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History of Mariposa

It is said that the Mariposa area was named by a Spanish priest under the direction of explorer, Gabriel Moraga. Moraga was the leader of a 25-man troop that explored- central California in l806. When he and his expedition came upon a creek laced with thousands of yellow butterflies, they named the area “Mariposa” which was the Spanish word for butterfly.

The Mariposa town site area was first the home to the Southern Miwok Indians. They have lived in the Central California area for untold generations before any European’s arrived in the Americas.

Juan B. Alvarado Mexican governor of California (1836-1842,) was awarded the “Las Mariposas Grant”. The “Las Mariposas Grant” was a “floating” grant which meant that it had no fixed boundaries. It was ten square leagues (approx. 44,400 acres) located generally on the Mariposa Creek between the San Joaquin, Chowchilla, and Merced rivers and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

In 1846, John C. Fremont gave $3,280 to Thomas O. Larkin, the US. consul to the Territory of California, to buy the Santa Cruz Ranch in the San Jose area. Instead, Larkin purchased a desolate old land grant in the middle of Indian country for Fremont called the “Las Mariposas Grant”. Before Fremont could rectify this mistake, word came from Coloma that gold had been discovered along the American River. Fremont immediately sent a group of Mexican miners, under the direction of Alex Godey, to the Grant area to determine if gold was also to be found. They soon traced a large vein, a mile long, which they called the “Mother Lode”.

Before Fremont could solidify his grant boundaries and establish it through the legal establishment of the day, thousands of miners arrived on the scene. Few of the miners acknowledged Fremont’s claim and Fremont was tossed into a legal battle that would take until 1856 to settle and 1859 to finalize. The Las Mariposas Grant finally began to take shape along this wide vein that stretched from Mariposa Creek to the Merced River.


The first “49ers” that arrived in Mariposa set up camp along Mariposa Creek but after the high waters of 1850 the flat above the mine area was chosen as a better site.

Fremont never worked the mines himself but preferred to lease the mines to different entities. The Mariposa Mining Company, one such entity, hired C. Armstrong to being a survey to setup the town of Mariposa. By November of 1851, Mariposa was named the County Seat and began to grow into a little boomtown.


In 1859, Fremont deeded the unsold propert in town to John F. “Quartz” Johnson. Another survey was conducted and lots established.

Through the early 1850’s stores, hotels, saloons and stables spring up. State and County governments began to take shape. Mariposa continued to grow and prosper. The Mariposa Mine produced $200,000 in gold between 1849 and 1859. In five short years, Mariposa evolved from a tent mining camp to a city of several thousand people. A courthouse and newspaper were added to the new town in 1854.

The town would feel many growing pains that first came as the fire of 1858, which destroyed the lower portion of town. The rains that began in the winter of 1861 continued in 1862 until the seasonal Mariposa Creek was more fo a rushing river. Mariposa was cut off from the world as the whole state was plunged into a disastrous food that brought damage to all. The lower end of Mariposa felt the brunt of the flooding waters as severa businesses washed away in the torrent.

But Mariposa would recover and rebuild again. Mariposa grew steadily, but again, would feel the pain of another fire. In 1866, a fire broke out at the “Mariposa Free Press” office and, before the day was over, seven blocks of the main portion of town were blackened.

But again, as in the past, rebuilding began but with fireproof buildings for the most part. Fire would ravage the downtown area again 1884 as the east side of the downtown burned and in 1887 the Gallison Hotel succumbed to a fire.

Mining was still the driving force int he community but the tourist trade began to pick up with the opening of the Yosemite Valley to stage roads.