Jumping Frogs and Tiny Tombstones

It’s really not too far as the crow flies from Windsor to Angels Camp, but then the crow doesn’t bring a large cooler, two suitcases, and much, much more, so it’s about a three hour drive. Accented by “greyout” rain, ½” hail (I thought we’d have dents for sure, glad we didn’t), then several miles of twisty, roller-coaster, up and down and around roads with 15 mph blind corners (no motor homes or commercial trucks allowed). The kind that can give some people panic attacks, and others enjoy. Oh, and then there was the tornado warning when we checked in! 

The next day was much calmer, with puffy white clouds accenting a blue sky as they followed their rainmaker friends east, so we got out for a nice 60 minute walk, then headed to Angels Camp for provisions. On the way, we couldn’t remember if we’d “done” Angels Camp before, so we parked and walked the historic part of old downtown. 

Dispelling my inaccurate thoughts about how the town got its name, we learned it was founded by George Angel in 1849. He had made some money in the gold fields, and used it to build a building to sell provisions to the other miners. He ended up founding the town (Angels Camp is the only incorporated city in Calaveras County!) and was much loved by everyone.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) spent some time here after being fired from multiple jobs in the south and the west, a brush with the law, and penniless. He attempted suicide, putting a gun to his head, but couldn’t pull the trigger. Some friends had a cabin a few miles from town, where he holed up a spell, coming into town now and again, hanging out at the local hotel/bar with a number of people, including one old guy who would occasionally stare off into space, and say “That reminds me of a time when …” and then spin a tall tale he would set forth as fact. One of those tales was the basis of “The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County” (summary here) which was published in 1865 and the first of his works to get any recognition. As a life-long fan of Clemens/Twain, it kinda felt like I was visiting a shrine of sorts.

Many of the buildings in the historic district were built in the 1850’s, including an Odd Fellows hall built in 1856. We walked the whole area; unfortunately, many businesses were closed for the day, many for good. Peering through dusty windows, it seemed like some may still have the original interiors; what we would have given to be able to wander around and let our imaginations people then with miners, drifters, scam artists and ladies of the night. 

We found an old Congregational Church built in that era with several tombstones crammed together in a space that couldn’t have been larger than 12’x12’. Most of those interred died in their mid-30’s, around 1858 or so. Alongside the large monuments were tiny headstones, just larger than a foot square, with the initials of the deceased. So curious!  Had these all been moved from elsewhere? The historical marker on the church neglected to tell that story.

From there we wandered up the street to a small hill, looking for homes that might have been built around that time, but most were newer, or were otherwise less than interesting. We came to the top of the hill and found a concrete slab maybe 30’x30’ with square, tapering concrete pillars no more than 6’ tall, plus some other ground level concrete … foundations? But best of all, a field of purple wildflowers overlooking the downtown. And curiously clear of broken glass, crushed cans and other garbage. What was the story here? Alas, no historical plaque here to inform us. 

This was our third stay at the condos on the PGA Greenhorn Creek Golfcourse, but the first time we actually explored the town. So glad we got to take the time to check out this little slice of history!

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