Saturday, December 17, 2011


Mariposa County – August 25, 2009

We leave Bear Valley for a nineteen mile run down Bear Valley Road to Hornitos, population seventy five. Hmmm, that sounds like the opening act for Los Lonely Boys on the casino circuit.

These little valleys and low spots on the western slope of the Sierra can get rather toasty on a summer day (about 102 degrees on this one), but its name ‘little ovens’ came from the bake oven shape of its tombstones.

Most gold rush mining towns and villages with their matchstick construction burned to the ground and for some, several times over. Hornitos however is a bit different because they used a lot of adobe and stone in their buildings, for instance, the walls of the jail are two feet thick. Why? The town was built like a typical Mexican village by inhabitants that came here from other nearby camps and towns for being 'undesirable'....for their ethnicity.

At first, Hornitos was as wild as any other mining town with streets lined with bars, gambling dens, and houses of ill repute, but eventually they settled in and town folk desiring law and order even incorporated the settlement...the only town in Mariposa County to ever do so and that's the reason it became a state landmark.

The infamous bandit/folk hero Joaquin Murieta was almost captured here in the early 1850’s but slipped away. Though the official line is that Murieta was eventually caught, killed, and his severed head paraded about the state, many people thought it was faked and that he retired from his Robin Hood’ish ways to live off riches he’d stashed away. One version of that story puts Hornitos as the place he buried his gold. Joaquin Murieta was the basis for the fictional character of Zorro, and for a song ‘Joaquin Rides Again’ by yours truly, and part of the album ‘Hangtown Fry’ coming out on Blue Night Records in January 2012. Here’s the lyrics:

In a dusty Spanish pueblo, where the heat drives you insane
Lived the bravest man around, Murietta was his name
In the evening air he would disappear, and become the poor man’s friend
He’ll come to fight and it would be all right, when Joaquin rides again

In early California, where the forty-niners came
The lands in the hands of the white man, and the brown man has no name
But the wealthy few will always lose, when he is in command
Hang on tight; it’ll be all right, when Joaquin rides again

(Chorus) From the sky at midnight,
To an outlaw’s moon well sing this tune, when Joaquin rides again 

He’ll come down from the mountain he’ll come from the river shore
He’ll be in the hearts of free men, and even up the score
He’ll be the liberator, and put troubles on the mend
Hang on tight it’ll be all right when Joaquin rides again

From the mining camps and valleys from the hillsides to the sea
He’ll be asking one lone question won’t you ride with me
For all of California, he’s got a hand to lend
He’s come to fight it’ll be all right, when Joaquin rides again

Plaque inscription: NO. 333 HORNITOS (no plaque)- Hornitos, 'little ovens,' derived its name from the presence of many old Mexican stone graves or tombs built in the shape of little square bake ovens and set on top of the ground. The town seemed to have been settled by an undesirable element driven out of the adjoining town of Quartzburg, but as the placers at Quartzburg gave out, many of its other citizens came to Hornitos. It became the first and the only incorporated town in Mariposa County.
Location: 2877 Bear Valley Rd Hornitos  11 mi W of Bear Valley on County Road J16, Hornitos The town of Hornitos is located at the intersection of Bear Valley Road and Hornitos Road about 18 km west of Bear Valley 
GPS: 37.501334,-120.238345

1 comment:

  1. Great trip! I was in Hornitos a couple of years before you, and have ever intention of going back this summer!