- The first discovery of gold in Tuolumne County occurred in August of 1848 at Woods Crossing, one mile southwest of Jamestown. A prospector named Wood (identified by De Ferrari as Benjamin Wood) is given credit for discovering the rich fields that for a time, with only a knife and pick as tools, reportedly yielded between $200 and $300 a day in gold to Wood and his companions. (Some accounts credit a Reverend James Woods as the discoverer of Woods Crossing, but records show that he did not arrive in California until 1850.) Many of Wood’s companions left the area early on to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Wood was no different, he continued on his way, ever prospecting, and in April of 1849 was murdered by marauding Indians on the Middle Fork of the American River.
The first merchants to arrive here did very well trading with the local Indians. They would buy gold dust from the Indians, paying them the gold’s weight in beads, raisins and other items. One man obtained $6,000 worth of gold for a small lot of beads that cost $2.50 in San Francisco.
Woods Creek turned out to be one of the most important gold streams of the area. Located between the Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers in the midst of an auriferous region of the Sierra foothills, the surface diggings were among the richest in the county, only those of Columbia proving richer. To illustrate, a quartz lump weighing 150 pounds, of which seventy-five pounds was gold, was found here in 1848 by William Gulnac, a partner of Charles M. Weber.
The big strikes drew many miners to the area, all eager to stake their claims and make their fortunes. One such man was Colonel George F. James who heard the news in San Francisco. Packing up his possibles, he headed for the mines, arriving at Woods Creek toward the end of 1848. As the physical aspect of mining held little attraction to the lawyer, James set up his tent a short distance from Woods Crossing and commenced operations of his combination trading post/hotel/saloon. Before long, a sizable camp had grown up around the trading post. When it came time to choose a name for the camp, legend has it that James treated the entire camp to champagne, which may have influenced the christening, as the name chosen was “Jamestown.”
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