California Gold

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California Gold – The Discovery by John A. Sutter

Below details a letter written by John Sutter about the discovery and impact of the California Gold Rush:

It was in the first part of January, 1848, when the gold was discovered at Coloma, where I was then building a saw-mill. The contractor and builder of this mill was James W. Marshall, from New Jersey. In the fall of 1847, after the mill seat had been located, I sent up to this place Mr. P. L. Wimmer with his family, and a number of laborers, from the disbanded Mormon Battalion; and a little later I engaged Mr. Bennet from Oregon to assist Mr. Marshall in the mechanical labors of the mill. Mr. Wimmer had the team in charge, assisted by his young sons, to do the necessary teaming, and Mrs. Wimmer did the cooking for all hands.

John Sutter in Uniform

John Sutter in uniform

I was very much in need of a new saw-mill, to get lumber to finish my large flouring mill, of four run of stones, at Brighton, which was commenced at the same time, and was rapidly progressing; likewise for other buildings, fences, etc., for the small village of Yerba Buena, (now San Francisco.) In the City Hotel, (the only one) at the dinner table this enterprise was unkindly called “another folly of Sutter’s,” as my first settlement at the old fort near Sacramento City was called by a good many, “a folly of his,” and they were about right in that, because I had the best chances to get some of the finest locations near the settlements; and even well stocked rancho’s had been offered to me on the most reasonable conditions; but I refused all these good offers, and preferred to explore the wilderness, and select a territory on the banks of the Sacramento. It was a rainy afternoon when Mr. Marshall arrived at my office in the Fort, very wet. I was somewhat surprised to see him, as he was down a few days previous; and then, I sent up to Coloma a number of teams with provisions, mill irons, etc., etc. He told me then that he had some important and interesting news which he wished to communicate secretly to me, and wished me to go with him to a place where we should not be disturbed, and where no listeners could come and hear what we had to say. I went with him to my private rooms; he requested me to lock the door; I complied, but I told him at the same time that nobody was in the house except the clerk, who was in his office in a different part of the house; after requesting of me something which he wanted, which my servants brought and then left the room, Photograph of John Marshall, who discovered goldI forgot to lock the doors, and it happened that the door was opened by the clerk just at the moment when Marshall took a rag from his pocket, showing me the yellow metal: he had about two ounces of it; but how quick Mr. M. put the yellow metal in his pocket again can hardly be described. The clerk came to see me on business, and excused himself for interrupting me, and as soon as he had left I was told, “now lock the doors; didn’t I tell you that we might have listeners?” I told him that he need fear nothing about that, as it was not the habit of this gentleman; but I could hardly convince him that he need not to be suspicious. Then Mr. M. began to show me this metal, which consisted of small pieces and specimens, some of them worth a few dollars; he told me that he had expressed his opinion to the laborers at the mill, that this might be gold; but some of them were laughing at him and called him a crazy man, and could not believe such a thing.

After having proved the metal with aqua fortis, which I found in my apothecary shop, likewise with other experiments, and read the long article “gold” in the Encyclopedia Americana, I declared this to be gold of the finest quality, of at least 23 carats. After this Mr. M. had no more rest nor patience, and wanted me to start with him immediately for Coloma; but I told him I could not leave as it was late in the evening and nearly supper time, and that it would be better for him to remain with me till the next morning, and I would travel with him, but this would not do: he asked me only “will you come to-morrow morning?” I told him yes, and off he started for Coloma in the heaviest rain, although already very wet, taking nothing to eat. I took this news very easy, like all other occurrences good or bad, but thought a great deal during the night about the consequences which might follow such a discovery. I gave all my necessary orders to my numerous laborers, and left the next morning at 7 o’clock, accompanied by an Indian soldier, and vaquero, in a heavy rain, for Coloma. About half way on the road I saw at a distance a human being crawling out from the brushwood. I asked the Indian who it was: he told me “the same man who was with you last evening.” When I came nearer I found it was Marshall, very wet; I told him that he would have done better to remain with me at the fort than to pass such an ugly night here but he told me that he went up to Coloma, (54 miles) took his other horse and came half way to meet me; then we rode up to the new Eldorado. In the afternoon the weather was clearing up, and we made a prospecting promenade. The next morning we went to the tail-race of the mill, through which the water was running during the night, to clean out the gravel which had been made loose, for the purpose of widening the race; and after the water was out of the race we went in to search for gold. This was done every morning: small pieces of gold could be seen remaining on the bottom of the clean washed bed rock. I went in the race and picked up several pieces of this gold, several of the laborers gave me some which they had picked up, and from Marshall I received a part. I told them that I would get a ring made of this gold as soon as it could be done in California; and I have had a heavy ring made, with my family’s cost of arms engraved on the outside, and on the inside of the ring is engraved, “The first gold, discovered in January, 1848.” Now if Mrs. Wimmer possesses a piece which has been found earlier than mine Mr. Marshall can tell, as it was probably received from him. I think Mr. Marshall could have hardly known himself which was exactly the first little piece, among the whole.

John A Sutter

General John A. Sutter

The next day I went with Mr. M. on a prospecting tour in the vicinity of Coloma, and the following morning I left for Sacramento. Before my departure I had a conversation with all hands: I told them that I would consider it as a great favor if they would keep this discovery secret only for six weeks, so that I could finish my large flour will at Brighton, (with four run of stones,) which had cost me already about from 24 to 25,000 dollars – the people up there promised to keep it secret so long. On my way home, instead of feeling happy and contented, I was very unhappy, and could not see that it would benefit me much, and I was perfectly right in thinking so; as it came just precisely as I expected. I thought at the same time that it could hardly be kept secret for six weeks, and in this I was not mistaken, for about two weeks later, after my return, I sent up several teams in charge of a white man, as the teamsters were Indian boys. This man was acquainted with all hands up there, and Mrs. Wimmer told him the whole secret; likewise the young sons of Mr. Wimmer told him that they had gold, and that they would let him have some too; and so he obtained a few dollars’ worth of it as a present. As soon as this man arrived at the fort he went to a small store in one of my outside buildings, kept by Mr. Smith, a partner of Samuel Brannan, and asked for a bottle of brandy, for which he would pay the cash; after having the bottle he paid with these small pieces of gold. Smith was astonished and asked him if he intended to insult him; the teamster told him to go and ask me about it; Smith came in, in great haste, to see me, and I told him at once the truth – what could I do? I had to tell him all about it. He reported it to Mr. S. Brannan, who came up immediately to get all possible information, when he returned and sent up large supplies of goods, leased a larger house from me, and commenced a very large and profitable business; soon he opened a branch house of business at Mormon Island.

