Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Forgotten Town of Contreras - Amador County History

woodcut originally published circa 1860

Long ago, back in the days of the "Gold Rush," there was a small town founded and inhabited by a Mexican family in Amador County.  The name of the town was Contreras. Not many books mention it, as it has been long forgotten and left in the archives for many years. Most people don’t even know where the real Contreras once stood, but I believe I have figured out this mystery.

It is funny how this whole story began, as I stumbled upon this mystery at the Amador County Library months ago. I had come to the Library to view microfilmed newspaper archives but someone was already using the machine. I decided that I would kill some time by reading some of the old archived books.  I came across an old book, tattered and worn down that said “Amador County History.”

I skimmed through the pages and came across the name “Contreras.”  I was surprised at first, as it mentioned that it was once a town in Amador County. I lived up there for a few years growing up, I spent some of my summers there as a teenager and had never heard anything about that town in its history before, so I became very intrigued.  

As I read it spoke about a man named Pablo Contreras who came to Amador County in the 1850’s to mine for gold. He was a well educated and  prominent man who purchased a large claim and mined successfully, adding to his already established fortune. He brought along with him, his family which included some very beautiful daughters.  So beautiful in fact, it mentioned that miners from all around the county would gather to Contreras on Saturday nights to attend a weekly dance at the town's Dance Hall, with the hopes of dancing with one of  Señor Contreras’ lovely daughters.

Contreras  had everything a western town during the “Gold Rush” might be assumed to have,  2 Saloons, a Dance Hall, Mercantile Store, Blacksmith Shop and Butcher Shop. It was said to have served up to 1,500 people at that time. Many times after a night of dancing on Saturdays, the crowd of drunken men became rowdy and fights ensued on the street.  There were rumors of shootouts just as you would see in any good western film. Most always the blame for their own vigilante justice was due to cattle rustling.  One night, during one of those many shootouts, a young boy from Sutter Creek disappeared and was said to have never been heard from again. I tried to look into archives to verify whether or not the boy had ever been found, but without knowing the exact date and his name, I was left at a dead end.


Well my friends, that would be the mystery now wouldn’t  it? According to old archived books and stories it was between the Pioneer School House and the Mokelumne River at West Point. I also found an old mining ledger that stated it was 5 miles northeast of Pine Grove.  I also noticed that the old settlement known as DEFENDER was located in the very same general area, 5 miles northeast of Pine Grove and 5 miles east of Volcano. After going over maps and intricately researching the information I had found, I was dumbfounded when I realized that the general area in which both Defender and Contreras would have been located ,was none other than present day Pioneer, California. According to a recent contact I made with Bobby Keeling @ , he states that the remains of the town of Contreras was recently located after going through old census maps. They discovered the site closer to the North Fork of the Mokelumne River, which is near Pioneer just off Defender Grade Road going towards West Point.  It amazes me to this day when I think about the fact that there once stood two very different towns right there in Pioneer, California and most people wouldn’t even know it.


Later on after the mines ran dry, Pablo Contreras and his family- including his beautiful daughters, moved back south towards Mexico. It was recorded that a few “enamored” American miners followed Contreras’ daughters when they left Amador County. Whether or not Señor Contreras eventually made it to Mexico is unknown, however I found some interesting information in regards to this history.

According to the 1852 Census it states only three Pablo Contreras’ for the entire state.  One lived in Mariposa, one in Tuolumne and the other in Calaveras County. Now remember, Amador County was not really formed until 1854, thus the same Pablo Contreras from the 1852 Census in Calaveras County could be the same Pablo Contreras from Amador County. Or could it? After looking over the records I see that Pablo, had he been the correct one, was only recorded to be 24 years of age in 1852.  Perhaps he was the son of the elder Pablo Contreras in Tuolumne?   That Pablo Contreras was 40 years old at the time of the census and could very well have been the father of the Pablo who was 24 years, given the time frame and age difference. Remember, Señor Contreras probably had many workers, including family running the mines for him, thus he could have lived in Tuolumne while owning the mine in Amador County.

By the time the 1860 Census came around there was no trace of any of the Pablo Contreras’, which would make one think they traveled out of state or back to Mexico.  I found a very interesting article about families from Sonora, Mexico who came to Amador County to mine for gold. What struck me was the name of one of the men, Antonio Contreras.  The article went on to say that he was from Magdalena, Sonora (Mx.) and that he came with his family to Amador County to mine for gold. It goes on to state that he may have taken a decent amount of fortune from the mine, enough to claim on the 1870 Census in Arizona that he had property valued at $5,500.00.  At that time in history, only five other residents in that area owned that much property.

Perhaps Antonio was related to Pablo in one way or another. Perhaps when the family parted their ways back to Mexico, Antonio decided to follow his own path to Arizona. Of course this last part of my story is speculation, although I am still trying to put the pieces together. I am sure we will never know the exact history of this exciting and mysterious story of a forgotten town from the “gold rush” days. However,  it is history seekers like you, the reader and myself who continue to dig up stories such as these and make them available to other people that keeps history alive, and that is truly a treasure worth searching for.

J’aime Rubio (Copyright 5/11/2012) Republished 3/28/2018 

Amador County Library Archives
Thank you Bobby Keeling @ for the additional info.
History of Amador County, California – J.D. Mason (1881)
Amador County History (Archived Books)
which sampled work by Margaret Joyce- (Amador County Library)

2/2/03-Frank Love (Yuma Sun Newspaper)

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