The first mining camp in this area was known as Camp Salvado, named
for a group of Salvadorians working the placers. It was located on a
flat at the top of Shawmut Grade, less than one mile east of present
Chinese Camp. In 1849, some thirty-five Cantonese miners arrived at
Camp Salvado and began prospecting. Where they came from is somewhat of
a mystery; some say that a ship’s captain left his vessel in San
Francisco Bay, bringing his entire crew with him to the mines; another
version claims they were employed to search for gold by a group of
English speculators. No matter where they came from, what they found
when they arrived was gold. The claims were rich.
Rich claims attract miners. Within no time large numbers of white
miners arrived at Camp Salvado, eventually pushing the Chinese out.
Ironically, the American camp known as either Washingtonville or Camp
Washington, located opposite of Rocky Hill from Camp Salvado, accepted
the outcast Chinese miners without problems. Camp Washington proved to
be a rich one and soon became home to a large number of celestial
miners. After being driven away from other diggings, or having just
arrived in the country, the Chinese miners gravitated here, feeling
safe and comfortable among others of their nationality.
The lack of water in the area, needed for working the placers, may
be one reason why the Chinese were able to establish a successful camp
without much interference from the white miners. Being more patient and
industrious than their American counterparts, the Chinese miners were
willing to work harder and for less return than the white miners, often
making good wages on claims abandoned by other miners. The mines in
this vicinity were principally surface diggings, with the gold being
diffused throughout the entire surface. Hilltops as well as gulches
paid good wages. The problem was the gold-bearing dirt had to be hauled
to a creek on the Sims Ranch, or still farther, to Six Bit Gulch in
order to be washed. This was a lot of work. Eventually ditches and
flumes were built across Montezuma Flat, bringing in water from Woods
Creek and a new influx of miners to search for gold.
The camp continued to grow, and due to the large number of Chinese
inhabitants, became known by such names as Chinee, Chinese Diggins, and
Chinese Camp. When the post office was established on April 18 of 1854,
the town became officially known as Chinese Camp. The only reminder of
its earlier cognomen, Camp Washington, lies in the road Washington
Street. The town’s location made Chinese Camp the center of
transportation for a large area, several stage and freight lines made
regular daily stops here on their way to other points. During the
mid-1850’s, an estimated three to five thousand inhabitants lived in
the area and the camp boasted several stores, hotels, joss houses,
blacksmiths, a church, a bank, a Wells Fargo office, a Masonic Lodge,
and the Sons of Temperance. Four of the famous Chinese "Six Companies"
had their agents in town.
The placer mines of this area are credited with producing $2.5
million in gold.