The Founding of Downieville

From Thompson & West (1879) History of Yuba County, California With Illustrations, Descriptions of its Scenery, Residences, Public Buildings, Fine Blocks and Manufactories Page 41 (Chapter XII). Oakland, Cal. Transcribed by Kathy Sedler for the Yuba County, California USGenweb Project and reproduced with her kind permission.

In December, 1849, Mr. H.W. Parks sold his store at Rose Bar, with the intention of going to the North Fork of the North Fork of Yuba river, as the location of the present town of Downieville was called, which was then within the limits of Yuba county. From a person who had returned from that locality, he had heard of its wonderful diggings, and immediately saw the benefits to be derived from a location in this comparatively new mining region. Quite a large party was organized to undertake the trip. Provided with a small pack train of nine mules, they set out for the Fork. The journey was continued till Slate Range was reached, but at this place the snow was so deep as to make it impossible for them to proceed. Mr. Parks left the party there, expecting to return in a short time when the snow had melted. He increased the number of mules, and "packed" between Marysville and Foster Bar until about February, when the snow having frozen sufficiently to be traveled over, he proceeded to Sleighville and disposed of his mules to Messrs. Daniels and Whitcomb. The party then started forward, carrying the provisions on their backs to Goodyear's Bar, several trips being required to complete the removal of the goods. From the Bar they journeyed to their destination, arriving in the latter part of February. At that time it was thought an impossibility to take a mule as far as the Fork, and that all provisions must be brought by men. Upon arriving, they found there Mr. Marey with his company of eight men, and Mr. John Downie with a party of three men. The discovery of gold at this locality had been made in 1849. Mr. Parks and party and been induced to go to the place by the narrative and solicitation of a Mr. Anderson, but when they arrived, the latter, owing to the snow, could not find the spot about which he had talked so much. While the most of the members were idly awaiting the clearance of the snow, Mr. Parks went out and made from two hundred to two hundred and fifty dollars a day with a pan, knife and spoon, by searching the crevices. From the last of February to the middle of March, the snow fell and covered up all this kind of diggings. As the party had no bank claims opened, they were compelled to cease work altogether. Not knowing the length of time they would be obliged to wait for a fresh supply of provisions, the men were put on rations. Before the food was entirely consumed, they were relieved by the arrival of a large number of miners fully supplied. The news of the rich diggings in that vicinity spread rapidly, and miners came in promptly. In the first part of April, James Hawkins, the first person having goods to dispose of, arrived. The prices were enormous, whisky being sold for sixteen dollars a bottle. Enough locators having arrived it was proposed that the place be named. Considerable rivalry existed relative to the selection of the title. Some favored Mareyville, in honor of one of the first inhabitants. It was left for Mr. Parks to propose the name which was fully accepted - Downieville. John Downie was a Scotchman who had gone to Ohio, and was afterwards employed as a captain of a steamer on Lake Erie. During the gold excitement he left his vessel and came around the Horn to California. Following the naming of the place, Downieville became very much crowded, and it was with difficulty that the hundreds of miners could secure their board. Of course, all the lazy, worthless fellows, who by a little labor could have made fifty dollars a day, protested that all the paying claims were taken and that the dimensions were too large. Too indolent to perform the labor that others had done, and discover new mines, these malcontents demanded a division of the claims already found and located. But it was not long until the state of affairs was changed by the "Gold Lake" excitement, when hundreds left diggings which were paying fifty dollars per day, to join in the throng in the vain search for the wonderful sheet of water.

Copyright ©2003 Kathy Sedler for the Yuba County, California USGenWeb Project: All materials, images, sounds and data contained herein are not to be copied or down loaded for purposes of duplication, distribution, or publishing without the express written permission of the owner.

Note from Ian Downie: The majority of the information in this extract appears to be consistent with William Downie's story in Hunting for Gold, with the obvious exception of the forename John. There is good evidence that William had a brother John who emigrated to Cleveland, Ohio in October 1851, and who was in Dundonald, Ayrshire, Scotland at the time of the 1851 Census on 30-31 March 1851.

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Page modified 18 October, 2017 by Ian Downie