Thursday, August 4, 2011

The ghosts and legends of Hornitos, CA

The old Gagliardo & Co. Store in Hornitos, CA now acts as a gift shop.
Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

About 13 miles west of Mariposa, CA on CR-J16 lies the small community of Hornitos. The community was founded by Mexican miners in 1848 and was soon populated by settlers evicted from the nearby mining town Quartzburg. Most of the evictees were of the "less desirable" type and almost overnight they changed the character of Hornitos and it quickly became known as a rough community. Soon the streets were lined with fandango halls, bars, gambling dens, and house of ill repute and it was rumored that many of the businesses were interconnected with underground tunnels. By the mid-late 1850's Hornitos had grown to small city with a population of some 6000 people. A thriving Chinese section formed to the east of town and housed some 2000 folk. Business was thriving as $40,000 in gold was shipped out on a daily basis.

Old adobe ruins with only the entry way and it's iron doors remaining.
Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

But the town has a dark history to it as well. The town was so notorious for its daily gunfights that the dead outlaws were simply dumped into a deep gully called Dead Man's Gulch. Famed Mexican bandit, Joaquin Murieta, was said to frequent the fandango halls and was rumored to have been almost captured in the town in the 1850's.

Pacific Saloon (built 1851), one of the many bars that was in
Hornitos during its heyday.
Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

Masonic Lodge built sometime in the 1850's.
Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

Eventually the gold ran out and the miners who populated the town moved onto other places in search of riches. From a population of around 15,000 in 1879 it quickly dwindled down and around 1932 there were roughly 60 people living in Hornitos. Today the population is 75 people and Hornitos is considered one of the best preserved ghost towns in the Mother Lode country with ruins of an old Wells Fargo office, a Masonic Hall, an old jailhouse and even the store where D. Ghiradelli (famous maker of chocolate) got his start before moving to San Francisco.


The ruins of D. Ghiradelli's general store (circa 1856)
Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

Not all of the original settlers of Hornitos have left and it's said that many still haunt the town, still searching for riches perhaps or not wanting to move on for some other reason.

Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

Near the town square the ghosts of two prostitutes, who using knives and fought to the death over a miner, can still be felt to this day. The fight was over whose client he was and before the fight was over the miner had snuck off When the proverbial dust had settled, one of the women lay dead on the street and the was other badly injured. It's said if you stand still in the town square and listen you can still hear the screams of the women as they fought and the cheers of the miners who stood around and watched.

The Hornitos jail house, rumored to be haunted by a former
inmate who died there.
Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

The old jail house is also supposed to be haunted by a miner who was rumored to have died there. The brick jail is still standing today and is about 12 feet by 12 feet and has two 1 foot square windows. Accused of stealing a horse, he was placed in the town jail to await trial. Several drunk cowboys who just left one of the local saloons saw the miner in the jail and decided for some reason they were going to rescue him. They somehow convinced the miner if he tied a rope around his waist that they would pull him through the window and to freedom. The miner did so and the cowboys pulled and pulled but couldn't get him through the small opening. They pulled so hard that they eventually broke his back. The miner later succumbed to his injuries and died. His spirit has never been able to rest and can be felt walking around the jail today.

The local cemetery where a young girl's ghost is said to wander.
Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

Another spirit, this one of a young Mexican girl, haunts the local cemetery. She died of a young age of an unnamed epidemic and for some reason wasn't given a proper burial but instead was buried on top of the ground and then bricks and stones were placed over her body. Through the years tourists have taken theses stones and bricks from her grave. From time to time she is seen searching the cemetery, looking for the stones and bricks that covered her grave.

St. Catherine's Catholic Church, built sometime in the 1860's.
Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

These aren't the only ghosts that roam the streets of Hornitos, but they do have their own stories. Other ghosts have been seen but their story hasn't been told yet.

Near Givins Gulch a woman has been seen roaming the area just before sunrise with a spear sticking out of her head.

Another female ghost has been seen with a plastic bag tied around her head in Hornitos Park just before dawn.

Late at night a figure can sometimes be seen on the top of Bullion Hill gazing out over the landscape.

The ghost of a young confederate officer can frequently be seen next to the Cotton Arm creek and it appears as if he is struggling with something.

Also the spirit of a male figure can be seen dragging something from Corbet Creek sometime after midnight.

Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

Whether these ghost stories are true or not, one thing is for certain. Hornitos is rich in history. Both from the gold rush era and also rich in ghost stories. Hornitos makes a great day trip for those who have never been to a ghost town before and its a chance to check out some of our local area history that many don't know about.

I want to thank Lewis Shorb over at Ghost Town Explorers for allowing me to share the photos he took of Hornitos for this article. You can check out his article on Hornitos here.

5 comments:

Robby French said...

My team is ready to roll into this little nugget of paranormal research! Anyone out there have any tips or want to collaborate?

Michael said...

Pretty much what I shared in the story is what's out there on the internet, how much of it is true is hard to say. I want to take a day trip up there and talk to some of the people and see if they have any stories.

But if you go up there Robby let me know what happens. Curious as to what's really there.

Dawn said...

I grew up in Hornitos, our house right on the creek. From time to time you could hear "clanking" come from the creek at night. There is an eerie feeling about the town if you walk through it at night. We had numerous "incidents" at our house growing up. Two candle stick holders, on opposite sides of our fire place flew off the wall simultaneously. Too many to mention. Great place to check out if you are looking for spirits. Especially in the cemetary.... Good luck!

Randi said...

Grew up there when my Granparents bought the Bridge Cafe! My parents eventually followed and I went to Kindergarten there & we moved back to LA area! I spent almost every vacation here & when I got my license I would come up weekends also! Dad & mom bought a few parcels of land across the creek & eventually built their beautiful home!We bought a few horses! We went frogging in the middle of the night...fished the backside of McClure...got scared in the graveyard many nights...running home scared! Sleeping in the bed of Granpas old Chevy truck...counting the zillion Stars! Great memories...❤

Anonymous said...

My great grandfather supposedly is one of the first settlers there. He owned the Palm Bar. I have a picture of him standing behind the bar. There are also several cowboy type men standing in the room, and a group seated at a table playing cards.