A History of Tuolumne
In 1850 the Township of Tuolumne was established by the newly formed California Legislature. That same year at the age of 24 Franklin Summers, would travel “Round the Horn” to visit his 3 brothers in the gold fields of California. His oldest brother George a doctor, his older brother James and his younger brother Jack (John) who is just 18 had already staked their claim in Shaw’s Flat during the gold rush of 1849. The following year Franklin returns home to Missouri with the intention of bring back his young wife Elizabeth and their 2 year old daughter Lee Ann. Before leaving he orders and pays for enough lumber to build his new family home on his return. Traveling with him will also be his parents and the rest of his 9 brothers and sisters. This time they will be going overland along the Oregon Trail and in the spring of 1852 the Summers family set out for California.
During their journey the family experiences the loss of Frank’s younger sister Emily and then his father Samuel. Finally after 6 months of traveling the family arrives at Shaw’s Flat in November of 1852. Time passes quickly and in 1854 Franklin sells his claim. Looking for greener pastures the young couple decide on a place in
the Tuolumne Township, a 2 day, 10 mile journey into nowhere. Packing up their worldly possessions in an ox-cart Franklin, Elizabeth and Lee Ann make the trip to the west bank of Turnback Creek. Sparsely populated at the time of their arrival, the Summers’ chose a location in the vicinity of what is now Crowbar Lane on Tuolumne Road.
Their new log home was a simple structure with a dirt floor and a fireplace to provide heat during the unusually cold winter of 1854.
The following spring they planted a garden with the seeds they had brought from Missouri. Later on that year Elizabeth would bare a son calling him John. For just a moment all was right in the world.
Now if you’re hoping that our story takes this brave couple from these
humble beginnings and somehow catapults them into riches, comfort and
living happily ever after you will be disappointed. For the violence and
injustice that marks this period in California History is preparing to cast its
shadow over our hero’s. In the course of the following year their family
would suffer a devastating loss.
Enter the villains, the James Dickinson family. On a cold day in March of
1856, Frank Summers and his brother George made the 40 mile journey to
the Fifth District Courthouse in La Grange to settle a land dispute with the
Dickinson’s. La Grange with its’ new found wealth had just become the new
seat for Stanislaus County. The Dickinson’s were an influential family in La
Grange running the local ferry. Ill feelings had been brewing between the
two families for years and finally they were going to have their day in court.
After a day of arguing their cases it was just about sundown when the court
was adjourned. James and his friends consisting of some 15 men had left
the courtroom and were thought to have started home. George and Frank
Summers remained conversing with each other. When the 2 turned to leave
the building the group reentered and began to brutally attack them. The
brawl that ensued ended in gunfire. George Summers was knocked down and
shot six times while lying on the floor. Frank was shot in the thigh then
his right arm which broke into splinters above the elbow. Another shot
entered his chest traveled through his left lung and exited under his left
shoulder-blade. The final shot hit him square in the chest killing him
instantly. George Summers tells it like this, ’”I was struck in the face. I
thought one man took hold of me by the hair of the head, pulled me about
half-bent, and held me in that position, whilst some others gave me blows.
After some little tussling they jerked me to the floor. About this time I
heard the report of a pistol, several others in quick succession. I could see
no one for the men over me. I was stamped, beaten and shot at I suppose,
as I have been creditably informed that six bullet holes were in the floor near
where my head lay, endeavoring to blow my brains out. The firing ceased,
they drew me out of the house by the hair of my head, believing me to be
dead, without a doubt, and still continuing to stamp me. My deceased
brother was by my side when the row commenced. I saw him no more until I
saw him a corpse.” There are no records indicating any justice for the
Summers Family. The altercation seems to have been considered an act of
The hopes and dreams of 24 year old Elizabeth Summers had been
shattered. “Oh, the awful sorrow and desolation of that bereft home” recalls
Lee Ann Summers who was just 7 years old at the time. The woman who had
left the comforts of civilization and traveled months across Indian territory
was now alone with 2 small children in the middle of nowhere.
That Spring, Men began pouring in from all over the world seeking their
share of the unclaimed riches that were scattered across the Mother Lode.
The Summers home on Turnback Creek becomes the stage for a wild gold
rush, littering the landscape with pans, rockers and sluice boxes were the implements of gold fever. Almost overnight the nearby towns of Long Gulch and Cherokee sprang into existence. With no means of support, the widow Summers would eventually turn what once was her family home into a boarding house. Elizabeth took in strangers and treated them as her own family, most of the time she provided miners with food and shelter until they could afford to pay her.
Now gold is gathered in many ways and placer gold is found in places where
water was or is flowing. These deposits are the result of erosion that occurs
over many years as the rain washes bits and pieces of gold from the
mountain sides and gathers them into streams and rivers. Basically it’s the
stuff that you can find right on top of the ground or with a little digging.
Since the creek is not the source but the repository, there remains a limited
At this point I must introduce two vital characters in our story, William
Connolly and Charles H. Carter. You will remember I mentioned that other
settlements had sprung up as a result of placer gold being discovered in
Turnback Creek. Located two miles south of Summersville, where what is now
Apple Colony Road and Baker’s Ranch, stood the town of Long Gulch. Here
Charles H. Carter, had just purchased the General Store and was enjoying the
fruits of entrepreneurial bliss. As was often the custom in that day Carters
Store was the site of a meetings held by local miners. One night in 1857 the
topic of discussion was whether or not to allow Chinese into the area. The
debate raged for hours into the night and ended when several miners went
outside, got their guns and proceeded to shoot up Mr Carters Store. One eye
witness said “it looked like a slaughter-house”. The assault left one man
dead and several wounded. One of the injured men was William Connolly.
