Auburn, Placer County, California History

The town of Auburn is one of the oldest in the State, having been a “mining camp” of considerable importance early in 1849. Of the first discovery of gold upon its site, or in its neighborhood, there is at this time no reliable account; but when the writer of this article passed the spot in the first days of July, 1849, the ravines which converged in what is now the Plaza showed signs of having been wrought to some extent during the previous rainy season. The only persons at work, however, at that time (July) were two Chilenos “panning” in Rich Ravine, a short distance above where the American Hotel now stands, and a white man with a rocker upon the Main Auburn Ravine, near the present bridge on the turnpike. About the middle of July, Wm. Gwynn and H. M. House started trading posts here, and a considerable population began to accumulate. Up to this time the place had been known as Wood’s Dry Diggings; its new name of Auburn was adopted during the following winter.

In the spring of 1850 it had assumed quite an important position as a mining town, and was the trading point of a very extensive mining district: The principal traders were Bailey & Kerr, Disbrow & Willment, Walkup & Wyman, Parkinson & Leet, Wetzler & Sutter, Wm. Gwynn, H. M. House, and Post & Ripley. Of these pioneers, Mr. Willment alone remains a resident of the town, and is doing business at the old stand.

In the first division of the State into counties, Auburn came within the boundaries of Sutter, the county seat being at Nicolaus on Bear River, some thirty miles distant. The mass of the population being in the nearer vicinity of Auburn upon the North Fork of the American, and among the various dry diggings adjacent, the removal of the county seat was demanded and an order obtained for an election submitting the question to the people. Four ambitious precincts entered the lists for the honor Auburn, Nicolaus, Ophir and Miner’s Hotel (Franklin House). The favorable location of Auburn, its preponderance of population and the inexhaustible powers of voting possessed by its citizens and partisans, decided the contest in its favor by a majority considerably exceeding the entire population of the county.

The Legislature of 1851, by an Act creating the counties of Nevada, Placer, Trinity and Klamath, cut the town off from Sutter again, bringing it within the boundaries of the new county of Placer, and declaring it the county seat. This Act also provided for the holding of a special election for the organization of the county, and appointing Joseph Walkup, H. M. House, J. D. Fry, Wm. Gwynn and Jonathan Roberts, Commissioners of said election. The election was held on the 26th of May, 1851, and upon, canvassing the vote the following officers were declared elected: H. Fitz Simmons, County Judge; Samuel C. Astin, Sheriff; R. D. Hopkins, District Attorney; James T. Stewart, Clerk; Alfred Lewis, Assessor; Douglass Bingham, Treasurer.

Horace Davenport, of Rattlesnake, contested the seat of Fitz Simmons; Hiram R. Hawkins, of Deadman’s Bar, that of Stewart, and Abraham Bronk, of Horseshoe, that of Bingham; and, upon a rehearing by the Commissioners, fraud in the returns was shown and the contestants were declared entitled to their respective offices.

The proceedings of the Commissioners were, however, declared void by the District Court, and Fitz Simmons held his seat as Judge, while Stewart appointed Hawkins his deputy, and Bingham’s death occurring on the very day of the trial, Bronk was appointed Treasurer by the Court of Sessions. The Court House was at this time a crazy wood and cloth tenement, occupying the present site of Mrs. Roussin’s residence, on Court Street, and the Jail, a small but secure structure of logs upon the rear of the same lot. The town was composed of about equal numbers of log cabins and clapboard or shake houses.

The National Hotel was the only two story building in the place. A gradual improvement in the number and style of buildings has marked each succeeding year. Two destructive fires-the first on the 4th of June, 1855, and the second on the 9th of October, 1859-have been rather improving than detrimental to the appearance of the town; better and more ornamental structures having taken the place of’ those destroyed. There are at pre-sent nineteen brick and stone buildings, exclusive of the jail, some of which are blocks of two or more stores, making in all thirty-two brick tenements. The residences of the citizens in the suburbs of the town are noted for their substantial character and the neatness and taste displayed in their structure. Fruit and flowers flourish in unsurpassed abundance and luxuriance, and each of these homes is surrounded by. its orchard and embowered with clambering vines of almost perennial bloom. Those who recollect how bleak and barren, parched and sterile those hills appeared “in that elder day,” and now cast their eyes over the bright and smiling landscape, can fully appreciate what it is to “make the wilderness blossom like roses.”


Although once ranking among the first mining towns in the State, Auburn can at this time hardly be accounted as such. The diggings in the vicinity were of a superficial character, being confined almost exclusively, to the beds of the numerous ravines, and to the “flats” at their sources; Among the latter, Spanish Flat, half a mile from town, and Rich Flat, at the head of Rich Ravine, were the most important and yielded abundantly for many years. Both are now considered “worked out.” Spanish Flat is now a fertile garden spot, and Rich Flat is an unsightly desert of quartz boulders. New ravines and flats have been opened up of late years in the adjacent country, composing an area of fifteen to twenty miles square, giving employment to a large population, for whom. Auburn is the market for sale of dust and purchase of supplies. The North Fork of the American is but a mile distant, and is year after year flumed almost from source to mouth. No deep coyote or tunnel diggings have been opened in this district. The country is thickly veined with quartz ledges, but as yet that branch of mining has been prosecuted with but indifferent success.

Lynch Law

Resort to the tribunal of Judge Lynch has been had in but few instances. The first subject of this summary code was one Sharp, an Englishman and an ex-ship captain, who murdered a man in the vicinity of Auburn on Christmas day, 1850, by shooting him through the chinks of his cabin. He surrendered himself to the Sheriff, but was taken from his custody by the people, tried by a Lynch jury, and hung upon a large oak tree on the present site of Norcross’ jewelry store.

In 1852 the people of Yankee Jim’s hung one James Edmondson, familiarly known as ” Jim Ugly.” The precise circumstances of his case are unknown, or forgotten by the writer.

In December 1854, one William N. Johnson, somewhat notorious under the name of “Long Johnson,” was hung by the people at Iowa Hill. In February, 1858, a Negro named Aaron Bracy murdered a popular and prominent citizen of Auburn. He surrendered himself to the Sheriff and was committed to jail. That night the jail was broken open and the Negro taken out and hung upon a tall pine about half a mile from town.


In the first election, at the organization of the county, no party lines were drawn, and the offices of the county were held by men of both political par-ties. In the fall of 1851, in the election of members of the Legislature, conventions were held and party nominations made, the Democratic party being successful, and that party has since been the dominant one in the county, except on very few occasions.

In 1854, the Democratic Party being divided into the Broderick and Gwin factions, the Whigs elected a full county ticket. Again, in ’55, the American party elected their Legislative candidates. In 185S the same party elected their Tax Collector, all the other offices being filled by Democrats. And in 1860 the Republicans elected one Assemblyman and the County Recorder, the latter beating his strongest Democratic opponent by only two votes, there being four tickets in the field.

The present District Judge (Hon. B. F. Myres, Dem.) was elected on a local, and not on a political, issue, and his predecessor (Hon. J. M. Howell, Whig), upon his own merits and popularity, having been elected by a majority of 1,000, in the face of a general Democratic majority in the District of over 1,500.

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