About PetersPioneersGold Mine at Mathenias Creek

By Peter Biggins

Brother Thomas Smith, O.F.M., Carol Voss, Richard Drueke, and Betty and Gerhard Becker contributed to this story.

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Schmitt family Bible
Exerpt from a page for special events in John and Mary Schickell Schmitt's family Bible referring to California and the date February 2, 1849. Gerhard and Betty Becker have deciphered the German script: "Im Jahre 1849 den 2ten Februar, reiste Johann Schmitt nach California von wo er im Jahr 1851 am 7ten April zurück kam," and translated from German to English: "In the year 1849 on February 2nd Johann Schmitt traveled to California from where he returned in the year 1851 on April 7th."
One day I was looking at a page from the bible of my great great grandfather, John Schmitt, that my cousin Richard Drueke had given us. It was written in German script, but the word "California" popped out. Then I saw what looked like a date in 1849. Could he have been a 49er?

John and Mary Augusta Schickell Smith. John Schmitt, 27, and Mary Augusta Schickell, 19, were married in Tiffin, Ohio, on September 13, 1847. John and Mary Augusta continued to live in Tiffin following their marriage. Their first child was born in Tiffin, and it appears that while Mary Augusta was pregnant John went to California for the Gold Rush.

Both John and Mary Augusta were born in Kassel, which is 32 miles east northeast of Frankfurt. At that time, Kassel was in the Main-Kreis region in the far northwest corner of the Kingdom of Bavaria. Now, Kassel is in the Kinzig-Main-Kreis region in the far south of Hesse. In 1866, Bavaria, Hesse, and other German states sided with Austria in the Austro-Prussian War. Prussia won the war. In the Treaty of Prague on August 23, 1866, Prussia acquired Hesse, and Hesse acquired three small border districts from Bavaria. One district was Orb, which included Kassel, the Schmitts' home town.

The United States acquired California and other southwest territories from Mexico in 1848 in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which followed the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, also known as the War of North American Invasion.

Panning for gold on the Mokelumne River
Panning for gold on the Mokelumne River. Originally published in Harper's Weekly, 1860, as part of the article "How We Got Gold in California."
Gold Discovery at Sutter's Mill. On January 24, 1848, gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California. Word of the Gold Rush spread slowly at first. In March 1848, San Francisco newspaper publisher and merchant Samuel Brannan, after he had hurriedly set up a store to sell gold prospecting supplies, strode through the streets of San Francisco, holding aloft a vial of gold, shouting "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!" On August 19, 1848, the New York Herald was the first major newspaper on the East Coast to report that there was a gold rush in California. On December 5, 1848, the State of the Union message of President James Knox Polk urged Americans to explore and exploit California's new-found mineral wealth. Suddenly a mania for gold swept the United States. About 90,000 people arrived in California in 1849—about half by land and half by sea. Of these, perhaps 50,000 to 60,000 were Americans, and the rest were from other countries. Early gold-seekers did perhaps make a modest profit, after all expenses were taken into account. Most, however, especially those arriving later, made little or wound up losing money

Mathenias Creek. About 13 miles south southeast of Sutter's Mill is the Mathenias creek Gold Mine. A page for special events in John and Mary Schickell Schmitt's family Bible states that "in the year 1849 on February 2nd Johann Schmitt traveled to California from where he returned in the year 1851 on April 7th." The dates coincide with the greatest migration of people to California for the gold rush. It is likely that John was a "Forty-Niner." The 1850 U.S. Census for El Dorado County, California, shows a John Smith, 28, born in Germany, working as a miner, living on Mathenias Creek. Also called Mathenas or Matheneys Creek, this area is near the present-day towns of Diamond Springs and El Dorado on the old Carson Emigrant Trail, about 15 miles south of Sutter's Mill.

A 2002 booklet by Doug Noble, Mines of El Dorado County, says the Mathenas Creek (Schneider) Mine was one mile south of Diamond Springs. An 1883 History of El Dorado County by Paolo Sioli states that in 1855, the town of El Dorado, which is two miles south of Diamond Springs, was incorporated and included what was then known as Empire Ravine, Dead Man's Hollow, Loafer's Hollow, Logtown creek, Matheney's creek, Slate and Dry creeks.

The California State Library and the Map Room of the New York Public Library helped locate the mine on a map. A 1902 map of El Dorado County issued by the California State Mining Bureau and Lewis E. Aubrey, State Minerologist, shows mines with dots and numbers. A Register issued with the map shows that the Mathenas mine is No. 70 on the map, putting it on a tributary of Martinez Creek. Using the 1902 map, it is possible to plot the mine on a present-day map. The Register has separate tables for different kinds of gold mines. The table for Quartz Mines, by far the largest, contains information about the Mathenas mine.

Diamond Springs Map
Part of 1902 map of El Dorado County issued by the California State Mining Bureau and Lewis E. Aubrey, State Minerologist. Squares are township sections, one mile by one mile. Small numbers are section numbers. Large numbers are mine numbers. A 1902 Register of Mines and Minerals for El Dorado County issued with the map shows that the Mathenas mine is No. 70 on the map, putting it on a tributary of Martinez Creek. Using the 1902 map, it is possible to plot the mine on a present-day map.
From 1902 Register of Quartz Mines:
  • Name of Mine: Mathenas
  • Nearest Town or P.O.: Diamond Springs
  • Location
    • Section: 31
    • Township: 10
    • Range: 11
    • Map No.: 70
  • Whether Patented: no
  • Elevation: 1800
  • Number of Veins: 1
  • Width of Vein: 1-1/2
  • Strike: E of N
  • Dip: E
  • Character of Ore: Freemilling
  • Hanging Wall: Slate
  • Foot Wall: Slate
  • Developments: --
  • Greatest Depth Below Outcrop: --
  • Mill and Power: --
  • Number of Men Employed: --
  • Company, Owner, or Superintendent
    • Name: J. A. Kock (Note)
    • Address: Diamond Springs
  • Remarks: --

Note: The 1900 U.S. census for Diamond Springs shows a John Koch, 39, single, hotel keeper, born in Califonia, parents born in Germany.

