Early mining near Grass Valley

News of gold in California made it to the Oregon Territory quickly. David Stump and two friends came south seeking wealth and found rich deposits of placer gold along Wolf Creek. Like so many other strikes at places such as Hangtown, Mokelumne Hill and Mormon Island men poured into Grass Valley. But like Sutter Creek the placer gold soon played out. Then, in 1850, a quartz vein was found on Gold Hill. More quartz gold turned up at Ophir, Rich, and Massachusetts Hills.

Grass Valley Hotel, 2007

The area around Nevada City, Grass Valley, and Rough and Ready would become one of the richest in the gold country. It’s said that over 300 million dollars was pulled from the hard rock mines there. Many of these mines operated until World War II and the Empire – Star mines finally closed in 1956. Gold rush entertainers Lola Montez and Lotta Crabtree both lived in Grass Valley.

Rough and Ready, photo by Isaac Crumm

Named by its leader, A. A. Townsend, for General Zachary Taylor the commander of the American forces during the War with Mexico, the Rough and Ready Mining Company of Wisconsin set to work a few miles from Grass Valley. In April 1850 the town of Rough and Ready, in order to avoid a new tax on mining and a Nevada County law banning the consumption of alcohol, seceded from the Union to become the Great Republic of Rough and Ready. However, in a few months when the residents realized that they would not be entitled to celebrate Independence Day on the next 4th of July, the secession was rescinded by an overwhelming vote of the people. The town still celebrates Secession Days on the last Sunday in June.

Nevada City 1851

Nevada City, first called Deer Creek Dry Diggings, was settled in 1849. During the mining boom of 1850-51 it grew into an important town in the state while Nevada County was recognized as the leading mining area. The Deer Creek Dry Diggings, started in 1850, is still in evidence by a three-story granite building erected in 1882. A cave dug into the hill to store kegs of beer is still there. The Nevada Theater opened as early as 1850, but when the Bailey House Hotel burned in 1863 another location was needed and in 1865 a new theater opened. Refurbished in 1968 the Nevada Theater features movies and live performances and is California’s oldest existing theater building.

Nevada City 2007, photo by Moncrief



  1. Isn’t it amazing what people will do for gold, and yet they also want their ‘civilization’ too. Entertainment, alcohol etc. This was a really fun and informative post. Thank you.

    • There was a sense of freedom in the gold rush. People drank to excess, gambled passionately but still expected every man to act in a honorable manner. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

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