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HORNITOS

Mariposa Co., CA

 

(CHL #333)

elevation  850’

 

 

Hornitos is located on CR-J16, 11 miles west of Bear Valley, and about15 AIR miles west-northwest of Mariposa.

 

Originally, the nameless community was established by Mexican Miners in 1848.  It was quickly populated by

less desirable elements” evicted from the booming mining town of Quartzburg about two miles away.  These evictees changed the character of the mining camp and Hornitos quickly became known as a rough community.  Later it settled down and grew respectable as Quartzburg faded and the folks moved to nearby Hornitos.  It was the center for both placer and hard rock mining.  

 

The name derives from the above ground tombs/graves of some of the Mexican miners, and the town was named after the resemblance of those graves to small ovens (hornitos).  They were built that way due to the hard ground and the difficulty in digging deeper graves.

 

By the mid-late 1850s Hornitos was a small city with some 6000 people.  It was well known for its fiestas, fandangos, gambling and violence. 

 

Some of the early businesses included a blacksmith shop, brewery (1860), butcher, several dance halls, adobe-walled jail (1853), six lodges, general stores, post office (est. June 18, 1856) and a Wells Fargo & Company Express Office (1853).  Off to the east side of town a thriving Chinese section grew to house some 2000 folks.  Many of the businesses were interconnected with underground tunnels, and for entertainment there were always chicken races, bull & bear fights and cock-fights.  It is claimed that some $40,000 in gold was shipped out on a daily basis.  Life was NOT boring! It is claimed that the infamous bandit Joaquin MURIETTA is said to have frequented the dance halls and saloons here, and is said to have had a secret escape tunnel from his favorite hangouts. However much of what was written about this outlaw has almost reached legendary proportions and it is difficult to separate fact from fancy.  (Kind of like the Earp clan and James Brothers.)

 

In 1858 the first quartz mill was installed.  It was a machine-powered arrastra.  By 1860 it had been replaced by a 20-stamp mill.            In 1900 there were four operating stamp mills in the community.

 

By 1870 the population is said to have reached 15,000, and the town incorporated as Mariposa County’s only incorporated city.  At this time it had a dozen hotels and 36 saloons along with many other businesses.

 

Some of the many businesses that existed here include:  (This list features ones not listed under the standing and ruined building list below.)

            Butchers:

                        George REEB’s Butcher shop.

            Dance/Fandango Halls:

Rosie MARTINEZ built Hornitos’ only two-story dance hall in 1851.

            General Stores: 

CASSARETTO Store built in 1851

CAVAGNARO Store.  Was a single story wooden structure that had collapsed sometime prior to our

visit on April 10, 2002.  PHOTO!

GAGLIARDO Store. PHOTO! 

         Hotels:

                        Hornitos Hotel, built in 1860, this was a two-story hotel.

            Lodges: 

Chinese Fraternal lodge

Hornitos Stags

International Order of Odd Fellow (IOOF) built in 1860

Masonic hall built in 1860 (see below)

Mexican Fraternal hall built in 1850

Native Sons of the Golden West (see below)

            Saloons:

                        Hornitos Saloon, R.W. BARCROFT proprietor.

                        Pacific Saloon. 

            Other Notable Buildings:

                        CAMPODONICA building.

                        DENNIS house was one of the first frame buildings in the county, and was still standing in 1939.

                        OLCESE building.

 

But good things don’t always last forever, and mining slowed and the people began to move on.  By the mid 1880s Hornitos was much quieter, and it didn’t take a lot to get the folks excited.  The following information came from an unidentified 1884 newspaper clipping.  Contributed to the Mariposa County Discussion List by William Disbro.

 

Hornitos, Aug. 13th, 1884

 

The monotony of our existence was rudely disturbed last Sunday evening by the cry of "fire." Towards nine o'clock, while everyone was calmly enjoying the cool evening, after a day when the thermometer was among the hundreds, when people were sitting quietly before their doors, chatting on various topics, discussing the mysterious origin of the numerous fires and the burning done on the GRIFFITHS Ranch, some one startled us with the announcement that ‘George REEB’S house burning.’ In a instant the whole town was in commotion. Men were running with hoses, tubs and buckets; some pumping, others shouting, children crying and women, scared by the reminiscences of early day fires, when the whole of our town was swept clean out in a few hours, were packing their household goods, making ready to move in case of need. For a moment the wind blew south and the whole northern part of town was enveloped in a thick cloud of dense, black smoke that compelled everyone to close windows and doors. Then it veered again. A pile of fifty tons of baled hay was ablaze and one single glance sufficed to reveal the fact that it was past redemption, and that our efforts must be concentrated in keeping the fire from spreading. A difficult task indeed, with old tumble down buildings, built in the prosperous days of Hornitos, abutting right smack against the fire, roof made as dry as tinder by the summer heat and ready to blaze up at the least spark!

