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Second Garrotte (No. 460 California Historical Landmark)

Historic Site or District
Reported to be Bret Harte's cabin. – photographer unknown

California Historical Landmarks Program

Historical Landmarks are sites, buildings, features, or events that are of statewide significance and have anthropological, cultural, military, political, architectural, economic, scientific or technical, religious, experimental, or other value. Historical Landmarks are eligible for registration if they meet at least one of the following criteria:

1) Is the first, last, only, or most significant of its type in the state or within a large geographic region

2) Is associated with an individual or group having a profound influence on the history of California

3) Is a prototype of, or an outstanding example of, a period, style, architectural movement or construction or is one of the more notable works or the best surviving work in a region of a pioneer architect, designer or master builder

California’s Landmark Program began in the late 1800s with the formation of the Landmarks Club and the California Historical Landmarks League. In 1931, the program became official when legislation charged the Department of Natural Resources—and later the California State Chamber of Commerce—with registering and marking buildings of historical interest or landmarks. The Chamber of Commerce then created a committee of prestigious historians, including DeWitt Hutchings and Lawrence Hill, to evaluate potential landmark sites.

In 1948, Governor Earl Warren created the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee to increase the integrity and credibility of the program. Finally, this committee was changed to the California Historical Resources Commission in 1974. Information about registered landmarks numbered 770 onward is kept in the California Register of Historical Resources authoritative guide. Landmarks numbered 669 and below were registered prior to establishing specific standards, and may be added to the California Register when criteria for evaluating the properties are adopted.

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This natural depression in the hills two miles from Groveland is best known for its oak hanging tree. The number of hangings of bandits, murderers and roughians varies from as many as 60 to only three, depending on the source. In either case, miners settled here in 1849. Second Garrotte literally means the second hanging. “Garrotte” is translated from Spanish to “death by strangulation.”

Groveland was the site of the first hanging and named so as a result. Although Groveland became the first garrote and changed its name as the town grew to become a respectable community with concern for its reputation, Second Garrotte (the site of the second hanging) kept its name. Second Garrotte was conveniently located near the main pack mule road of Big Oak Flat and Groveland.

The area was rich with gold, featuring only three mines. Many other mines were scattered randomly around the countryside, not large enough to make a settlement from either of them.

Two men sailed around the Horn of South America and arrived at Second Garrotte to mine for gold. They both stayed to live out their lives in this tiny mountain village. James Chaffee and James Chamberlain lived in a weathered cabin nearby the historical marker and became known as the men used in Bret Harte’s story, “Tennessee Partners.” Bret Harte was thought to have a cabin in Second Garrotte, although it has not been positively verified.

Today, a few weathered remnants of buildings, the twisted old oak hangman’s tree and fences give the visitor sparse clues to the wild, violent days of the Gold Rush.

This site is on the Mark Twain – Bret Harte Trail. The California Historical Landmark is located on State Highway 120 (P.M. 34. 7), 2.4 mi SE of Groveland. This site is part of the Mark Twain Bret Harte Trail. Other nearby historical landmarks include Big Oak Flat and the Savage Trading Post.

Tuolumne County

A treasure of natural wonders and lively gold rush history, Tuolumne County offers visitors vivid scenery. A portion of Yosemite National Park lies within the county, along with giant redwood groves and impressive geological features. Both Bret Harte and Mark Twain wrote stories set in this area during the Gold Rush.

Time Period Represented


Nearby Places