Philo A. Haven and Joseph Zumwalt, names also familiar with Downieville’s beginnings, reached this spot in the spring of 1850, most likely being the first white men to penetrate this far into the North Yuba wilderness. They found plenty of signs that Indians were in the area, but as far as they could tell no prospectors had been there before them. Setting up camp, the men began mining the banks and river bed gravels and were soon joined by other hopeful miners. By the end of the year a small settlement had been established where the town now stands. The jagged granite peaks looming over the town to the north were one of the greatest producers of gold in California. Known for a short time as the Yuba Buttes, they were rechristened the Sierra Buttes at an early point in the town’s existence and have been so called ever since. Accounts differ as to who originally discovered the Sierra Buttes Quartz Mine, but chances are that it was a man named Murphy who stumbled across the outcropping in 1850. Other discoveries followed and by 1852 the craggy Sierra Buttes were honeycombed with many miles of shafts and tunnels. The quartz taken from the mines was crushed in mule-powered arrastres, twenty of which were scattered about the mountain side. As many of the mines on the Buttes were over eight thousand feet high, equipment and supplies had to be brought in by mule or dragged in on sleds by men on snowshoes. The winter of 1852/53 proved to be a harsh one and the Buttes quietly stored the heavy snowfalls until the early spring when, perhaps in revenge for having their treasure stolen, they released an avalanche of epic proportions which swept the town clean off the mountain. The disaster was so final that the place was deserted for several years. Luckily, food was extremely scarce before the avalanche and most of the town’s population had left for lower ground before the catastrophe. Following the destruction of the town, small villages began to appear around the more prosperous lode mines. These tiny outposts consisted of a few buildings put up to house a store, saloon, restaurant, and a few cabins for the miners. It wasn’t until about 1858 that another main camp was established in the area, due in part to the Reis brothers, Ferdinand, Christian, and Gustav, who bought the Buttes, or most of them, in 1857. Emigrants from Germany, the brothers first mined in Mariposa and later operated a store in Downieville. After purchasing most of the mines, they then proceeded to develop their holdings on a large scale, which helped re-establish the town of Sierra City. The mines of the Buttes were very rich and very famous for their large lumps of gold. The Monumental Mine was one of the best for producing incredible nuggets; a 1,596 ounce nugget in 1860 and a 1,893 ouncer in 1869. The total gold production for the district is estimated at $30 million. The grand order of E. Clampus Vitus had its beginnings here in 1857. This convivial brotherhood was originally a spoof of the fraternal organizations of the day, but later came to have more serious aspects, such as the care of “widders and orphans” of unfortunate miners who lost their lives in the mines. Samuel Hardy was the Pioneer “Noble Grand Humbug,” who presided over nothing, really, as all the members were equals. Members would congregate at the braying of “Hewgag” in the “Hall of Comparative Ovations” under their insignia of the “Brazen Serpent.” The order is still in existence today, and many of the historic plaques throughout the Gold Country were placed through their efforts.

California Gold Country
Gold Country
Return to Home Page
Malakoff Home