The History of Murphys

The History of Murphys

Murphys, CA (circa 1860)

Murphys Hotel (circa 1860)

Like most towns born from the Gold Rush, Murphys has a rich and interesting history, from its beginnings as a mining outpost to its current incarnation as a warm, sophisticated and culturally diverse community.

Murphys sprang to life in 1848 when John and Daniel Murphy, part of the first immigrant party to cross the Sierras in wagons, established a trade post after a brief stint in nearby Vallecito (or “Murphys Old Diggings”, as it was known at the time). Shrewd entrepreneurs, the Murphy brothers realized that, though they were some of the first to find gold in the area, the real fortune to be made was as merchant over miner.

Not to diminish their success as miners, however. It’s been said that the Murphy brothers made over $2,000,000 in one year (most likely the combined income from both mining and as merchants). In fact, John left Murphys with his share of the fortune just one year after it was founded, but not before they finally settled on a final name for the town.

In its first year, Murphys went through its share of monikers before anything official was formulated — Murphy, Murphy’s, Murphy’s Camp, Murphy’s Diggins, Murphys New Diggings, and Queen of the Sierra. But what happened to the apostrophe?

Legend has it, the brothers fought over ownership of the camp in a battle that started with words and ended in a full-out brawl. While fighting it out, the two stumbled into a mine-shaft and, after hours of trying to beat the other out of the shaft, they realized the only way to escape was to work together. As a way to compromise, they decided to drop the apostrophe altogether. Without the apostrophe, there was no “possession” of the town by either brother.

Within a year, the camp had a population of 1200. By 1852, Murphys was home to 3000 people and, though the Gold Rush quickly waned, the vitality of the town never diminished. Permanent structures were built — churches, a schoolhouse, the now historic Murphys Hotel, even an opera house. The townspeople dropped their shovels and pans and began work in sawmills, dairies, ranches, farms and stores.

Over the last century, the town has had its share of dignitaries, legends and artists in its midst: General Ulysses S. Grant, Mark Twain, Horatio Alger, and Charles Bolton (aka notorious outlaw “Black Bart”) to name a few.

Murphys is now home to some 2200 people and, in the last century, has become a community in which arts, craft and culture are key. From local art exhibits to beautifully crafted fine wines, from passionate theatre groups to incredible musicians, Murphys is a thriving, forward-thinking community that still never forgets its beginnings.

For a historical walk through the town, local historian Jo Sanders offers guided tours Saturday mornings at 10:00 AM. If interested, contact Jo Sanders at 209-728-3072 to confirm that there will be a walking tour (always a good idea) or to set up a tour for a group of 12 or more.

For more information:
Walking Tour of Historic Downtown Murphys

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