The California Gold Rush began in 1848 when gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, CA. Over the next seven years, about 300,00 hopeful prospectors, their families, and countless merchants and other settlers flooded the state. The Gold Rush was the beginning of California as we know it today, but the period is also considered one of the most violent in the history of the Old West.
Robberies and other crimes were commonplace as 49ers would strike a rich vein, and then be mugged or worse for their find. At the same time, laws targeting foreign settlers from China and Latin America were routinely passed and brutally enforced.
And of course, the local Native American populations were mistreated as ever. California’s first governor outright declared war on the tribes, and paid bounties for their scalps. As a major piece of Californian history, the Gold Rush still captures our imaginations, and tours of ghost towns and old mills are popular as ever.
Of particular interest to some are the many, many ghosts and hauntings that remain from the period. High emotions and violent deaths are what attract to the paranormal, and many miners and others from that time are still hanging around today.
Here are ten of the spookiest ghosts and spirits from the California Gold Rush. Try not to get claim jumped.
Table of Contents
- Hotel Jeffery, Coulterville, CA
- Moresi’s Chophouse (formerly La Croquet Restaurant), Clayton, CA
- Bell’s General Store, Coloma, CA
- American River Inn, Georgetown, CA
- The Groveland Hotel, Groveland, CA
- Los Coches Adobe, Soledad, CA
- Vineyard House, Coloma, CA
- Santa Margarita River Bridge, Fallbrook, CA
- Tyler House, La Selva Beach, CA
- Marshall’s Monument, Coloma, CA
Hotel Jeffery, Coulterville, CA
The Hotel Jeffery was first built in 1850 at the height of the Gold Rush.
The establishment is very famously haunted with a wide variety of spirits and other entities.
Practically every room in the place seems to be home to one ghost or another, and noises, apparitions, and physical pokes and prods are commonplace.
The owners fully embrace the hotel’s ghostly legacy, and the staff are delighted to tell stories and help guests choose the most haunted available room.
If that’s what they’re into.
Moresi’s Chophouse (formerly La Croquet Restaurant), Clayton, CA
This family steakhouse occupies the site of La Croquet Restaurant.
La Croquet was built in 1857, and was the site of a particularly vicious gunfight involving local miners.
The legend has it that a stray bullet struck a little girl outside the restaurant. The battle stopped and the miners brought the girl inside, where she died.
Today, her ghost sometimes appears, and it is said that her blood still stains the carpet, impossible to remove.
Bell’s General Store, Coloma, CA
Coloma is the site of Sutter’s Mill, where the Gold Rush officially began. As such, it received fastest influx of settlers, and the fastest buildup of spectral activity.
Bell’s General Store, built in 1849 to serve the miners, was practically the center of the town for a time.
Pretty much everyone in Coloma visited the store, and the bell on the door was constantly ringing as people opened and shut the door.
Today, the bell can still sometimes be heard, as though the long-dead clientele still pops in to gossip and buy goods.
The strangest thing is, the bell was removed years ago.
American River Inn, Georgetown, CA
This gorgeous historical hotel is lovingly maintained, right down to the old miner who stays in Room 5.
He’s a gruff but friendly ghost, well-spoken of by the hotel staff and guests who have encountered him.
Appearing as a disheveled old man, the spirit wanders the hotel and visits honeymooners or other happy couples, before returning back to his room.
The story goes that he is waiting for his girlfriend, who sadly has not made an appearance in the last century and a half since their passing.
The Groveland Hotel, Groveland, CA
Standing proud as a monument to the bygone Wild West, the Groveland Hotel cherishes their resident ghost Lyle.
Lyle was a gold panner who stayed at the Groveland until his death in 1927.
His spirit is well-known to haunt the room of his passing, and the hotel actually rents it out at a special rate.
Lyle is harmless and the staff have many stories of his antics.
He seems to be quite curious about women’s cosmetics.
If he finds any left out overnight, he will sometimes move them into the sink or knock them to the floor.
Los Coches Adobe, Soledad, CA
Soledad was once a major stop on the Wells Fargo stagecoach route, and many miners and others passed through the town.
The old adobe was the site of an accident, or perhaps foul play, in which several miners were trapped at the bottom of a well.
Today, their screams can sometimes be heard, as their ghosts cry out for rescue over 150 years later.
A woman in black is sometimes encountered wandering the grounds.
Her story is not known, but she may be guarding or seeking help for the miners.
Vineyard House, Coloma, CA
Another historic building in historic Coloma, birthplace of the Gold Rush.
The Vineyard House has a particularly sinister history, as its original owner Louisa Chalmers infamously drove her first husband to suicide, and kept her second locked in the basement.
Louisa and both her husbands haunt the premises today, along with a bevy of other spirits.
Most frequently reported are shouts and rattling chains from the basement, as the poor man’s spirit struggles to break free.
The House is open for ghost tours and other paranormal-themed events.
Santa Margarita River Bridge, Fallbrook, CA
This river crossing has been plagued with mysterious occurrences and paranormal activity since the Gold Rush.
It began towards the end of the era, when an entire wagon train was killed alongside the river.
Since then, inexplicable disappearances and deaths have continued to occur.
In the early 1900s, the very first prom at the newly built Fallbrook High School ended in tragedy, when three teens disappeared.
Dozens of police reports have been filed in the area of the river, many of which are unsolved to this date.
Tyler House, La Selva Beach, CA
Today a rehabilitation home for recovering addicts, the Tyler House dates back to the mid-1800s.
During the Gold Rush, it was known as the Leonard House for the family that resided there, but they built the home on the site of an old Jesuit Mission.
It’s unclear who the spirits are that haunt Tyler House, but haunt it they do.
Windows open and close on their own, objects have been known to move in empty rooms, and strange noises are commonplace.
Marshall’s Monument, Coloma, CA
Coloma is the site of a historical monument to James Marshall, the man credited with starting the Gold Rush when he found two nuggets at Sutter’s Mill.
Marshall may have regretted publicizing the find, as he was followed and stalked for the rest of his life by desperate prospectors.
Many assumed Marshall had a special touch for finding the precious metal, or perhaps that he had a secret stash hidden away.
Today, Marshall’s ghost sometimes appears as an outline around the monument.
Maybe he’s ruefully shaking his head, or maybe he’s grown to enjoy his fame.
The California Gold Rush is an important part of American history, and exploring it from the paranormal angle can be fun and rewarding.
Many of the locations listed here embrace and encourage ghost hunters and tourists, but please be respectful of the ones that do not.
And as always, be careful. Not every ghost is like friendly old Lyle.