Tuesday, March 08, 2005


Grumbling miners called it Dry Diggins. One of the first mining camps established in California’s western Sierra Nevada hills, it began in 1848 soon after the discovery of gold near the American River. By the end of the following year it had acquired an even more appropriate name: Hangtown.

A patriarch of an oak tree stood beside the camp’s main road. Miners were a rowdy lot who took upon themselves the administration of law and order when things really got out of hand. They lived in poverty, but rope was cheap and the tree was handy. Beginning with the triple hanging of three accused murderers (who’d been flogged so violently they couldn’t speak in their own defense), the tree was put to regular use for several years. Thousands were lynched in Hangtown, according to some accounts.

By 1854, the mining site had become a respectable municipality with permanent means of prosperity. Its citizens gave it the name it bears today: Placerville. Recognizing a good tourist draw, enterprising business folk cheerily commemorate the Hangtown years with historic monuments . . . including a hanging dummy.


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