Gold was first discovered at Yankee Jim’s by Yankee Jim, a Sydneyite, who built a corral in 1849 upon the fiat or bench of land where the town afterwards was located, and now stands. The name, Yankee Jim’s, has often caused the town to be mistaken for the locality known to early pioneers as “Yankee Jim’s Dry Diggings,” which latter place is a gulch which heads at the Forest Shades Hotel and empties into the Middle Fork of the American River. A few logs of the old cabin in which Yankee Jim lived during the winter of ’49, may yet be seen at the “Gardens,” about one half mile east of Forest Hill, where he lived and mined, using the corral at Yankee Jim’s to hide his stolen horses until he could get an opportunity to run them from the neighborhood. This notorious character’s real name was Robinson. He suffered the extreme penalty of the law, for horse stealing, in 1852, in one of the lower counties, and the State was thus relieved of his ravages.
Among the first permanent settlers of Yankee Jim’s, were B. F. Gilbert, G. W. Gilbert, N. F. Gilbert, and Thomas Farthing, all of whom are yet residents of the place, and continue their vocation as miners, in which they have ever been successful. These gentlemen were emigrants from the State of Missouri, and drove an ox team into Yankee Jim’s early in the fall of 1850, loaded with their winter’s provisions, mining tools, clothing, etc., it being the first wheeled vehicle that ever came to the place. A short time after the arrival of the Gilbert brothers and their companions, a store was started by Thomas Adams, James Cartwright, and Ben Thomas, a company of Tennesseeans, who came from Illinoistown, with a large stock of miner’s supplies.
Soon after the store was established and the settlers had prepared themselves suitable cabins for the winter, operations in mining commenced in Devil’s Canon and the gulches emptying into it, which, proving very remunerative and easily, worked, caused large numbers of miners from surrounding camps to flock to the spot, and soon the place grew to a large town what gamblers were wont to call a brisk place. In the month of June 1852, the place was almost totally destroyed by fire; but was again rebuilt, and in the fall of that year, rivaled in size any town in the county. The Placer Herald of September, in giving a partial history of the place, at that time, says: “The town is nearly as large as any in the county, and contains several fine buildings that will compare favorably with any structures in this part of the State.”
In March 1851, the diggings on Georgia Hill, opposite the town on the south side of Devil’s Canon, were discovered by a company of Georgians. The discovery of this rich deposit of gold was purely accidental, and is said to have occurred in the following manner: The discoverers were four in number; were unsuccessful gold-seekers, on their return from a prospecting expedition in the mountains above Yankee Jim’s, and were making their way slowly to some of the old camps in. El Dorado County, with the intention of going to work in some of the old dry diggings. After passing Yankee Jim’s, and reaching the top of the hill, one of them vowed he would proceed no further until he had rested; and, throwing his blankets, tools, etc., upon the ground, he laid down in the shade of a tree to rest. The others of the party proceeded a few yards, and also came to a halt, to rest themselves and wait until their companion got ready to proceed upon their weary journey. While lying upon the ground, the one who first stopped discovered particles of gold upon the surface. Informing his companions of his discovery, they returned to the place, and, in a few minutes, the wash pans were filled with dirt, and each of the prospectors proceeded to the canon to wash it. The result of the washing was ascertained, and the supposition among them was that the gold had been lost or buried there by somebody, and scattered by the gophers ; but the washing of a number of pans of the dirt from different places, with equally good results, soon convinced them that the deposit was natural, and sufficiently extensive to warrant them in locating, and working the claims. The diggings thus discovered were the richest surface diggings, perhaps, ever discovered in the State. The discoverers made large fortunes, and it is said that when the party left the place for their native State, a few months after, they loaded these mules with clean gold dust. The claims changed hands several times, the purchasers each time paying large sums for them, and each party thus purchasing, made money by their investment, until the claim was worked out.
It is claimed that the first ditch ever cut to convey water upon a mining claim from a canon in this State, was constructed by H. Starr and Eugene Phelps, at Yankee Jim’s, in 1851, to convey the water from Devil’s Canon to wash the dirt upon their claims, in a “Long Tom.” It is known to be the first ditch of any extent cut in the county, and, we doubt not, is the pioneer one in the State. Hydraulic washing was first introduced at Yankee Jim’s, in June, 1853, by Col. Wm. McClure, who had heard of this mode of washing being practiced in Nevada County, and being a large stockholder in a ditch which was then supplying the diggings in that neighborhood with water, he traveled to Nevada to witness the operations by this mode, and upon his return to Yankee Jim’s procured hose, built a “telegraph,” and put the first hydraulic claim in operation.
Colonel McClure is also the pioneer fruit-grower in the eastern part of Placer County. He purchased his trees in Philadelphia, in the fall of 1852.
They were shipped around Cape Horn, and arrived in time to be planted in his orchard in March, 1853. His first planting consisted of about five hundred trees of all kinds.
Many important events have occurred at Yankee Jim’s, which the limited space allowed for this sketch preclude the possibility of their receiving even a, passing notice; the object of the sketch being more to relate facts which are valuable as being a part of the history of the place worthy of preservation, rather than to write a thrilling story. The brief mention therefore made of each occurrence, it is hoped, will be considered sufficient to answer the purpose designed by the writer.
During the flush times of Yankee Jim’s, which, as has been shown, was from the winter of 1851-’52 until 1855, the place was not exempt from those popular outbreaks of the people, which, in the early days of California, occasionally occurred in almost every town of any note, where desperate characters congregate, and where daring deeds of violence were committed. During the time mentioned, there were a number of men killed in fights and street brawls, and one or two persons charged with murder, or theft or both, hung by the people. But these matters do not compose any part of the history of the place which should be preserved, but rather should be forgotten, and such scenes never re-enacted where the semblance of civilization exists, particular mention of them is omitted.
The first newspaper printed at Yankee Jim’s, the Mountain Courier, was published during the winter of 1856-’57, by Messrs. Parker and Graves. It was continued three months, and died for want of patronage. On the 4th of July, 1857, E. B. Boust issued from the same office the first number of the Placer Courier, which was continued by him until November, 1858, when he was succeeded by R. J. Steele, who issued the paper regularly in that place until April of the following year, when the office was removed by him to Forest Hill, where its publication has been continued by him and his successor to the present time.
Although Yankee Jim’s has gradually decreased in importance since 1856, yet its downfall is not attributable so much to the failure of the mines as to the building up of towns immediately adjacent. Since that time the trade has been diverted from it to Forest Hill, and Todd’s Valley, leaving it dependent solely upon the mines in that immediate locality for the sup-port of its trading population. The wealth and trade of the place is not lost, but merely transferred to a more favored locality. There are now being worked at Yankee Jim’s a number of hydraulic claims, which yield large amounts of gold, and will last for a number of years.