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.
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 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.
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
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!