By Judy J. Pinegar
Sheep Ranch was named after a sheep ranch (imagine that!). The official post office stamp did at one time read “Sheep Ranch” (Zip: 95250). One of the very few “free-range” areas in California, there are about a hundred freely roaming sheep throughout the town today. Sheep Ranch is located in the center of Calaveras County, about 16 miles east of San Andreas and eight miles north of Murphys.
The Pioneer Hotel is one of the main buildings still standing from that era. In 1967 three couples from Marin County discovered the old Pioneer Hotel and purchased it for $27,000. Over the years it was restored to its original look. The couples took turns using the hotel to entertain their personal friends, associates and family during different times of the year. John and I are friends with one of the families so we were invited to share a weekend there with them on August 17-19, 2012. The above pictures were taken by John O’Dell.
Sheep Ranch has a surprisingly colorful history. The town was surrounded by sheep corrals, and in 1860 gold ore was discovered in the corrals where the sheep were kept at night. Soon Sheep Ranch was a bustling gold mining town. Gold discovered at the Sheep Ranch Mine occurred at the 300 foot level in an extremely, rich, unusual black quartz. Before the turn of the century there were five flourishing gold mines and one had a ten-stamp mill. The town also supported 15 saloons.”
The main mine in town was known as the Hearst mine. George Hearst, who with partners bought the mine in 1897, was the father of William Randolph Hearst. The mine operated under various company names until shut down by the government in 1942. The Sheep Ranch mine was the largest source of gold in the district and the largest mine of the Sierras.
At one time the town of Sheep Ranch held two churches, one Catholic and the other Protestant. The local red school house, which still stands as a private home, employed two teachers until 1907 when the enrollment dwindled to 30 pupils taught by one teacher. The Eagle Hotel and the Pioneer Hotel were the two prominent local establishments, but only the Pioneer Hotel still stands.
Much of the movie feature “Honkytonk Man” was filmed in and around Calaveras County. Exterior scenes include Main Street, Mountain Ranch; Main Street, Sheep Ranch; and the Pioneer Hotel in Sheep Ranch. Extras were locally hired and many of the town’s residents are seen in the movie. During the filming, Clint Eastwood was very friendly and hospitable, taking time to chat and visit with many local residents.
The population of Sheep Ranch is 32 people, with sheep well out-numbering humans! There are currently no active businesses in Sheep Ranch, with the nearest facilities being located in Mountain Ranch to the west, and in Avery to the east. In January 2008, the postal service contractor in town relocated, resulting in the town having its ZIP code archived (i.e., made “not usable”) by the U.S. Postal Service. Locals can still use the town name, but must use the ZIP code for nearby Mountain Ranch (95246).
Judy J. Pinegar is a writer and her articles have appeared in many publications.
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