Photograph of Sam BrannanMr. Brannan made a kind of claim on Mormon Island, and put a tolerably heavy tax on “The Latter Day Saints.” I believe it was 30 per cent, which they paid for some time, until they got tired of it, (some of them told me that it was for the purpose of building a temple for the honor and glory of the Lord.)

So soon as the secret was out my laborers began to leave me, in small parties first, but then all left, from the clerk to the cook, and I was in great distress; only a few mechanics remained to finish some very necessary work which they had commenced, and about eight invalids, who continued slowly to work a few teams, to scrape out the mill race at Brighton. The Mormons did not like to leave my mill unfinished, but they got the gold fever like everybody else. After they had made their piles they left for the Great Salt Lake. So long as these people have been employed by me they hav behaved very well, and were industrious and faithful laborers, and when settling their accounts there was not one of them who was not contented and satisfied.

Then the people commenced rushing up from San Francisco and other parts of California, in May, 1848: in the former village only five men were left to take care of the women and children. The single men locked their doors and left for “Sutter’s Fort,” and from there to the Eldorado. For some time the people in Monterey and farther south would not believe the news of the gold discovery, and said that it was only a ‘Ruse de Guerre’ of Sutter’s, because he wanted to have neighbors in his wilderness. From this time on I got only too many neighbors, and some very bad ones among them.

What a great misfortune was this sudden gold discovery for me! It has just broken up and ruined my hard, restless, and industrious labors, connected with many dangers of life, as I had many narrow escapes before I became properly established.

From my mill buildings I reaped no benefit whatever, the mill stones even have been stolen and sold.

My tannery, which was then in a flourishing condition, and was carried on very profitably, was deserted, a large quantity of leather was left unfinished in the vats; and a great quantity of raw hides became valueless as they could not be sold; nobody wanted to be bothered with such trash, as it was called. So it was in all the other mechanical trades which I had carried on; all was abandoned, and work commenced or nearly finished was all left, to an immense loss for me. Even the Indians had no more patience to work alone, in harvesting and threshing my large wheat crop out; as the whites had all left, and other Indians had been engaged by some white men to work for them, and they commenced to have some gold for which they were buying all kinds of articles at enormous prices in the stores; which, when my Indians saw this, they wished very much to go to the mountains and dig gold. At last I consented, got a number of wagons ready, loaded them with provisions and goods of all kinds, employed a clerk, and left with about one hundred Indians, and about fifty Sandwich Islanders (Kanakas) which had joined those which I brought with me from the Islands. The first camp was about ten miles above Mormon Island, on the south fork of the American river.

In a few weeks we became crowded ,and it would no more pay, as my people made too many acquaintances. I broke up the camp and started on the march further south, and located my next camp on Sutter creek (now in Amador county), and thought that I should there be alone. The work was going on well for a while, until three or four traveling grog-shops surrounded me, at from one and 8, half to two miles distance from the camp; then, of course, the gold was taken to these places, for drinking, gambling, etc., and then the following day they were sick and unable to work, and became deeper and more indebted to me, and particularly the Kanakas. I found that it was high time to quit this kind of business, and lose no more time and money. I therefore broke up the camp and returned to the Fort, where I disbanded nearly all the people who had worked for me in the mountains digging gold. This whole expedition proved to be a heavy loss to me.

At the same time I was engaged in a mercantile firm in Coloma, which I left in January, 1849 – likewise with many sacrifices. After this I would have nothing more to do with the gold affairs. At this time, the Fort was the great trading place where nearly all the business was transacted. I had no pleasure to remain there, and moved up to Hock Farm, with all my Indians, and who had been with me from the time they were children. The place was then in charge of a Major Domo.

It is very singular that the Indians never found a piece of gold and brought it to me, as they very often did other specimens found in the ravines. I requested them continually to bring me some curiosities from the mountains, for which I always recompensed them. I have received animals, birds, plants, young trees, wild fruits, pipe clay, stones, red ochre, etc., etc., but never a piece of gold. Mr. Dana of the scientific corps of the expedition under Com. Wilkes’ Exploring Squadron, told me that he had the strongest proof and signs of gold in the vicinity of Shasta Mountain, and furthers south. A short time afterwards, Doctor Sandels, a very scientific traveler, visited me, and explored a part of the country in a great hurry, as time would not permit him to make a longer stay.

He told me likewise that he found sure signs of gold, and was very sorry that be could not explore the Sierra Nevada. He did not encourage me to attempt to work and open mines, as it was uncertain how it would pay and would probably be only for a government. So I thought it more prudent to stick to the plow, not withstanding I did know that the country was rich in gold, and other minerals. An old attached Mexican servant who followed me here from the United States, as soon as he knew that I was here, and who understood a great deal about working in placers, told me he found sure signs of gold in the mountains on Bear Creek, and that we would go right to work after returning from our campaign in 1845, but he became a victim to his patriotism and fell into the hands of the enemy near my encampment, with dispatches for me from Gen. Micheltorena, and he was hung as a spy, for which I was very sorry.

Poster advertising the California gold rush

Poster advertising the California Gold Rush

By this sudden discovery of the gold, all my great plans were destroyed. Had I succeeded for a few years before the gold was discovered, I would have been the richest citizen on the Pacific shore; but it had to be different. Instead of being rich, I am ruined, and the cause of it is the long delay of the United States Land Commission of the United States Courts, through the great influence of the squatter lawyers. Before my case will be decided in Washington, another year may elapse, but I hope that justice will be done me by the last tribunal — the Supreme Court of the United States. By the Land Commission and the District Court it has been decided in my favor. The Common Council of the city of Sacramento, composed partly of squatters, paid Adelpheus Felch, (one of the late Land Commissioners, who was engaged by the squatters during his office), $5,000, from the fund of the city, against the will of the tax-payers, for which amount he has to try to defeat my just and old claim from the Mexican government, before the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington.

