The Hangin' Tree - Jackson (courtesy Amador County Museum Archives)
Empty bottles left alongside a year-round spring located on the trail between Drytown and
Mokelumne Hill gave rise to the site’s first name, Bottilleas, most likely an American corruption
of the Spanish word for bottle, Botella. That name didn’t last long; however, as by 1849 the
small settlement was known as Jacksons Creek, or more simply, Jackson. The camp was probably
named in honor of Andrew Jackson, although some claim it was so-called for Colonel Alden Appolas
Moore Jackson who may have mined here briefly in 1849, before moving on to the Tuolumne River
where he established the mining camp of Jacksonville.
The spring that started it all was located near where the National Hotel currently stands.
Bayard Taylor visited the spot in late 1849 and wrote of the miners in his book, El Dorado:
“Not the creek only but all the ravines in the mountains around, furnished ground for their
winter labors. A little knoll in the valley, above the reach of the floods, was entirely covered
with their white tents.” Taylor estimated the population at about sixty.
The camp grew quickly the following year, as besides being a popular mining spot, it was also
a convenient stopping place on the road from Sacramento to the Southern Mines. The camp became an
important supply and transportation center for the neighboring towns, and by 1850 the population
had reached an estimated fifteen hundred and the town claimed over one hundred tents, dwellings,
Three events occurred in 1851 which helped insure the camp’s livelihood; scheduled stage
service arrived, the post office was established on July 10, and Jackson became the Calaveras
County seat. The county seat left the following year to Mokelumne Hill, but that didn’t slow
things down at all, as by that time quartz mining was beginning to become productive. The growing
number of quartz mines scattered about the surrounding hills provided many jobs, which was quite
a boon to the town’s economy. Jackson became a county seat once again on May 11 of 1854, not of
Calaveras this time, but of the newly created Amador County. It has remained the seat of
government since that time.
One of the Mother Lode’s most important gold discoveries took place in Jackson in 1856.
Andrew Kennedy, an Irish immigrant, located a rich quartz vein on a hill north of town. It would
be combined with several other claims in 1860 to form the Kennedy Mine, one of the richest mines
ever worked in the Gold Country. The mine eventually reached a vertical depth of 5,912 feet,
which made it the deepest mine in North America at the time of its closing in 1942, when all
gold-mining activities were suspended as being non-essential to the war effort. Although the
evidence pointed to the gold vein continuing even deeper, the mine never reopened due to
increased costs and the deterioration of the underground works which occurred while it was shut
down. Its total production was over $34 million.
The Kennedy had a rich and famous neighbor on the other side of the hill; it was the Argonaut
Mine. Discovered in the mid-1850’s by two black miners, James Hager and William Tudor, the claim
on Negro Hill was purchased during the 1860’s by the Pioneer Gold & Silver Mining Company. Worked
in a rather desultory manner for a number of years, the mine’s serious development began in 1893
when it was purchased by the Argonaut Mining Company. The mine operated until 1942, reaching a
vertical depth of 5,570 feet via a sixty-three degree shaft and produced a total of
$25,179,160.43 in gold.
Misfortune plagued the Argonaut over its years of operations. In the spring of 1919, a fire
was discovered on the 4,000-foot level of the mine. Believed to be of incendiary origin, the fire
was quickly surrounded and thought to have been under control; work was resumed. Almost a year
later, fire was discovered on the 3,000-foot level of the neighboring Kennedy Mine, thought to
have reached the Kennedy by eating its way through old workings and caved ground from the
Argonaut. The management of the Kennedy began flooding the mine with water to extinguish the fire
and as the two mines were connected at the time, the lower levels of both were flooded and work
halted for almost a year.
Jackson’s early population was a mixture of many nationalities. Italian, Serbian, Slavonian,
Mexican, Irish, and the descendants of pioneer Americans made up a thriving community that got
along together much better than some of their contemporaries. Some of the town’s “firsts” which
took place during the early years prove interesting to recount. The first postmaster was Henry
Mann, who in 1852 may have been the first person and first postmaster killed by a bear in Jackson
when the tame bear he kept tied to the hanging tree got loose. L. A. Collier, the first Calaveras
County Clerk, was fatally shot in Jackson, killed over a dispute by Judge William Smith. The
first lynchee was an Indian named Coyote Joe, who was hanged on the old oak tree in 1851 for
murdering the blacksmith Thompson. The Sentinel was Jackson’s first newspaper. It put out three
issues in 1852 before folding. The first legal hanging in Jackson and Amador County took place on
December 19 of 1856, when Nathan Cottle was hanged for stabbing to death a young miner named
Cole. Cottle was also the first victim of grave-robbing, as after the hanging his corpse was
unearthed and stolen away.
The town’s worst calamity occurred on August 23 of 1862, when a pile of hot ashes, carelessly
dumped outside a wood-frame building on Main Street, ignited the most terrible fire in Jackson’s
history. In less than three hours most of the town was destroyed, the only buildings to escape
the conflagration being a few brick structures and some outlying dwellings. As a result, most of
Jackson’s remaining historic buildings were constructed after this fire and date from 1862 to
1864. Although many of the buildings on Main Street may look to be of relatively recent
construction, they’re “all front,” and just for show. A look down the side streets and at the
rear portions of these buildings will often reveal their true age. And remember that while
walking through Jackson it’s a good idea to keep your eyes down, as there are a number of
historical plaques imbedded in the sidewalks.
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