Hornitos (No. 333 California Historical Landmark)

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.

Mariposa County

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.

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Latitude: 37.502222 Longitude: -120.238333 Elevation: 844 ft

About this Establishment

California’s Landmark Program began in the late 1800s with the formation of the Landmarks Club and the California Historical Landmarks League. In 1931, the program became official when legislation charged the Department of Natural Resources—and later the California State Chamber of Commerce—with registering and marking buildings of historical interest or landmarks.

In 1948, Governor Earl Warren created the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee to increase the integrity and credibility of the program. Finally, this committee was changed to the California Historical Resources Commission in 1974. Information about registered landmarks numbered 770 onward is kept in the California Register of Historical Resources authoritative guide. Landmarks numbered 669 and below were registered prior to establishing specific standards, and may be added to the California Register when criteria for evaluating the properties are adopted.

Share your experience. Please leave a comment below if you've visited this historical landmark.

Time Period Represented



Hornitos is awesome! I visited many years ago on my way to Yosemite and discovered it by accident. The old church and cemetery are worth visiting. A lot of history there and I am planning on visiting again this year.

Lori, 7/11/2014

I lived in Merced and in 1960 and early 70 s my friends and I would head to the country. Hornitos was one of our best places to go. We became friends with this old gentleman who ran an antiques store out of his home. He built the house himself and the fireplace was filled with artifacts he found on the creek. I remember opium pipes he had mortared into the fireplace front. He was quite old and told a story of losing his family coming to Calif in a covered wagon. He was a baby taken but later said he ended up with Choctaw people. He told me this story after learning my last name Pope and commenting it was common in the tribe. I still have pictures of Yosemite Valley with Indians crossing the creek I bought from him. He also told me about being in the Dakotas and watching a silent movie I think called Great train robbery on the plains being done on Keystone 16 mm hand crank projector. Cowboys came from miles around on horseback to see the Marvell. He said there was a scene in the movie where the train was coming down the track and it appeared it was coming into the Cowboys sitting in this tent in the middle of nowhere. He said it scared the Cowboys so bad they were crawling over each other knocking each other down thinking the train would run them over. True story. I just bought a later Keystone hand crank projector and I suppose it was a memory he cherished and thought funny.

Bill Pope, 5/26/2016

I lived in Hornitos from 1953 to 1956 back then there was Roys Café, owned by Roy and Hazel Mcdonald, the Bridge Café and the Plaza Café. There were four familys Ssmiths, Stankos, Thatchers and Webbs I am one of the Thatchers. (Stewart) We had a great life in Hornitos. At the fork in the road on the north end of town is where the escape tunnel from the plaza cafe came out. When we were there it was blocked with rocks.

stewart thatcher, 5/30/2016

Stewart Thatcher: My grandparents were Roy and Hazel McDonnell. I used to spend my summers at the Café. Hazel was the telephone operator and used to sleep on a mattress on the floor so she could answer the phone (the old cord board) during the night if it rang. What great memories, I'm sure I've met you during the 50's - 60's. My mother was Phyllis McDonnell and my aunt was Beverly McDonnell. I have some of the bar stools from the bar after it closed. Do you remember Clifford? and Gene McGregor?

Pat Nemitz, Atwater, 6/16/2016

California gold country is fascinating. Spent many vacations in this area since the 80's when our parents retired. Find Hornitos a very peaceful place today, bit it's history draws us back here each trip. Walk the town. Let your imagination run wild here. You will be back again and again. Pray town is safe from mariposa fire July 2017. Bless the town and all it's inhabitants, including the spirits they wish to stay.

V. Williams , 7/22/2017

Does anyone have any info on a white entrance sign at one of the properties east of the town of Hornitos o the south side if your heading towards the town that say Murrieta Rancho? Thanks

Gail, 8/26/2018

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