Kanaka and Oregon Creeks, gold in the Blue Lead

King Kamehameha, 1818

Around May of 1850 a Kanaka known as Captain Ross and said to be the son of King Kamehameha had a large following of men from the Sandwich Islands, or Hawaii as we know it today, and sent out search parties throughout the Yuba River region. One quickly returned with news of a discovery on a creek that that flowed southwest into the Middle Yuba that came to be called Kanaka Creek, and it turned into the one of the richest places around. Many large nuggets were found there, and that July a rock of quartz and gold weighing 30 pounds was found, but in later years even larger discoveries were made.

In 1852 an English ship carpenter called Chips, who lived alone in a dirty cabin and was rarely seen sober, found an outcropping of blue gravel on Minnesota Flats near the forks of Kanaka Creek that opened into numerous wealth bearing tunnels and shafts. No one knows if it was intelligence or simply luck, but after he sold his interest in those tunnels for a healthy sum he moved to Chip’s Flat, on the other side of the ridge from Minnesota Flats, and dug another tunnel back toward Minnesota Flats where he struck an even richer lode. By now people assumed that Chips had accurately figured the path of an ancient gravel bed that came to be called the Blue Lead.

Yuba River watershed

But while Chips did find investors in his new tunnels, others sank more shafts that went in the same direction. This caused animosity between Chips and his new partners and they decided to make him a present of a barrel of the roughest whiskey available, commonly known as tangle foot or tarantula juice. In short order Chips died, some said of the D.T.’s and his mining interest were divided among his partners.

Then there was Forest City, first called the Forks of Oregon Creek, where Michael Savage began mining in 1853. When a barber named Davis showed up with his wife Mary, the first woman in the area, they started to call the place Marietta in her honor. Then when a Captain Moody arrived with his wife Forest who wrote newspaper articles and referred to the town as Forest City that name gained sway and stayed so for many years. Now days the town is known simply as Forest.



  1. I really find the place names, when you tell the story, and how they got them. The map is really fascinating. Thank you for including it.

    • The map only shows things as flat. The terrain gets rougher the more one goes to the north and the east. Downieville is pretty close to the first spine of the Sierra. It’s great gold country though. A lot of wealth came out of the mines around the Yuba River system.

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