History of Amador and Calaveras Counties

Have you seen the Volcano Telephone book for 2014?  It’s all about the very beginnings of Amador County.  At one time Amador was part of Calaveras county.  As I started to research the moment that Amador broke away and formed their own county, I found a story worthy of a MOVIE!  There was voter fraud, a shoot out that ended in MURDER!, all type of shenanigans, most involving getting your enemy drunk first and more.  It was a wild time and I loved tracking down the details.


You can read the story in your 2014 Volcano Telephone directory.  I’m posting my version here.  As a writer, my work is edited by whatever publication I send it in to.  They may edit errors (heaven forbid!) or to fit my story in to a certain space.  Hopefully the story is not edited from my original intent, but, alas, I have no control over that.  Here is my personal version.  Enjoy!

The rough beginnings of Calaveras and Amador Counties in the Gold Rush Era.

Calaveras County was one of the original 27 counties of the State of California having formed six months prior to the State becoming the 31st state in the nation. The area covered by Calaveras county in 1850 included what is now Amador, Alpine, and Mono counties.


When the original County of Calaveras was formed, the county seat chosen was in Double Springs. The first grand jury was held in a tent under a large oak tree. The first court house was a prefab house, imported from China. The structure arrived in three sections that were put together to form one long building. The building housed the courthouse, saloon, post office and private residence. There is still a structure left as a reminder of this time. It is located inside the Calaveras County Museum, in San Andreas. Double Springs remained the county seat for fourteen months.

This photo is from the Calaveras County Historical Society.  http://www.calaverascohistorical.com/buildings/doublespsrings.html


Immediately after forming the county government, there were two major factions competing to relocate the county seat to either Jackson or Mokelumne Hill, both were more largely populated than Double Springs. A vote to determine the permanent location of the county seat was set for February 22, 1851, by proclomation of the county Judge. Having the county seat in your town was a great boon to the local economy. For this reason each side was driven to win.

After the vote, Judge Fowle Smith proclaimed the seat to remain at Double Springs because of voting irregularities. Calaveras County Clerk, Colonel Lewis Collier declared Mokelumne Hill the winner. It is said that he locked the votes in a safe and wouldn’t let anyone look at them. It is also said that there were more votes cast than the local population! According to Byron N. McKinnstry’s Diary 1850-1851 Judge Smith broke in to the Clerk’s safe and counted the votes, and based on his count, certified the vote to Jackson.


On July 1st, 1851, it is said that a group of proponents for the relocation of the county seat to Jackson took matters in to their own hands. They came to Double Springs, offered several rounds of drinks to the people at the court house, among those present was County Clerk Collier. They stole the county records and took them to Jackson and established Jackson as the county seat in a shanty. On August 4th and 5th, Jackson hosted it’s first Court of Sessions. The Grand Jury indicted Walden and Gall “for felonious stealing and withdrawing district court records from Double Springs on 1 July 1851.” The felony cased dragged on and neither man was tried or punished in any way.

This photo is of a painting that is located in the City Hall of Jackson California, by Artist Rand Huggett


The competition for the county seat continued. Judge Smith supported Jackson, while Clerk Collier supported Mokelumne Hill. At one point, Clerk Collier made threats to Judge Smith over the controversy. He boasted that he would shoot Judge Smith on sight. The men met on the street and in a typical old west shoot out, Judge Smith shot Clerk Collier. “Several balls took effect and caused death in a few hours. Great excitement existed and fears were entertained that the mob would take the case in to their own hands. We learned that Judge Smith’s provocation was such as to induce the act.” Alta California September 18, 1851. A coroner’s inquest returned a verdict of justifiable homicide and Judge Smith was not tried for murder. Public opinion was not in his favor after the incident and he resigned his position to become a minister.

The population in Mokelumne Hill was growing and in 1852 they again petitioned to move the county seat to their town. “The election was so hot the final count of the votes was greater than the population, there being no voter registration laws at the time.” Los Angeles Daily Journal March, 1975. Mokelumne Hill prevailed and the county seat was established in Mokelumne Hill in 1853.

When the county seat was located in Mokelumne Hill, the Hotel Leger in this photo was probably more of a tent and wood structure, called the Hotel de France.  Read more on the Hotel’s website:


The politicians of Jackson were not content with the location change of the county seat. This was an enormous blow to the local economy. They began to float the idea of breaking away to form their own county and the idea took root. In 1853, as the plan to create a new county was in place, many local communities were vying for the county seat location. It was a common assertion that taxes were being wasted in Mokelumne Hill on “loose women”.

In 1853, the legislature passed an act for a vote of the people. When the vote took place there were allegations of voter fraud. Investigation revealed that votes were unsealed and tampered with. Those votes were rejected. The final result was in favor of dividing the county. The name originally given for the new county was Washington, and it was changed in the Assembly to Amador. The bill was read and passed the same day. The reason for the rush was that the opposition of representatives from Mokelumne Hill had arrived to dispute the division of the county. The delegation had been “wined” into submission. “The bill was hurried through before the drunk wore off, lest convincing arguments should be urged against it when they returned to their senses.” (excerpt from History of Amador County)


Jackson worked under the assumption that it would be the county seat of the newly formed Amador County. But, other communities were vying for the seat location as well. Ione was beginning to flourish on the sale of watermelons, vegetables, hay and barely to the miners. Sutter Creek was a growing area with quartz mining. Volcano also wanted the county seat, but could not find much support as it was “down a deep hole where people had to be hoisted up to get out. Roads beyond Volcano went to no place but the deep caves or some place still deeper. The town was hot in summer and muddy in winter.” (excerpt from History of Amador County)

In July of 1854, the newly chosen commissioners of Amador county held their first meeting to organize the county. They chose a neutral location for their meeting under an oak tree at a private home near the junction of Sutter Creek, Jackson, Volcano and Ione roads to avoid bias toward any one of the communities. A vote was held for the county seat with the results of Ione 496, Sutter Creek 539, Volcano 937 and Jackson 1002. The County Seat was established in Jackson and remains there to this date.


Over time, Calaveras county was divided again. In 1857, a small part of the county became Frezno, later changed to Fresno. In 1861, the county of Mono was created from parts of Calaveras county. In 1864, Alpine county was formed from parts of Calaveras, Amador, El Dorado, Mono and Tuolumne counties. The county seat of Calaveras remained in Mokelume Hill until 1966. San Andreas was voted to become the new county seat in 1856, but Mokelumne Hill refused to give them the records. In 1966, the county seat was officially moved to San Andreas where it remains to this day.

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