Gold Rush

Finding stuff on the way to Timbuctoo

The goal on our most recent trip was an exotic sounding place in Yuba County, Timbuctoo. Other than an unusual name we knew little about it. We leave with the idea that we would try and find any signs of the old emigrant trail that once passed along this general direction. Other than those goals we left ourselves open to whatever the road would reveal to us on that day.

Camp Far West is a few miles east of Wheatland, a small town on the east side of the Central Valley. It was an army outpost during the emigration days in the later 1840s and early 1850s. Located just a few miles from Johnson's Ranch, which was the fabled end of the trail for many California bound travelers. Once you reached Johnson' Ranch, you’d made it! We wanted to try and follow as much of the old trail as we could, as it wound its way in the general direction from near Timbuctoo. We would keep our eyes open for wagon ruts, trail signs, or any other indication we were on the right path.

Monica walks among the Graham Hotel and Truckee Trail markers. Graham’s hotel stood for many years servicing travelers over the old road. yo can see the wagon ruts headed over the hill in the background.

Monica walks among the Graham Hotel and Truckee Trail markers. Graham’s hotel stood for many years servicing travelers over the old road. yo can see the wagon ruts headed over the hill in the background.

We visited the Truckee trail "T Marker" and sign for Grahams Hotel by Lake Camp Far West. At this place, the wagon ruts can be seen headed down the hill. We would try and follow the trail back from here so we headed up Camp Far West Road which we felt would give us a view of the wagon ruts on the other side of the hill. They were easy for us to spot as we knew they were coming our way, and we've gotten better at detecting these old trails. Often they are more of an impression of a trail than an obvious path, as they have generally not been traveled on for well over 15 years. Sometimes erosion wears the track into more of a gully, and other times the ruts are still quite visible. The ones coming over the hill here are in between easy to see and hard. More of a swale than a path actually, but quite obvious when we know the trail came over the hill this direction.

You can see, though very faint, the two tracks headed from the hill in the back, towards the hill directly in front. These tracks were made by thousands of metal rimed wooden wheels carrying emigrant and others wagons. Camp Far West Reservoir is just over that ridge.

You can see, though very faint, the two tracks headed from the hill in the back, towards the hill directly in front. These tracks were made by thousands of metal rimed wooden wheels carrying emigrant and others wagons. Camp Far West Reservoir is just over that ridge.

Now we headed up Camp Far West Road towards a name on the map, Waldo. Waldo was known initially as Cabbage Patch, named for the cabbages that were grown to sell to travelers. We had read that Waldo or Cabbage Patch was a way-point along the old wagon road. We found out after the trip there is even a Cabbage Patch Cemetery, which we will try and find on our next trip.

I wonder what’s down that road?

I wonder what’s down that road?

At Waldo, we decided to take a side trip, which is something we do all the time. Our destination is more of a hope than written in stone. If we don't make it because something else has come up, that's OK. The secret to finding these old sites and what they hold is a willingness to change plans during the adventure. We decided to check out another name on the map, Spenceville, located down that road.

Our first inkling that Spenceville held more surprises for us, a abandoned bridge going from where to where? It wasn’t the only bridge we happened upon.

Our first inkling that Spenceville held more surprises for us, a abandoned bridge going from where to where? It wasn’t the only bridge we happened upon.

In my next post we’ll discuss Spenceville and the finds we made there!

We're on our way to Timbuctoo!

In 1850 Timbuctoo, like most Gold Rush towns, built itself from the wealth generated by gold panning. It is located on a bluff above The Yuba River, close to the gold bearing sand bars, but high enough to avoid flooding. Once the easy gold was panned out, they moved on to hydraulic mining of the bluffs around 1854. It's through this method of extraction that Timbuctoo gained its fabulous wealth.

Hydraulic mining in Timbuctoo.

Hydraulic mining in Timbuctoo.

As the town grew, it built a theater that could house 800 people, a bank, bakery, hotels, even an ice skating rink! The wealth continued to flow until 1884 when downstream farmers sued to end all hydraulic mining in the state. The hydraulic mining was causing massive amounts of sediment to move downstream causing flooding and a loss of agricultural land. It was also making riverboat travel difficult as sandbars would form and re-form making navigation tricky. The District Court in San Francisco agreed and shut down all hydraulic mining. Timbuctoo was doomed!

Timbuctoo in 1862. The stage is passing in front of Stewart’s Wells Fargo Store.

Timbuctoo in 1862. The stage is passing in front of Stewart’s Wells Fargo Store.

The court ruling putting an end to hydraulic mining caused Timbuctoo to decline as miners their families and the businesses that grew up to support them moved away. Soon there was very little left of the town. During the 20th Century, there was an effort to preserve what little was left. Stewart's Wells Fargo Store was the most robust of what was still standing. The remaining townspeople had it preserved with a new roof and commemorative signs.

The preserved Stewart’s Store in 1945.

The preserved Stewart’s Store in 1945.

During the early part of the 20th Century, Timbuctoo enjoyed something of a revival as a historic stop on the road. It became quite popular with people looking for the story of California's history. Before 1980 the main road passed through town, thus making it much easier for people to stop and check it out. When Highway 20 was re-aligned in the 1980s, it bypassed Timbuctoo, and like so many other Gold Rush communities that have had the main road realigned away from town, it faded away.

Stewart’s Store today.

Stewart’s Store today.

Soon the impetus that had driven the people to try and save the remaining structure(s) also died, and rumors of gold in the walls of the old building brought vandals, and they tore the old structure down. Now there are no standing structures from the early days, just a crumbling mass of bricks. You have to see the old photos and drawings of the town to get a feel for how wealthy and busy Timbuctoo was.

Monica checking out the old bridge crossing of The Yuba River.

Monica checking out the old bridge crossing of The Yuba River.

There is so much to explore near Timbuctoo. The road coming in from the west passes over the Yuba River, where you can see the support of the old bridge that crossed the river. The Town of Samrtsville is just a mile or so from Timbuctoo and has a great story of its own. Is it spelled with a "s" or not, Smartville? A little further lies Rough and Ready, a town that also built itself from gold, as well as it's spot on the old Emigrant Trail to Johnson's Ranch in Wheatland.

Timbuctoo in the 1860’s and the exact same spot today, 2018.

Timbuctoo in the 1860’s and the exact same spot today, 2018.

Here is a short video, less than 5 minutes, concerning our adventure at Timbuctoo.