Mariposa Co., CA
Biddle’s Camp, Biddleville, Campo del Oso,
Haydensville, Johnsonville, Simpsonville
Elevation about 2100’
This major gold mining town located at the
junction of SH 49/CR J-16, 12 miles northwest of Mariposa grew to a population
of about 3000-5000 people. Some of the
folks included miners from
The first gold was found about 1850 by Mexican miners who were consequently driven out. By 1851 the population had reached several thousand. The placers were exhausted by 1852, and it was the hard-rock lode mines that kept the town alive.
The town was first named Haydensville, after pioneer miners Charles, David and Willard HAYDEN, who owned and operated the Great Johnson Vein in 1850. When the first post office was operated between 1851 and 1852 it was also called Haydensville.
In 1852 the name changed to Biddle’s Camp or Biddlesville (after William C. BIDDLE).
In 1855 a 10-stamp mill operated in town.
In 1856 the town was surveyed, subdivided and renamed Johnsonville.
During the 1850s it was also unofficially known as
Simpsonville, after Robert SIMPSON,
who with his partner Robert W. HAMMATH operated a general store in the growing
camp. When the post office was re-established on Jun 21, 1858, the name of the
town was changed again, this time to
In the early days, most of the buildings were built of whatever construction materials that were at hand, such as adobe, brush, and canvas. As lumber became available, wooden structures were erected. There were saloons, stores, and even a Temperance Hall built of adobe.
This was also the heart of Colonel John C. FREMONT’s Las Mariposas Land Grant “empire,” a 44,000 acre Spanish Land Grant rancho that he purchased for $3,000 in 1847. From 1858-1861 he made this the headquarters for his vast mining enterprises, and in 1859 operated a 8-stamp mill to process ore from his mines. He obtained a general store, converting it into a company-owned general store called the Fremont Co. Store. He also purchased the large wooden hotel known as the Oso House. The Oso House had originally been built in 1850, and was a large, two-story wooden structure with wide wrap-around balconies.
At its peak Bear Valley had a large number of businesses including: a thriving Chinese section, blacksmiths, the aforementioned Oso House Hotel, International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) Lodge (built in 1852), livery stable, “public houses”, saloons (including the Bon Ton) and general stores (including the c1851 Fremont Co. Store, 1850 Bear Valley General Store, and 1857 SIMPSON & TRABUCCO Store – PHOTO!). There was also NEWMAN’s BUTCHER SHOP which was operated by Mr. NEWMAN, who married Margaret BIGLER, Joseph’s widow. It is long gone.
The OSO HOUSE was spared by the great fire of 1888. However, it succumbed to fire in 1937, at which time it was owned by Ed TRUE, the grandson of M. E. RICE. Nothing remains.
A school, and a
In 1949, the
In 1888, a major fire destroyed many buildings.
From an unidentified 1888 newspaper clipping.
Contributed via e-mail from William Disbro (Apr 10, 2000)
(Surnames/building names highlighted by me)
“Last Sunday about 8 o'clock A.M., a fire broke out in the building formerly known as the Company Store, and now occupied by the Superintendent, Mr. James CROSS, as a residence. So sudden was the appearance of the fire, that it was impossible to ascertain the cause but it was evident there was some defect in the flue in the upper story where the pipe of the kitchen stove made its connection. When first discovered, it was so far advanced that it was at once decided that all efforts to extinguish the fire would be futile, and would be a loss of time in saving furniture and contents of the endangered buildings. As stated by Mr. CROSS, every conceivable precaution had been used against the fire. The flames commenced their work in the loft in the back part of the building, which gave a favorable opportunity to carry out everything that could be saved, to the front stairs, the principle ingress and egress to the building. As soon as the alarm was given, a force of men was on the spot, and fortunately, a greater part of the furniture was saved. With other things of value, was a fine new piano weighing 1,100 pounds, which was picked up by the men and carried down the winding stairs to the street without receiving a scratch of any importance. The next building was the saloon and property formerly owned by Henry PEARD, which only three days previous had been sold to John TRABUCCO for $2000. The building was across a street 60 wide, between it and the Company store. The fire, despite all efforts soon crossed to the saloon premises where with it and some other wood structures, it found ample food to make a big blaze, severely threatening the Oso Hotel owned by Mrs. M. E. RICE, across the Main street about 80 feet wide. Fortunately the wind was light, otherwise the Oso Hotel would have been hard to save. As it was, the fire swept along down the street consuming a lot of old wooden houses till it reached the Odd Fellows Hall, a two story building occupied by John THOMPSON, as a saloon, all of which, with the exception of a portion of the Odd Fellows regalia and a part of the saloon fixtures and liquors, was destroyed. The saloon just purchased by John TRABUCCO was insured for $1,500. The billiards table and some bar fixtures and liquors were saved. We understand that the billiard table received a broken leg. The large stone building occupied by Mr. CROSS, was newly fitted up and repaired from top to bottom, about a year ago at considerable expense. The loss to the Company will probably be $10,000, and loss in furniture to Mr. CROSS not less than $1,000 and may be more. The saloon buildings were old, loss about $2,000. The Odd Fellows' building was in good repair, which together with their neatly furnished hall, is a loss to the order of fully $3,000.”
Some of the remaining buildings include:
The BON TON SALOON was
originally established and operated by Joseph BIGLER. After he died, his wife operated a bakery in
it until she married and sold to John TRABUCCO. He operated the saloon, and relocated the
Wells Fargo, and Company Express Office from the Oso
House to his saloon. It burned
in the fire of 1888, but was rebuilt. It
closed in 1900 when the TRABUCCOs moved to Mt.
Bullion. For a short time in
1929-1930 the old saloon was used as a cookhouse and dining room, but in 1930
it was damaged by fire. The next year
the building was fixed and the Pacific Mining Company used it as an
office. From 1933-1942 it was used as a
miners’ boarding house, but when the mines closed the building fell into disuse
and disrepair. In 1960, the building
again reopened as a café and museum. The
Bon Ton Café was owned and operated by Mrs. Harold TRABUCCO and her daughter
The roofless, schist rock-walled jail (PHOTO!)