The first discovery of gold in Tuolumne County occurred in August of 1848 at Woods Crossing,
one mile southwest of Jamestown. A prospector named Wood (identified by De Ferrari as Benjamin
Wood) is given credit for discovering the rich fields that for a time, with only a knife and pick
as tools, reportedly yielded between $200 and $300 a day in gold to Wood and his companions.
(Some accounts credit a Reverend James Woods as the discoverer of Woods Crossing, but records
show that he did not arrive in California until 1850.) Many of Wood’s companions left the area
early on to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Wood was no different, he continued on his way, ever
prospecting, and in April of 1849 was murdered by marauding Indians on the Middle Fork of the
The first merchants to arrive here did very well trading with the local Indians. They would
buy gold dust from the Indians, paying them the gold’s weight in beads, raisins and other items.
One man obtained $6,000 worth of gold for a small lot of beads that cost $2.50 in San Francisco.
Woods Creek turned out to be one of the most important gold streams of the area. Located
between the Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers in the midst of an auriferous region of the Sierra
foothills, the surface diggings were among the richest in the county, only those of Columbia
proving richer. To illustrate, a quartz lump weighing 150 pounds, of which seventy-five pounds
was gold, was found here in 1848 by William Gulnac, a partner of Charles M. Weber.
The big strikes drew many miners to the area, all eager to stake their claims and make their
fortunes. One such man was Colonel George F. James who heard the news in San Francisco. Packing
up his possibles, he headed for the mines, arriving at Woods Creek toward the end of 1848. As the
physical aspect of mining held little attraction to the lawyer, James set up his tent a short
distance from Woods Crossing and commenced operations of his combination trading
post/hotel/saloon. Before long, a sizable camp had grown up around the trading post. When it came
time to choose a name for the camp, legend has it that James treated the entire camp to
champagne, which may have influenced the christening, as the name chosen was “Jamestown.”
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