We recently took a short drive from our condo in “Meeksville” — in the flood plain and left bank of Jackson Creek’s south fork — to watch-charm Amador City. After all, we can’t have all our subjects within Jackson’s city limits.
A throng was there on a sunny day, undoubtedly many to laze outside a certain “French bakery” or to stroll the state’s smallest municipality and nose about. An attraction for those looking for history is what remains of the concrete and stone foundations of the mill of the Keystone Mine. Just up the steep hill, if they know where to look and can ignore tree branches in the way, is the old Keystone steel headframe.
In Amador County’s pantheon of gold mines, it seems that the Keystone, like the comic cops, gets no or little respect. True, the Kennedy and Argonaut, in Jackson, and the Central Eureka, in Sutter Creek, all produced more than $30 million in gold, whereas the Keystone grossed about $25 million. But the three other mines had to go very deep — the two in Jackson over a mile — while the Keystone didn’t exceed 2,700 feet, and most of its ore came from 2,000 feet or above.
Moreover, one note in my disarray told me that the Keystone’s gold was less fine (790) and valuable than the others. Thus shallower, with fewer workings branching from its two main shafts, and less fine gold still gave it significant income from circa 1853, when it organized, until about 1920, when it mostly shut down.
Amador City, after all, is where quartz mining in that northernly part of Calaveras County began in late winter or early spring, 1851. By the time miners found outcrops on both sides of Amador Creek just above downtown, the creek already went by the name, “Amadore.”
Oh, for a Wellsian time machine to travel back to those eventful days. Jose Maria Amador, after whom all these Amador names derive, came in ‘48 and ‘49, literally scooping “chispas” from the small creek’s banks and arroyos. Hundreds, if not thousands, of pioneers and 49ers followed, few having such easy scooping.
There was no camp, village or town named Amador then, where the city is now. Go upstream, through the mini-canyon and out to old Turner Road. There rose the first settlement on the creek — named Amador Crossing. It took quartz gold’s discovery in ‘51 to lure miners downstream to its first mines and claims. The hamlet that grew around them was first named South Amadore.
Oh, to be there in February, 1851, when the Rickeys, father and son, discovered outcroppings on the right bank of the creek, just up from today’s School Street. Recent generations know the mine as the Original Amador. But then, Rickey called it Amadore Gold Mine No. 1, most likely meaning it was the first mine located on Amadore Creek, as Amador County wouldn’t exist for another three years.
Thomas Rickey, parenthetically, was more prudent than most. Had he planned to discover a gold mine or was it serendipitous? Who knows? But he really came out to settle. Hence he sold the mine, secured land in Ione valley, returned east for his family, and returned to found Ione in 1853.
Discovered almost simultaneously with Amadore No. 1 was the Spring Hill Gold Mine, across the creek. Its industrious owners were Protestant ministers, seemingly all Methodist-Episcopal except Presbyterian S.A. Davidson. They had come from their church conferences to serve the spiritual needs of the miners, and also exhort them to sobriety and temperance.
But what’s sinful about working a claim or discovering a gold mine during the week? Hence, the “ministers’ claim” became celebrated for the irony that men of God, concerned with men’s souls, had to think of their stomachs, too.
If you have questions about Amador history, ask Logan through this paper or at email@example.com.
For more Amador City beginnings, look through the five volumes of Logan’s Amador County history.