David Cismowski, Senior Librarian, California State Library, provided these Annual reports of the California State Mineralogist that mention the Mathenas Creek mine in 1888, 1890, 1894, 1896, 1916, 1926, and 1938.

There were 16 pages for Mathenias Creek in the 1850 census, each with 42 persons. The census was taken there from September 26 to October 4. John Smith was the 10th person on the 11th page (p. 701). The enumerator for Mathenias Creek was Charles S. Coffinbury, who took the census for most of El Dorado County. Coffinbury was living at the hotel in Coloma, where Sutter's Mill was. He was 26 years old and born in Ohio. Being the enumerator for Coloma, he took his own census on November 11, 1850 (page 799).

It is not certain that the John Smith at Mathenias Creek was our John Smith. Our John Smith would have been 29 instead of 28, but census ages are not very reliable. There also was a John Smith from Germany in the census for Township No. 5 in Tuolumne County, but he was a year younger than the one at Mathenias Creek.

The 1850 U.S. Census for Seneca County, Ohio, shows a Mary A. Smith, 20, born in Germany, and a Mary A, Smith, 1, born in Ohio. They are living with Catherine Smith, 60, born in Germany. There is no John Smith listed, presumably because he was in California.

John and Mary Augusta's first child, Mary Appolonia Schmitt, was born in Tiffin on August 10, 1849, six months after her father left for California. She eventually went by the name Abbie Smith.

On April 7, 1851, John Smith returned to Tiffin from the California. His gold mining days were over. There is no indication that he made a fortune there.

In 1851 or 1852, the Schmitts moved from Tiffin to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

John and Mary Augusta's second child, Crescenz Joseph Schmitt, was born in Grand Rapids on March 21, 1852. He eventually went by the name Cris J. Smith.

John and Mary Augusta's third child, Rosa Wilhelmina Schmitt, was born in Grand Rapids on October 6, 1854.

In 1858, Mary Augusta's sister, Mary Appolonia Schickell, 21, married Francis Boxheimer, 29, at St. Mary's Church. In 1865, Francis became the owner of the Bridge Street House, a hotel on the east side of the Grand River.

In the 1856 and 1859 business directories, John was listed as a saloonkeeper. In 1856 the address of the saloon was given as Front Street. In the 1860 census, the family was living in the 4th Ward of Grand Rapids, and John was listed as a saloonkeeper.

John Schmitt died in Grand Rapids on March 17, 1861. He was buried in St. Andrew's Cemetery. He was 40 years old. He left his wife Mary Augusta and three young children.

Joseph, John, and William Cordes. Also mining gold in California were three Cordes brothers: Joseph, John, and William. Their parents, Anton Cordes (1790-1846) and Elizabeth Platte Cordes (1792-1876), had immigrated from Helden, Germany, and settled in Westphalia, Michigan, in 1836. In 1844, they moved to Alpine, a farming commmunity just north of Grand Rapids. Alpine was in Saint Mary's, a German parish created in 1857 on the west side of the Grand River. John and Mary Augusta Smith moved here in 1851 from Tiffin.

Joseph was mining at Weaversville in Trinity County. John and William were 250 miles south at Mathenias Creek in El Dorado County. The 1850 census lists them two up from John Smith. They were ages 28 and 18 and from Prussia.

There are a number of connections between the Cordes family, the Smith family, the Schickell family, and the Berles family.

  • Joseph Cordes settled in Grand Rapids and opened a grocery store. He married Anna Maria Thome in about 1844. He went to mine gold in California in 1850, never came back, and was presumed dead. He left his wife Anna maria and three children: Michael, Anne, and Frank. His daughter, Anne E. Cordes (1846-1920), in 1867 married Peter Schickell, John Smith's brother-in-law.
  • John Cordes (1822-1893) settled in Grand Rapids and opened a grocery store. When his brother Joseph failed to return from California and was presimed dead, John married Joseph's widow Anna Maria, he adopted Anna Maria's children, and they had three children of their own.
  • William Cordes (1832-1907) returned to Alpine and became a farmer. In 1856, he married Catherine Hoffman and they had seven children.
  • Casper Cordes (1820-1902), a brother, was a farmer in Alpine. He married Mary Ann Marten. Their first child Theresa Cordes (1845-1925) married Joseph Berles (1841-1922), brother of Franz Berles (1828-1884).
  • Eberhard Cordes (1827-1908), another brother, was also a farmer in Alpine. In 1858, he married Theresa Berles (1838-1923), sister of Franz Berles (1828-1884).
  • Frederick Cordes (1834-1901), yet another brother, was, like John Schmitt, was a saloonkeeper in Grand Rapids. Sometime after 1870, he married John Schmitt's widow, Mary Augusta. Sometime before 1874, they were divorced.

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