In the rough and tumble days of the California Gold Rush, gold panning was only one of many activities. Mandeville Shaw planted an orchard on the eastern slope of Table Mountain in November 1849. When Tarleton Caldwell settled, he planted black walnut trees, known as Caldwell’s Gardens. The Mississippi House built in the 1850s served as a store, bar and post office. The miner’s bell (pictured) used to summon the men to work and to announce the convening of court.
Gold was discovered within a few months of Shaw’s arrival. By early 1850, thousands of miners swarmed the area and named the mining camp Shaw’s Flat. Of the many mining camps that dotted the landscape near Columbia, Shaw’s Flat become one of the most important. The diggings were rich with large, coarse lumps of gold. In the span of two days, some companies found as much as $600. One pan of dirt could yield nearly $200. Gold was relatively easy to recover laying only three or four feet below the surface of the bedrock. Sometimes gold glittered near the roots of the grass.
Caldwell’s claim is said to have yielded $250,000. Miners found more than they expected when digging a shaft into Caldwell’s Garden. The discovery of so much gold in the ground under the garden on the hillside led to extensive tunneling under the mountain. Many men were thought to have made their fortunes at Table Mountain. James D. Fair another miner in search of riches found little to celebrate in Shaw’s Flat. His wealth came from the Nevada silver mines before becoming a United States senator and namesake for the historic Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.
The population increased so intensely and so quickly, “California Gold Country, Highway 49 Revisited” reported that more than $100,000 had been spent by 1851 on construction of new buildings.
One of many Gold Rush legends tells of a bartender who took a pinch of gold as payment for drinks. What gold accidentally fell on the bar, the bartender quickly swept to the floor. He later walked in sticky adobe mud from a spring near the back door, stepped in the gold dust on the floor and walked home with the gold stuck to his soles. The bartender “earned” an average of $30 an evening and $100 a weekend in gold.
The historical marker is located on the SE corner of Shaw's Flat Road and Mt. Brow Road, 2.6 miles SW of Columbia. This site is part of the Mark Twain Bret Harte Trail.
A treasure of natural wonders and lively gold rush history, Tuolumne County offers visitors vivid scenery. A portion of Yosemite National Park lies within the county, along with giant redwood groves and impressive geological features. Both Bret Harte and Mark Twain wrote stories set in this area during the Gold Rush.