Gold between the North Yuba and the South Feather

Around the first of July 1850, a party of about 130 prospectors, which included a miner named One-eyed Moore, stopped at a lovely, flat valley some 12 miles northwest of Downieville so covered in wild onions that they called it Onion Valley, and here Moore found evidence of rich gold deposits. Soon men were working at Dixon’s Creek, Poorman’s Creek, La Porte and many other places nearby. The next January a gold deposit was found that yielded $6,000 in an hour and a half of mining, with one nugget alone worth $1800 and several at $500 apiece. Later a half a man’s hat full of gold was picked up at one time from under a large quartz boulder.

Prospectors by Britton and Rey, Lithographers

Close by Onion Valley in the spring of 1850, on the divide between the North Yuba and the South Feather Rivers, a sea captain named Sears camped on a flat near a ravine. The next morning he found gold where he had staked his mule and, after satisfying himself of the wealth that the whole area held, he returned to his partners along the North Yuba. But just as they were ready to leave for the new site news of Captain Sears’s rich find got out and the Sears party found themselves pursued by many hungry miners led by someone called Gibson. The two groups almost came to a fight but finally an agreement was reached and all continued on to what they now called Secret Valley.

Oh,boys I’ve just struck it heavy Victor Seamon 1853

Gibson soon found gold deposits that proved even more valuable than those of the nearby Sears Ridge. Because Gibson didn’t tell anyone about his discovery the place came to be called Secret Ravine, but this only added to the animosity that had begun earlier when Gibson and Sears and their men had almost come to blows over the right to mine where Sears had first found gold. Now men moved out individually into places like Howland’s Flat, Pine Grove, St. Louis, Poker Flat, Poverty Flat and Brandy City. At all these places the gravel beds proved extremely rich.

At one particular spot a group of prospectors happened across a keg of port wine hidden in the bushes. With nothing better to do they opened the keg and drank their fill. Later they needed water and found it at the bottom of a deep ravine where the gravel proved so rich that the men set up camp and dubbed the place Port Wine. Later, when the easy placer gold was almost gone, a Frenchman who had been hunting with a Spaniard took a shot at a bird but hit a rock instead. When the Spaniard looked at the rock he found it loaded with gold. The vein they discovered that day near Pilot Peak, 15 miles north of Downieville, yielded large returns for many years.



  1. Some people seem to think that if there is gold, they can have it no matter who was there first. These are great stories. I love the port wine one especially. People are endlessly fascinating.

    • Gold miners seem to be an imaginative lot. It showed up in their names. Almost everyone had a nickname and places like Port Wine, Jackass Hill, You Bet and so many more are a lasting legacy to a real creative bent among them.

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