Los Angeles County California Gold

Los Angeles County California Gold

Gold placers were worked in Los Angeles County between 1834 and 1838 by Mexican and Spanish miners, and by 1858 more than 6,000 miners were working placer deposits 35 miles northwest of the Los Angeles city hall. Most of the county’s total production of gold through 1959 was 1,109,200 ounces which came from lode deposits, but small yields of placer gold are garnered every year by amateur gold hunters from many places, especially from sand and gravel pits and from the streams of the San Gabriel Mountains above Azusa.

Mt. Gleason District & Cedar District

In the north central part of Los Angeles County, you will find Acton, it is located in the Cedar and Mt. Gleason district, the area had many area mines and prospect pits, notably the Governor Mine, which had a total production of at least 50,000 ounces of lode gold.

San Gabriel District

If you go north up San Gabriel Canyon, you will find Azusa, which is located in the San Gabriel district which had a total production, 1848-1957, of about 165,000 ounces of gold. In the San Gabriel range gravels, worked 1848-80 for estimated 120,000 ounces of placer gold and still productive of colors and nuggets to weekend panners and dredgers. There were also several area lode mines in area which contained gold quartz veins cutting igneous and metamorphic rocks. In the East Fork of the San Gabriel range, the old site of Eldoradoville which was a gold camp of early 1860s and favorite amateur gold hunting area today, in area watercourse and bench gravels you can find placer gold with some sizable nuggets.

Antelope Valley District

North along the Kern County line and south of Neenach, you will fin Lancaster, which is in the Antelope Valley district. Gold was discovered in 1934 in the Antelope Valley district. It had a total production through 1946 of 9,700 ounces. There are many area claims and prospects, and the River Mining Company Claims are the most productive for placer and lode gold.

In Placerita Canyon State Park near Newhall, it is the area of original productive placer operations, in present gravel deposits you can still find placer gold.

Northeast of San Fernando by 12 miles, in Pacoima Canyon, the headwater and area gravels and slopewash deposits contain placer gold. If you go 12 miles up the canyon from its mouth, you will find the Denver Mining and Milling Property which was a rich lode gold producer.

In Tujunga located in Tujunga Canyon, the area gravel deposits contain colors and small nuggets.

Gold Nuggets- Los Angeles County Museum

The Los Angeles County Natural History Museum has an impressive display of gold nuggets on display.

Los Angeles County Natural History Museum Gold

Kern County California Gold

Kern County California Gold

A total of 1,777,000 ounces of gold came from Kern County between 1851 and 1959.

Amalie District

Amalie district, is located between south summit of the Piute Mountains and Caliente Creek in township 30S. range 33E and 34E, it had a total production of 30,000 ounces of lode gold. The Amalie Mine was a major producer; but there were several other area mines that produced lode gold.

Green Mountain District

If you head southeast by dirt road to Bodfish, the Green Mountain district located between the west slope of the Piute Mountains and edge of Kelsey Valley on east side of mountains, you will find the Bright Star Mine, which had production around, 34,000 ounces of lode gold. 7 miles northwest of Piute, in township 29S and range 33E, you will find the Joe Walker Mine which produced about 100,000 ounces of lode gold.

Cove District

In Kernville, located in township 25S. range 33E, the Cove district had a total production, 262,800 ounces, primarily from the Big Blue Mine. It produced free gold, associated with arsenopyrite.

Keyes District

West in the Greenhorn Mountains at Lake Isabella along Greenhorn Gulch, extensive placers produced rich gold deposits. Also in area quartz mines there was some lode gold. West in township 26S. range 32E and 33E, the Keyes district had a total production, 39,600 ounces through 1959. There were numerous area Mines that produced lode gold.

Rosamond-Mohave District

In Mohave in township 11N and range 15W, you will find the Pine Tree Mine, which produced 75,000 ounces of lode gold. If you go southwest by 4 mile in township 10N and 11N and range 11W, 12W, and 13W, you will find the Rosamond-Mohave district, that had total production, 278,250 ounces of gold plus silver. West of Rosamond several miles, you will find the Tropico Mine, it was a major producer into 1950s. Many other area mines around adjacent Wheeler Springs produced lode gold. If you go to the northeast 25 miles in the El Paso Mountains, all regional gravels contain placer gold, This is a rich area. There are major mines in the area. The Cudahy Camp, Owens Camp, Burro Schmidt’s Tunnel, Colorado Camp, etc. all were rich in lode gold.

Rand District

If you go to Randsburg, in the heart of the Rand district, which lies along the Kern County, San Bernardino County line, produced nearly all of the 836,300 ounces of gold is from the Kern County half, with silver as a by product. The Yellow Aster Mine was the largest producer, and many other area mines produced lode gold. If you go northwest 9 miles, in Goler Gulch, the placer deposits were worked 1893-94. The GPAA has a claim at Goler Gulch.

Yellow Aster Mine

The Yellow Aster Mine that was equipped with a 30 stamp mill.

The Mojave nugget, which weighs 156 ounces was unearthed near Randsburg using a metal detector in Kern County.

Mojave Nugget

The 156 ounce Mojave Nugget.

Goler Wash or Gulch

Colors can be found by the dry wash method in Goler Wash located approximately 3 miles north east of Garlock Ghost town. Some of the area is owned by a prospect club out of Barstow. They are real friendly and encourage site tours and membership. The down side to this area is that it is open to off highway vehicles and the dirt road traffic gets heavy and noisy at times. There are no toilets or water or organized camping of any kind. The nearest formal camping is at Red Rock Canyon about 15 miles away.

If you go to 16 miles south of Weldon, in township 28S. range 35E, you will find the St. Johns Mine, which was a rich lode gold producer.

Inyo County California Gold

Inyo County California Gold

Inyo County produced 496,000 ounces of gold between 1880 and 1959, primarily from lode mines scattered throughout the county, with a considerable percentage as byproduct from lead, silver, copper, and tungsten ores.

Russ District

In the Inyo Mountain Range, the Russ district opened in 1861) had many area mines that produced lode gold. On the west and east slopes of the Inyo Range in Mazurka canyon and Marble canyon, there were many small scale placer workings.


