The people of Hornitos were among the roughest of all the southern mining towns. Today it is a well preserved ghost town. Visitors can still see bullet holes in the door casings of many buildings. Hornitos was the place where bandits, roughnecks, gamblers and miners ended up after being outcast from nearby Quartzburg. According to local legends, there was blood on every door step in Hornitos and money, gambling and fine wine were all that mattered. The dance hall contained a hidden passageway for notorious bandits on the “most wanted list” of the Gold Rush era, such as Joaquin Murieta, used to escape capture from local authorities.
Hornitos is located 13 miles west of Mt. Bullion and named for the Spanish word, “little ovens.” Old Mexican tombs were the shape of square baking ovens sat atop the ground in mounds. Hornitos incorporated in 1870 as the first city located in Mariposa County. The area was rich in gold deposits, so when Quartzburg mines dried up, people moved to Hornitos and cleaned up the town.
The town looks much the same as it did in the 1870s. Although bars have long been deserted, the Masonic Hall built in 1860 is still being used. Many older adobe and stone buildings are closed up. Visitors can see the remains of the stone jail, a store owned by Cassaretto and Gagliardo and George Reeb’s butcher shop. One wall of Domingo Ghirardelli’s store remains standing, where he first produced his now famous chocolates.
Ghirardelli, an Italian confectioner, was one of Hornitos’ early residents. Unsuccessful at mining, he opened a general store in Hornitos in 1852, selling chocolates to miners with a taste for sweets. He later moved to San Francisco to manufacture his fine chocolates for a larger market and made a tremendous fortune. Ghirardelli Chocolate has been in continuous operation since 1852 and distributes its products throughout the US.
The historic marker is located 11 miles west of Bear Valley on County Road, J16, Hornitos.
The wonders of the Yosemite Valley’s granite cliffs lie in eastern Mariposa County. The small settlements in the western foothills of the county sprang up during the Gold Rush. The people in these early mining towns made many decisions affecting statewide mining law.