California Gold

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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.

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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