South Park District and Sherman District

At Ballarat, in the South Park District, in the south-central part of county there was a total production of over 100,000 ounces. There are many area old mine dumps that show gold traces. The Ratcliff Mine, was a chief producer of lode gold. Southwest of Ballarat 10~15 miles, in township 23S. range 42E and 43E, in the Argus Range, the Sherman district had a total production, 1939-41, of 14,184 ounces of lode gold. There are also many area lead, silver mines that had a by product of gold. The Arondo Mine was a rich producer of free gold. The Ruth Mine was also a rich producer of free gold, with pyrite.

Willshire-Bishop Creek District

West of Bishop by 17 miles, the Willshire-Bishop Creek district, on east front of the Sierra Nevada Range and in the Tungsten Hills; had a total production, 75,000-100,000 ounces of by product gold, from lead, silver mines. The Bishop creek Mine and, at head of Bishop Creek and the Willshire Mine were large lode gold producers. The Pine creek Mine was once the largest domestic tungsten mine also had a by product of gold. The Cardinal Gold Mining Company Mine only produced lode gold.

Chloride Cliff District

At Death Valley National Monument on slope of the Funeral Range you will find The Chloride Cliff district which had a total production of 60,000 ounces. Also the site of the Keane Wonder Mine which is now in ruins, but once a large lode gold producer.

East of Lone Pine in the Inyo Mountains in north central part of the county, you will find the Union district, that had a total production,1860s-1959, between 10,000 and 50,000 ounces of lode gold. The Reward and Brown Monster mines, were major producers of lode gold. In area canyon and gulch gravels, slopes and drainage channels, placers gold can still be found.

Resting Springs District and Wild Rose District

In the southeast corner of the county, you will find Tecopa. If you go east 5-10 miles, you will find the Resting Springs district, that had a total production through 1959 of 15,000 ounces of lode gold from lead, silver ores, from the Shoshone Group of mines.

If you go west in the Panamint Mountains you will find Wild Rose district, a ranger station is located in Monument, west in the Panamint Range, had a total production of about 73,000 ounces of lode gold from the Skidoo Mine.

Inyo County Gold

Gold & Silver Specimens from Inyo County

Imperial County California Gold

Imperial County California Gold

Gold occurs throughout Imperial County in its arid mountain ranges. Here is where the classic pick, pan, shovel and burro prospector of the nineteenth century crisscrossed the desert between water holes. A minimum estimate of 235,000 ounces of lode and placer gold have come from this county.

Cargo Muchacho District

Northwest of Yuma, Arizona, in the southeast part of the county you will find Ogilby site of the Cargo Muchacho district, it had many old mines worked since Mexican times with a total production about 193,000 ounces. Gold can be found in all regional arroyo bottoms, benches, terraces. This is dry wash placers with abundant gold. There are many abandoned area lode mines that produced gold. Most of the gold is fine, grain, wire, nuggets, often with copper.

On the Colorado River due north of Yuma, Arizona you will find Picacho Camp in the extreme southeast corner of the county. The Chocolate Mountains area placer and lode claims produce considerable gold. In the southwest you will find the Picacho Mountains that had many gold bearing veins in gneisses and schist’s overlain by lava’s, tufts, and conglomerates. The Paymaster district, minor lode gold production to the South by 5 miles the Picacho Mine, Bluejacket Mine, and others produced some lode gold. A ghost town named Tumco was also a good producer from several area mines.

Picacho Mine
Picacho Mine

Fresno County California Gold

Fresno County California Gold


California gold can be found in the placer gravels along the San Joaquin River and produced 121,000 ounces between 1880 and 1959, when it was part of Madera County. All sand and gravel operations along the San Joaquin River between Friant and Herndon had rich placer gold operations. At the Friant Dam the gravel excavated for use in building the dam produced $196,977 in placer gold between 1940-42.

Calaveras County California Gold

Calaveras County California Gold

After placer gold was discovered in 1849, rich lode veins were opened in 1850 above the placer workings. Placer gold production is estimated at 2,415,000 ounces and lode gold at 2,045,700 ounces


The Calaveras River channel and all tributaries contain rich placers. In the Table Mountain area placers were also very rich. Located at township 3N and Range 10E, along the Calaveras River, you will find the Jenny Lind District which had large scale dredge and drag-line operations, with and estimated production of over 1,000,000 ounces of placer gold.


Camanche district, in NW part of county, had a total production estimated at 1,000,000 ounces, along the Mokelumne River there were huge, bucket type dredge operations with rich placer gold. Campo Seco district, located at township 4N and 5N and range 10E, in northwest part of county had a total production around 70,000 ounces. All the area tributary stream gravels contain rich placers. You will also find the Pern Mine, it was primarily a copper mine with a rich by product of gold. Mokelumne Hill district located at township 5N range 11E. South of the Mokelumne Hill 2 miles you will find the Eclipse Mine, Infernal Mine, and other mines that were large producers of lode gold.


Angeles Camp had many area mines. The Keystone Mine, Lancha Plana Mine, and Union Mine were gold mines with a by product of copper. The Utica Mine and Gold Cliff Mine were major producers of lode gold. Melones district contained over 800 lode mines. Carson Hill was the most productive area and contained many mines with rich lode gold deposits. The Sheep Ranch Mine was a huge producer of lode gold. The Royal Mine was also a large producer of lode gold, with over 10,000 ounces of production.

Utica Mine

Butte County California Gold

Butte County California


Gold was first discovered in Butte County California by John Bidwell in the now ghost town known as Hamilton in 1848, and that made Hamilton the first county seat of Butte County. John Bidwell was a local and national figure of that time and the founder of Chico, California and several other towns. He has an outstanding resume as he was among many things, a Brigadier General, served in the California Senate, a Freemason who later left and called the organization “pointless”, and even ran for the election of the presidency of the United States; just to name a few.

John Bidwell

John Bidwell in an early photo

Hamilton where the gold was first discovered in Butte county was located on the west side of the river 15 miles downstream of the Feather River from Oroville. Hamilton had a very short duration as a town because they moved the county seat to Bidwells Bar (near Oroville), where they promised to build a new courthouse and jail. The only visible remains of the town of Hamilton is an overgrown cemetery and the remains of an old bridge that once stood there. The post office was closed in 1865. The town of Bidwells Bar is now submerged under the waters of Lake Oroville .

