In this 2nd of six articles on Nevada City’s secret mineshafts, we explore the 150-year-old clandestine society that has quietly managed this secret.

Beneath the quaint streets of Nevada City, where the Gold Rush once roared, lies a shadow network of tunnels and mine shafts veiled in secrecy and legend. This isn’t just the heartland of California’s gold lore; it’s the domain of “the Keepers,” a covert group whose existence has been as closely guarded as the mine shafts and tunnels they oversee. In this second installment, we pull back the curtain on these mysterious custodians, stewards of the deep, who’ve woven the fabric of local mythos one clandestine thread at a time.

It’s been whispered among the eldest that the Keepers, as they’ve come to be known, are not just protectors of the past but the bridge to an inexplicable present. They’re the modern-day myth-keepers, an unbroken chain linking today’s Nevada City to the dusty annals of yesteryear.

The origin of these guardians is as murky as the tunnels themselves. Some say they are descendants of the original miners, bound by blood to preserve the sanctity and secrets of the underground veins they once toiled. Others speculate a more altruistic inception—a band of citizens who took up the mantle, vowing to protect the town from the potential dangers lurking in the abandoned shafts: forgotten caches of dynamite, precarious pits, and the rumored denizens of the deep.

Their methods are as varied as the theories about them. It’s said they meet under the cloak of Sierra nights, their gatherings illuminated by nothing more than the flickering of a miner’s candle. They are the silent sentinels, the eyes in the dark, ensuring the tunnels remain undisturbed. But why the offerings? Why the secrecy? And what truths lay buried in those cold, earthen corridors?

This series aims to shed light on the enigmatic society that, for over a century, has slipped through the pages of official history. From the stoic Reverend Wilford E. Shank, whose sermons are as cryptic as the role he’s rumored to play, to the eccentric, ever-buzzed Toby “Doob” Carnvale, whose tales teeter on the brink of the unbelievable, we’re digging into the lives that intersect the lore of the Keepers.

To the uninitiated, it may seem a fool’s errand, chasing ghosts and shadows. But here at The Broad Street Beacon, we know that every legend is rooted in a sliver of truth. And so, with notepad in hand and curiosity as our guide, we invite you on this journey—no stone unturned, no story untold. Join us as we seek to bring the Keepers and their age-old charge into the light of the modern day, revealing the pulse of the past that still beats beneath Nevada City.

Nevada City’s Veiled Vigilantes and Their Venerable Vows

For generations, the Keepers have been as much a part of Nevada City as the storied Yuba River. A steadfast group sworn to secrecy, they have preserved the delicate balance between the surface world and the cavernous realms below. Today, we excavate the rich history of this enigmatic society, uncovering near misses with exposure and their unusual bonds with the town’s eclectic leaders, all while masquerading as parade participants in plain sight.

The history of the Keepers intertwines with the very roots of Nevada City, where whispered oaths and a dedication to the subterranean have been passed down like heirlooms. This secretive guild, composed of the town’s most steadfast, has operated in the penumbra of society, their existence nearly revealed only in fleeting instances—a mislaid tool found near the tunnel’s entrance, a strange symbol etched on the underside of the old bridge, and the occasional slip of the tongue by a loose-lipped member after one too many at the local tavern.

Yet, it is not merely secrecy that binds these individuals; it is a series of peculiar rituals and alliances that have fortified their ranks. Twice a year, under the new moon’s shield, the Keepers partake in the Ceremony of the Silent Shovel and the Gathering of the Guardian’s Grit. These rituals, bizarre to the outsider, are said to renew their vows and strengthen the enchantment that keeps the tunnels hidden.

The Keepers’ lore is rife with alliances formed with Nevada City’s most idiosyncratic mayors. From Mayor Jasper “Jap” Morningstar, who reportedly took the Keepers’ oath in the secrecy of the town’s oldest mine, to the enigmatic Mayor “Whispering” Wendy Wainwright, who was said to have consulted with the Keepers before every major civic decision, the alliance between the town’s leaders and the Keepers has been a peculiar open secret.

Keepers Meetings

Nestled among the deciduous trees of Nevada City’s Cottage Street stands a house that whispers tales as old as the hills it rests upon. To the untrained eye, it’s merely a quaint Victorian relic, its gingerbread trim and gabled roofs a nod to the town’s gold-flecked history. But to those in the know, this aging abode is the twice-yearly meeting place of the Keepers, the enigmatic group charged with the guardianship of the city’s subterranean secrets.

The house, with its faded paint and ivy-clad walls, harbors more than just creaky floorboards and the echoes of the past. The Keepers convene within its musty chambers under the silent judgment of portraits long-faded. It’s here, amid the scent of old books and whispered oaths, that they renew their vigil, ensuring that the tunnels’ mysteries remain undisturbed by time or trespassers.

The Keepers, with a solemnity befitting their charge, are quick to dispel any notion of kinship with E Clampus Vitus—commonly known as the Clampers. That venerable fraternity, steeped in Gold Rush lore and raucous camaraderie, is known for its boisterous revelry and public demonstrations of brotherhood. The Clampers’ historical markers dot the landscape, starkly contrasting the Keepers’ shadowed discretion.

“Our purpose is preservation, not proclamation,” a Keeper was once overheard asserting in the hushed confines of a local establishment. “The Clampers celebrate history; we safeguard its unseen chapters.” This refrain has become a mantra, a vocal boundary drawn between the celebratory brotherhood of the Clampers and the clandestine covenant of the Keepers.

The old house on Cottage Street stands silent for most of the year, its secrets locked behind antique doors. But when the Keepers gather, a faint light flickers behind drawn curtains, and the veil is lifted on this cornerstone of Nevada City’s hidden heritage for just a moment. It is a monument not to memory but to a living legacy—a legacy kept alive by the Keepers’ silent sentry over the stories etched in the dark earth beneath our feet.

Even Nevada City’s cherished parades haven’t been immune to the Keepers’ touch.

Cloaked in the guise of historical reenactment groups or eccentric local clubs, the Keepers have marched in plain sight. For the Constitution Day Parade, they donned the trappings of founding fathers, while on the Fourth of July, they masqueraded as a cohort of miners from the bygone era—picks and pans in hand, a wink to the history they protect.

These parades served a dual purpose—celebrating Nevada City’s heritage while allowing the Keepers to renew their public oath to each other, a spectacle hidden in plain sight. The symbolism is rich; just as the parades march down Broad Street, the Keepers parade through history, ever vigilant, ever secretive.

As Nevada City moves forward, the Keepers remain a bridge to the past, safeguarding the secrets that time has buried but not erased. Their story is a tapestry of the bizarre and the banal, a pageant of the profound and the profane, played out beneath the streets of this modern-day Gold Rush town.

In our next 3rd installment, we’ll tour one of these secret “abandoned” mine shafts and share the shocking and strange things we discovered.