The early history of Bear Valley is similar to that of many other gold camps of the Southern
Mines. The placers were discovered by Mexican miners in 1850, who took out near $250,000 worth of
gold in just a few weeks. It wasn’t long after the arrival of the white miners that the Mexicans
were forced out of the camp, made to begin their search for gold anew. A short boom occurred and
the camp grew quickly, but within a year’s time the placers had been exhausted and many of the
miners left for better diggings. Good fortune returned; however, as several rich quartz mines
were discovered and the town experienced a reboom. A miner is reported to have found a lump of
pure gold “weighing fully three pounds,” according to the Alta on March 15 of 1854. Several stamp
mills were in operation during this time and the noise from these, along with the strange shrieks
of the steam engines, proved unsettling enough to drive away any and all bears from the region to
which they had given their name.
This camp should probably be known as Alias City, as it was known by a number of different
monikers during its first decade of life. The original title was Haydensville, after David,
Charles and Willard Hayden, whose claim to fame was acquiring part of the Great Johnson Vein in
1850 from its discoverer, John F. “Quartz” Johnson. When the first post office in the county was
established here on January 21 of 1851, Haydensville was the name and J. C. Higginbotham was the
postmaster. The Haydens soon went bankrupt and the post office was discontinued on August 20 of
1852. During that year the place became known as Biddles Camp, or Biddleville, presumably for a
Mr. Biddle. Following this we have Simpsonville, which was bestowed upon the camp in honor of
storekeeper Robert Simpson. In 1856 the town was surveyed and renamed Johnsonville for “Quartz”
Johnson, the well-known and popular miner. The post office was re-established on June 21 of 1858,
at which time the camp was christened Bear Valley, the name it bears today.
Colonel John Frémont chose Bear Valley for his home and for the headquarters of his mining
operations in the vast Mariposa Grant. His holdings came to resemble an old time feudal domain:
many of the town’s inhabitants worked for Frémont in his nearby Pine Tree and Josephine mines;
travelers stayed in his famous Oso House, a two-storied, balconied hotel built of lumber brought
around the Horn; most of the inhabitants purchased their supplies at his large company store and
other businesses, which furnished a tidy income.
Frémont built a home where he and his family lived in elegance and comfort from 1858 to 1861.
It was known as “The White House,” since Jessie had it white washed in remembrance of her
husband’s presidential candidacy in 1856. French servants took care of the domestic chores, which
also included catering to the needs of visiting dignitaries and distinguished visitors at the
frequent and lavish parties hosted by the Frémonts. A large garden provided fruits and vegetables
for the area, a Gold Rush rarity. Horace Greeley was a guest at the White House in 1859. He later
wrote, “The Colonel is now operating two stamp mills and netting $100,000 a year.” The White
House burned in 1866 and was never rebuilt.
Bear Valley’s appearance today is quite different from what is was during the Gold Rush. A
fire destroyed a large portion of the town in 1888, and as the mining activity had greatly
decreased by that time, many of the buildings were not rebuilt. Even so, there are still a number
of interesting buildings and ruins remaining in town, making Bear Valley a rewarding stop on any
visit to the Gold Country.
Bear Valley is located on Hwy 49.