Bidwell Bar 1854

Bidwell Bar 1854 (artist unknown)


In the old days Oroville was known as Ophir City. Thousands of miners flocked to Oroville in the beginning. It was not the site of a big gold strike, rather it was an important supply point for the miner’s at the now submerged Bidwell’s Bar, but close enough to the historical gold site, that you might find some gold if you prospect around the area.

MAGALIA ( 54 Pound “Dogtown” Gold Nugget)

Established in 1849, Magalia was a mining camp known as Butte Mills. It was also called Dogtown at one time, according to historical maps. It is found in the north-central part of Butte County. The exciting part about this historical site is a 54 pound nugget was unearthed here, at the Willard claim, a hydraulic mine in the Feather River Canyon northeast of the camp. It was the largest gold nugget ever discovered in the world at that time on April 12, 1859. It was named the “Dogtown nugget”. The female residences hated the name Dogtown and renamed it in 1862 to Magalia.  Near Magalia,  is Butte Creek and Little Butte Creek where in 1932 – 1959  15,976 ounces of placer gold was reported to have found. The Perschbaker Mine, found on Little Butte Creek was a major producer of lode gold. The tertiary gravel deposits of Little Butte Creek also have placer gold.

Dogtown Nugget

Historical Marker for the Dogtown Nugget


Of coarse, the Feather River is known to have gold, as many of the locations above were found along the gravel bars and banks of the river. Thompson’s Flat was one of those known locations that had access to gold. Cherokee Flat had placer gold operations. The area around Cherokee City, or anywhere along the Feather River for that matter, has gold. The Yankee Hill district, located at 21N range 4E and 5E,  had a total production of 5,154 ounces of placer gold and 34,427 ounces of lode gold.

In all, it is reported that Butte County, had a production of 3,200,000 ounces of placer gold and 104,000 ounces of lode gold. The Surcease Mine in township 21N range 4E was a good producer of lode gold.


Soldiers, settlers, and laborers, part of two mission colonies under the administration of Francisco Garces, mined placer gold in the southeastern Chocolate Mountains in 1780 and 1781. Their mining methods were simple. Placer gold was recovered by winnowing (tossing the lighter materials away by gently shaking a blanket in the wind). Dry washers may also have been used. Their mining endeavors, almost recreational in nature (as they were not mining gold for a living) ended abruptly when the Yuma Indians attacked the two missions on July 17, 1781, killing at least 50 men and taking 67 women and children captive. Mining activity was resumed in this area only after the establishment of the Mexican Republic in 1823.

Spanish Miners

An early image of Spanish Miners

Also worked in the 1780’s were the placer grounds of Jackson Gulch and the oxided ores of Padre Madre Valley in the Cargo Muchacho Mountains. The Padre y Madre Mine, located 13 miles northwest of Yuma and 3 miles northwest of Ogilby, was one of the most extensively developed early mines. The mine enjoyed a modest production from the 1780’s until 1894 with few interruptions.

Even the name of the mountain range speaks of the early interest in mining in the area. Reportedly in the early 1800s two young lads playing at prospecting in imitation of their fathers came into camp with their shirts loaded with gold ore. Their antics resulted in the name of Cargo Muchacho, for the mountains where they had made their find. Although it is difficult to estimate the area’s gold production during the Spanish and Mexican eras (1780-1848) it was probably not more than half a million dollars.

William P. Blake, a geologist with Lt. Williamson’s Pacific Railroad exploration party, was the first Anglo- American to visit the southern portion of the Cargo Muchacho Mountains with an eye toward mining. In 1853 he reported seeing several quartz veins from three inches to a foot or two in thickness. His observations were recorded in official government reports, but no one acted upon this evidence of possible mineralization until the Southern Pacific Railroad between Yuma and the coast was completed.

Gold in California


The concentration of gold ore, and the market value of gold determine whether a deposit is a mineable ore-body. The highest grade deposits are associated with quartz veins. Gold also occurs as disseminated particles incorporated during magmatic rock formation or during subsequent chemical alteration of the host rock. Primary gold occurrences are termed lode deposits. Mineralized rock and gold-bearing veins release gold particles during the weathering process. Because of its high specific gravity and resistance to weathering, these sedimentary gold particles are easily concentrated by streams and rivers to form placer gold deposits.

Gold in California


There are three types of gold mining today: underground mining of high-grade lode and placer deposits, dredging of surface placer deposits, and open-pit mining. A technique called heap leaching is commonly used to remove finely disseminated gold from low-grade ore. In this process, mounds of crushed ore are placed on an impermeable pad and sprayed with a dilute cyanide solution. The cyanide solution percolates through the ore and dissolves fine gold particles. The gold is then electrolytically recovered from solution and poured into ingots. Gold is also a byproduct of sand and gravel production and base metal (copper, lead and zinc) mining.


California’s most important gold deposits have been found in the Sierra Nevada, Klamath Mountains and Mojave Desert. Significant deposits have also been developed in the Peninsular and Transverse Ranges and the northern Great Valley. Unmined low-grade deposits occur statewide. In the Coast Ranges, low-grade gold deposits are associated with low-temperature mercury mineralization.


In 2001, California ranked fourth in the United States in gold production. Approximately 449,200 troy ounces were produced worth about $122.3 million.


Gold is one of the earliest metals known and used by humans. It resists corrosion and chemical interaction. It will not disintegrate when exposed to oxygen, water, salt, or any other naturally-occurring material. Gold’s durability accounts for the almost perfect condition of coins and artifacts fashioned from it thousands of years ago.

Gold’s most important use is in computers, weaponry and aerospace. It is used where consistent, reliable performance under all conditions is essential. The electronics industry has tried to find substitute metals and alloys, but gold’s exceptional resistance to corrosion and tarnish is still unequaled.

El Dorado County California Gold

El Dorado County California

California has been known for the gold rush which started in 1848 when John Sutter found gold at his timber mill on the American River. The gold rush resulted to massive growth of the mining industry around California and as it became more prominent, the exploration expanded across counties using methods like hydraulic and drift mining. One of the most prominent counties is the El Dorado County were several gold mining companies were created.  Below is the list of some of them:

The Alpine Mine, a large lode gold mine, was located two miles southeast of Georgetown. It operated in the 1860’s until 1938.