            “Luckily, the wind fell to a dead calm. The moon rose and we were working in the dark no more. The tin roof gradually giving us a show to keep down flames and sparks and thus confining the conflagration to one building. Everyone worked with a will, even the ladies, carrying water and pumping like good fellows and by two o'clock in the morning the town was saved.

“As I write, three days after the fire, it is still smoldering with prospects of keeping it up a few days unless some charitable soul turns on a stream of water, and I would suggest to our butcher, whose property it is, to kill a few of his hogs and smoke a few hams. In hard times let

us be saving and make the best we can of a calamity.

“Yesterday, we had another narrow escape. By some means, a mosquito bar (netting) caught fire, and of course, the women were nearby, dropped it and yelled. But a few kicks and stamps and drops of water put that fire out.  Otherwise our town is dull. Not even a dogfight or foot race. The infernal mluing (sic) of a band of tom cats is the only thing that disturbs the silence of the night. The solitary " drunk" I've seen for month of Sundays sang himself to sleep in jail, and the place has resumed its wonted calm and folks go indoors during the heat of the day, leaving the street in full possession of a few emaciated pigs, who solemnly perambulate the length and breath of Hornitos.

“The BARCROFT mine is turning out very well and the outlook for it is very promising. As yet, no clean up has been made, and therefore no decisive opinion can be formed, but it is the general impression of all experienced miners that it will be fully equal to anything yet found around this part of the county.

 

 

By 1896 the calm deepened, and two saloons remained open to assuage the thirst of the residents.  Hornitos has continued to fade until the 1980s, but then it was more of a rural refuge for disenfranchised urban dwellers looking for a little quiet.  Hornitos disincorporated in 1953.

 

Today standing and ruined buildings remain, making Hornitos one of the most picturesque of the old mining towns.  Some of the buildings include:

            St. Catherine’s Catholic Church:  This adobe structure built in 1862 contains many above-ground graves that date to the early days of the community.  PHOTO!

            Dance Hall/Saloon:  In 1949 the Post Office was housed in the former Dance Hall, which is built of locally quarried schist rock-walls.  When it was a saloon and dance hall, it is claimed that this building was once the favored hang-out for Joaquin Murietta.

            Domenico (Domingo) GHIRARDELLI store:  Built in 1855, this old store also has schist and adobe walls.  It was his first store, and launched him on his path to becoming a major chocolate manufacturer in San Francisco. PHOTO #1 & #2

            Jail:  This stout stone building with the heavy iron door and small high, barred window still stands. PHOTO!

            Masonic Hall:  Built in (Nadeau says 1856) 1860, this single-story schist walled structure also has a brick front and limestone “flagging”.  It is also the only single-story Masonic hall in the Gold Country. PHOTO!

Wells Fargo & Express Company building:  In 1949, the old Wells Fargo building housed a Native Sons of the Golden West hall.  Built in 1851, the building is built of schist rock-walls with a brick front.

 

Some of the other photos include:

            View of north end of town, looking north: PHOTO!

            Saloon on north side of the Plaza: PHOTO!

            Former Post office (identification provided by Lois Larson, Jan 21, 2006): PHOTO!

 

POPULATION FIGURES

·        1860:   6000 (not verified)

·        1870:  15,000 (not verified)

·        1930 – 62

·        1970 - 73

·        1980 - 200

·        1990 - 260

·        2000 - 260

 

LOCATION:

·        NE¼ Sec 17, T5S, R16E, MDM

·        Latitude: 37.5021592 / 37° 30' 08" N

·        Longitude: -120.2382410 / 120° 14' 18" W

 

Hornitos was in the center of the HORNITOS MINING DISTRICT. 

Some of the mines in that district include:

·        BADGER MINE
·        BARCROFT MINE
·        DUNCAN MINE

·        MOUNT GAINES MINE

·        YOSEMITE MILL

 

 

SOURCES:  #1, 2, 6, 7, 11, 14, WPA

 

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First Posted:  December 10, 2001

Last Updated: August 09, 2011

 

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