Timbuctoo was once the largest town in eastern Yuba County. Situated strategically on the Yuba River near its gold-bearing sandbars, yet perched high enough into the river's surrounding hills to escape flood risk, the town enjoyed its heyday in the 1850's. Originally founded by the gold miners working the nearby river placer deposits, the town enjoyed further success with the introduction of hydraulic mining in 1854. Unlike many of the mining camps that amounted to little more than tent shantytowns, the wealth flowing from Timbuctoo allowed for the construction of permanent buildings of wood and brick. Aside from the usual stores and businesses, the town's amenities included a Wells Fargo office, saloons, a church, hotels and a theater.
Legend has it that the unusual name was coined by an African miner who worked in the area. He was said to have been from the region of Timbuktu, in Africa, although it is unclear whether or not the town was named by him or after him. In some versions of the tale, he was either an escaped or freed slave.