The Glory Years, 1865-1899

CHAPTER FOUR: The Mountain That Sprouted Gold

In the dry winter of 1869-70 Fred Coleman, a rancher who resided with an Indian family in a high little valley north of the Cuyamacas and west of the huge bulk that comprises Volcan Mountain, was riding his horse along a creek and, halting to let it drink, glanced down and saw some small yellow particles. The story persists that Coleman, whose real name was A. H. Coleman, was a Negro who had fled the South for the gold fields of northern California, and then had drifted down into the mountainous region of San Diego County. He was sure that he knew gold when he saw it. He dismounted and using a pan from his pack, washed out a few nuggets.

The creek is now known as Coleman Creek and it flows down from the mountains southwest of the town of Julian through Spencer Valley on its way to the head of the San Diego River. Gnarled oaks grow out of split granite boulders in the exposed bed of a creek which during the winter rushes toward the sea carrying the melted snows of the Cuyamacas. Spencer Valley is a mere stop on the road lifting into the mountains, but it has a settlement named Wynola and is known for its fine apples.

Its elevation of about 3600 feet puts it 700 feet above the wide fertile plain of Santa Ysabel Valley two and a half miles below. It is 500 feet below Julian, which is about four miles farther up into the wooded mountains so often shrouded in winter clouds. State Highways 78 and 79 follow Coleman Creek from just below Julian and into Spencer Valley, crossing it twice on the route to Santa Ysabel, where Highway 79 turns north along the base of the mountain mass to the Warner Springs while Highway 78 proceeds west along the historical route of Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny who crossed the Santa Ysabel Valley on the way to Ramona and to the Battle of San Pasqual in the conquest of California.

Coleman’s discovery of placer gold occurred some time in late January or early February of 1870, and he was quick to spread the word, “gold!” Other casual prospectors and homesteaders began panning the waters of Coleman Creek and gold in significant amounts, enough to return at least $2 and $3 a day, was being taken out. In a short time scores of men were wading the creek and following its twisting course and that of other streams up into the hills and into the pine and cedar forests of Volcan Mountain and the Cuyamacas. The hills were described as alive with excited men.

Mining authorities placed little faith in the finding of placer gold, as it had long been found throughout the region, and the skeptical San Francisco Bulletin reported on February 12 that the excitement in San Diego resulting from the gold brought up from Lower California already had died out:

“The stories of rich diggings in Lower California, just over the line, appear to have been put in circulation by a few persons with a design of getting rid, temporarily, of several hundred people who can find no employment in the city … San Diego has been injured by this disreputable trick. One of the newspapers, The Weekly Bulletin, has shown no wisdom in giving currency to wild statements … The San Diego Union on the other hand has discouraged the excitement and expressed a total lack of confidence in the stories that were told. What San Diego wants just now is what is ably advocated by the latter paper — namely a good wagon road to Fort Yuma.”

The San Diego Union lost some of its assurance when in finally acknowledging the Coleman discovery, it reported on March 10 that:

“On Thursday last, a load of some 1500 pounds of rich gold-bearing quartz as we have ever seen came in from the Cuyamaca Country and a specimen weighing perhaps ten pounds, and containing at least $100 in gold, was left at our office …

“Of course the arrival of so large a quantity of rich gold-bearing quartz created intense excitement in town. A stampede immediately ensued and the road has now for several days been lined with teams of every description and men mounted and on foot enroute to the mines. From persons who returned yesterday we learned that there are now on the ground not less than 600 persons and the number is daily increasing.”

The gold quartz was brought to San Diego from the first real strike made by H. C. Bickers on February 20. A prospector who had worked fields in California and Idaho, he had answered the latest call of placer gold in San Diego County, and one morning while following the tracks of a bear he wandered up a ravine through the pine trees above the site of the present town of Julian, and saw a bunch of quartz rocks. An examination revealed the presence of free gold.

He hurried back to his companions, George Gower, a surveyor, and J. Bruen Wells, a preacher, at their mountain camp, but as it was Sunday and Wells would not even look at the rocks, they put off any action until the following day.

