Cement mining and the development of hydraulic mining

Many, if not most, of the mining improvements in the early years of the gold rush originated at or near Nevada City. The long tom and the sluice were first used there as well as the mining ditch. The stamp mills for crushing gold bearing quartz originated in neighboring Grass Valley and so too were the processes for cement mining pioneered here. Often the gold bearing gravel and dirt were so tightly packed that instead of a slow puddling box a faster method to separate the gold was needed, and in 1857, much like the quartz-stamp mill, a cement-stamp mill came into use. Many cement deposits were sunk deep into the earth and mined through extensive shafts and tunnels. Much of this type of mining happened six to eight miles southeast of Nevada City in Little York, You Bet, Red Dog, Hunt’s Hill, Gouge Eye and Quaker Hill.

A California sluice

In 1852 a Frenchman named Chabot mined a gravel bank on Buckeye Hill a quarter of a mile north of Nevada City. He had a water source higher than his claim and began using a hose to bring water down to his sluice boxes. At some point he realized that instead of shoveling ore into the sluice and washing it down with the hose he could just turn the hose on the hill and wash the ore into the sluice directly, thereby saving a lot of work and increasing his production a great deal. Then, in 1853 E. E. Matteson, working a similar gravel bed on American Hill, a half mile west of Chabot’s Buckeye Hill, attached a metal nozzle to his hose and found that he could generate a stream of water so powerful that he could wash as much ore as a hundred men.

Hydraulic mining at Dutch Flat

Matteson’s nozzle was developed and improved until it became what would soon be called a monitor, similar to the free standing water nozzle used on fire boats and by fire men all around the world today. In the gold rush, used with an ample supply of water, these monitors could throw a powerful stream hundreds of feet onto a hillside with tremendous force. Whole gravel banks up to two hundred feet deep were washed into sluice boxes every year. The process was even used to cut through gravel banks at Dutch Flat for the construction of the transcontinental railroad.

Yuba River near North Bloomfield by J. Smith

One famous hydraulic mine, eight to ten miles northeast of Nevada City, was called North Bloomfield. It was near a little creek that flowed into the South Yuba from the north where two Irishmen and a German discovered a rich gravel deposit in 1851. After a while one of the Irishmen went to town for supplies and couldn’t resist a stop at a saloon where, plied by drink, he told of the great amount of gold they were finding. The next day about a hundred miners followed him back to his claim. They prospected for a while but didn’t find much and the little creek became known as Humbug Creek, but in 1853, when hydraulic mining arrived there, a boom town soon rose and by 1856 North Bloomfield was one of the liveliest and most productive areas around.



  1. I find it fascinating how the ‘mother of invention’ lead to so many devices that had other uses than what was originally intended. It seemed that each set of circumstances created a need for something new and improved. Thanks for the ‘rest of the story’.

    • In California gold came in so many different geological formations men had to be clever to get it. I haven’t heard of hydraulic mining much in other places in America but stamp mills to crush the ore were common all over where gold was mixed with rock and they usually went on 24 hours a day. The noise was terrible. The romance of the gold rush is still the placer miner, standing in a cold mountain stream with nothing but a pan, carefully washing out the sand and rocks and leaving only the gold. Thanks for writing, Doris.

  2. What is a “cement-stamp mill”?

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