Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Tommy Cain Ravine

Blurring our focus, we can describe the North Fork American as flowing from east to west. Its true "global" direction is northeast to southwest, but it is easier to say and to write, east to west.

In the Gold Run area, a series of tributaries enter from the north. Beginning on the east, we have Canyon Creek, by far the largest of these tributaries; then Indiana Ravine, Sheldron Ravine, and Tommy Cain Ravine.

In all my research into the history of Dutch Flat and Gold Run I do not recall ever seeing the name, "Tommy Cain," anywhere except on the modern-day USGS 7.5 minute Dutch Flat quadrangle. It would be safe to imagine Tommy a miner.

Indiana Ravine is noteworthy for being the site of the supposed original discovery of gold in the "high" gravels of what would become the Gold Run Diggings. This discovery took place in 1851, or perhaps 1852--I have seen both years cited. Several men prospected up Indiana Ravine from the North Fork, finding good "color" all the way, until they reached beds of cemented gravels near the top of the ravine. These cemented gravels proved rich in gold, and mining claims were staked out immediately. By September of 1852 the Indiana Hill Ditch had been constructed to bring water from Canyon Creek to these nascent "diggings." An Indiana Hill Mining District had already been formed.

All four of these tributaries must have been enriched by gold from the high Eocene-age gravels of the Gold Run Diggings--but Tommy Cain Ravine, the most eastern of its headwaters on the very west margin of the high gravels, would likely have been enriched the least.

I often think of the North Fork canyon as "insular," meaning "island-like," even though topologically, a canyon is a concavity and an island is a convexity. What I intend by calling it insular is that it is an entity of its own right, separate, walled off from the terrain around it. There is often quite a distinct canyon rim which divides the steep canyon from the gentle uplands beyond. Streams entering the North Fork in their own smaller canyons, then, create "passes" between the main North Fork and the uplands. Such "passes" can become trail routes, as, for instance, the Canyon Creek Trail.

Hence it is natural enough to imagine that Tommy Cain Ravine might have been used as a trail route, offering an easier, less abrupt path out of the steep-walled North Fork canyon. The 1865 GLO map shows the Fords Bar Trail using this "Tommy Cain Ravine Route" (TCRR). But the 1865 surveyor's "field notes" do not agree with the map itself.

The 1865 map shows two crossings of Tommy Cain Ravine by the TCRR. It so happens that faint old human trails cross Tommy Cain almost exactly where the 1865 map would have the TCRR making its two crossings. What a coincidence! Too much of a coincidence, one is sure. Yet yesterday's exploration has convinced me that it is, indeed, merely a coincidence. The upper crossing is part of a trail which connects the true, ridge-line Fords Bar Trail to a mining area in Tommy Cain Ravine. This trail, as plotted on a map, makes a kind of sharp upside-down "V" from the Fords Bar ridge at 2600' on the west, to the mining area at 2200' on the east, the point of the "V" being the crossing of Tommy Cain.

At the mining area are two camp or cabin sites, each with its own ancient cast-iron wood stove. Yesterday Ron and I gathered the fragments of the higher cabin site and assembled them as best as possible. We even found the maker's mark, reading as I recall "Buck's Patent" and then "McCoy and Clark, Albany" and then "Patented 1859."

Hence 1859 can be taken as the earliest possible date for the use of this stove at the Tommy Cain Ravine mining site.

On the Internet I searched without success for "McCoy and Clark" but I did find reference to "Buck's Patent" and especially to Albany, New York, as a center of cast-iron construction, especially of wood stoves, in the middle 19th century.

Near the upper cabin site a narrow bed of limestone appears within the metasediments of the Calaveras Complex rocks. This limestone might well bear fossils which would help to date the sedimentary part of the Calaveras Complex. I thought I saw some vague fossils in fragments of limestone near the stove/cabin site.

Also of interest in this area is "The Groove," an old lumber slide, it seems, similar to the lumber slide on Diving Board Ridge, between Canyon Creek and Indiana Ravine, to the east. It is a groove dropping straight down to the North Fork from Point 3007, on the divide between Tommy Cain on the west and Sheldon on the east.

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