As Bickers later told the story:

“On the following morning I took tools and started for the spot, inviting Gower to accompany me … On Tuesday, the 22nd, the news got around, and men began to show themselves, looking for the extensions. So, in a highly excited state of mind, Gower wrote a note commencing with my name, then Gower, then Wells, then my son, then his son, then Wells spoke of some brother in New York, Gower more sons, and Bickers more sons, until 21 names had been set down, covering a space from New York to San Francisco and also covering the ledge for the space of 4,200 feet.”

Mining claims were limited to 200 feet of ground for each person, or partner. As the day was George Washington’s Birthday, they named their mine the George Washington and their nearby camp in the Julian Valley, Mount Vernon. Except for the presence of trees, the site of the first mine can be seen from the highway entering the town of Julian on Washington Street. The mine lies beyond the end of Washington Street, up a curving tree-shaded ravine.

Another version of the discovery of gold-bearing quartz rock has been left by Horace F. Wilcox, who resided in Julian for half a century, and he said it had been told to him by Drury Bailey. There were only six families living in the north Cuyamacas and in the vicinity of Volcan Mountain, and one of them, the Gormans, with their four children were camped in the Julian area. The eldest boy, Billy, thirteen years of age, had been sent out for firewood and hiking up the same ravine on the side of “Gold Hill” found white rocks with yellow veins and took them to his father, who recognized them for what they were. But the Gorman family, if it existed, quickly faded into the legends of Julian.

The three men who did file on the George Washington claim dug out more than a ton of ore, packed it and loaded it onto the backs of mules, and Bickers and Gowers delivered it to San Diego. After leaving it on display for a time in Dunham’s store on lower Fifth Avenue and losing some of it to souvenir hunters, Gower shipped the ore by steamer to San Francisco where he sold it for $532.87. He spent the money on a celebration and returned to his companions empty-handed.

If that wasn’t enough to excite interest in San Francisco, a letter written by J. W. Gale, the San Diego merchant, to his brother-in-law was published in the Alta California and it stated:

“We have just found the best quartz ledge ever discovered in the State of California … have seen rich quartz before, but never rich specimens in such quantities … I am now satisfied we have the richest mining county in the State.”

When the steamer Oraflamme returned to San Diego it was jammed with 150 gold hunters who rushed to join the hundreds already in the Julian hills. The excitement touched Los Angeles, and as most of the prospectors were coming overland through Los Angeles and by way of Temecula and Warner’s to Julian, the Los Angeles News stated:

“There will be an immense crowd of gold seekers. They must naturally be skinned. Fellow citizens, let us prepare to do the skinning.”

While The San Diego Union rebuked Gale for his letter, and still sought to calm the situation, it did at last publish a detailed report from the scene on March 17, as follows, in part:

“The fact is that here the excitement is so intense that one scarcely knows whether he is on head or heels. Imagine 800 men turned out loose on the mountains, with little sense and as much “friskyness” as so many horses. The people here are positively wild. Such a thing as sober thought is unknown. The rumor comes that “Tom, Dick or Harry” has “struck it” and forthwith the whole camp rushes pell mell for the new diggings. People don’t sleep here at all (or if they do, they are more lucky than I). All night long, the ferocious prospectors make the hills resound with their stories of the day’s adventures. Talk of Babel! Let a fellow try camping out in the mountains hereabouts and he will realize the force of the quotation: “Confusion worse confounded.” “

The most important discovery following that of the George Washington mine and the nearby Van Wert, belonging to Mike Julian and Caliway Putnam, was the Hayden, discovered on March 4 by Paul Hayden. The ledge was opened in three different places and according to the correspondent of The San Diego Union, the rock was yielding $1 to the pound. Three days later George W. Swain and a Capt. Mitler discovered another ledge a half mile north of the George Washington and the vein was reported to be two feet thick.

