Mokelumne Hill

 

Michael White is about to enter his "Gold Rush Period," and I gotta say a little bit about the what was going on socially, 'cause it was a real mess. The main concern, as far as the Michael White story goes, is that the war with Mexico didn't end with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, it became a cultural war against Californios that pretty much defined southern California through the 1850s.

 

The discovery of gold was arguably the worst thing that ever happened to California and even though it brought prosperity to some, it brought poverty to more. Shiftless scumbag criminals (and a few really nice guys) were pouring in from all over the world and there was no infrastructure to absorb everyone. A 50% tax was levied on all “foreign” miners (to be paid monthly) and “foreign” meant “not white,” because Irish criminals from Australia didn’t have to pay the tax, and Spaniards who were born in California did. Up to this point, most of these Californios considered themselves to be “white,” after all, their forefathers came from Spain, and distinct from “Indios,” who were the working class.

 

So there’s insult, and there’s injury, and there is also an unstoppable crime wave going on, which Michael White is about to see permeates all levels of society, from highwaymen to investment brokers. So his life didn’t go back to normal after the war, it just got worse. Some of his behavior seems kind of weird unless you understand the social context, so here’s a thumbnail on Mokelumne Hill, where he did most of his mining, courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

The town takes its name from the neighboring Mokelumne River, which in turn is Miwok for the "people of Mokel," the likely name of an Indian village in the area.

 

Mokelumne Hill was one of the richest gold mining towns in California. Founded in 1848 by a group of Oregonians, the placers were so rich that the miners risked starvation rather than head to Stockton to replenish their supplies (one finally did and made it rich by becoming a merchant). Soon after, gold was discovered in the nearby hills, so much so that miners were restricted to claims of 16 square feet, and yet many of those claims were reported to have paid up to $20,000.

 

By 1850 the town was one of the largest in the area, with its population reaching as high as 15,000 with people of all nationalities: Americans, Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards, Chileans, Mexicans, Chinese, and others. Besides racial tensions, the easy gold attracted criminal elements, and the town gained a reputation as one of the bawdiest in the area. Notorious bandit Joaquin Murietta is said to have been a frequent visitor to the gambling venues. Violence was a major problem as well. In 1851, there was at least one homicide a week for seventeen consecutive weeks. A "vigiliance committee" was formed and by 1852, the worst of the crime was eliminated. That year, the town became the county seat.

 

By the 1860s the gold started to run out and the town's population and importance diminished. When San Andreas became the new county seat in 1866, Mokelumne Hill's status declined even further. The town today is a quiet place, with lots of tourism due to its historic status.

 

The first post office was established in 1851.

 

Mokelumne Hill is registered as California Historical Landmark #269.

 

 

 

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~ by ravenjake on February 9, 2010.

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