Mining law in the Southern mines

Jackass Gulch, Soldier’s Gulch and other nearby sites in Tuolumne County were some of the first places with organized mining codes. In 1848 a man was limited to a ten square foot claim but over time this grew to one hundred square feet. It is likely that at the beginning of mining here a man could only hold one claim but by 1851, when the codes were put into writing, transfer of claims was allowed by a written bill of sale witnessed by two disinterested persons. A jury of five men reviewed any disputes. A notice of the claim had to be renewed every ten days until water could be brought in to work that claim and after the water was procured an absence from the claim of five days without a reasonable excuse would forfeit the property.

Placer Mining at Brown’s Flat ,Tuolumne County

In the written codes of the neighboring Springfield District claims were one hundred square feet but no man could hold more than one and had to work it one day out of three during mining season. Claims had to be staked in the corners and recorded in the precinct registry. Disputes were referred to a committee of five miners or to one or more members of the committee as arbiters. If the entire committee was called each member was paid two dollars for his service. All decisions were final. Either party could compel the other to come to trial by giving three days notice of the time and place. Only American citizens could be on a committee or jury, and non-citizens were allowed to hold claims only after paying the foreign miners tax.

In Jamestown district miners meetings were held every six months plus on special occasions. By 1853 the mining rules had become so unpopular that they were overturned in a raucous session of miners. Claims were now one hundred square feet, posted, staked and marked with a ditch around the perimeter. More than one claim could be held with proof of purchase and the codes assigned rights to the use of water. No digging was allowed within twelve feet of any building or in any way so as to obstruct entry to it. Claims in Shaw’s Flat had to be square and members of a company could not hold claims for absent members. Diggings where pay dirt was twenty-five feet below the surface didn’t have to be worked from November to May.

Shaws Flats by JD Borthwick

In Sawmill Flat five arbiters settled disputes and if a general meeting of the miners was necessary it would be called by a standing committee of three men elected by the miners. In Brown’s Flat the arbiters were appointed by the standing committee who also served as a court of appeal. In districts with an Alcalde he had jurisdiction over mining disputes. In areas of dry diggings provisions were made for piles of pay dirt heaped up in the summer to await the winter rains for processing. Where water was available in limited quantities strict laws were enacted to prevent its diversion without the consent of all interested parties. Districts with surface claims, tunnel claims, deep diggings, hydraulic claims, and quartz claims all had differing and specific requirements that needed to be addressed in their codes.


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