San Diego was half-deserted, as were San Juan Capistrano and San Bernardino, and the scene at Julian was remindful of the days of the Gold Rush in the Sierra Nevada. It was winter and storms were adding to the hazards. The San Diego Union’s report continued:

“The flush times of California seem to be revived for a season here. As in days of yore, men sleep upon the ground and eat around their campfires. But few tents comparatively speaking, have yet been put up. In “Julian City” there are two log cabins and some 20-odd tents, and at “Coleman City” three miles west, there are a dozen tents. Probably 800 people encamped in the Julian District, and about 150 at Coleman City. A townsite has been layed off on a flat near the “Washington” mine, and the locators have gone to your city to sell lots. But in spite of the lack of habitations, men congregate in knots and talk excitedly over the “prospects.” We have two “rum-mills” in full blast which are well patronized and our grocery store is likewise doing a thriving business. People are flocking in daily from Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, besides the throngs from San Diego and we have now at the mines an aggregate population of not far from 1,000. There has been considerable suffering from the recent cold weather. The night of Thursday, March 10, was terrible. A very large proportion of the people were without shelter and the driving storm came upon them with full force.”

In the Julian country at the time of the gold fever were the Bailey and Julian brothers, cousins and all hailing from Georgia. There were Drury, James and Frank Bailey and Mike and Webb Julian. After serving in the Confederate Army they had returned to their homes to find nothing but poverty. Frank Bailey was the first to leave, for a new life in the West. One by one the brothers followed the sun and were reunited in Utah, from where they made their way into Arizona, and then hearing of the proposed new transcontinental railroad, they decided to make their home in San Diego. Upon reaching the mountains they spent the winter months prospecting, as a number of other Southerners were doing. Drury in particular was captivated by the scenic beauty of the little Julian Valley, and wanted to make his home there and persuaded the others to help him build a log cabin. However, they joined the gold hunt along Coleman Creek, after the discovery made by Fred Coleman, and in fact located the first gold quartz claim, which they named the Warrior’s Rest, but it petered out within a few days.

The land on which most of the gold hunters were camping belonged to Drury under the homestead laws, and he promptly began laying out lots and offering them, as had Horton, free to anyone who would immediately erect a structure. He set aside land for a school and churches and named his town Julian City in honor of his cousin, Mike. By the end of March Julian had acquired three or four stores and a dozen saloons, all evidently established at first in tents, log cabins or shacks, and lots were selling at prices of $50 to $150. Soon 300 persons were tented or living in the immediate area and there were at least 1000 more in the surrounding hills and canyons.

The Julians and Baileys were instrumental in organizing the first Julian mining district on February 15 and Mike Julian was designated as district recorder. The boundaries were described as “beginning one thousand yards west of Harrall’s store and running north five miles and south five miles and four miles west in width.” Harrall’s store was in a large adobe house a mile north of Julian.

In a month’s time at least forty claims had been filed. The largest rich strike of all occurred in late March, seven miles south of Julian, outside of the Julian mining district on the south shore of Cuyamaca Lake. Conflicting stories are told as to its discovery, though the weight of evidence indicates that it was found by William Skidmore, who had brought his family to San Diego County in a mule wagon train from Texas. The dry winter had caused him to take his mules into the mountains for grazing. He named his mine the Stonewall Jackson for the Southern general, but is believed to have dropped the “Jackson” because of the strong anti-Southern feeling still running with many of the incoming gold hunters. Other reports credit the discovery to a Charles Hensley, on March 22. Within ten hours there were 500 persons in Cuyamaca Valley. Whatever the truth about its discovery, the claim soon had a number of partners, including S. S. Culverwell, builder of the wharf in San Diego, who organized the Hensley Mining District with Skidmore as recorder. Eventually the mine yielded more than $2,000,000 in gold.

A town sprouted up near. the Stonewall mine and became known as Cuyamaca City. Julian soon had a rival, Branson City, which was founded by Lewis A. Branson a mile west of Julian. It quickly acquired the indispensable saloon, a boarding house and a dance hall. Joseph Stancliff, who had packed hay down from the mountain valleys for the Butterfield Stage station at Vallecito in the late 1850’s, laid out another settlement a mile east of Julian and offered lots for sale.