Remember how I said Elizabeth Summers would help miners until they could
get on their feet? Well Mr. Connolly was one of those men. It took months
for him to mend and as Elizabeth cared for him her heart began to entertain
feelings of love once again. About the same time, as fortune would have it,
brothers William and James Blakely need a place to stay and someone to
take care of them. Elizabeth did so with the expectation that when they
were able she would be compensated. She didn’t have to wait to long for the
two coal miners from Cornwall England eventually discover a massive quartz
lode about two hundred yards off present day First Avenue. Christened the
“Eureka Quartz Mine“ the 600 foot wide, 1200 foot long claim would
revitalize the community and make the Blakely brothers very rich. This event
came at a very critical time in the towns history. You see by 1857 it was
becoming apparent to everyone that the placer gold deposits were running
out. What had taken nature years to accumulate in the streams and creek
beds around Tuolumne Township had been almost fully harvested.
Men from all over poured in and some of the miners begin to call the area Quartzville. The Blakely brothers, now the most influential men in the area would have none of it. They went to Mrs. Summers who had been so kind to them and asked her permission to call the new town “Elizabethville”. Mrs.Summers declined the honor suggesting the settlement be named “Summersville” in memory of her late husband and so it was.
Meanwhile, Charles Carter seeing an opportunity to expand his interests as well, moves his entire operation to Summersville, just a few hundred yards from the site of the new Eureka Mine.
Mr. Carter built his new store on the Northeast side of the Town Plaza located on what is now the North corner of Buchanan Mine Road and Carter Street. The Plaza or The Commons as it is called now became the center of the business district.
The love between the widow Summers and Mr Connolly continued to grow during this period and in August of 1858 they are married. The couple would eventually move out on Apple Colony Road and start a ranch. They would have 4 sons, William Jr, Charles, Frank, George and a daughter Alice. William Sr was eventually elected to the State Assembly and died while away in Sacramento. Elizabeth spent her remaining years at her son Charles’ dairy in Long Gulch and passed out of this life on December 5th of 1901 at the age of 69.
The Blakely brothers didn’t fare so well. Shortly after selling their interest in the Eureka Quartz Mine they be came involved in a plot to swindle Jim Lyons out of his land near Sullivan’s Creek. The normally good-natured Lyons was an illiterate but trusting soul. However upon finding out that he had actually signed away his interests in the valuable estate he shot and killed William. James would lose an arm in the incident and not much is recorded after this.
Over the years, little by little, Summersville grows into a thriving community with stores, hotels, saloons, a doctor, a lawyer, butcher shops, drug stores, an express office, fraternal organizations, several churches, a cigar manufacturer, livery stables, barber shops, milliners and dressmakers. Mary Francis Summers Sister to Frank and George had married William Gibbs and in 1860 they along with their 11 children moved to Summersville. Eventually their boys James and Jessy would open Gibbs Brothers General Merchandise.
Thirty years come and go and in 1888 Summersville residents petitioned to have their own post office. Fearing confusion, the Postal Service denied the town’s petition because an existing post office called “Somersville” in Contra Costa County. Later that year it was agreed that since the post office was located at the store of Charles Carter, the town would be called “Carters”. The request was subsequently affirmed and on December 14, 1888 Carters was born.
On January 1st 1897 the Sierra Railway of California was incorporated. New York entrepreneur Thomas S. Bullock along with banker William Crocker of the Sierra Pacific Railroad and Polish Prince, Andre Poniatowski who represented wealthy French investors begin to lay the first forty-one miles of track from Oakdale to Jamestown. Bullock, who had been competitively forced out of Arizona brought the rails and engines from his original railroad investments on the Prescott and Arizona Central. By November 10th at the end of the line the new Jamestown depot hosted a roundhouse and the operations central maintenance facility. The connection line to Sonora was completed in February of 1899. No, I haven’t taken you off on some wild tangent, this is going somewhere.
In March of 1899 the group purchases 600 hundred acres from Frank Baker, a Canadian immigrant who with his wife Delia had set up a ranch on Turnback Creek in 1882.
Then in May of 1899 with the help of Henry J. Crocker, Wellington Gregg, and Charles Gardner forms the West Side Flume & Lumber Co. From the depot in Sonora they add another 12 miles to reach the outskirts of Carters and the portion of land they purchased from the Bakers. By February 1 of 1900 the project is complete. At the end of the line sits the newly constructed lumber mill, rail station and corporate offices. Depot Plaza at New Town becomes known as the“Tuolumne Station” and later that year the WSFL&LC incorporates the Hetch- Hetchy, Yosemite Valley RR (narrow gauge).
In 1901, Bullock opens the Turnback Inn and establishes a post office in the WSFL&LC corporate offices. Two devastating fires in 1905 and 1906 pretty much level the “Old Town” taking with it the Carters store/post office. The only buildings left standing are Lord’s Butcher Shop and The Templars Hall. By 1908, the Old Town and New Town post offices are combined at one location. However, the official name for the area was resolved in a different way and the community was officially named Tuolumne in 1909.
This has merely been an attempt to conserve the truth. I did find discrepancies in the recordings of these events and where necessary used romantic license to
bind the story.
Sincerely, Tony Krieg
Sources of Information:
Tuolumne County Historical Society
Sierra Rail Road
California State Rail Road Museum
Online Archives of California
Sierra Logging Museum
Goby’s List of Historic Sites
Special thanks to Rick and Lynn
Jerome of The Tuolumne City
Memorial Museum and Ron Parker.
Photographs used with the permission of the
TCMM and can be purchased at the Museum.