California Gold

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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.

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.

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!

Sutter’s Mill – California’s First Gold Discovery

John Sutter

In 1839, Captain John Sutter, of German ancestry settled in California with the intention of growing a agricultural empire in the fertile hills of the Sacramento Valley. It was here that Sutter built a fort to protect his assets. After ten years Sutter had acquired a great deal of wealth. He owned twelve hundred head of cattle, and had over one hundred men under his employ.

Sutters Fort

His plans were to build a flour mill to provide flour for all the settler’s who were coming out to California from back east.  To build the flour mill, Sutter needed lumber. John Sutter hired a jack of all trades James Marshall to build him a lumber mill. Workers built a large ditch to carry the water through the saw mill. In building the ditch, it had been dug out to exposed  bedrock. It was here on January 24, 1848 that James Marshall found gold on the bedrock. Marshall thought twice about bending over and picking it up, but he did. along with several smaller pieces. He rode forty miles that day to show the pieces of gold to John Sutter.

James Marshall

John Sutter and James Marshall was not sure if it was really gold. They both decided to keep it a secret from outsiders, however, one of the workers went out for a drink at a local saloon, and not having any cash on hand, reached into his pocket and plunked down a shiny yellow nugget that he found in a nearby stream. “That is money. It is gold” he declared. Before long word got around.

Sutters Saw Mill

A Mormon by the name of Sam Brannon (which knew a thing or two about supply and demand), hearing of the gold traveled to San Francisco and bought up everything he could that he thought gold miners might need, such as shovels and picks. Brannon then systematically started the California Gold Rush, by shouting and marching up and down in the streets of San Francisco; “Gold in the American River, Gold in the American River, Gold, Gold!” When news of the discovery reached Oregon two-thirds of all men who were able to work, packed up and left for California. These men who went in search of gold, were now called “Prospectors”.

Sam Brannon

In those days news still traveled fastest by ship. People in China heard about the news, before the people of the east coast. Because the news was slow to travel the prospectors earned the nickname “the 49ers” rather than the name “the 48ers.” For it was 1849, when the influx of men from the east coast showed up in droves.  By 1852, the population of California had multiplied a ten times from the original estimate of 25,000 people who had lived there before the discovery. In 1852, the population was swelled well over 250,000 people, in that short span of time.

The news of the gold strike in California spread suddenly when news reached the east coast. The United States was in the middle of a bad depression. The news and the gold, boomed the economy.

There were three routes from the east coast region to the gold fields of California. By a overland wagon-train, which took over a six months journey, by ship around South America, which also could take six months, or by sea and land across the ismus of Panama, the shortest route, yet the most costly. Many men died of hunger or stricken with disease trying to reach the gold fields. When the first ships docked in San Francisco sailors joined prospectors, abandoned their ships and rushed to the gold fields. For poor people, California gold seemed to be the chance at making something for themselves, an adventure and a chance of a lifetime.

An early image of some of the first Gold Prospectors in California

Once the Gold Prospectors had arrived in California they had to endure the rain, the winter weather, the elements of nature, along side the back breaking work in order to find the gold. A man was his own boss, who did not take orders from some other man, so enduring these things seemed worth it to some. The 49ers traveled to the gold fields and discovered the gold barring rock that later became known as the Motherlode. In 1849, $10,000,000 worth of gold came out of California. In all, the major gold rush of California lasted only ten years. In 1852, more gold came out of California than the whole federal budget of the United States.

James Marshall, the man who found that first gold nugget in the American  River at Sutter’s Mill, searched for another gold strike, but it was in vane. He spent his the rest of his life as a drunk and broke. John Sutter’s agricultural empire was destroyed. Most, if not all of his one hundred employees left for the gold fields. Sutter wrote in his diary of what could have been: “By the sudden discovery of the gold, all my great plans was destroyed. If I’d succeeded a few years before the gold was discovered, I would have been the richest citizen of the Pacific shore. Instead of being rich, I am ruined.”

There were other gold miners who never gave up on finding a strike, and there were other gold strikes all over the world for the next half century. At each strike, the men migrated to the next great prospect.

Siskiyou County California Gold

There are many, many places that have historically produced gold in Siskiyou County and many gold prospecting locations are available for recreation. Upwards towards two million ounces of gold were taken from Siskiyou County, located at the top of the State of California.  Siskiyou County has an amazing number of gold mines; some active and others none active, and still some that have long caved in. The number of gold mines in the county is upwards towards three hundred and seventy.

Klamath River

The Klamath River is one of the more note-able gold producing rivers in Siskiyou County and flows from Klamath County in Oregon. Placer gold deposits can be found upon the entire length of the river. A lot of the area along the river is claimed, but the mining club, the new 49ers offers use of it’s many claims along the Klamath River with membership. Many of the tributaries that flow into the Klamath offer good California gold.

Scott River

The Scott River is actually a tributary of the Klamath River, and offers good gold all along it’s path. Near Callahan there were numerous gold mines and placer operations. Many of the mines near Callahan had small, but rich pocket gold discoveries. In the area, the Martin McKeen Mine was a note-able producer, as well as the Porphyry Dike Mine. Both produced tens of thousands of ounces of lode gold. Other mines include the Blue Jay Mine, and the Copper King Mine which was a silver mine with gold as a byproduct.

In the Fort Jones area, you will find Cottonwood Creek and Rancheria Creek. Both were major producers of California gold and produced over four million dollars from 1850 to 1859 with industrial large scale dredges . Many lode mines are in the Fort Jones area, including the Golden Eagle Mine which was a large producer.

Salmon River

Another major tributary of the Klamath River is the Salmon River. The lower part of the Salmon River marks the border between Siskiyou County and Humbolt County. The Salmon River is also world famous for it’s steelhead and salmon fishing. There are two forks on the Salmon, the north fork and the south fork. At one point between the two forks is an area known as Sawyers Bar, where over a million ounces of gold was reported to have been recovered.


There are many gold mines found around Yreka. Interestingly, it has been reported that gold nuggets have been found within city limits; some weighing as much as four ounces have been found after winter floods of the Shasta River.

Modoc County California Gold

In Modoc County, near the Oregon border there are several small gold mines that overlap into Oregon’s Lake County, near Fairport, California. You might try the surrounding streams for placer deposits and Modoc County Gold.

In the Modoc National Forest is the High Grade National Recreation Trail. On the trail there are remains of gold mines, old gold mine tailings, ditches and even a few standing buildings from the mining period from around 1912. There is a ghost town here as well, aptly named High Grade, and is privately owned. High Grade is located in a canyon above Fort Bidwell, as seen on the map. This area represents the biggest gold rush of Modoc County, but did not last long.

Rockhounds may want to check out Surprise Valley found in the high northeast corner of Modoc County near the Oregon and Nevada borders. Here at this ancient lake bed you can find fossils, petrified wood and obsidian glass.


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