feb. 15, 1869 and then re-established on June 15, 1869 when the Indian Diggings Post Office was closed and combined with Mendon. On March 23, 1888 the post office was closed again, moving back to Indian Diggings. With the closing of the post office, the name Mendon was dropped and the town was again called Brownsville.

"When the post office was moved back to Indian Diggings, the last "g" was dropped renaming it Indian Diggins. The Indian Diggins Post office was discontinued on Nov. 30, 1935, moving mail service to the post office at Omo Ranch."

In Doug Noble's November 19, 1999, article "Grade-A mines start with 'I' and 'J'" in the Mountain Democrat Online, he states the following about the Indian Diggings area's gold mines. (The following quotation is used with the permission of the author, Doug Noble.)

(The link from which this information was obtained is no longer available: <http://www.mtdemocrat.com/archives/index.inn?loc=detail&doc=/1999/December/6-534-T1119_D.TXT> You will find a list of Mr. Noble's online articles at this URL: <http://www.mtdemocrat.com/columnists/doug_noble/>)

"There were several locations in and around Indian Diggings where crystallized limestone deposits were found. These mines were collectively known as the Indian Diggings Mines.

"The Indian Diggings Creek placer gold mine was a hydraulic mine on Indian Creek, near the town of Indian Diggings. Consisting of an ancient, gold bearing river gravel channel on limestone bedrock, it was active around 1896."

(Following is a continuation of the Indian Diggings historical account from the El Dorado Mineral and Gem Society)

"...Voting records show only 30 registered male voters in 1912. A stage ran three times per week to Placerville.

"By 1916, Hayward, Hobart and Lane bought the marble quarry and tried to ship marble to Sacramento. But one of the first loads, while the team and wagon were crossing the Cosumnes River (near Hwy. 16) fell into the river. The driver and horses drowned and the marble may still sit at the bottom of the river. After that incident the owners gave up on transporting the marble.

"After the collapse of Wall Street in 1929 most of the townsfolk left for better locales. First the hotel closed, then the.school and finally the post office was shuttered in November 1935...."

"...The Jinkerson house was torn down in 1978 by Henry Garibaldi. The saloon and post office have collapsed, the other buildings still stand and are in various stages of disrepair. The cemetery 1935 (is) located before you get to the townsite. The townsite, however, is on private property and is fenced off to the public." *

(* This description of the ruins is no longer accurate. There were no standing buildings when we visited in the summer of 2003, although there are several fallen-down wooden structures.)

Indian Diggings Quarry Area Field Trip (Continued)

We eventually reached the marble quarry area, although we could not see the Indian Diggings Marble Quarry from the road. The area we stopped and parked in was at the base of a hill covered in broken pieces of limestone and marble. There are many very large, old trees in the area and a very small creek nearby.

The appearance of the stone varies from a light gray to white with gray veining. A lot of the stone was very powdery and would rub off if rubbed by your finger or a tool. Other pieces were harder. I did not see any stones that appeared to have been cut to specific dimensions. (At the beginning of this section, there are some photographs of the stone found at the Indian Diggings marble quarry area.)

Bob Graton stated that he had come to check out the area with Mr. Oviatt the week before. Mr. Oviatt said that just over the hill he had seen a wire which had been used to cut the stone which that quite thick. (Not the thin wire usually seen at stone quarries or stone works.) The wire was secured at one end, but the other end was moveable so as to rotate the wire from the center.

Bob also stated that he felt the stone was not transported from the quarry via drawn wagon but taken down the streams. The stream we saw was very small and narrow, although it was summertime. It is difficult for me to imagine large blocks of stone going down that creek, although the wire saw at the quarry would have been used to cut the quarried blocks into smaller pieces.

Bob also noted that he thinks there was a stone carver at the site, and this sounds logical as Israel Luce owned the Indian Diggings marble quarry and mill and was a stone carver himself. Today there is no way to determine where Luce's marble mill stood without knowing exactly where it stood.

When leaving the quarry area to return to Omo Ranch Road, the steepness of the terrain is more apparent than the trip to the cemetery and quarry area as in going to the area you are so focused on driving on the side of the road that does not dip into water-filled holes, run into parts of cut trees in the road, or rocks. Coming back it was a definite climb uphill. Bob had said that it is best to avoid these roads when there is a possibility of rain as they become very slick and muddy quickly.

Articles of interest in El Dorado County by Doug Noble,
"Mountain Democrat Online,"
Placerville, California:

  • "Indian Diggings: The True Life Wild West," by Doug Noble, Mountain Democrat Online Columnist, June 25, 1999. The Aitken and Luce marble saw mill, which started in 1858, was one of the remaining structures in the area. The mill produced marble for monuments buildings and ornamental uses.
  • "The Carson Emigrant Trail to Carson Valley," July 19, 1999. The Carson emigrant trail served many of the southern mines in Amador County. It existed many years before the Amador Nevada Wagon Road was constructed. The trail went from "Diamond Springs a branch via Grizzly Flat led to Brownsville (Mendon), Indian Diggings and Fiddletown. From Mud Springs a branch led to Logtown, Quartzburg (Nashville), Saratoga (Yeomet) an Drytown." by Doug Noble, Mountain Democrat Online Columnist, April 22, 1999.
  • "Limestone lays deep in Diamond Springs," by Doug Noble, Mountain Democrat Online Columnist, October 1, 1999. There was a large limestone quarry three mile east of Diamond Springs, on Quarry Road, known as the Diamond Springs Limestone Mine. Limestone has been mined from this location since at least the days of the Gold Rush and possibly earlier. A block of limestone from this mine was donated to be included in the interior of the Washington Monument in Washington, D. C. over a hundred years ago. (Sept. 24, 1999)
  • "Mines of El Dorado County: Limestone quarries can be 'Cool,'"by Doug Noble, Mountain Democrat Online Columnist, October 1, 1999. The largest limestone quarry in El Dorado County is the Cool-Cave Valley (Coswell-Cave Valley) Mine. You can find it on the south side of the south side of the Middle Fork of the American river about four miles east of Auburn.
  • "Grade-A Mines Start with 'I'and 'J,'" by Doug Noble, Mountain Democrat Online Columnist, December 6, 1999. The limestone quarries known as the Indian Diggings Mines were located around Indian Diggings. The deposits were crystallized limestone. (Nov. 19, 1999)
  • "Greenwood: Originally a Louisville Trading Post," by Doug Noble, Mountain Democrat Online Columnist, May 19, 2000. This article includes a section on the history and description of Indian Diggings. The article also discusses how the name Indian Diggings was changed to Indian Diggings.
  • "Latrobe Began as a Railroad Center," by Richard Hughey, Mountain Democrat Online Columnist, May 18, 2001. This article notes that in Latrobe there was a deposit of slate of "superior quality." Eventually the market for slate ended and the quarry was closed down at that time. (April 20, 2001)

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