The Klamath and Trinity Rivers

The biggest river in the northeast of California, the Klamath River, flows south from Oregon’s Klamath Lake then west to the Pacific Ocean south of Crescent City. At its southern most point it is joined by the Trinity River, its main tributary and almost equal in size during gold rush times. The Trinity was named by Pearson Reading who led a hunting expedition there in 1845, and because he believed that the river ultimately emptied into a bay the old Spanish sailing charts called Trinidad Bay he give it the name it still carries.

Trinity River CA

Then in 1847 Reading settled on land along Clear Creek in southwest Shasta County. After the discovery of gold at Coloma Reading visited the mines on the American River near the sawmill and took note of how the gold could be found in the gravel bars along the water. He realized that he had seen similar bars along the Trinity River earlier in 1845 and believed that gold might be found in one place as easily as in the other so he returned to the Trinity and soon discovered the gold he sought.

After he returned to Sacramento in 1849, word quickly got out about his discoveries and a rush to the area began. Soon the entire region of the upper Trinity had been explored and numerous rich sites were discovered. Perhaps the wealthiest of these was on a high hill just north of the southern most bend of the river where a deep bed of gold bearing gravel was found. The site offered some of the best access to the Sacramento Valley from where goods had to be packed in by mule train. Weaverville thus grew quickly to become the main supply point of the area.

Klamath River and Siskiyou Mountains 1887

Other mining sites on the Trinity included Rich Bar, a few miles downstream from Weaverville, then fifteen miles farther on sat Big Bar, while Canadian Bar and Long Bar lay downriver at five and ten miles more respectively. Up river some ten wiles was Lewiston and fifteen or twenty miles to the northeast were Minersville and Trinity Center. Except for some work done in gullies and gulches these were the principal mining areas along the Trinity.

By 1850 men had moved onto the Klamath River and the Scott and Salmon Rivers that flowed into it and had also found them to be rich. On Scott River near the junction with the Klamath was Scott’s Bar; on the Salmon River were Sawyer’s Bar, Nearp’s Flat, Bestville and Gullion’s Bar: and on the Klamath southwest from Scott’s Bar were Johnson, Happy Camp, Wingate, Orleans Bar and Red Cap, all well known in their day. But the placer’s here, much like along the Kern and Santa Clara Rivers in the south, were almost worked out after the first year and though some quartz deposit continued to pay the mining here was over quickly.



  1. A lot of the placer diggings got worked out quickly, but as technology advanced and gold prices rose, mining companies have generally come in and reworked the old sites.

    Such an interesting series, John! Keep it up!

    • The day of the small miner working the bars and flats with sluice and pan was over in California about 1855, but a site wasn’t considered mined out until the Chinese were done with it. They would sometimes go through old tailings two or three times. They were very thorough.

      Just in the last week or so the Sutter Mine near Sutter Creek, which had been open since 1999 as a tourist attraction, announced they are fully permitted and ready to resume gold production. They expect to find a billion dollars worth of gold there. This is the same mine that made Leland Stanford his first fortune. Another old mine, the Idaho-Maryland near Grass Valley, is also getting closer to reopening. There is still a lot of gold in California.

  2. Fascinating. With the price of gold, it seems to pay to re-look at some of the old sites. It happened here and they expect to continue on in Cripple Creek for another twenty-five years.

    • California’s government does everything it can to stop the mining of gold, Doris. They do not want people making money in a way that can be hidden from their greedy hands. There is millions in the rivers and every winter more washes in. They will harass and may even arrest those who look for it.

  3. That is so sad. In Cripple Creek the mining is all on private property. But they also allow prospectors. Know a gentleman in my writing group who is on the Weather Channel show prospectors, although they are mining for gem stones.

    • You can still stake a claim and mine gold here in California, but you can’t mine it in the rivers and that’s where it winds up every year during the winter storms. Suction dredge mining disturbs the mercury, they say. They are going to have to clean the rivers. They will do that by the use of suction dredges.
      I smell a rat?

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