Timbuctoo / Smartsville / Mooney Flat – Hydraulic Mining and the First Land Use Limit Law

Although the Mooney Flat is nearest to where Deer Creek enters the Yuba River, we’re including Smartsville and Timbuctoo in our history because immigrants and mining activities in the region made significant impacts on California laws and water rights.

 

Smartsville Main Street 1871

In the 1850s, Timbuctoo and Smartsville were centers of activity.  The population was between 1,000 to 4,000, many of them Irish immigrants.  With the invention of hydraulic mining, it became one of the wealthiest regions in California. Estimates say that millions of dollars of gold dust were moved through local business and the Wells Fargo headquarters in Smartsville.

Gold attracted more than miners.  Famous robbers such as ‘the Timbuctoo Terror,’ Jim Webster and Black Bart prowled the roads.

Profits from hydraulic mining encouraged boomtown growth, enriched mining corporations, and filled state coffers.

Between 1850 and 1878, the Excelsior company sent approximately eight million cubic yards of debris and plant matter into the Yuba River at Smartsville.

Washed out of the steep mountains, silt and debris settled, changing the course of waterways and making channels shallow. Riverboat traffic conducting trade between Sacramento and San Francisco was threatened. Alarmed by the danger of downstream flooding, farmers and townspeople created costly levee systems.

A lawsuit against the North Bloomfield Gravel and Mining Company and others was filed. In 1884, the United States District Court in San Francisco ruled in favor of the farmers, putting an end to hydraulic mining.

“In the late 1870s the annual value of the dry farmed wheat crop alone had reached $40,000,000, more than double that of the dwindling gold output.  According to geographer David Larsen, “The trend was clear and irreversible the pivot of prosperity had shifted permanently toward the fields.”

“Obviously, by outlawing the dumping of tailings there was improved water quality and fish habitat and there would be less toxins inadvertently released but this particular environmental remediation was incidental to the intent of the law.  Except in a very general way there were no environmental considerations addressed in the 24 volumes of testimony that were collected for Woodruff vs. North Bloomfield Mining and Gravel Company. This law was not created out of respect for Gaia, or any consideration whatsoever for stream ecology.  Simply put, the issue was business interests in the Sacramento Valley (agriculture) were losing income to the wasteful procedures of a powerful upslope industry (hydraulic mining).  Specifically agricultural lands were being covered with choking mud, towns were periodically flooded and steamboat operations were hampered by the decreased navigability of the rivers.  I can’t see how the Sawyer Decision exhibits environmental activism but it does represent the beginning of regulations in the public interest.  The Sawyer Decision effectively limits the ideology of laissez-faire, which legitimized the single-minded pursuit of wealth at all costs.  This alone is a very big step in the direction of conservation and sustainability.” – Hydraulic Mining in the Yuba and Bear River Basins – Yuba Trails and Tales, Hank Meals

Pioneer Day – Yearly – Last Saturday in April

If you liked this post, you might also like: Geology and Geography of Deer Creek

Resources:

CalEXPLORnia – Timbuctoo
CalEXPLORnia  – the church of Immaculate Conception
Chapman University – Huell Howser Archives – Timbucktoo / Smartsville (video)
Ghost Towns – Timbuctoo
Hydraulic Mining in the Yuba and Bear River Basins – Yuba Trails and Tales, Hank Meals
Malakoff Diggins State Park – Sawyer Decision to stop hydraulic mining
National Geographic – Sierra Nevada Geotourism – Smartsville
National Geographic – Sierra Nevada Geotourism – Timbuctoo
Nevada County, CA Historical Sites – Mooney Flat Hotel
Nevada County Historical Landmarks Commission – Mooney Flat Hotel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smartville Block –  mineral-rich ancient ocean terrain exposed by a tectonic plate collision resulting in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range.
Smartsville, CA – Wikipedia
Timbuctoo, CA – Wikipedia
USGenWeb Archives – Timbuctoo

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