The creek, the hill, and the camp were all named for the same man, Sgt. James H. Carson, a member of Colonel Stevenson’s Regiment of First New York Volunteers. Organized to fight in the Mexican War, the regiment arrived in California in 1847, but saw little action and were mustered out of service at the end of the war. As no provisions had been made for their return to the States, the soldiers found themselves stranded in California. Carson happened to be in Monterey when news of Marshall’s discovery reached that town in the spring of 1848. After packing his belongings and buying a few supplies, he set out for the gold fields.
Carson first made his way to Weber Creek near Placerville, where he mined quite successfully for a time. But as miners were always looking for better prospects, he joined a party of men which included the Angel and Murphy brothers, and headed south. Prospecting along all the streams they crossed, the party broke up at what is now known as Angels Creek. The Murphys headed east, the Angels decided to stay put, and Carson and a few others continued south. They stopped a few miles farther and panned at a small tributary of the Stanislaus, which they found incredibly rich in gold. They called it Carson Creek.
Even with these fantastic diggings—in one ten-day period each member of the party took out an average of 180 ounces of gold—Carson became restless, and left the area to explore and mine other regions in the Southern Mines. After several unsuccessful years of prospecting, he decided to return to Carson Creek and his claims. Nominated and elected to the State Assembly in 1852, Carson was later stricken with a severe case of rheumatism, an illness which had plagued him for several years. As he lay in bed, fortunes in gold were being taken from the hill, but he was not to share in any of them. He died in Stockton in near poverty in 1853.
Carson Hill’s great fame did not come from the placers of its creeks, but from the rich quartz lodes in the hill. In 1850, John William Hance discovered a fourteen pound lump of gold atop Carson Hill while supposedly chasing a runaway mule. The lump had broken away from a quartz vein, along which Hance immediately staked his claim. He later took on a group of six partners who then called themselves the Carson Creek Consolidated Mining Company. The claim was generally known as the Morgan Mine, after the most prominent of the partners, Colonel A. Morgan.
The claim was so rich that a unique method of mining was employed here with great success. Borthwick describes the method during the old days: "When the quartz vein was first worked, the method adopted was to put in a blast, and after the explosion, to go round with handbaskets and pick up the pieces." Using this method, $110,000 in gold was collected from a single blast. At another time, a lump of ore was found weighing 112 pounds. And on November 22 of 1854, one of the largest gold nuggets ever found in California was uncovered in the Morgan Mine, very near the surface. Technically not a nugget, but rather a mass of gold and quartz, the thing was huge; fifteen inches long, six inches wide, and four inches thick. It was valued at $43,000—a mere fraction of Carson Hill’s total production of $26 million.
One of the Gold Country’s more colorful stories is reported to have occurred here (although several other camps lay claim to a similar tale) during the early days of the rush. The tale goes that a man who had lost his life in a mining accident was being buried in the local cemetery. As the services were being held, one of the mourners noticed something glittering in the newly turned earth of the open grave. Time stood still for an instant, but then the ceremony was forgotten as everyone, the minister included, quickly located a claim.
The Morgan Mine is the most noticeable mining scar along the entire length of Hwy 49. Originally known as "The Crater" due to its early resemblance to a volcano, the removal of tons of gold-bearing ore has wiped out any volcano-like appearance it may have once had. The present absence of hill is a result of open pit mining which took place from the late 1980’s through 1991. These operations encompassed the old Morgan, Melones, and Carson Hill mines, as well as several other mines and claims located on the Hill. More than fifteen miles of shafts and tunnels have been cut through the hill, with one shaft reaching a depth of 4,450 feet.