The Julian district was dotted with openings and hundreds of prospectors were still clawing away at the hills. The claims that had been filed bore such formal names as the Mount Vernon, Lincoln, Owens, Kelly, Hayden, The Monroe, General McClelland, Atlas and the U.S. Grant, while others bore odd names such as Mamouth, Cleopatra, Yellow Jacket, Shoo Fly, Charmer, You Bet, April Fool, Fino and Warpath. The San Diego Bulletin contended that 300 claims had been located but that only eight or ten ledges as yet had been found profitable.

Apparently with the aid of Indian labor, Coleman carved out a wagon road up the sharp mountain trail from Santa Ysabel to Spencer or Coleman Valley as it was then known. North & Knight, who were running stages between Old Town and New Town, put in a stage service to Julian by way of Poway and Ramona. The opportunity for business attracted Chester Gunn, who had come to California in 1851 and had met with indifferent success as a machinist and miner. He negotiated for a pony express mail service from the mines to San Diego to connect with the steamers from San Francisco and Los Angeles, and opened an office in a store established by a native of Poland who always referred to himself as “Count” Dwarkowski. His San Diego depots were listed as H. H. Bancroft’s News Depot in New Town and Charles E. Judd’s office in Old Town. Mining conditions were difficult, with a lack of machinery and continuing cold weather to contend with. Capital was lacking and miners built stone arrastras and ground the ore by mule and horse power. Grazing cattle owned by settlers were captured and killed for food and Chinese workers released with the completion of the Central Pacific Railroad invaded the mining area and met with resistance, a number being killed in fights of one kind or another. Julian is in the snow country and the winds can wail through the mountain passes with the ferocity of a tornado. On April 3, The San Diego Union’s correspondent reported:

“Julian City (what is left of it) April 3 … I am in great tribulation. I did live in Julian City, but that city is very much scattered just now and it bothers me to know where to find the old camping ground. Saturday afternoon, the north wind and the south wind and the east wind and the west wind came together and after the passage of appropriate resolutions, proceeded to demolish the town. The gale culminated at midnight, when its fury was beyond anything yet known by the dwellers of this section of the county. Every tent was swept away; the Count’s store was swept off and Gunn’s express matter was distributed among the hills and gulches gratis. The Count loses at least $200 by this little blow and Gunn is about $10 out on illustrated papers.”

Justice began to exert its pressure and an aged man named Robert Crawford was accused of stealing a saddle and hauled off to a nearby tree by a vigilantes committee and a rope placed around his neck. He was hauled up and down a couple of times until he confessed to being a member of a ring of horse thieves. He was allowed to go free on condition he left the territory. The committee then voted to hang the first murderer and adjourned.

Who owned the land being mined became an angry issue for more than a year. The Cuyamaca Valley was within an old Mexican grant which had been purchased a year before by Robert Allison, Juan Luco, Isaac Hartman and John Treat for timber, but they suddenly “floated” the boundaries of the grant northward to cover the entire mining district. They assured the miners they had no intention of rejecting them, but expected a royalty on each ton of ore mined, and the schedule of rates was handed to them on May 25, at a mass meeting of 500 miners in the town of Julian. The San Diego Union’s correspondent was indignant about the “grab” and said that had no mines been discovered nothing would have been heard about the Cuyamaca Grant. His words echoed those being heard throughout the state as labor troubles began to mount and socialism which had been brought across the Atlantic, became an issue of public debate and controversy:

“The grabbers are, forsooth, willing to let the hardworking miners give their time, labor and means toward the development of mineral wealth, and then not having expended a dollar on their own part, these gentlemen of virtue of a pretended grant will graciously accept a fat percentage of the profits of the miners’ toil. A single one of the hardy prospectors who bravely push their way into the wilderness, toiling painfully over the mountains, sleeping on the ground, encountering the privations of hunger and thirst, giving way against bloodthirsty savages and periling life continually to open new stores of wealth for the enrichment of the state, is worth to the Commonwealth more than a thousand of the greedy capitalists who leave their lands unimproved and lie in wait for the profit of the labor and enterprise of honest men. (This, Mister editor, is simply the way the thing looks to me; if the digression seems out of place, you need not print it.)”

