Gold Towns: Sonora

Originally known as Sonorian Camp, this gold town was founded in 1848 by a party of Mexicans from Sonora, Mexico, who were the sole occupants of the site for several months. In the spring of 1849, the first Americans arrived; in July some 1,500 immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Chile, poured into Tuolumne County. Other early inhabitants were from Germany, Italy, France, England, and Ireland—each faction speaking its own tongue—and by the autumn of 1849 there were 5,000 people crowded in and around Sonora’s narrow streets.  In its early days the town had its share of desperadoes, and a reputation for wildness. It also suffered a number of disastrous fires, the worst of which occurred in June 1852. After that conflagration consumed nearly every wooden building along Washington Street, townspeople decided to create side streets as fire breaks, saving the city from total destruction in subsequent fires. The Big Bonanza Mine in the heart of Sonora is the greatest pocket mine (one that yields a large and unusually compact amount of pay dirt in a very small area) ever discovered. First worked in 1851 by Chileans who took out a large amount of surface gold, it was purchased in the 1870s by three partners. They worked it for years with small success until, one day, they broke into a body of almost solid gold. The next day they shipped gold worth $160,000 to the San Francisco Mint. Within a week $500,000 was taken out and another half million was mined before the property was sold again. Sonora was and still is known as the “Queen of the Southern Mines,” for the estimated $41 million in gold taken from the Big Bonanza, the San Giuseppe, the Golden Gate, and other mines in the vicinity.  Modern Sonora retains its charm as one of the most picturesque and beautiful of all the old mining towns in the Mother Lode while thriving as the commercial, government and cultural center for the region.

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