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E-Ticket on the East Fork

By Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff

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Photo of Follows Camp around 1908 and home of Roberts Store, the oldest building in the San
Gabriel Mountains.
In Southern California an "E" ticket has always been synonymous with the best entertainment attractions available. With me being a treasure seeker I needed a place nearby to hunt to my heart's content, so after a little research I found my "E" ticket, the East Fork of the San Gabriel River.

Located in the Angles National Forest, the San Gabriel River winds its way north from the city of Azusa, California shadowed closely by Highway 39. About 10 miles from the mouth of the canyon is the steel and concrete bridge that is the gateway to the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. This is where my "E" ticket starts.

You can pick your category of treasure hunting for the day and then just go to it. Are you looking for sites to metal detect, an area to prospect for gold, lost mines, or ghost towns? The East fork has it all along with the untamed and scenic beauty of the San Gabriel Mountains.
First let me take you back to the 1850's, a time when gold in California was the lure to catch the attention of any man willing and able to seek his fortune. Although most men ended up in the gold fields in the north a few were lucky enough to make strikes right here in the San Gabriel's. In 1854 the first strike was noted in the Los Angeles Star and from that time on people streamed into the canyon to seek their fortunes. By May of 1859 the entire stretch of the East Fork was being prospected and it is said that 'color' could be detected in each and every pan.

Over the last 130 years it is estimated that around $13 million in gold has been retrieved in one form or another out of the waters of the East Fork and the surrounding mountains that feed it. Placer mining is still very popular today with prospectors looking to add a bit of 'color' to their lives. Panning, sluicing, and dredging can be watched in action most times of the year except during high water.

This prospector likes to sample the ancient river gravel in the benches nearly 75 to 100 feet above the river. I've had good luck quite often and know of others that recently pulled out at least 7 ounces from a spot know known as 'Nugget Gulch.'

About two miles into the canyon on your right is the site of Camp Oak Grove. For you hunters of buried stagecoach loot, this spot is known for the Oak Grove Treasure. It was in the year 1853 that a quartet of bandits held up a stage around the present day town of Claremont.

$30,000 was in the Wells Fargo chest that was thrown down from the stage. The four bandits headed up San Antonio Canyon with the loot and then west on the East Fork of the San Gabriel. As they were reaching the junction of the East Fork and the west fork of the river the men split up knowing a posse was hot on their trail. The leader of the gang stopped around the area we now call Camp Oak Grove and it was around there that he buried the saddlebags filled with loot. The other three bandits were killed near the Rincon Ranger Station. Eventually the leader was also overtaken and killed. The money was never recovered.

A mile farther up the river is the site of the oldest standing building in the entire San Gabriel Mountains. It is called Roberts Store and it was built in the year 1861 by Henry Roberts to supply the seemingly endless stream of miners that were flowing into the canyon seeking the yellow metal. Roberts who ran the store and a stage line watched eagerly the men who withdrew the gold deposited in the banks and benches along the East Fork. Roberts invested in hydraulic mining equipment, which left the scars you see on the left side of the road right at Follows Camp. The hydraulic mine used water, gravity fed from ponds higher in the canyon, through pipes, and finally out of a monitor, that washed down the mountain side. The gravel and dirt then was run through the long sluice boxes to retrieve the gold. The mine had only moderate success until the 1874 injunction against polluting the waters brought the whole business to a halt.

The old Roberts Store is now a mini museum located on the property of Follows Camp. The camp was founded in 1896 by Ralph Follows, an Englishman who had come to the area because of the therapeutic healing powers thought to be found in the canyon. Almost immediately Follows health improved and he set out to build a resort. The camp eventually held up to 200 guests in tents and cabins that were brought up from Azusa some 12 miles away by a stage line that Follows started himself to improve business. The place did a fine trade until the 1920s when the automobile and paved roads took away the remoteness of the camp to travelers. The Camp still exists today offering overnight camping, a restaurant, museum, and a mining supply store. The camp is often the site of Blue Grass Festivals and Gold Mining shows.
Up most of the auxiliary canyons are small tunnels and workings of the early miners. Detectorists and prospectors are seen all times of the year searching for nuggets in these canyons and washes.

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At the merging of the East Fork and Cattle Canyon is the ghost town site of Elodradoville.

At the merging of the East Fork and Cattle Canyon is the ghost town site of Eldoradoville. The town sprang to life in 1859 complete with a boarding house, butcher shop, barber, and three stores. Of course it also had its share of saloons. Some say there were as many as six to wet the whistle of the parched miners. A canyon resident named John Robb said he made more money by running the sawdust from under the saloons through his sluice box then he did from real mining. It seems the miners when they drank were quite sloppy with their poke.

Wells Fargo & Co. reported in August of 1861 that shipments of $15,000 a month in gold were delivered to the Los Angeles office from the mines in the canyon. Amongst the hundreds of miners working the river was Jacob Waltz. Waltz went on to become the discoverer of the famous Lost Dutchman's Mine in Arizona. He and many others left for other areas after the fateful night of January 17-18, 1862. On that heartbreaking night a horrendous rainstorm hit the San Gabriel Mountains and the following morning a wall of water swept down the river taking with it everything in its path. Saloons, cabins, tents, equipment, and personal belongings were all indiscriminately washed away never to be seen again. The miners scattered to higher ground and soon left for less riskier parts.

