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Blog Miner 49’er Diggin’ Up Gold Rush History in Madera County
Alex Silgalis | 09/09/2021Events, Gold Panning, Museums, History & Culture, Photography, Road Trip, Shopping & Other Services |   

Although there are countless defining moments that forever changed California's landscape, one of the biggest is when gold was discovered. It sparked a mass migration of epic proportions. California’s population blossomed from 800 non-natives to 100,000 in less than a year. Although Madera County’s focus was on farming, wine, and a gateway to Yosemite, Gold Rush fever hit it too.

There’s Gold in Them Hills!

Pasture Madera CountyThe wealth of California started with the discovery of gold. The city of San Francisco became the metropolis it is today due to this. And much of that gold was found in the foothills of the Sierra. Although mining has pretty much stopped, a good place to start is to follow California State Highway 49.

The Golden Chain

Numbered “49” after the 49er immigrants of mostly men in search of their own riches via gold. This highway is also known as the Golden Chain Highway. Like the name describes, it connects all the major historical boom towns that popped up due to miners arriving here, including where gold was discovered in 1848.

Grub Gulch

Near the end of Highway 49 was a gold rush town named Grub Gulch. The name comes from the fact that pretty much any miner that stopped here could pan (i.e. grub) enough gold to stake him on the gold fields further north.

For the first few decades, it was merely a shanty town with tents. It wasn’t until the placer mining on streams that this area really gained steam, and in the late 1880’s, a town was born. In its heyday, there were five saloons, a general store, a post office, and a boarding house. Out of the $1.35 million of gold extracted from Madera County, nearly $1 million came from here.

As the gold began to fizzle, so did the town. The decline happened rapidly after 1900. In 1910, the last saloon shut its doors. There were some positives during this era such as the arrival of Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir on their way to Yosemite in 1903. The true dagger was a new railroad to Yosemite and finally the age of the automobile.

Some buildings were moved to ranches like the Morrison Hotel. Others were torn down and some even went up in flames. As of today, the only thing left standing is a plaque and the town’s cemetery.

Poison Switch

Alongside the mining in the area, the lumber industry was booming too. You can see that intersection well in a place called “Poison Switch.” This spot was given this name because the first business was a saloon. As the teamsters unloaded the wagons to turn them around, they'd then “switch” off to the bar. Hence the superintendent called it the “Poison Switch.”

Even though a town didn’t exist here, it was a busy intersection because lumber from the Miami Mill was brought down here on wagons. From this point, they’d load it onto a flume (like the Walt Disney ride) to be floated to the town of Madera. The flume was over FIFTY miles long! For a deeper dive into its history, read our article Sugar Pine Lumber Company and the Madera Flume.


Just a bit further south of the terminus of Highway 49 on Highway 41 is the town of Coarsegold. About a year after the 1st gold strike in California, another discovery leaked out in a place called “Texas Flats.” Nearly 1,500 prospectors descended upon the area that’s just about one to two miles west of present-day Coarsegold.

Back then it was named “Michaels” after Charles Michaels who opened a general store. As the mining started to phase out, people began arriving to instead farm the land as some miners continued to work the streams and soil. Once the first post office opened in 1878, the town was given the name “Coarse Gold Gulch.” It then changed to “Gold Gulch” in 1895, finally settling on Coarsegold in 1899.

Although the mining is long gone, the town still has a strong sense of community setting itself apart in the region. Every weekend throughout summer the quaint historic village hosts a market where craftsmen, antique dealers, and individuals display their goods along with the Coarsegold Peddler’s Antique and Collectible Shows on Memorial & Labor Days. It’s also home to the Tarantula Festival a festival of the local eight-legged celebrities.

Gold Sparked Conservation

John Muir, side portrait on rock in YosemiteWith all the positives from making California richer, the gold mining itself was brutal to the environment. Conversationists such as John Muir saw this and realized something had to be done before the state’s other resource was gone – its pure, majestic beauty. He and his supporters helped save Yosemite National Park as well as create the Sierra Club.

Oakhurst – Where Two Roads Diverge

Robert Frost may have taken the road less traveled, but we believe you should take BOTH roads. Use Oakhurst as your first basecamp to see the world famous Yosemite National Park. Take in the granite-lined walls of the legendary landscape. Bask in the seasonal roaring waterfalls. And after you’ve had your fill of natural beauty, it’s time to take a closer look at the gold rush history that exists in this region.


Like what you see? Save any of these pins (or possibly all of them) to your travel planning board(s) to give you an easy way to find your way back here!  Also check out our other travel stories/blog posts as well as itineraries for more ideas and pins!

Alex Silgalis

Alex founded localfreshies.com® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.

Our annual Visit Yosemite | Madera County Visitors Guide can answer all your questions about visiting California's Gateway to Yosemite. From the park itself to the museums, wineries, art galleries and more throughout Madera County, our guide can help you plan the perfect vacation. Please note that we mail to the USA only, but anyone can download the guide.
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