Much of what follows comes from the work of historian, David Davis, done while he was an employee of the Stanislaus National Forest. We use this material with the consent of the USFS. Recently (2013) David has completed a very comprehensive history of the Raggio Mill, which is available, we believe, through the County Archives.
An abundance of documentation exists on the Raggio family and the two Raggio sawmills, first one built on San Domingo Creek and then moved to Cowell Creek, in Calaveras County during the first quarter of the twentieth century. The first mill was operating by 1906 on San Domingo Creek. After the timber in that vicinity was harvested, the entire mill was moved to Cowell Creek, less than two miles away. The Cowell Creek mill operated until 1924, until it, too, had harvested all the surrounding timber that belonged to the Raggio brothers. After that the mill machinery was purchased by the Manuel family partnership, and was moved north to San Antonio Creek, not far from White Pines, where it produced lumber until the early 1950s.
Mules being used to haul logs out of the high country (Click to enlarge)
Mules again, but this time the logs are on wagons, presumably because there is now a road of sorts.
The first of the Raggios emigrated in 1854 from Northern Italy to California in search of gold, arriving first in Amador County with one newly born child, Joe. Richard, Lester’s father (and later the Cowell Creek Mill’s logger and part owner of both Raggio mills) was born in Jackson (Amador County). Four more boys were soon to follow, each as bright and ambitious as his brothers.
Mules and Oxen hauling logs for the Raggios circa 1910
In 1905, following a large number of small land acquisitions purchased for timber-cutting, the first Raggio sawmill was built on San Domingo Creek, approximately a mile west of today’s Red Apple on Highway 4. Its power source was steam. By 1906 the mill was operating and other structures had been erected to service the mill, mill hands, and loggers: namely, several small houses or cabins, two bunkhouses, a blacksmith shop and apparently enough barns and sheds to take care of six mule teams and a number of horses. Lumber of all kinds was in great demand, not only for buildings in Murphys and Angels Camp, but for flumes and the shoring up of mine shafts. The Ragios catered to certain mining companies with direct diliveries for several years.
Raggio Camp 3 miles above Murphys on San Domingo Creek. Joe and Lester Raggio in photo.
Photo taken in 1911
Steam Traction Engine used by Raggio brothers circa 1910 (Click to enlarge)
This photo was on a post card dated 1913 (Click to enlarge)
The San Domingo Creek Mill continued operation until 1910, when it was moved to Cowell Creek. In the same year, the Raggios ceased hauling rough timbers to the mines in Angels Camp, milled lumber now becoming their primary product.
Steam Traction Engine hauling milled lumber. Probably the Raggio brothers on engine
If you look closely at the above photo you’ll see another steam traction engine following behind the first. Both are similar to Ol’Beth, that now stands in front of the Angels Camp Museum.
Courtesy of Gary Selesia, a Raggio descendent
San Domingo Creek and Cowell Creek operations are described in identical terms and with identical inventories: a “steam powered saw mill, edger, logging donkey engine, trucks, lumber tramway, dwelling houses, blacksmith shop, boarding and bunk houses, two barns and sheds.” (Ref. Calaveras County archives)
Logs arriving at Raggio Mill (Click to enlarge)
The Cowell Creek Mill may be seen as a fairly typical mill of its type, neither small nor large, generally producing about 30,000 board feet of lumber per day. What may be considered a little unusual is that it was built in an unusually restricted space on a very steep hillside that drops precipitously into the rock-strewn gorge containing Cowell Creek. Because of this location, it was necessary to gouge out the hillside to a depth of more than a dozen feet in places, and to construct of the dam built to hold back the millpond, upstream from the mill. A large drying yard was located on a sunny slope slightly uphill from the milling operations.
Blacksmith shop at Raggio Mill. Note men making solid wooden wheel. circa 1905
Over a period of less than 15 years the Cowell Creek Mill cut the remaining large sugar pines and other trees not previously harvested (including those in the logging camp itself) and sold the mill to the logging and milling division of Manuel Estates. Richard Raggio, who ran the Cowell Creek operation, retired at the age of 63. Ernest Raggio Sr., who presided part of the time over the mill and part of the time over the office and lumberyard, reached his 66th year before retiring.
Some photos courtesy of Calaveras County Historical Society, others from the Raggio family.
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