A little fraud among gold miners backfires

Across the gold country surprising discoveries were made because of the patient, persevering efforts in the face of much discouragement and so California miners, once they thought well of a claim, would usually continue to work it. In the early days so little was known about how the gold was distributed that it was often found in places where no one thought it might be. There were instances of more experienced men coaxing newcomers to dig in spots considered unpromising. In many cases these novice miners uncovered great treasures, much to the chagrin of the old timers.

Gold mining

At Canyon Creek near Georgia Slide in the early days of mining there, the owners of a claim that they assumed had played out liberally salted it with gold dust before selling it to a party of newcomers for thirty-two hundred dollars. But soon after the buyers started working their new claim they began to realize they’d been fooled. Full of righteous anger they decided to thrash the sellers, but before they did they dug a little deeper than the former owners had just to see how things would look. And when they dug beyond the one crevice that had already been worked out they unexpectedly struck a new one that was filled with enough gold to repay them for what they had spent many times over. The claim they had so callously been tricked into buying continued to pay well for years afterward.

Miners in Hangtown1849


In Hangtown, or Placerville as we know it today, a miner spent several weeks stripping the topsoil from a new claim. When he was close to bedrock, where most of the gold should be, he made a careful examination of one corner of his diggings and found nothing. Discouraged, he decided to sell the claim. And when a group of young men came along who were totally inexperienced at mining he loudly touted the possibilities of the claim while making a plausible excuse why he chose not to pursue mining there. The men bought his claim for one hundred and fifty dollars and began mining the next morning. By afternoon they’d taken several more places down to bedrock and had begun to wash out a few pans of the earth. To his dismay the seller, who’d stayed around to see how badly he’d fooled these newcomers, was shocked to see pan after pan of ore turn out to hold anywhere from ten to a hundred dollars each. The old man promptly offered to buy his claim back for three times what he’d sold it for but the young men were too cagey to sell. In the next week they took out over seven thousand dollars from the claim, leaving the seller as one of the most disgusted miners in California.



  1. “O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!”
    Walter Scott When I read this wonderful piece of information the quote jumped into my head. Really enjoyed this one.

  2. Bill Cameron says

    Great, the field of head sized boulders of Hangtown shows something I never suspected about clearing the surface to get the bedrock. That stripping of top soil was never mentioned anywhere I read; and or it’s real meaning. I am writing an 1881 City Slicker western saga (4 books), where a minor character (real) arrives in Hangtown on 10 October, 1849. That picture really perks up any description I can give. Thanks. The other pictures in this section help too.

    • Glad I could help, Bill. The gold rush was an incredible time. The gold was forced to the surface with the action of the tectonic plates that raised the Sierra Nevada. That’s one reason it is in the bedrock and in quartz veins. The rivers from the mountains ran across the tectonic activity and a lot of the quartz veins and washed gold into the river bottoms and sand bars for millions of years. Unfortunately this abundance led to hydraulic mining which raised some river beds by 70 feet in places and covered farms and ranches down stream. Good luck with your books.

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