Word of new gold strikes in the Big Oak Flat and Groveland area spread quickly throughout the region, across the country, and even around the globe. It brought thousands of people to the area to seek their fortunes. Among the earliest were Mexicans who had lived in surrounding valleys. Their influence remains in numerous Spanish place names found in the area, such as Sonora and Garrote.
Many early settlers came from the American East, making the arduous journey across the Great Plains and mountains. Others came by sea via San Francisco, either “rounding the Horn” of South America or crossing the Isthmus of Panama.
Many adventurers, with English, Irish, and Scottish origins similar to earlier American settlers, arrived directly from Europe. A large number came from northern Italy and established prosperous lives in the region. Their success can be seen in Italian names on public facilities in the area such as Laveroni Park and Ferretti Road. In addition, many Chinese miners came and prospered, only to be forced to return due to ore depletion and anti-Chinese laws.
Through 1860, over 70 percent of residents were young men hopeful of mining's quick riches. There were so few women in the Big Oak Flat area that newly widowed Margaret Priest reportedly had 60 suitors in 1870. Men's desire for families and a fuller life led to an increase in women arrivals as the towns grew and matured. Among these pioneers were an extraordinary number of strong women, who helped farm the land and run the businesses, most while raising large families.
Descendants of many of these early families still call the Groveland area home.
Emanuella (Marconi) Raggio
(Photo Courtesy Diane Marconi Simpson)