Cory’s Historical Corner

By Cory Peterman

Arrastras (continued…)

Rather than writing about a new subject this week, I decided to continue on the subject of arrastras, many of which were constructed in Sierra County back in the day. Regarding the arrastra stone (which I wrote about in my last article that can be seen to this day near the county courthouse, I found an additional article printed in the September 28, 1930 edition of The Mountain Messenger that states the following:

Old Arrastra Brought Here as County Exhibit – A huge quartz grinding stone said to weigh two tons, part of an old arrastra that was used in early times at Chandlerville, an extinct mining camp near Howland Flat, was brought to Downieville Thursday by John Kerfoot. The stone, which has a square hole cut in the center, is 18 inches thick and 4 1/2 feet in diameter, being shaped like a solid wheel.

The bowl in which this huge stone was used to grind the ore will be brought here later and they will form part of an interesting exhibit which it is purposed to collect for this county.

This method of grinding ore was in common use during the early mining days, relics of which are still to be seen in the various old mining districts. This particular arrastra was probably in use in the ‘60s or ‘70s, when Chandlerville was a flourishing camp.

It became known that outside parties intended moving what remains of the old arrastra to another county to be placed in a collection, so Supervisor A. J. Modglin, feeling that it should be kept in this county and preserved for exhibit purposes, got busy and made arrangements for its removal to the county seat.

Of note, this article states that John Kerfoot (who then owned the Slate Castle Auto Camp at what is now the Lure Resort was the man who brought the arrastra to Downieville, though historian James Sinnott stated that it was Roy Post who hauled the stone to town with his Chevy truck. Upon speaking to Roy’s son John and other county natives recently, it can in fact be determined it was Roy who hauled the stone to Downieville (John has a photograph of the stone being loaded up into the truck. I am unable to figure out if John Kerfoot had any actual involvement with the removal of the stone to Downieville, despite being mentioned in the article.

The attached photograph (courtesy of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley shows a 35-foot diameter arrastra that once operated at Kane Flat (also known as Hayes Flat in Sierra City as part of the workings of the Sierra Buttes Mine. A scale model and descriptive plaque regarding this arrastra can be found in front of the Downieville Museum. This model was originally built in 1954 by the boys in the shop class led by teacher and principal James Sinnott at Downieville High School, and was used as part of the Sierra County exhibit in the California State Fair of 1956.

In the early days, the Sierra Buttes mine was said to have nearly twenty functioning arrastras, powered by mules. John Trompetto (1830-1919, an immigrant to Sierra City from the Piemonte region of Italy, built several arrastras in the town. His obituary states “Early in life he learned the marble cutter’s trade, and for years was a designer and maker of drinking fountains and marble statuaries in many of the largest cities in Italy… In May 1869 he sailed for California, and in 1871, he went to Sierra City. Shortly afterward he purchased an arrastra in the Buttes Ravine from Ike Martinetti, and built five more during the same year, working the tailings from the Sierra Buttes mills in these arrastras.

Today, the only remaining structure of the great Sierra Buttes Mine is the headquarters building, now a private residence, which locals may know as the “Hayes Home.” The magnificent 40-stamp mill, bandstand for the Sierra Buttes Brass Band, and numerous other structures which composed this site in the late 1800s and early 1900s are long gone.

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