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Gold Fever : Finds in Cuyamaca Mountains Spawned Areawide Rush

November 29, 1990|Richard Crawford | Richard Crawford is archivist for the San Diego Historical Society.

While few people know Southern California for its mineral wealth, northern San Diego County--from the Laguna Mountains in the east to the foothills of Escondido--has contributed millions of dollars in gold to the Golden State.

San Diego's best known mining period--the Julian gold rush of 1870--began when rancher Fred Coleman spotted gold in a creek in the Cuyamaca Mountains. When Coleman spread word of his discovery, scores of prospectors raced to the hills to pan for placer gold in the mountain streams. The miners formed a mining district, and a town of tents emerged called Emily City.

In San Diego, skepticism over the strike vanished when a load of 1,500 pounds of gold ore arrived in town in March, 1870. The San Diego Union reported the event:

\o7 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 in route 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.

\f7 Julian gold fever soon infected the whole of the Southwest. Miners poured into the region from San Francisco via steamer or overland from Los Angeles.

The miners found lode gold in several hillside areas. The claims bore formal names such as George Washington, Mount Vernon, The Monroe, and U.S. Grant, as well as novel titles such as Shoo Fly, April Fool, You Bet, and Don't Bother Me.

The first significant town site was laid out by homesteader Drury Bailey and named "Julian City" after his cousin, Mike Julian. A tent city at first, Julian grew in two years to a population of nearly 2,000--half the size of San Diego. At its gold-rush peak, the town boasted two hotels, two cafes, five stores, two blacksmith shops, two livery stables, a school, a race track, and uncounted saloons and dance halls. The town became important politically after Mike Julian was appointed county assessor (an attempt to move the county seat to Julian from San Diego failed).

Neighboring mining camps grew up in the region: Branson City, Eastwood, and Coleman City (Emily City). Banner, located a few miles southwest of Julian, became a sizeable town.

The mining boom of Julian-Banner lasted less than five years. In 1873 the camps produced $500,000 in gold, but late in the year, plans for the long-anticipated Texas and Pacific Railroad collapsed. A severe recession gripped the region. Gold production began to decline and, by 1876, most of the mines had closed. The population of Julian fell to less than 100 people, and Banner became a ghost town. Between 1870 and 1875 the mines had produced about $2 million in gold.

The late 1800s saw a major revival in mining, helped by the completion of railroad connections to the north. The new rail and stage lines promoted fresh interest in mining ventures. The most successful activity came from the Stonewall Mine south of Julian. Purchased by California Gov. Robert W. Waterman for $75,000, the mine yielded $1 million in gold between 1888 and 1891.

Gold mining was not confined to the mountains of the northeast county.

In the 1890s, prospectors found gold in the Escondido region. The Cleveland-Pacific, Oro Fino, and Cravath mines--located only 2 miles southeast of the Escondido city hall--produced about $150,000 (at $20 per ounce) in the early century.

The Cleveland-Pacific Mining Company developed the most important site from 1896 through 1911. A 350-foot incline shaft followed a vein of gold-bearing quartz. Ore was processed at the site using a five-stamp mill and 10-foot high tanks of cyanide. Slow activity continued from the 1920s until about 1932, when all mining stopped and the shafts were dynamited shut. Citrus and avocado groves soon covered all traces of the mines.

Reminders of the San Diego County gold producing days still exist, though.

Old mine dumps near the junction of San Pasqual Valley Road and Bear Valley Parkway can be seen today as low hills.

The site of the Stonewall Mine near the southeast shore of Cuyamaca Reservoir is clearly marked within Cuyamaca State Park and easily reached by visitors.

The Eagle-High Peak Mine of Julian produces gold to this day and even provides guided tours of the diggings.

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