to Malakoff Diggins, the French company accused of environmental destruction

Malakoff diggins state historic park A group of miners at Malakoff Diggins at the end of the 19th century credit Malakoff Diggins stae historic park

Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park

Posted today at 5:00 a.m., updated at 05:09 a.m.

North of Auburn, past the monumental statue of Claude Chana, one of the first French prospectors in California, Route 49 has been renamed the Gold Rush Highway. At the time of the Gold Rush, the region had up to 2,500 camps. Today it is full of phantom mines. By plunging into the forest of ponderosa pines, Californian oaks and manzanitas, by winding paths that give you heartache, you discover the mine of Malakoff Diggins. A steep cliff, 900 m above sea level, cut with a knife in the rock. Imagine Etretat in the Sierra (all things considered).

This Saturday, September 14, 2019, it’s celebration at Malakoff Diggins, the third edition of a festival that pays tribute to French pioneers. For a day, the ghost village takes on the appearance of a 19th century taverne century. The historian Claudine Chalmers is there with her reproductions of period drawings: the caricatures of Cham, alias Charles Amédée de Noé, the aristocrat who ferociously mocked the French craze for Californian mines. And of course, the illustrious sketch by Daumier, which sums up the chimeras of the Gold Rush. We see a well-dressed man who crosses paths with a plucked peasant on a quay in Le Havre: “I’m leaving for California”, said the elegant. “And I am coming”, answers the other.

Most visitors are American tourists, whom nothing thrills as much as the ball musette atmosphere and the beret worn by anthropologist Mark Selverston. The French consul Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens praises the spirit of adventure of the French (600 French start-ups today in Silicon Valley). We walk from the Derbec mine – named after the journalist Etienne Derbec, who arrived in early 1850 on the Sperm whale as the hero of Gil Blas in California, Alexandre Dumas father – at the Le Du mine, owned by Jean-Baptiste Le Du, a brave man who decided to end it in 1912 after a lifetime of toil. The Frenchman blew his brains out, a stick of explosives in his mouth, after having himself lit the fuse and “Calmly awaited the end”, the local newspaper reported, admiringly.

As on the banks of the Marne

In the small cemetery with hiccuping stelae, we are looking for the tomb of “Madame Auguste”, the owner of the Hôtel de Paris, renamed “de France”, sign of growing ambition. Under the bandstand performs one of the county’s star bands. Its name is Many Chapeaux, a grammar that could intrigue but the day is too good to stop at an absence of preposition. Violin, banjo, and of course accordion. One would think oneself on the banks of the Marne, version “Monsieur Auguste” (Renoir).

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