The cry of “gold” brought gold mining prospectors in 1849, but it was forward-thinking Henry Angell, the town’s first store keeper, after whom Angels Camp was named in 1848.
During the early Gold Rush, 4,000 miners camped in the one mile area from Angels Creek to Utica Park (what constitutes historic downtown Main Street, to this day). Within a few short years, local areas were worked out of surface gold and placer mining had all but ceased. Then, as tradition states, Bennegar Rasberry’s muzzle loader jammed. He fired the rifle into the ground where the ramrod split a stone to reveal the glittering gold inside and quartz mining began in Angels Camp.
A devastating fire in 1855 resulted in Main Street being rebuilt in stone, and what you see today is almost entirely how it looked at that time. As for mining the main quartz vein extended from southern Altaville to Angels Creek and all along Main Street were the mines: The Sultana, the Angels, the Lightner, the Utica, and the Stickle. Ore was pushed by hand cars over tracks from the mines to the mills where the “crash” of over 200 stamps was produced each day during the mining peak of the 1880s and 90s.
It has been said that when the last stamp mill ceased operating, the town was so quiet that people could not sleep. The estimated gross recovery of gold from these 5 mines from 1886 until 1910 was almost $20 million… and Angels Creek ran chalky white from the mill wastes.
Part of Angels Camp’s history and culture is inspired by one man. In 1865, Samuel Clemens, escaping from debt and jail after working on newspapers in San Francisco and Virginia City, arrived to stay with his friend Jim Gillis who was working a claim. The conditions were harsh, but Clemens found writing about his experiences kept him going. On one notable occasion, Clemens heard a tall tale at the Angels Camp Hotel about a man who boasted about how far his frog could jump. Irritated by his continual boasting, another gentlemen in the saloon bet the man he could find a frog that would jump further. He secured his success by filling the first frog with buckshot.
This unlikely tale inspired Samuel Clemens to pen “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” his first short story under the pen name of Mark Twain. The story, written in vernacular, with lots of local color was an almost instant success, propelled Twain to international fame and inspired our annual Jumping Frog Jubilee.
While most early prospectors left Angels Camp and the Gold Country as gold became less profitable to mine, others stayed in this beautiful place to work the land and build a community. Vines brought from the old country started our wine industry as our first agricultural product, schools and churches sprung up and a new farming culture took over from the rough and tumble of the Gold Rush. And yet, the spirit of adventure persisted, with intrepid tourists making the trek to spectacular High Sierra vistas and Angels Camp’s close proximity made it a basecamp for mountain sports even from the earliest days.
For more on the history and culture of Angels Camp, be sure to visit the Angels Camp Museum & Carriage House, which offers over 3 acres of historical artifacts and exhibits ranging from our Miwok beginnings to all stages of gold mining during the Gold Rush to Mark Twain’s influence. Also visit the Altaville School one of the oldest and best preserved little red schoolhouses in the state.
Tease out some little known historical facts and challenge your family in the interactive Angels Camp historic downtown scavenger hunt.
Check out the back pages of our current Calaveras Experience Guide’s history pages for the Angels Camp walk tour map and guide.