One of the principal mining communities in Calaveras County, Murphys was named for the discoverer of gold on the flat in 1849. The objective of many immigrants coming over the Sierras by Ebbetts Pass, Murphys Flat and surrounding mines produced $20,000,000 in gold. Early regulations restricted claims to 8 foot squares.
A suspension flume conveying water across Murphys Creek and drainage race draining the flat were two outstanding accomplishments of early day miners. The business portion of the town was destroyed by fire on August 20, 1859. The bandit Joaquin Murieta, also known as the "Mexican Robin Hood," is said to have begun his murderous career here.
Placer mining was practiced extensively throughout Murphys and the surrounding region, until claims were quickly depleted until the water conveyance system was constructed. The two major mines near Murphys were the Central Hill mine and the Oro y Plata, which included the Red Wing, Blue Wing, Payrock, and Sulphuret group on the north ridge of town. When mining opportunities began to decrease, agriculture became an important piece of the local economy.
By the 1850s, a commercial and residential core was established. The architecture of Murphys today is made up of a mixture of wood, brick, and stone buildings dating from the 1850s to the present. Many historic buildings remain in the core of Murphys along Main, Church, Jones, and Scott Streets, and Sheep Ranch Road.
Murphys is the location of the historic Murphys Historic Hotel, where famous patrons including Mark Twain, J.P. Morgan, Ulysses S. Grant, and a handful of other notable figures stayed. The hotel continues to operate today, and includes a restaurant and saloon.
Murphys is a popular tourist site with wineries, shops and restaurants, and is located near numerous natural attractions including Calaveras Big Trees, Mercer Caverns, Moaning Cavern, Natural Bridges, the Arnold Rim Trail, Vallecito, and Bear Valley.
Murphys is located on State Highway 4, 8.3 miles northeast of Angels Camp.
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.
Calaveras is a Spanish word meaning "skull." The name was first given to the river because of the great quantities of human skulls found along the lower reaches of the river.
Calaveras County is famous for its lode and placer mines, and the largest gold nugget from the United States was taken from the Morgan Mine at Carson Hill in 1854, weighing 214 pounds. For many years it was the principal copper-producing county in California. Cement deposits from its vast limestone deposits has become one of the county's major industries in recent years.