Archives for June 2011

Modern mining with a long tom or sluice

Placer mining hasn’t changed that much since the time of the 49ers. Sure, you drive close to some of the many good spots to look for placer gold but you will still have to walk into the river and carry your equipment with you, so it needs to be light and easily portable. Here are some examples of modern miners using over the counter gear you can pack in and back along with all the gold you find. Notice how the two guys with the long tom are taking their ore from somewhere on the hillside above … [Read more...]

Gold mining gear, long toms and sluices

As mining operations became more complex, the long tom and the sluice came into widespread use. The long tom was a shallow trough 15 feet long and 15 inches high and often increasing in width near the low end and through which a constant stream of water ran. A miner would toss in ore and it would wash down through a sieve tacked across the top, called a riddle, where the rocks and stones could be easily picked out but the fine particles would pass through and fall into a shallow box with cleats, … [Read more...]

Modern claim jumping

One night early in January of 2009 the owner of a mining company waved down a sheriff's deputy on the road near his mining claim. Using night vision equipment the officer then saw three men with flashlights working in a steep, rocky canyon. When confronted one of the men managed to flee but the other two were arrested carrying a metal detector, rock picks and a hammer and were taken to jail where they were charged with attempted grand theft from a mining claim. According California Penal … [Read more...]

Gold mining gear, the rocker

Panning gold was slow work and very early in 1848 Isaac Humphrey, a miner who’d been at the gold finds in the mountains of Georgia in the 1830’s, introduced a new device that sped things up a great deal. Called a rocker or a cradle, it resembled a baby’s bed. At the upper end was a hopper with moderately high sides and covered with a sheet metal or rawhide sieve with holes a half-inch in diameter. Here ore bearing soil would be shoveled in then washed down the body where the gold would collect … [Read more...]

The sun sets on California gold miners

With the huge rise in the price of gold, mining was poised to become a significant contributor to an economy desperate for help when the two year ban on suction dredge mining ended later this year. Now most miners expect this type of mining by individuals is over for good. But make no mistake, plans to mine the rivers are underway and have been for some time. According to the web site of the Sierra Fund, an environmental organization heavily involved in cleaning California’s rivers, in … [Read more...]

The basic gear for a gold miner

The early gold miner who traveled by foot required little more than a single suit of clothes consisting of a wool shirt, thick pants, heavy boots and a slouch hat. He carried a pistol, a knife, and a roll of blankets for his bed, a cooking pot, a gold pan, a shovel and maybe a pick, and a pack with salt pork, beans, sugar, flour, and coffee or tea. Often he slept on the ground or in a hastily built brush hut. Men with horses and mules could carry more and might have a tent. It was quickly … [Read more...]

Gold found in California, an eyewitness account, Part 3

On a rainy winter day soon after the gold was found, Henry Bigler went duck hunting downriver. He returned that evening with no ducks but instead had a half ounce of gold tied up in a handkerchief and the story that he had found it in at least a dozen places along the river. The excitement must have grown then because Brown tells us that the work on the mill was “pushed with vigor to completion.” It was about this time that Marshall informed Sutter of the find. But William Johnson decided he had … [Read more...]

Gold found in California, an eyewitness account, Part 2

By the middle of January the sawmill was given it’s first test but it was set too low and the mill wheel wouldn’t work properly. While the mill itself was being raised the gates of the force bay, at the millrace dam, were opened at night to let the water wash away loose sand and gravel while the Indians removed the larger rocks during the day. Marshall became curious about the granite bedrock in the millrace and thought it might contain gold. Brown got a pan from their cabin’s kitchen and they … [Read more...]

Gold found in California, an eyewitness account, Part 1

James S. Brown, a member of the Mormon Battalion that had come to California during the Mexican War and who was at the sawmill on the American River when gold was first found in 1848, wrote his account of what happened there 46 years later. The following articles are based on his recollections. On August 26, 1847 about 150 members of the Mormon Battalion, with the intent of traveling east across the Sierra Nevada to the new Mormon settlement at the Great Salt Lake, camped along the … [Read more...]

Wells Fargo expands across the west

After the panic of 1855 the road to expansion in California was wide open for Wells Fargo. Their main rival, Adams and Company, had collapsed and so had a number of smaller operations. Wells Fargo lost money but remained solvent. The number of express packages arriving in their San Francisco office was twice that of the two leading competitors combined. They had branches in 55 towns across California and with more to come. Between 1856 and 1860 their listed assets doubled, as did the number of … [Read more...]