Massive damage from hydraulic mining

Located just above where the Yuba and Feather Rivers meet, and once part of John Sutter’s vast holdings, Marysville quickly became a debarkation point for miners on their way to the gold fields from San Francisco. Due to this influx, in 1850, the four partners of the ranch hired French surveyor Augustus Le Plongeon to create a master plan for a town which they named Marysville after Mary Couvillaud, the wife of one of them. By 1853 the town had a population of 10,000 and in 1857 alone over 10 million dollars in gold was sent from Marysville banks to the mint in San Francisco.

Feather River Map by Shannon1

Among the many notable mining sites upriver were Park’s Bar, Timbuctoo, Smartsville, Grass Valley, Rough and Ready, and Nevada City all near the South Yuba; French Corral, North San Juan, Foster’s Bar on the Middle Yuba; and Camptonville, Allegheny City and Downieville on the North Yuba. Then along the main Feather River 25 miles upstream from Marysville was Oroville; then Poverty Hill, Port Wine, and Howland’s Flat along the South Fork; New York Bar and Nelson;s Point on the Middle Fork; and Thompson’s Flat, Rich Bar, Cherokee, and Crescent Mills on the North Fork.

The Monitor

Of these places, Park’s Bar, located some 12 miles north of Marysville, was one of the most well known of the sites that were completely buried from the use of high pressure water funneled through flumes from high above and into nozzles known as monitors that were then turned onto gold bearing gravel layers along the hillsides. The ore was processed through sluices where the gold was separated and the debris dumped into the rivers. The quantities of that debris were enormous. By 1868 some places along the rivers had been filled in to a depth of 70 feet.

North Bloomfield Mine

Orchards, fields, and even whole farms were consumed by the massive runoff of the hydraulic mining operations. In addition to Park’s Bar, Ousley’s Bar, a few miles below, and Long Bar a few miles above, were also swallowed by the debris. One of the first places where these hydraulic operations began was at Timbuctoo, just a little upriver from Long Bar. Here the gravel layer was 130 feet deep. Through Smartsville, four miles east of Park’s Bar, Sucker Flat a half mile north, and Mooney Flat, a mile or two east, ran an ancient gold bearing blue gravel channel, much like the one in Placerville, 600 to 1000 feet wide. In some places, such as Sucker Flat, large trees grew on hills of gravel so compact that it had to be blasted loose with black powder before it could be washed down to the sluices. Often several hundred kegs set into tunnels, drifts and cross drifts would be ignited at one time and would bring down hundreds of feet of blue gravel.

Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park photo by J. Smith

Marysville was forced to build levees to stop the silt induced flooding, and transportation between the Sacramento River and the Feather River was severely hampered because all the dirt washing into the rivers made them increasingly difficult to navigate. The loss of river traffic stunted the rapid growth of towns like Marysville and it’s neighbor across the Feather River, Yuba City. It wasn’t until the 1880’s that hydraulic mining was outlawed.



  1. Patsy Gifford says

    Did this go on for 30 years? That is terrible!

    • Hydraulic mining went on for way too long, Patsy. It probably lasted longer in some places than in others but it did incredible damage everywhere it happened.

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