George and Margaret Coulter came west from Pennsylvania in a covered wagon to make their
future. Traveling along the Overland Trail, with a stop in Santa Fe for the birth of their son,
the Coulters arrived in Stockton in 1849. After a short stay with Charles M. Weber, the founder
of that town, the small family left for a place of rich placers known as Solomons Gulch, located
on the Merced River. There they pitched a canvas tent and opened a trading post, providing the
miners with supplies and provisions.
While operating the trading post at Solomons Gulch, Coulter learned of the need for a trading
post at Maxwells Creek, a rich new diggings. He received a letter from Martin Evans, a friend
engaged in mining at the new diggings, which read in part, “We camped two days under the oaks
near this busy Maxwell Creek. Here are large outcroppings and rich placer diggings. The
surroundings are beautiful and I think, healthy, being a little under two thousand feet. There is
no store, and I acquaint you with its likelihood as a trading post.”
Coulter had been looking for a nicer area to settle down in and upon learning that the
nearest trading point for the miners at Maxwells Creek was Sonora, some thirty miles to the
north, he recognized the opportunity. Purchasing additional supplies and a large canvas tent, the
Coulters packed up their belongings and set out for Maxwells Creek in the spring of 1850. Upon
arriving, Coulter opened up for business by attaching his tent to the limb of a wide branching
oak and flying a small American Flag atop his new store. His round, blue tent with the Stars and
Stripes flying above became a local landmark to the hundreds of miners working the creek and the
place was reportedly called Banderita, meaning “little flag” in Spanish, by the Mexican miners.
Coulter’s store did well and within a year he moved it about a mile east to slightly higher
ground where he enlarged the store and put up living quarters in the back. Both Coulter and
George Maxwell, for whom the creek was named, were desirous of having the growing settlement bear
their name. As the story goes, sticks were drawn to see which name would apply to the town.
Maxwell agreed to this arrangement with the condition that if he lost, he would get to name the
post office should one ever be established in the vicinity. History shows us who won.
On November 20 of 1852, a post office was established in the area and true to their agreement
it was named Maxwells Creek. This lasted until 1872 when the post office’s name was changed to
Coulterville. Today the only reminder of George Maxwell is the creek which bears his name.
In 1852, the placers were yielding an average of between $15 and $20 per day to the man, not a
bad wage for the time. But no matter how rich the placers might be, it was only a matter of time
before they would be played out. In this case; however, the loss of the placers was not of much
importance as the town was becoming quite an important supply center. Separated from other towns
by miles of rugged, steep terrain, the merchants delivered goods to the surrounding mines by pack
train. Also, it happened to be sitting squarely atop a three hundred foot wide ledge of one of
the richest veins of the Mother Lode. It didn’t take long for many rich quartz mines to be
established, among them the Louisa, the Penon Blanco, the Malvina, the Potosi, the Tyro, the
Virginia, and perhaps the richest of them all, the Mary Harrison. Coulterville quickly gained
importance as a hard rock mining center, with many of these quartz mines being worked well into
the twentieth century.
In the spring of 1853, Margaret Coulter gave birth to Anna Mary Coulter, the first child born
in the settlement. By this time Coulterville’s inhabitants consisted of nine nationalities and
numbered near several thousand, with the population of Chinatown being a large portion of that
total. The town claimed ten hotels and twenty-five saloons along with the mercantiles,
blacksmiths, and other businesses which made up the thriving mining town.
Plagued by fires, Coulterville has burned to the ground three times, always in July, and
twenty years apart in 1859, 1879 and 1899. The last fire reportedly started the town’s “Gold Rush
of 1899.” The story claims that a former resident of an old adobe building had hidden a poke of
gold coins in the walls of his home. Rubble from the burned out ruins was later used to fill
potholes in the streets and when the first winter rains arrived, gold coins began to appear in
the road. Soon the entire town was out in the streets with picks, shovels, spoons, and saws,
digging away with reckless abandon. The streets became impassable.
Even though many of the original buildings have been burned, razed or melted away by the
elements, a number of ruins and many historic structures still remain. In fact, Coulterville is a
State Historic Landmark with forty-seven designated historic buildings and sites located in the
town limits. In 1981 its Main Street was entered into the National Register of Historic Places as
every building there, with one exception, dates from the 1800’s and early 1900’s.
Coulterville is located on Hwy 49, at the junction of Hwy 132.
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