Gold mining in southern Tuolumne County began in 1849 when James Savage, led by Native Americans of the area, discovered gold near present-day Big Oak Flat. More finds were made along creeks to the east. Together, these became known as “Savage’s Diggings.”
After Savage left the area in 1850, the first gold camp was renamed Big Oak Flat in honor of a gigantic oak tree. A smaller camp to the east was called Garrote, a Spanish word referring to hanging. The surrounding areas were exploited using placer mining. Big Oak Flat, in particular, boomed into a bustling town of about 3,000.
To provide water and support mining, the Golden Rock Water Company was formed by Andrew Rocca in 1855. It brought water 40 miles from the South Fork Tuolumne River via a system of ditches and flumes. Unfortunately, a disastrous fire in 1863 completely destroyed Big Oak Flat, which never recovered.
By the 1870s easily exploitable gold was substantially depleted. The feverish God Rush was over. However, starting in the 1880s, new technologies led to a second boom in hard rock mining, which required deep shafts dug into the earth. Numerous mills sprang up in Big Oak Flat and Garrote which became Groveland to process the ore lifted out of the shafts.
By the 1920s this second boom also faltered due to stagnant gold prices and declining ore. By 1950 gold mining had completely ceased.
Placer miners with water sluice