Town History - Gold Discovery, Early Citizenry, Legends

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Town History

      Named for the Montezuma Tent, a trading post belonging to Solomon Miller and Peter K. Aurand, the camp’s early history begins with violence. A group of Mexican miners, enraged by the recently enacted Foreign Miners Tax and thirsting for blood, attacked the Tent in June of 1850. The proprietors fought the good fight but were outnumbered by the ambushers. Aurand was killed during the encounter, Miller escaped, and the Mexicans were never caught.
      Little mining took place here until 1852 when a ditch and flume were completed, bringing in water from Woods Creek for the placer mines on the area’s flats. During the mid-1850’s, the average yield for a day’s work ran from $5 to $10, each pan of gravel producing a little over 3 cents. An occasional strike; however, could make a man rich over night. One nugget found here weighed eighteen pounds, eight ounces. But finding a large nugget was not always good fortune. A California State Mining Bureau report of 1882 tells of a French immigrant who uncovered a piece worth more than $5,000 from nearby Spring Gulch: “The discovery of this nugget proved to be a great misfortune, for the finder became insane the following day and was sent to Stockton.”
      The camp’s proximity to Table Mountain proved beneficial to the town. Several deep and extensive mines which tunneled far under the mountain produced exceptionally pure gold, some assaying at .950 fine, unusual for California gold. The town’s population reportedly reached eight hundred towards the end of 1852, and during its heyday contained four saloons, two hotels, an Adams Express Company, a post office, church, many homes, tents, and cabins. Two stage lines made stops in Montezuma; the line running from Stockton to Sonora; and Dr. Clarke’s line from Sonora and Columbia to Don Pedro’s, La Grange, and other points west. A fire of incendiary nature started in the Clark Hotel on June 29 of 1866, and destroyed most of the town.

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