The Black Gold Mine was a placer gold, drift mine in Pleasant Valley. It was active in 1930-31 and 1936.

Just east of the town of Kelsey was the Dalmatia (Kelly) Mine, a large lode gold mine. It was operated in the 1880’s, 1890-94 and again in 1935.

The Eagle King mine was a lode gold mine located one-half further north of Grizzly Flat. The mine was active from 1894-1896.

El-Dorado County California Gold

Beautiful bright gold can be found in El Dorado County

Fort Yuma was the name of a lode gold mine on Big Canyon Creek, two miles northeast of Brandon Corner (east of Latrobe). It was active from 1890-1902 and again in 1938.

The Frog Pond and Marigold Consolidated Mine was a lode gold mine one-half mile northwest of Garden Valley. The mine was active from 1914 – 27.

The Funny Bug (Pendelco) Mine was a lode gold mine located one mile southwest of GoldHill, on the north bank of Weber Creek. It was active from 1928 to 1942.

The Gambling (also known as Gamblin) Mine was a lode gold mine located two miles southwest of Fair Play. It was active in 1915-18 and 1933-34.

One of the larger lode gold mines was the Griffith Consolidated it was composed of eight claims and located one-half mile south of Diamond Springs. Originally worked in the 1850’s, it was actively worked from 1888-90, in 1896 and 1903.

One of the large lode gold mines which just recently closed was the Hazel Creek Mine, located fifteen miles east of Placerville and two miles southeast of Pacific House on Hazel Creek. Mining started in 1948 till around 1956.

The Hoosier Gulch Dredge was a placer gold mining operation by the Hoosier Gulch Placers Company, using a dragline dredge in Logtown Ravine (south of the town site of El Dorado) in 1939 and near Shingle Springs in 1945 and 1947.

The Idlewild or Taylor Mine was a large, lode gold mine on the Mother Lode two miles northwest of Garden Valley. Originally worked in 1865, it was active again from the late 1880’s to about 1902. Some additional work was done at the mine during the years 1939-41.

The Jones (Good Luck) Mine was a lode gold mine two miles south of Diamond Springs. It was active in 1915 and during 1922-23.

The Joseph Skinner (Fisk, Porphyry) Mine was a seam gold mine on the Mother Lode, one mile north of Placerville. It was active 1896-98, 1901-03 and around 1932.

The Kumfa or Kum Fa Mine was a placer gold drift mine at Smith’s Flat (Smithflat). It was active from 1911-13 and also in 1928 and 1936.

Five miles south of Shingle Springs was a lode gold mine known as the Log Cabin (Darrow) Mine. It was active in 1894-96.

The Lookout Mine was a lode gold mine on the Mother Lode, some three miles southwest of El Dorado. It was intermittently active from 1860 through the 1930’s.

The Maple Leaf (Blakely) Mine was a placer gold mine located two miles west of Camino near Five Mile House. Originally active in the 1880’s, it was reopened from 1932 to 1935.

One mile east of Greenwood was the Ohio (Eagle) Mine, a lode gold mine it was active in 1894-96.

The One Spot (Sailor Jack) Mine was a placer gold, drift mine one mile south of Camino. It was active in the “early days of gold rush”, and reactivated in 1934-38.

Three miles south of the town site of El Dorado was another lode gold mine, the Red Wing (Red Top) Mine. It was first active from 1914 to 1922 and again in 1926.

Three miles southeast of Placerville, at Texas Hill, was a placer gold, drift mine known as the Rising Hope Mine. It was active from 1910 to 1920 and again in 1929.

One mile north of Georgetown, in the Georgia Slide area, was a placer gold mine known as the Sailor Slide Mine. It was active from 1919 to 1922.

One mile north of Greenwood was a seam gold mine known as the Sam Martin Mine. It was active in 1894-96.

The Santa Rosa Mine was a placer gold; drift mine on Hopkins Creek, one mile east of Volcanoville. It was operating during the years 1894 through 1896.

One mile north of Placerville was the Sherman Mine, a lode gold mine. It was active in 1905 and 1908-11.

Three miles northwest of Slate Mountain (southeast of Georgetown) was the Slate Mountain Mine, a lode gold mine. It was active from 1921 to 1941 and again in 1951.

The St. Lawrence Mine was a lode gold mine on the Mother Lode, one and one-half miles southeast of Garden Valley. It operated from 1867 to 1878

The Starlight Mine was a lode gold mine on Logtown Ridge, two and one-half miles south of the town site of El Dorado. It was active from 1890 to 1894.

Two miles southeast of Placerville, between Chili Ravine and Weber Creek, was a placer gold, drift mine known as the Stewart Mine. It was active in the 1880’s and early 1890’s.

The Taylor Mine, also known as the Idlewild Mine, was a large, lode gold mine on two miles northwest of Garden Valley (one publication says four miles). Originally worked in 1865, it was active again from the late 1880’s to about 1902. Some additional work was done at the mine during the years 1939-41.

One mile south of Rattlesnake Bridge, immediately east of the Zantgraf Mine, was the Threlkel (Winton) Mine, a lode gold mine. It was active in 1924-26 and again in 1937.

At Smith’s Flat, east of Placerville, was a placer gold, drift mine known both as the Toll House and Hook and Ladder Mine. It was originally active prior to 1890, in the 1890’s and from 1918 until 1932.

The Victoria Mine was a lode gold mine four miles northwest of the town of Rescue, near the Boulder Mine. It was active in 1924-26.

The Welch Mine was a lode gold mine one-half mile northeast of the town of Greenwood. It was active from 1894 through 1896.

The Wiedebush Mine was a lode gold mine located two miles south of Volcanoville. It was active during the years 1920 through 1926.

The Zantgraf (Montauk Consolidated, Zentgraf) Mine was a lode gold mine located one mile south of Rattlesnake Bridge on the east side of the American River, six miles southwest of Pilot Hill. This mine was first worked in 1880 and by the year 1888, it was in full operation and since 1938, the mine has effectively been idle.

