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Don Taylor | all galleries >> California Galleries >> California > Cherokee Museum.
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Cherokee Museum.

Cherokee's past is fertile -- rich in ethnic diversity, back-breaking work ethic, engineering accomplishments, and massive wealth from its gold and diamond mines. Back at the dawn of civilization's genesis in North America, Maidu Indians placidly ground acorns and tracked small game in this area -- 180 miles northeast of San Francisco. How long they stayed is unknown, as are the annals of sojourners in ensuing centuries who may have traversed the beautiful hills.

Around 1818, Spanish explorers discovered gold under Table Mountain, on Cherokee's south side. In 1849, a migrant band of enterprising Cherokee Indians arrived from Oklahoma and panned for the precious metal in nearby creeks as the first cry of GOLD! seduced throngs of homesteaders to stream west, hoping to make their fortunes in the California Gold Rush.

Welsh miners, migrating from England in 1853, built stores, perfected mining techniques, and named the town for the industrious Native Americans who had preceded them. The Cherokee diggins were rich -- very rich. Electrified mines (Thomas Edison was one of the owners) allowed 24-hour operation year round, and miners' wages were high for those times -- $3 per day. Along with the quarry operations, the town grew: three churches, eight hotels, three schools, and seventeen saloons. The county's first running water was in homes here.

In 1880, a jewel of national proportion was set in the crown of Cherokee society when then-President Rutherford B. Hayes, his wife Lucy, Civil War General William T. Sherman, General John Bidwell and others came to visit what was then the largest and most famous hydraulic gold mine in the world. Its sophisticated water system, built to deliver the millions of gallons required daily for the hydraulic monitors, was an engineering marvel of the day.

Alas, Cherokee's pinnacle came to a standstill in the 1890s, when hydraulic mining became too expensive to operate, and the sprawling reservoirs, canals and flumes were sold off to various power and irrigating concerns

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