A fanciful tale is told regarding the naming of Fiddletown. As the story goes, the camp was
first settled by a group of prospectors from Missouri in 1849. When it came time to name the
place, one of the elder Missourians complained of the younger men: “They are always fiddlin,’
call it Fiddletown.” Another story gives credit to German fiddle players, while Edwin A. Sherman
relates in his reminiscences of an old lady who claimed her family were the first settlers at
“Violin City,” so-called because her husband, daughter, and two sons all played the violin. It’s
probably safe to say that some early settler in Fiddletown was partial to playing the fiddle.
The town’s early years proved uneventful, its growth slow; the number of houses could be
counted on one’s fingers. All this changed in 1852 when several rich discoveries were made in the
region, resulting in new camps such as American Flat, French Flat, Loafer Flat, and Lone Hill
among others. With the emergence of these camps, Fiddletown became a trading center for the
region, and combined with the continued workings of the placers, the town boomed. Tents, brush
ramadas, and substantial buildings of wood, brick and stone soon covered the landscape as the
population swelled, ultimately reaching several thousand people during the mid-1850’s.
Unlike the neighboring lowland camps, Fiddletown lacked the deep quartz mines which would
have sustained it when the placers played out. So when the gold began to go away, so did the
people. The town never really gave up the ghost; however, as it remained somewhat of a supply
point for the region and home to many of its original settlers.
Fiddletown didn’t disappear, but it died in early February of 1878. Due to the actions of
Judge Columbus Allen Purinton, a petition was circulated, signed, and submitted to the state
legislature requesting that the name of the town be changed to “Oleta.” Why? Apparently “Judge”
Purinton, who was never a judge in Amador County, was embarrassed to write “Fiddletown” as his
place of residence, after becoming known in San Francisco and Sacramento as “the man from
Fiddletown.” The bill passed quickly and soon gathered the governor’s signature to make it
official. Fiddletown was dead. Long live Oleta. But as you may have noticed, the town is once
again known as Fiddletown. What happened?
In 1932, during the eighty-third anniversary celebration of the founding of Fiddletown
(Oleta), visitors and residents alike chanced to wonder, why was the name changed? What
significance was there to the name Oleta? Fiddletown seemed much more historic and right. Maybe
the name could be changed back?
By this time it didn’t take an act of legislature to change the name of an un-incorporated
town. All you had to do was petition the postmaster to change the name of the town’s post office.
So once again a petition circulated in Fiddletown (Oleta), upon which sixty-four residents signed
their names. Copies were sent to the U.S. postal department and the postmaster general, and in
early June of 1932, the news came to town that on July 1 of 1932, Oleta would die. Long live
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