Gold Rush Alaska Jimmy Dorsey at Explosives Academy

In this video you will see Discovery Channels Gold Rush Alaska ’s Jimmy Dorsey at the Northwest Explosives Academy. In case you have not heard Jimmy Dorsey is learning as much as he can about mining. He has/is attending a Mining school in Nevada. It looks like Jimmy Dorsey might be a player after all. He is now armed with knowledge and know-how. Should be interesting.

Northwest Explosives Academy

Placer County California Gold

It is where it all began in 1848. The gold strike at John Sutter’s timber mill on the American River brought thousands of Americans out west and many Chinese from the orient for adventure and for riches. See my article on California’s first Gold Discovery for more depth on that subject. Three years after the initial gold strike Placer County was formed from parts of Sutter and Yuma Counties. So much gold was taken from this county that there is no way it can be measured. Many of the gold districts in Placer County can be accessed by Highway 80.

Placer County Gold

American River

Near the city of Auburn you will find the Auburn district also known as the Ophir district, depending on who you ask. There are placer deposits all along the stretches of the American River. Hard-rock mines in the area produced an overwhelming amount of gold in this district, producing over a million and a half ounces of gold.

Iowa Hill District

East of Auburn on HWY 80, is Colfax where you will find the Iowa Hill district. For thirty five years, the area of extensively mined. Hydraulic mining operations ran day and night in the search for California Gold. The operations were brought to a halt, because of the environmental impact it was having. Modern day operations are much more responsible than in those older days. Many places were scared by hydraulic operations throughout the west. The Morning Star mine was a major producer.

Iowa Hill

Dutch Flat / Gold Run District

Dutch Flat District

It is images like this one of the Dutch Flat District that give modern gold mining a bad rep, even though modern practices are much more environmentally sound.

The Dutch Flat district and Gold Run district is along the northern boundary lines of Placer County on the system of Tertiary channel deposits that extends south from Nevada County.

Placer mining began in 1849, and by 1857 hydraulic and drift mines were producing on a fairly large scale. Though early records are almost nonexistent, it was estimated that the district produced about 479,000 ounces of gold to 1935. In recent years, because of high costs and restrictive legislation, production has decreased to less than 1,000 ounces per year. Total production through 1959 was about 492,000 ounces. Dutch Flat is one the better preserved mining areas and can be accessed by HWY 80.

Emigrant Gap
The Emigrant Gap district, includes the area of  Blue Canyon. The gold is found in quartz veins, occurring  in slate and schist. Emigrant Gap can also be accessed by HWY 80.

Duncan Peak

You can find some very coarse gold in the Duncan Peak District. Check the south side of Duncan Peak in the gravels to find rich diggings. There are deposits that can be found in Duncan Canyon.


Placer gold can be found in streams and channels in the Damascus District. This district is located south of Monte Vista just off of HWY 80.

Foresthill District

The Foresthill district is in south-central Placer County. Foresthill Divide is a complex system of Tertiary channels capped by lavas. The gravels have been extensively worked by drift mines which reached their peak of productivity in the 1860’s . Before 1868 the Independence, New Jersey, and Jenny Lind mines produced $2,400,000 in gold. Estimates of production of individual mines given give a minimum total for the district of about 338,000 ounces of gold. In recent years, the district has been virtually dormant. Total gold production through 1959 was about 344,000 ounces.

Michigan Bluff District
The Michigan Bluff district is in southern Placer County, about 5 miles east of Foresthill.

From 1853 to 1880 considerable hydraulic and drift mining was done in the Tertiary channel gravels that underlie the eastern part of Foresthill Divide at Michigan Bluff.  An area of 40 acres yielded $5 million in gold. The Big Gun mine with an output of about $1 million to 1882 was the largest individual producer of the hydraulic mines, and the Hidden Treasure mine was the most productive of all the drift mines in the Tertiary gravels in the State, with a total of about $4 million in gold. Several lode mines were important gold producers, such as the Pioneer, with $900,000 in gold, and the Rawhide, with $300,000, were the most productive.

The total gold production of the district through 1959 was about 300,000 ounces. In recent years activity has slackened, and during 1942-59 less than 100 ounces per year was reported.

Amador County California Gold

Amador County was the most productive of “The Mother Lode” counties. This county produced approximately 6,500,000 ounces of placer gold and 7,700,000 ounces of lode gold. Mining continues today. The richest area in this county is about 1 mile wide across the west central part of the county from the south to the north. The Old Eureka Mine had the deepest shaft in America at 1,3500 feet deep and it was the largest producer in the mother lode in the early days. The Kennedy Mine, Argonaut Mine and Keystone Mines were also large gold mines in the same area. Nowadays, Amador County is famous for it winery’s.

BIG INDIAN CREEK: Sizable dredging and drift operations between 1850 – 1950 produced about 100,000 ounces of placer gold near Fiddletown along Indian Gulch which goes into Big Indian Creek. Big Indian Creek is said to contain placer gold in large quantities. Around the Plymouth area is said to be rich.

DRY CREEK: Off of the beaten path is Dry Creek. It might be worth the hike in. Dry Creek is known for pickers and chunky sized gold.

COSUMNES RIVER :Close to the town of Plymouth, in the west central part of the county there were many placer operations that produced tens of thousands of ounces of placer gold. The Loafer Hill mine, near Oleta, had several small gravel deposits that produced well.

JACKSON CREEK: Near the town of Jackson, you will find the Gwin Mine, it produced lode gold in masses of crystallized arsenopyrite. These are great specimens. Jackson Creek reportedly contains placer gold.

MIDDLE FORK OF THE MOKELUMNE RIVER: Hydraulic operations were located on this river that produced considerable placer gold.

NORTH FORK OF THE MOKELUMNE RIVER: Hydraulic operations were located on this river that produced considerable placer gold. Near Volcano in the west central part of the county around Jackson Gulch and Ranchero Gulch there were some very rich placer deposits.

Early Placer Mining at the town of Volcano

SOUTH FORK OF THE MOKELUMNE RIVER: Hydraulic operations were located on this river that produced considerable placer gold.

Plumas County California Gold

Plumas County Mining History

Over the years a lot of gold has been recovered in Plumas County California. At the time of the gold discovery at Sutter’s Mill, Plumas County was largely a unexplored area by most white men, but Peter Lassen (whom Lassen County is named after ) had pioneered the Lassen Trail across northern Plumas in 1847.

