Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Excelsior Sierra County California

The gold rush camp of Excelsior lies on a steep hillside about a mile northeast of Monte Cristo at the head of Excelsior Ravine. This early mining camp was founded by prospectors from Monte Cristo sometime in 1853. During the peak of Excelsior’s growth this camp had a population of one hundred men, ten ladies and several children. Two grocery stores, a hardware store, blacksmith shop, livery stable and a couple dozen cabins were situated precariously on the steep hillside.

In researching this camp it is interesting to note that in a letter written to the Mountain Messenger in June of 1860 the correspondent “Dead Broke” commented on the fact that “Excelsior still has no place where liquor is sold”. From this correspondence I believe that although several different kinds of spirit bottles were found at Excelsior, liquor was not sold and saloons did not exist in this small gold rush camp.

A tunnel drifted into the side of the mountain to reach the ancient river channel was the most often used method of mining at this small camp. North of the townsite there is one section of ground that was washed away by hydraulic monitors.

The placer diggings paid well at Excelsior, but as in other areas of Sierra County, an exodus was taking place during the early 1860’s as can be documented by another excerpt from a letter to the Mountain Messenger dated June 26, 1861 from “Dead Broke”.
“A great many of our citizens have left within the last few months, and many more are preparing to follow. I am glad to state from personal knowledge that they are all leaving with means enough at their command to insure them a happy home in some of our fertile valleys. Your correspondent, however, is not one of them, as he thinks he will have to stay on the mountain until Gabriel blows his horn".
Excelsior’s days as a productive camp were numbered and more miners and families left this little settlement during the 1860’s. The Mountain Messenger in its issue of June 18, 1862 reports the following about mining at Excelsior. “This place does not seem to improve much during the last year, but all claims appear to be doing well.”

Excelsior was mined during the depression era but the citizen’s that left during the waning years of the gold rush must have had “means enough” judging by the amount of artifacts that they left behind. Discoveries at Excelsior include hundreds of feet of ore car rail, a 400 pound anvil, a hydraulic monitor and other mining related equipment. Bottles that have been recovered from the townsite include several black Hostetter's bitters, a Booth & Sedgwick London Cordial Gin, Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps, Chestnut Grove Whiskey, a handled Whitney Glass Works whiskey, Patent whiskey fifths, an emerald green Teakettle ink, a large size Sand’s Sarsaparilla open pontil, open pontil umbrella inks in amber, green, aqua and scores of open pontil and smooth base food bottles. In 2008 on a field trip to Excelsior I discovered a broken Crowell, Crane & Brigham Sarsaparilla & Yellow Dock with an iron pontil.

At the site of this early camp a hydraulic mine pit, scattered trash, a caved in drift tunnel and one cabin still remain.
The above post was taken from the forthcoming book "Gold Rush Camps and Bottles of Sierra County" available in September at the Downieville Bottle Show


  1. Nice "narrative", G.O. We have a site near Forest to "hit" very soon. Far from the trodden path and potentially "virginal", it should prove to be interesting.

  2. OldCutters,
    Best of luck, let us know the results.
    Forest City was good to me before a former resident of the town called the "green pigs" down on me.

  3. I have not personally been to this place, but friends dragged out numerous early mining artifacts."Green pigs" are a threat that must be avoided. They are friends of no one that we know.

  4. Soeaking of Green and Pigs,,, the whole Green thing in general has caught the masses like sheep, so Al Gore and others can reap the massive dollars that this feel-good phenom is generating.

  5. Don't you disparage my main man, Bay-rack. He is the "NEW MESSIAH", you know. Just ask any member of the mainstream media , they know it all. Hey, maybe when the polar ice caps melt we can find some "cool" artifacts.