Gold Bluff

In the spring of 1851 stories began to circulate among the gold miners, no doubt greatly helped along by those with an interest in the likely outcome, that the beaches for miles south of where the Klamath River runs into the Pacific Ocean were made up mostly of gold. It seems that a high bluff along the shore had been continually battered by the surf for so long that enormous amounts of it had been eroded by the constant surf thus releasing huge quantities of gold into the sands of the beach. And there was some truth to the story. There was gold in the bluff and fine flakes were frequently found in the black sand. But the story grew from one telling to the next until the sands were said to be one quarter or even one half pure gold. All one need do to become fabulously rich was to shovel it up at low tide and haul it away. It was said that the nine men who owned this golden beach had taken from it the incredible sum of $43 million dollars.

Klamath River estuary

While these stories circulated the so called owners, led by General John Wilson and John Collins who had no doubt started the rumors in the first place, organized a company to dispose of the property by selling unlimited shares of stock in it for $100 apiece. Collins, the company secretary, told the biggest stories and seemed to believe all he said. His earnestness and enthusiasm induced many others to invest. As the excitement grew the shares sold like crazy bringing huge amounts of cash into the company. A ship was bought for the voyage to the Klamath River. Preparations were undertaken for what seemed like the most extraordinary mining operation the world had ever seen. A number of sailing companies jumped on the bandwagon, advertising their ships were headed north and many men sailed away to the golden beach.

Klamath River mouth

But then information from practical, experienced miners began to filter back to San Francisco that these golden sands did not have enough gold in them to warrant the cost of mining it. The Gold Bluff bubble quickly burst. The rumors were seen to be nothing more than the fancies of Collins overextended imagination. The company lost all the money it had invested and came away with nothing. Sailing firms cancelled any more voyages to the area. The miners who actually went lost both their time and their money. The collapse was so total, so complete and so fast that men were ashamed to have been taken in by such fanciful tales. For years afterwards miners were extremely cautious about any rumor involving mines supposedly worth millions of dollars.



  1. John,
    Thanks for the history lesson. I know that a sizeable mining camp was built there and I’ve heard that they used hydraulic cannons to blast the sands down so that they could be sluiced. Is that untrue?

    Is Hangtown Creek a novel? Where is it sold?
    Steve Stringham
    (bear biologist)

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