How gold mining spread across California

As gold mining spread from the sawmill at Coloma, first down the American River to Mormon Island, east from the sawmill along the south fork, and up the north and middle forks of that river, a pattern was set. Within months of the discovery John Bidwell was mining on the Feather River and Pearson Reading in the far north near Mt. Shasta. It wasn’t long before gold had been found from the Oregon border south to the great bend of the San Joaquin River.

Mt Shasta

In the northern mines men worked the Trinity, Feather, Yuba and American Rivers, all tributaries of the Sacramento River, and in the southern mines the Consumnes, Mokelumne, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced flowed into the San Joaquin. Each of these rivers have forks and branches that run out of the Sierra Nevada Mountains through a narrow gorge sometimes thousands of feet deep which carries vast torrents of water from the spring snow melt with tremendous power due to the great drop in elevation along the way. The erosive force of the water constantly deepens the channel and deposits gold bearing silt and sand in banks and bars at every turn and eddy.

Panning gold on the American River

And it was to these banks and bars that men came, one after the other, following the streams, and settled in to mine the gold using their pans, rockers, long toms and sluices. From there they moved into the dry diggings in each canyon, gulch, flat and hill where gold was found and set out to recover it, so much so that every mile or two along the rivers and the ridges between them there was another mining camp often named for the first to mine in that area but sometimes saddled with a more irreverent and colorful name. Many of these camps disappeared as quickly as did the gold, but some remain to this day to remind us of the creativity, courage and stamina of the men who came here from so far to mine.



  1. John I just love the photos included in this post. I can just visualize the rivers over run with people looking to reap the benefits of those run offs from the winter snows. Although I wouldn’t want to live back then, the stories of those who did is forever fascinating. Perhaps that is why I love history so much. So many stories waiting to be found and told.

    • Those runoffs still cause gold to wash into the rivers, Doris, but now the government prevents people from getting a lot of it. It must have been an exciting time. gold mining bounced all over the west, from California to Nevada then on to Montana and Colorado and the miners carried the gold fever with them.

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