Bird Valley, Horse-shoe Bar, and Stony Bar, Placer County, California

Below Bird’s Valley about three miles are Stony Bar and Rester’s Bar, on the North Fork of the Middle Fork, both of which were esteemed rich by the miners of ’49 and ’50. The diggings were shallow, and the greatest difficulty to contend with was the large stones which had to be removed by the miner in order to sink a hole to the bed-rock. Some of the stones were of immense weight, and as there were no blasting tools to be procured in that part of the country, and no blacksmith’s forge at which to sharpen tools, they had to be removed by prying them up and rolling them out of the hole upon skids.” To obtain a few pans of earth off of the bed rock a company of a half dozen miners would often work a whole day to remove one of these stones, and yet the dirt was so rich under them that when removed the miners got well paid for the labor incurred.

Horse-shoe Bar is upon the Middle Fork of the American river, about two miles below Stony Bar, and about three miles from Bird’s Valley. Here was cut the first bedrock tunnel in the State. The work of cutting the Horse-shoe Tunnel was commenced in the month of February, by a company composed of seventeen men, under the leadership of a gentleman from Maine, named Butterfield. The company was organized at a mining camp in El Dorado County, then called. “Bald Hill,” and known as the Horse-shoe Bar Tunnel Company. The object of the company was to turn the water through the narrow ridge into a race leading from the mouth of the tunnel to the lower end of the bar near the mouth of Mad Canon, and thus drain the bed of the river for a distance of about one mile and a half. The company persevered in their undertaking until the first object draining the water from the river bed-was accomplished, with the labor of the members, and at the completion of the work people had so much confidence in the success of the enterprise, shares were sold at 85,000 each. But the limited knowledge of the miners at that day of the science of mining, and the great disadvantages which they labored under for the want of proper tools and machinery to work with, together with the high prices of labor, caused the enterprise to fail, and the adventurous men who performed the vast labor of cutting a tunnel twelve feet wide and six feet high, through the hill, in solid slate of the hardest quality, were compelled to lose their whole year’s work. In anticipation of the completion of the tunnel and the opening of’ the diggings in the bed of the stream to miners on the share, hundreds of them had flocked to the bar, and quite a town was built of tents, board shanties, etc. But the early rains of September of that year demolished the frail dam which had been thrown across the river when the water was low, and there being no mines open for the crowd of laborers, who had been lying around waiting I for a chance to work among the boulders in the channels, where they could make their ounce per day, the camp was soon deserted and the miners scattered off’ to the mines on the hills and in the gulches of El Dorado and Placer counties. The river has been worked every year since with varied success; but the prospects obtained one year were never sufficient to induce the miner of one year, whether successful or not, to try the river again the next year.” At the present time there are a large number of permanent settlers upon the different bars upon this part of the river, from the mouth of Mad Carton to Stony Bar, and the miners are making good wages the whole year round. . The diggings are extensive and rich, but require considerable-capital to work them properly. There are several stores along here for the sale of miners’ supplies, and quite a number of excellent gardens, orchards and vineyards.

1 thought on “Bird Valley, Horse-shoe Bar, and Stony Bar, Placer County, California”

  1. Catherine Patterson

    Does anyone have names of these 17 men? I have a copy of my great grandfather, Adam McDonald’s obituary from the Placer Herald in May 1900 saying that he “first engaged in mining in Horsehoe Bar in 1852” upon his arrival from Dublin, Ireland.

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