As Spring died away the crude arrastras used to crush the quartz gave way to machinery. The stamp mill of the Rincón del Diablo Rancho & Escondido Mining Company, which had been used in working the gold mine just west of the old Escondido ranch house, was moved to Julian, and a two-stamp mill was brought down on the Oriflamme from San Francisco. In September a third mill was erected at the Stonewall mine. A saw mill was cutting lumber for stores and houses and especially for saloons. Wells, Fargo & Company opened an office with Chester Gunn as agent. Charles Yale and Louis Redman opened an assay shop. By summer, gold production was a business, and in August the first 105 1/2 ounces from Julian City arrived in San Diego and were transshipped to San Francisco. During August and September Wells, Fargo & Company shipments totaled $20,000 in value, though it was believed that a much larger amount was being shipped north by other means.

It was in August that a new and rich field was discovered and it was not within the disputed Cuyamaca land grant. Louis Redman, the assayer at Julian, tripped over quartz rock in a canyon about six miles and 1500 feet below Julian and almost on the edge of the desert country. He marked his find with a small American flag, and the name “Banner” became attached to the settlement which promptly sprang up with miners and prospectors who emptied Julian almost overnight. The Redman mine was in a canyon opening to the right of the present State Highway 78 at the foot of Banner grade, which is named Chariot Canyon. Banner Canyon arises out of San Felipe Valley and enters Volcan Mountain and circles “gold hill” above Julian. The Ready Relief and the North Hubbard mines were claimed soon after the Redman. Prospectors worked up the sylvan-like little canyon and through a narrow gorge and onto a higher valley where rich finds awaited them. Tents and shacks began to appear on the narrow flat land that parallels the highway about a half mile below the entrance to Chariot Canyon.

The financiers and mining men who came down from San Francisco to inspect the mines returned home with adverse reports. As a result mining in the Julian-Banner area never developed large enterprises with the possible exception of the Stonewall.

The schist deposit in which the gold was being found is about twelve miles long and about four miles wide, running northwest from the Laguna Mountains and Pine Valley through the Cuyamacas and Julian and dying out about a mile north of Julian. Quality was erratic and the extent always uncertain. Ore generally assayed from $10 to $2000 the ton, though one sample from the Ready Relief Mine in Chariot Canyon was assayed by county officials at $250,000 to the ton.

San Diego’s deposits differed from the Mother Lode of the Sierra Nevada. Where the Mother Lode was formed as a mesothermal deposit of great masses of gold-bearing rock moved into position under relatively low pressures, San Diego’s deposits were of hypothermal origin of small amounts of mineral-bearing rock forced into tiny cracks under extreme pressures.

When the sea floor of a cooling earth’s crust buckled upward to form the mountain barrier of eastern San Diego County, it carried with it a great patch of sedimentary deposit that was then several miles underground in the gigantic accordion pleats that were mountains. The slow cooling and shrinking through millions of years cracked the solidifying schist layers and great pressures forced molten gold-bearing material up into the tiny fissures, where it slowly cooled and hardened and became quartz. Meanwhile, erosion ate away the thousands of feet of surface material and exposed the white quartz streaks with their threads and flecks of yellow metal. But unfortunately for the miners, a deep “crinkling” action in the rock caused the layers to slip and slide sometimes as much as two miles from their original position, and great fault lines split the formation. The largest, the Elsinore Fault, runs through Pala up the bed of the San Luis Rey River, across Mesa Grande, Santa Ysabel, through Julian and down Banner Canyon into the desert. Another is the Agua Tibia Fault, running northeast of Volcan Mountain, through Warner’s Basin, Agua Caliente, Jacumba and into Baja California, bubbling up hot sulphur springs along the way. As a result of these multiple actions, the schistose rock and the thin, rich quartz veins are so split and displaced that the miners were never certain from one day to the next whether the veins would peter out against a blank wall that was formed when a mountain heaved and tossed in the violence of nature. The exception was the Stonewall mine, a huge and consistent pocket of ore.

Long years after the sweating miners had realized a few sporadic fortunes and many bitter disappointments in the elusive and unpredictable gold ore veins of the Julian schist belt, geologists began to learn more of the character of the formation and to realize that while a fabulous wealth in gold was there, most of it would remain forever locked in its rock vaults.