Welcome to Squabbletown, California. Population: almost nobody these days.
Cris Barsanti moved to Squabbletown near Columbia and is the de facto mayor. Squabbletown was listed on the top 10 most embarrassing or unfortunate town names list. Maggie Beck/Union Democrat, copyright 2012
But in its heyday, this Gold Rush-era burgh near Columbia was the hub of a hardscrabble cluster of mining claims, which for a brief time attracted throngs of tough fortune-seekers, Chinese laborers and more than a few scoundrels.
Now Squabbletown, the remnants of which lie a few miles south of Columbia State Historic Park, has been put on the map for a different reason — it has a crummy name.
At least that’s the opinion of more than 2,000 people who participated in a poll conducted by a genealogy website that ranked the 10 “most embarrassing or unfortunate” town names in the United States.
Squabbletown ended up ninth on the list, edging out Monkey’s Eyebrow, Ky., but apparently not quite as embarrassing as Loveladies, N.J. which came in 8th. The No. 1 undesirable town name on the list was Toad Suck, Ark.
While Squabbletown is among the least enviable city monikers in the country, there’s no argument that the once thriving town is still rich with history.
Cris Barsanti is the de facto mayor of this little-known former gold town. She owns a 40-acre ranch off Sawmill Flat Road in the heart of what was once Squabbletown.
Despite its quarrelsome name, the area is serene and shrouded in a thicket of oak trees and poison oak. A few farm cats roam the property while an elderly beagle named Emma keeps watch on the mares munching on green grass.
“I think this place was pretty populated when all the miners were here,” said Barsanti, who has lived in Tuolumne County since the mid-1970s.
A nearby barn is festooned with dozens of rusty shovel heads, pick axes and various other trappings common to mining camps in the mid 1850s. A retaining wall behind Barsanti’s house was built sometime during the Gold Rush purportedly by Chinese laborers. The workmen were so skilled at masonry that the wall has stood intact for more than 150 years without reinforcing mortar.
Beyond the historical artifacts that surround her, Barsanti said she didn’t know much about the history of Squabbletown.
“We had a road sign that said ‘Squabbletown,’ but it was stolen years ago,” Barsanti said with a shrug. “Somebody thought it was cute, I guess.”
According to an old Union Democrat article, Squabbletown was established after a miner discovered that the trousers he was washing in Woods Creek were covered in gold dust. It doesn’t say why it was named in honor of arguments, however a “Tales of the West” story from the 1800s said two dueling miners were struck down by mutual gunshots.
The mines played out within just a few years and the land was acquired by a lumberman named John Slanc who “built a fine, sturdy home there.”
In 1924, Slanc also got into a squabble of his own with neighbor, Charlie Bloom, who claimed Slanc owed him $50 for shooting two of his dogs, according to The Union Democrat archives.
“In the course of researching their family history, people can discover that their ancestors came from somewhere with an unlikely, unfortunate or downright embarrassing name,” said Josh Taylor, genealogist and spokesman for findmypast.com, which conducted the poll. “I maybe expected Squabbletown to rank higher.”
Kooky town names are common in areas founded by hard-drinking men and outcasts, according to Cedar Ridge columnist and historical researcher Bob Holton. He didn’t know how Squabbletown got its ignominious name, but he said there were a lot of fights in most Gold Rush boom towns.
“It’s got to be because there were so many arguments then,” Holton said. “Although, people didn’t really squabble about gold in those days, they just killed each other.”
Holton listed several other Mother Lode towns with odd names like Whiskey Bar, Dog Town, Filibuster and Bummerville. Slumgullian Bar was the name of a town near what is now New Melones Reservoir whose name derives either from the sludge left over from a sluice box or a barely palatable stew eaten by miners.
Tuolumne County historian Carlo De Ferrari said that most gold towns were founded within one or two years of the discovery of gold, and they carried unusual names.
“I have often wondered why they named things the way they did,” De Ferrari said.
De Ferrari speculated that the “squabble” on which the town was founded could be any number of things.
“It could have been a mining claim or it could have been girls, I just don’t know,” he said.