Unless you were walking, you wouldn’t notice the scene and structure shown in the picture above, well off the Jackson Gate road, maybe three quarters of a mile from Highway 49. You see the remains of a former roof truss factory, in business in this modern era, but many years ago.
Of course, that derelict isn’t historic, but its site is: the approximate location of the eastern shaft of the former Oneida Gold Mine, sunk in the 1890s. That’s when the South Eureka Mining Company acquired the mine and sank a new shaft, maybe a half-mile away from its original three shafts. They were near the decaying Amador Central Railroad’s ramshackle depot and ancillary buildings.
Two other mines with eastern shafts come to mind. One is Sutter Creek’s Wildman, whose shaft and mill were about where the Gopher Flat post office parking lot is today, while its eastern shaft was drilled atop the hill, behind the old grammar school. The other is the Kennedy, which had many shafts in its life, but left those near today’s Highway 49/88 to drill where you see the headframe now.
Why easterly shafts distant from the others? The main Mother Lode vein dips easterly, meaning, the deeper you go, the farther easterly the ledge bends or dips. All the mines, therefore, found it more efficient to go east to mine with vertical or straight-down shafts to the ore, rather than continue to mine deeper and deeper through incline shafts tracking the dip.
In the Oneida’s case, they expected to hit the inclining vein about 1,750 feet straight down. They missed by about 150 feet, close enough but a bit more costly.
The Oneida Mine would not rank among the county’s top gold producers: Central Eureka, Keystone, Kennedy, Argonaut and Plymouth Consolidated. Yet, it is historic, because it was opened in 1851 and quickly became a dividend maker, while its adjoining mine, the Kennedy, didn’t open until at least 1855 and briefly produced dividends in the 1870s before shutting down until the 1880s.
The Oneida — named by New Yorkers — is also famous for a role in the “Amador War” of 1871, the first confrontation between unionized miners and mine owners in Amador’s mining history. That battle brought state militia to Amador to protect the mines and keep them open. One company of soldiers camped in Sutter Creek, on Amador Mine mining ground. The other bivouacked on Oneida land at Camp Morgan, named after the owner of the mine. We have sketches of both camps. No soldiers were killed, nor did soldiers kill miners, but there were other casualties.
The Oneida Mine named the valley where the truss factory ruins stand and the Jackson Creek’s North Fork splits into smaller forks, one of which drains northerly up to New York Ridge, upon whose back Ridge Road rides. That part of Oneida valley is accessed by Raggio Road, named after a 19th-century Italian immigrant who settled with lots of children.
Due north of Raggio Road and its adjacent valley is a bluff, or shoulder, of New York Ridge, on whose top the Running Gold subdivision sits. At the bluff’s base, early miners tunneled for placer deposits left by long-ago rivers. One such tunnel claim was the Wildcat, which made thousands for its owners in the 1860s. One chief owner was Marie (Madame Pantalons) Suize, probably the most-celebrated woman in county history. Off that tunnel’s bounty she bought land out near Clinton, planted vineyards and eventually had retail outlets for her Amador wine in Carson City and San Francisco.
It was she who insisted on wearing men’s pants — “better to work in” — and, thus attired, was arrested in San Francisco and in Amador for unwomanly behavior. She later lost her money in the silver collapse and returned to Amador to die penniless in the 1890s. She lies buried, probably near cousins, in the Jackson Catholic Cemetery.
In Oneida Valley in those days were mostly Irish at the Oneida and Kennedy Mines, and French and Italians on valley ranches, and mostly Italians in Jackson Gate. In business today in Jackson Gate is a fifth-generation Chichizola descendant from one of the early settlers.
Early placer mining in that area was on both flanks of Humbug Ridge, that long prominence behind the Kennedy Mine. Also active was Ohio Hill, that rise easterly behind Jackson Gate.
Today’s Jackson Gate Road was the principal stage road in an out of Jackson from 1851 until 1855 and shared traffic with what is today’s Argonaut Street, which descended into Jackson. Traffic which could afford it moved to the new Vogan Toll Road early in the Civil War, which cut down the easterly boundary of the early claims that became the Argonaut and Kennedy. Argonaut Street was the westerly boundary of those claims.
The old truss factory is falling in; the Oneida’s life until 1913 long ceased; what were once Pernollet’s fecund orchards and gardens are brown and bare ground. But much life in the pictured empty spaces of Oneida Valley once stirred.