Just up from the site of Eldoradoville in Cattle Canyon was the home of Camp Bonita, which housed a fishing lodge and tents for anglers. The San Gabriel River was known then for large catches of trout. The area is still stocked and fished quite often but the days of 50 fish in a day are long gone.

Finally you reach the roads end, some six miles from the start at the East Fork Bridge. From this point on you must travel by foot. At the bottom of the hill below the parking lot was the depression mining camp called Hooverville. Early pictures show the area dotted with tents and shacks.

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Typical 'coyote hole' found around the East Fork. Notice the ancient river gravel deposit just above the hole. This spot is 100' above the riverbed.

If you follow the fire road at the far end of the parking lot it will lead you to an area called Heaton's Flats. Along the way you will also notice workings on the left side of the road and on the right is a 'coyote hole' just big enough to crawl through that opens up to reveal a large but very unstable cavern tunneled out by early Indian miners. I can testify to the fact that these 'coyote holes' litter the mountainside everywhere there are ancient gravel deposits to be found. The Indian miners would burrow into a deposit that contained gold and follow the layer until it played out. Some of these holes are just big enough to slide in and you can't turn around or barely move in any direction but in or out. These holes in the gravel banks are very dangerous and I recommend you stay out. Besides being soft and unstable ground they are the dwellings of choice for many wildlife creatures including the rattlesnake.

Just before Heaton Flats is a brush covered trail to the right that heads into a small canyon. Once you find yourself at the end of the trail you'll find a hard rock mine tunnel. This mine tunnels in some 75 feet and then branches off for another 50 feet or so. The ceiling is low and the floor is wet and again I caution you from investigating its depths.

Between the roads end and Heaton Flats you can find numerous stone foundations to metal detect around and if you look hard enough in the right places you can also find the old bottle dumps to pick through.

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Scars left by early hydraulic mining.

Across the river from the Flats is "Deadmans Hill" the location of a grizzly discovery a number of years back. A Mexican miner found the skeleton of a man wedged in a hole under a boulder on this hill still clutching his poke, which had gold dust in it. His arm was outreached as if he was offering his poke to whoever would save him from his death. It is assumed a rattler bit him. He was seen quite often at the stores buying supplies with gold dust and many times he would stay at the saloons buying drinks for all his new found friends. He never seemed to be lacking funds to support himself or his good times. No one knows where his claim was but he was seen many times crossing the river by Heatons Flats.

For those of you hearty souls that care to hike and camp, just off Heaton Flats is a trail that leads up the mountain side in an elevation gain of 3000 feet to the Allison Gold Mine some seven miles into the wilderness. John James Allison discovered this mine in 1914 on the southern slopes of Iron Mountain. He and his three sons built a stamp mill and a small cabin in this nearly inaccessible place and worked it for years. Before shutting down in 1942 it is believed that it produced $50,000 in gold. Also in this hard to reach wilderness area are the Eagle and Gold Dollar mines above Coldwater Canyon and the Stanley-Miller perched above the East Fork Narrows. The fabulous 'narrows' features sheer cliffs rising up 5200' in 1 3/4 horizontal miles and is a site more befitting the high Sierras then the San Gabriel's.

Another point of interest along the East Fork are the numerous road crew camps that housed the workers building the roads into, and as was the plan, through the mountains. Some of the roads were never completed but you can still find the remains of the old camps as well as two very large tunnels and a completed 'Bridge to Nowhere.'

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The author searches an abandoned road construction camp along the East Fork.

Keep in mind also on your way up to the East Fork the massive Morris and San Gabriel Dams and the camps that housed those workers in the 1930's. Near the forks was also a place called Construction City that housed over 600 workers in 1929 for a dam project that was never completed.

So, what more could you ask for? How about a hidden cache buried by the Knights of the Golden Circle? Maybe, in fact there was a chapter of 27 members of the Confederate supporters in Eldoradoville in the early 1860's and it was rumored that money and weapons were buried to be used in the event the War Between the States reached their backyard.
Other things you might want to research are the Big Horn and Native Son Mines, Buell's folly, Shoemaker Canyon, and the canyon's bad man John Knox Portwood.

I don't profess to be a travel agent or guide in any way for the East Fork but it is an area that I love and I could never hunt all the possible sites that are in the area, so have at it all you treasure hunters and seekers of gold.

Before you head into the canyon you might stop in at the mining supply store right there on Azusa Ave. It's called Azusa gold and its proprietor can fill you in on directions or the current laws pertaining to your activities in the canyon. More then likely someone will be in there telling of their discoveries on the East Fork or spinning a new adventure.

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Construction City 1929 at the forks of the San Gabriel.
Note the transportation of choice on the right.

1. Thomas Penfield, A guide To Treasure In California, True Treasure Library, 1972
2. James Klein, Where To find Gold In California, Ward Ritchie Press, 1975
3. John W. Robinson, Trails Of The Angeles, Wilderness Press, 1971
4. John W. Robinson, The San Gabriels, Big Santa Anita Historical Society, 1991

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