In 1849, immigrant Thomas Stoddard arrived at a mining camp injured, exhausted, and starving. Thomas Stoddard caught everybody’s attention when he showed the men what he had. He had gold. He had gone out a year earlier with a group that used the Lassen Trail to explore the wilderness like many early explorers, beginning in west-central Nevada and ranging northwest toward Good Lake, Oregon until reaching the Pit River.

They followed the Pit River’s southwestern course toward Mt. Lassen and the Feather River region to Lassen’s Rancho near present-day Red Bluff. While in Big Meadows (Chester/Lake Almanor area), Stoddard and a partner left their party to hunt for deer. While they were hunting, their party moved on and Stoddard and his partner were unable to locate it. For several days, Stoddard and his companion wandered lost somewhere between Sierra Valley and Downieville. At some point, the pair stumbled upon a lake with large gold nuggets gleaming in the moss at the water’s edge. After gathering as much gold as their pockets could hold, the two exhausted men fell asleep.

The next morning, Native Americans attacked the two men. Stoddard was injured, and his companion was never heard from again. Stoddard worked his way through the mountains until he at last reached the North Fork of the Yuba River and the gold camps in the Downieville-Nevada City region. Stoddard told his tale to the miners and the search was on for Gold Lake. A multitude of anxious miners swarmed into the mountains seeking Gold Lake, in what would become Plumas and Sierra Counties.

The Plumas County gold rush of 1850 was a direct result of Tom Stoddard’s Gold Lake story. However, Stoddard would never again locate the lake and neither would the thousands of other hopeful prospectors that went in search of it. For the majority of miners who searched for Gold Lake, disappointment dominated. For others, their perseverance paid off with discoveries at Nelson Creek, Poorman’s Creek, Hopkins Creek, Onion Valley, Rich Bar, and Butte Bar. All provided rich diggings. Equally rewarding was a series of five mining bars on the East Branch of the North Fork of the Feather River: Rich Bar, Indian Bar, Smith Bar, French Bar, and Junction Bar. A group known as the Wisconsin Company was among those seeking paydirt on Nelson Creek. Calling their site Meeker Flat after one of their members, they took out 93-pounds of precious metal in one period of three weeks.

Discoveries of rich gold deposits continued in Plumas County through at least 1852. Gold mining now is carried on as a recreational pursuit, but gold was the original Plumas County cornerstone. Most geologists concur that there is twice as much gold still remaining in the Plumas County area than was ever taken out of it.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s, Plumas County was Number One in state copper production. Engle Mine on Lights Creek in northern Indian Valley produced $25 million over its lifetime. Walker Mine, 15-miles south, produced $23 million. Jack and James Ford discovered copper outcroppings above the North Arm of Indian Valley during the Civil War, while others found similar deposits along Genesee Valley’s Ward Creek. The Chapman brothers, at their primitive smelter in Genesee Valley, further processed the rich, naturally concentrated metal. During more than 15 years of operation, Engle Mine yielded 117 million pounds of copper, along with substantial amounts in gold and silver.

In Plumas County during the 1900’s, gold was the lure for miners and copper was the bread and butter of the mineral industry. Now, little is left to be seen of these massive efforts. Secluded rock piles and overgrown hillside scars are pretty much all that remains. This goes to show that mother nature has a way of healing herself of any scars or traces from people and their activities.

Early Hydraulic Mines in Plumas County

From 1855 to approximately 1859 there was extensive hydraulic mining activity in Plumas County. About four and a half millions ounces of California Gold was recovered using this method. Some of the sites worth mentioning are Nelson Point, Sawpit Flat, Gopher Hill, and the Upper Spanish Creek mines.

Copper Mining

Plumas County is also known for extensive copper mining. The Engles Copper mine and Superior Copper Mines produced gold as a by-product.

Crescent Mills District

The Crescent Mills District, located in township 26N, and Range 9E, at last report has about 40,000 ounces taken from that area. In area streams, in Quaternary gravels you will find placer gold.

Johnsville District & La Porte District

At the Green Mountain Mine they produced of 100,000 ounces of lode gold by 1890. In the Johnsville district, in the south-central part of county, in east l/2 of township 22N. range 11E, they had a total production, 393,000 gold ounces. All regional stream and bench gravels contain placer gold. The Plumas-Eureka Mine, was a major producer of lode gold. At the La Porte district, in southwest part of the county, in township 21N and range 9E, was the hydraulic mining center since 1850s, with total production, 1855-1959, of 2,910,000 gold ounces. At Mumfords Mill the area copper mines had a by product of gold. At Spring Garden go northeast 9 mile and you will find the Walker Mine, primarily copper mine with a by product of gold.

Plumas Eureka Mine work crew, Plumas County, circa 1889.

Plumas Eureka Mine work crew, Plumas County, circa 1889.

Plumas County Gold Producing Waterways

There are many gold producing streams and rivers in Plumas County, and some areas are likely unexplored, but here are some waterways that are widely known for past gold production.

A very nice find from a lucky person prospecting the Feather River.

Feather River Along the North Fork of the Feather River, near Belden are placer deposits.

Yuba River The Ancient Yuba River channel traced northeast of La Porte for 10 miles 500 to 1,500 feet wide and 10-130 feet deep, with placer gold concentrated in lower part 2 ft. above bedrock, it is a very rich placer deposit.

Indian Creek At Rich Bar, the area gravels along Indian Creek, a tributary of the Feather River, has very rich placers.

Area Attractions

The Plumas-Eureka State Park offers a supervised gold panning program during the summer. Call (530) 836-2380 for more information.

The Golden Caribou Mining Association offers gold panning lessons and equipment usage for first time gold panners. It operates out of Caribou Crossroads Campground and Cafe, located on Caribou Road just off Highway 70, 27 miles west of Quincy. The club has more than 1,800  acres of gold mining claims in the Plumas National Forest, and offers memberships for vacationers, as well as one-year trial and lifetime memberships.

The Advanced Geologic Gold Prospector’s Club based in Chester offers members access to claims throughout the county, along with equipment usage.  Call (530) 258-4228 for more information.

Plumas County Map

Plumas County Map

There is gold throughout the county, not just the areas mentioned. All you have to do is go find it. Good luck finding some of the California Gold!

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