Eldorado National Forest
Before a bulldozer can drop a blade to National Forest land, a Forest Service archaeologist will survey the area for clues to its past. The heritage of the land is a resource that is managed and conserved the same as trees, water, or wildlife. Through the eyes of an archaeologist, we learn the forest is a great history book containing a record of thousands of years of human history.
Most of us know about major historical events related to the settlement of California by early trappers, gold miners, loggers, and agriculturalists. But few of us know that over 99 percent of the record of human life in our national forests was made by countless numbers of people, many of whom did not leave a written history.
Without a written record, we must learn from physical evidence of the way people lived in the past. If you ever have a chance to walk through the forest with an archaeologist, you'll be amazed at what you can learn from an area you may have walked through many times before. Suddenly, a few stacked rocks become a foundation, a piece of pottery represents a trip around the horn in a sailing ship, a hole in the ground becomes a Maidu roundhouse.
Occasionally, a single discovery is significant enough to alter the accepted concept of the area's past. But the more important story may not be known until a composite of all discoveries is made. Each site and all of its contents make up the words and pages of a previously unwritten history.
Points of Interest
Coloma - Here in the valley of the Cal-luh-mah Indians, was the actual site of the gold discovery in California on January 24, 1848. James Marshall's Cabin and Monument, Man Lee Store, Wah Hop Store, Bekearts' Gun Shop, Episcopal and St. John's Catholic Churches, First County Court House site, Markham House, Sierra Nevada House, and Vineyard House are all in Coloma, along with the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park and Museum.
El Dorado County Historical Museum - Located at 360 Fair Lane in Placerville, this museum houses "period room" settings, a fully stocked general store, a Concord stage coach, and early transportation displays.
Fiddletown - Tradition tells us this area was first settled in 1849 by Missourians "who were always fiddling." Chinese Museum/Chew Kee Store is located on Main Street. Houses Chinese and early California artifacts. Open by appointment only.
Gold Bug Mine - Bedford Park - the only municipally owned, open to the public, gold mine in the world. There are two shaftsone is 362 feet long, the other 147 feet. Both shafts are fully illuminated. A gold stamp mill, which has been restored, is also open for viewing. Bedford Park has a beautiful picnic area, barbecues, hiking trail, and archery range.
Marshall Gold Discovery Site - On Highway 49 in Coloma. 100 picnic units, historic and natural interpretive trails, fishing and swimming. Sutter's Mill is reconstructed on the approximate site along the river. Buildings are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Pacific House - The original toll house and stage-stop burned in 1968. Guests here included Horace Greely and Mark Twain.
Placerville - Originally a tent city named old Dry Diggins, Placerville was nicknamed "Hangtown" after the local citizens permanently discouraged a gang of criminals by using the "Hanging Tree" in Elstner's Hay Yard. Placerville was incorporated as a city in 1854.
Volcano - Miners named this town in 1848 as The Volcano after its geographic location and geologic formations. T.A. Springer, proprietor of its Volcano Weekly Ledger, called it "The Crater City" for a period of time.
California State Indian Museum - The museum is located at 2612 "K" Street in Sacramento. Houses a collection of California Indian artifacts. Open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Chaw-se Indian Grinding Rock State Historical Park - Located 11 miles NE of Jackson and 1.4 miles off Highway 88 on Pine Grove - Volcano Road. Dedicated to the Miwok Indians and their culture. Features include a reconstructed "round house", 363 petroglyphs, 1,185 bedrock mortars, and a cultural center. Camping facilities include 21 developed sites.
Federal laws protect this unwritten history from destruction by souvenir hunters. The Federal Antiquities Act of 1906 helps to ensure that the heritage belonging to all of us is not lost. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 reminds us that "... the historic and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people."
Uncovering the historic and prehistoric dimension of your forest will take time. It will happen only if we all do our part. Should you discover an archaeological or historic site, please do not disturb anything. Call the nearest Forest Ranger with a report of your discovery or call the Eldorado National Forest Information Center at 530-644-6048.
Your participation in helping us gather historic information would be appreciated. If you have any old letters, diaries, or family documents that would help us understand what life in the area was like in the past, and you wouldn't mind sharing them, please contact us at the above phone number or write to the Forest Archaeologist, Eldorado National Forest, 100 Forni Road, Placerville, CA 95667.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication