Mining for gold began here in the spring of 1848 when Mexican, Indian, and American miners
searched for gold in the rich gravels along Dry Creek. The town which grew up around the creek
was called Drytown and it is the oldest town in Amador County. Although the creek may have run
dry during the summer months, legend has it the town never did, as an old story claims some
twenty-six saloons wet the miners’ whiskers during the early 1850’s.
Bayard Taylor walked into town on November 15 of 1849, finding a population of between two
and three hundred miners established for the winter. Some twenty-five to thirty cabins and tents
were spread out along the creek, which was crossed by walking over a fallen tree. Taylor wrote:
“The village was laid out with some regularity and had taverns, stores, butcher shops and monte
tables. The diggings was going on briskly and averaged a good return.”
By 1852 the town was quite well established, as an entry in Doble’s diary reported there
being some two hundred houses in the camp. A post office was established on January 21, with
Charles Crane the first postmaster. A stamp mill was also built that year, with a school soon
following, as well as a small Catholic Church located on a hill above town.
The camp reached its peak around 1856, with the discovery of quartz gold deposits helping to
increase the town’s good times. By 1857 there were four mills with a total of fifty-two stamps,
and three arrastres busily crushing ore.
Drytown fell victim to fire twice during the 1850’s, the first blaze occurring in 1855 and
the second in 1857. The first fire burned mainly the Chileno section of town, as that was what it
was meant to do. It was set in revenge for the Rancheria Massacre of August 6, 1855, in which six
persons, mostly Americans and including one woman, were slaughtered by a group of Mexican bandits
using guns, knives, and an axe. “The flames spread rapidly,” an eyewitness reports, “...our
citizens who rushed to the rescue were dragged away, and pistols pointed at them for trying to
arrest the progress of the fire....One lady and two children came near being burned. The whole
town...was soon consumed.” The American ruffians then supposedly torched the town’s Catholic
Church. When the violence in the region finally ended, vengeful Americans had lynched more than
twenty Mexicans in retaliation for the massacre, even though many of them had nothing whatsoever
to do with that event.
The fire of 1857 was the end of Drytown. The gold was already showing signs of being played
out and when the fire destroyed most of the town, it never recovered. The buildings were not
rebuilt as most packed up their belongings and headed for richer diggings.
Visit Drytown's Historic Sites