Chili Bar

The California Gold Rush began in 1848, bringing approximately 300,000 people from across the world to the young state to find their fortune. In the early days of the gold rush, a company of Mexican miners occupied a prairie-like slope about 1 ½ miles north of the mining town of Kelsey (3 miles above present day Chili Bar). They were joined by some native-born Californians (Californios) and a group of Chilean miners. As they all spoke Spanish, the place became known as Spanish Flat. Westward about a mile through dense pines was a similar place, occupied by a small company of American miners, and hence, called the American Flat.

Sometime in the late 1840’s, about one hundred Chilean miners arrived in San Francisco. Coming from the mines of Chile, they now sought their fortune in California. Finding themselves in a new land, they gravitated toward those who spoke their own tongue. By 1852, Spanish Flat became quite populous. One Sunday, when the American company, only five or six in number, were away, an unknown party claiming ownership sold the American mine to some of the newly arrived Chileans. They received payment – a considerable sum – and left before the fraud could be identified. Having bought not only the mine, but the mining implements, the Chileans immediately began to work. When the real owners returned on Monday morning they found that their claim had been “jumped.” Probably a hundred men were in possession and ready to hold it by force of arms; and as they spoke different languages, explanation was impossible.

Messengers were sent to the nearest mining camps, asking the men to bring their rifles and other weapons, and to assemble on the ridge above the Spanish Flat. On June 7 1852, most of the miners had left the uplands for the rivers; and by three in the afternoon, rifles in hand, some forty men arrived at the rendezvous. A man named Murphy explained the affair as he understood it. He knew nothing of the sale, but stated in effect that probably one hundred or more Chileans on Sunday had taken forcible possession of the claim and tools, and refused to give them up. He knew that such a force of expert miners would soon work out the mine, and he proposed that the miners present drive away the Chileans robbers, shooting them down if necessary. They would take possession of the sluices before they were cleaned and the gold panned out, and restore the property to the rightful owners. The forty men stood ready to take back the mine by any means necessary.

Fortunately, not a shot was fired on either side. The Chileans left the claim and relocated to a new claim on the American River, several miles upriver from the Coloma Gold discovery spot. This is the site of our modern-day mining facility, and the Chileans worked their rich new claim in peace for several years. Unfortunately, the miners there were all wiped out due to a smallpox virus. Thus came the name Chili Bar.

Chili Bar Slate Quarry


The Chili Bar Slate Quarry is located on the south side of the South Fork of the American River, just east of the Chili Bar Bridge, three and one-half miles north of Placerville, El Dorado County. Even while the gold was being worked, enterprising merchants noted the excellent unique black slate and slate began to be removed from around the Chili Bar mine for use in roofing the new homes in nearby mining towns, in Sacramento and even San Francisco. The actual quarry was first worked from 1887 – 1897 when roofing shingles and other forms of dimension slate were produced by the open-pit method. This included a variety of products including blackboards, school slates, pool tables, roof tiles, flooring, fireplace hearths and other decorative products. The quarry was mostly idle until 1928 when it became an underground operation, producing roofing granules and slate-dust filler, among other products. From 1928 to 1979 Chile Bar slate was ground primarily for granules for composition roofing products. In 1979 a new grinding plant was built on higher ground to enable production during high water periods on the American river. 20 mesh slate product was first developed during this time and was very popular as a key ingredient in the seal coat and asphalt business. Prior to the abandonment of the railroad, the various products were taken to Sacramento by train. Today in addition to material produced to feed the need for ground slate Chili Bar Slate Quarry produces beautiful slate for a variety of home and landscape uses that is shipped all over the Western U.S.