Timbuctoo / Smartsville / Mooney Flat – Hydraulic Mining and the First Environmental 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 environmental 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.

Pioneer Day – Yearly – Last Saturday in April

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


CalEXPLORnia – Timbuctoo
CalEXPLORnia  – the church of Immaculate Conception
Chapman University – Huell Howser Archives – Timbucktoo / Smartsville (video)
Ghost Towns – Timbuctoo
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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