The Gold Rush, the towns that it begot, the characters made famous and infamous during that time, are all steeped in myth and folklore alongside the facts. Stories handed down over generations get embellished, reinterpreted, and while the truth is likely wrapped up in those stories somewhere, as time passes fact and fiction become part of the same legacy. Our museums have the job of not only presenting the stories, but of delving into the evidence behind the stories. The staff at the Angels Camp Museum has recently unearthed some new evidence about the origins of Angels Camp and its namesake, Henry Angell (yes, two l’s).
Two stories about Angell that museum historian Jim Miller went looking to clear up are that Angell arrived here in the 1849 gold rush, and that he also had a brother George, with whom he served in John C. Fremont’s army regiment in the Mexican-American War. As it turns out, there is no record of any brother George but researchers did find records of Angell’s time in California before the gold rush, in fact, two years prior, in 1847 – it appears he was hobnobbing with the prominent folks down in Monterey at the time.
The new evidence about Henry Angell is fascinating, and takes a little parsing, so we’ve linked the museum’s recently issued findings here. You can rest assured that the core of the town’s namesake is indeed accurate – old Henry did successfully mine gold at the confluence of Dry Creek and the creek that would become Angels. The thing he did differently than most miners – and which is probably why we’re talking about him now – is he invested his new wealth by opening a tent store and became one of the first merchants in the newly established camp – which ultimately grew into the present day town of Angels Camp.
History is laid out before you and you can immerse yourself in this and other stories from the Gold Rush anytime you visit Angels Museum – but Thursdays in February are even better because along with your paid admission, museum staff will provide guided tours of the new exhibit – Gold is Where You Find It: The Rush to Angels Camp. Their knowledgeable docents are happy to tell you all about the gold country history of Angels Camp and the Mother Lode region. Bring your family, friends and dig in!