Calaveritas which means “little skull” in Spanish, was settled in 1849 by Mexicans miners. There were originally two separate camps, Lower Calaveritas and Upper Calaveritas, which were located on Calaveritas Creek about a mile apart from each other. It didn’t take long for the camps to become known as rowdy and dangerous places. The camps were also known as the hangouts for desperados and badmen like the notorious Joaquin Murrieta.
In the fall of 1850, American miner, William Workman, had camped overnight with his ox team and did some successful prospecting. Soon after, Upper Calaveritas was established and many miners were working in the creeks and hillsides looking for deposits. Unfortunately Lower Calaveritas was not as prosperous and became a ghost camp not long after it had been created.
By 1853, Calaveritas was a flourishing mining camp with restaurants, two butcher shops, several general stores, saloons, a livery stable, gambling halls and fandango houses. The notorious bandit, Joaquin Murrieta frequented the latter two. The Luigi Costa Store is the only surviving building of the Gold Rush era in Calaveritas and is a designated historical site. It was built in 1852 and served as a butcher shop, general merchandise store, a distillery and other various ventures for a total of fifty years. This building has been preserved by descendants of the Costas over the years.
Calaveritas reached its peak population by 1857 with the number of inhabitants around 800; most of them were either Chinese or Mexican. Unfortunately the following year on the third of August, a malicious gambler named Shelton set fire to a vacant building next to the gambling hall. He had lost his gold dust in a card game and set a disastrous fire. Calaveritas never fully recovered from the fire which left many of the inhabitants homeless. Fifty one buildings were destroyed, only a few were able to evade the flames.
Most of the placer mines had been picked through and were no longer producing so a majority of the buildings were never rebuilt. Many of the miners moved on to other, richer diggings and Calaveritas was virtually abandoned. Today, all that is left is what remains of the Luigi Costa Store.
The Calaveritas historical landmark is located on Calaveras Road at Costa Road, 4.5 mi SE of San Andreas.
Along with Mark Twain’s famous "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" story that spun into an annual fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee, Calaveras County is rich with Gold Rush history and folklore. Remnants of the railroads and Hispanic culture add to the charm of the county located in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Calaveras Big Trees State Park, a preserve of Giant Sequoia trees, and the uncommon gold telluride mineral Calaverite was discovered in the county in 1861, and is named for it.