Town History - Gold Discovery, Early Citizenry, Legends

Historic Sites - Local Ruins, Relics, Buildings & Scenery
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Town History

      Also known as Cherokee Flat, Forks in the Road, and Winterton, Altaville was established on Cherokee Creek, northwest of Angels Camp in 1852. According to legend, the area was a favorite haunt of Joaquin Murieta, the bandit, who supposedly spent so much time here that a mountain northwest of the creek was named Joaquin Mountain. While rich pockets of gold, the "richest of the state," were discovered here in 1854, the gold only lasted a short time. The town was also an important point for supplies and machinery; however, which enabled it to survive even after the gold was gone. The camp eventually became a part of Angels Camp as that town continued to grow and expand into the outlying areas.
      Altaville achieved a measure of notoriety for being the starting place of what many consider to be the Gold Country’s greatest hoax, the Pliocene Skull affair. It occurred in 1866, when a human skull was found deep in the Matson Mine on nearby Bald Hill. The skull was given to Professor J. D. Whitney, then State Geologist, who later presented a paper at a meeting of the California Academy of Sciences at San Francisco in July of 1866. In his paper Whitney claimed that the skull was the remains of a prehistoric man, "dating back to Pliocene times." For years after, the press was full of stories as many scientists were eager to accept the age of the skull, while many others merely scoffed. In 1903, the American Anthropological Society accepted the skull as a genuine relic, but questioned the extreme age attributed to it. One newspaper may have reported the truth when it printed, "The unscientific public hailed the story as a huge joke on the state geologist perpetrated by the fun loving citizens of the camp." Bret Harte’s poem, "To the Pliocene Skull," relates the humorous episode.

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