Friday, April 30, 2021

La Grange, California and Gold in Stanislaus County by Zina Abbott

Gold was first discovered along the Tuolumne River in Stanislaus County, California, in about 1850 by a group of men from France. They named their camp French Bar since they found the gold on a sandbar in the middle of the river.


Historic Louie's Place

After a series of destructive floods along the river during 1851 and 1852, they moved about one mile upstream to get away from the flood plains. Their new community was founded in 1852. In 1856, the name of the town was changed to La Grange. One source says this was in honor of Lafayette's country home. Another source said it was in honor of General La Grange of France. (Joseph Burton Vasche) The name is French and means "the barn" or "the farm". The town prospered as both a mining and agricultural community.

Hammond and Bates Store

By 1854, there were over 100 buildings in La Grange. For a time Bret Harte taught school here.

La Grange Stagecoach Stop-iron doors typical of 1850s  

Historic La Grange School

La Grange became the county seat of Stanislaus County in 1856. Aside from its French population, the community included a significant Chinatown in its early years. At its height, the community had thousands of residents, but it was a largely lawless town. As the gold mining declined, so did the population. In 1862, Knights Ferry became the county seat.

Kingen Hotel

On June 3, 1869, John Muir departed Le Grange (French Bar) with a sheep herder and a flock of sheep and headed for the headwaters of the Merced and Tuolumne rivers. He writes the folloiwing in his book "My First Summer in the Sierra". In chapter one, Muir describes leaving French bar and moving with the flock into the hills near Coulterville. "This morning provisions, camp-kettles, blankets, plant-press, etc., were packed on two horses, the flock headed for the tawny foothills, and away we sauntered in a cloud of dust: Mr. Delaney, bony and tall, with sharply hacked profile like Don Quixote, leading the pack-horses, Billy, the proud shepherd, a Chinaman and a Digger Indian to assist in driving for the first few days in the brushy foothills, and myself with notebook tied to my belt. The home ranch from which we set out is on the south side of the Tuolumne River near French Bar, where the foothills of metamorphic gold-bearing slates dip below the stratified deposits of the Central Valley". In Many ways, this experience moves him so much, that he writes eloquently of the Yosemite area. His books are read by Americans including President Theodore Roosevelt. Muir becomes the face of a new conservation movement to save the Yosemite and creation of Yosemite National Park. [Source: "My First Summer In The Sierra", by John Muir - HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY 1917]

Tuolumne Gold Dredge west of La Grange

By 1880, mining had ceased with the exception of gold dredgers which continued to operate until the early 1950s. The dredging field extends westward from the town of La Grange along the Tuolumne River for nine miles. This district also includes a dredging field two miles to the south, on an older river channel, and surface "diggings" to the north.

The above is a photograph of the Tuolumne Gold Dredge, also known as the "Gray Goose", in La Grange, California, taken in 1980 just before it was shipped to the Alaska gold fields.

St. Paul's Catholic Church

La Grange is now a registered California Historical Landmark historic district. Today, a post office, a supermarket, an elementary school (as of fall, 2015, after a brief stint as a charter school, the public school was closed), and a High School (Don Pedro High School) still operate in La Grange. Also functioning is the oldest church in Stanislaus County, St. Louis Roman Catholic Church, with a cemetery containing tombstones dating to the mid-1800s. As of 2008 it has a population of 345.

What was a common occurrence in California counties held true for Stanislaus County. Its first county seat was Adamsville, a community along the Tuolumne River near where it joins the San Joaquin River, but it was shortly moved to La Grange in the eastern part of the county—the gold fields. The county seat was next moved a little farther west to Knights Ferry, also near where gold was found in Stanislaus county. In 1871, it was moved away from the gold-rich foothills to the brand new railroad town of Modesto in the valley. By then, the focus had turned from gold to agriculture. Modesto is still the county seat today.

In 1869, the year in which my novel, Cole, is set, both La Grange and Knights Ferry were active and well-known towns. Modesto did not exist. However, a secondary plot in this book is the struggle over who will be the power behind the railroad coming to this part of California.

To find the book description and purchase link for Cole, book 8 in the Cupids and Cowboys series, please CLICK HERE.





La Grange Historical Plaque, State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with Morada Parlor No. 199, Native Daughters of the Golden West, October 13, 1984

Display regarding La Grange and Gold Mining in Stanislaus County at McHenry Museum, Stanislaus County, California

Wikipedia, La Grange, California



  1. Zina, thanks for an interesting post, also must say, that Cole is a nice lookin' cowboy! May I ask, where do you find your covers?

  2. Zina, this was an interesting post. I like that you traced the community from its origin to today. Certainly, the town has seen remarkable changes since gold was first discovered there.
    COLE is a handsome cover. Best wishes for continued success.


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West! We are very sad to require comment moderation now due to the actions of a few spam comments. Thank you for your patience.