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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Gold Occurrences in California

There are 13,470 gold mines or prospects according to the California Geological Survey that are located in the state. These gold mines are found in all parts of the state but the greatest concentrations are found northeast of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. Another large concentration is found in the northwestern part of the state in the Trinity and Siskiyou Counties.  An even smaller, but dense concentration is found in Calaveras, Tuolumne and Mariposa Counties.  Gold has been found in most of the counties in the state but there are a few counties mainly in the Central Valley where gold was never been reported.

Mine buildings at the Bodie California gold mine.
Photo by Thomas Kriese
Although there were scattered reports of gold being found in California before 1848 it was the accidental discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in Colema by John Marshall.  Marshall’s discovery touched off one of the greatest mass migrations in the history of mankind. It has been estimated that more than 200,000 people migrated to California between 1848 and 1852. California was admitted to the union in 1850 as the 31st state under the Compromise of 1850.

Crystallized gold from California.
Photo by Rob Lavinsky

The first mining that occurred in the beginning of the 1849 gold rush was from placer mines that were often operated by individual miners. With the discovery of the mother lode mining quickly moved underground, but it was no longer in the domain of the individual miners rather it was pooling of money required to operate lode gold mines. This new type of mining ushered in the day of large gold mining companies that made it virtually impossible for the individual miner to stay in the gold mining business. The industrialization of the gold mining business left plenty of opportunities for the individual to work as a miner in the large mines.

Although most of the placer gold was mined during the mid-19th century every spring freshet brings out a new batch of gold from the surrounding hills and mountains where it is concentrated in the rivers and streams. Although most of the gold mining in California today isn't hard rock mines a substantial portion of placer gold is still produced in the state. Much of this placer gold is produced by small-scale miners rather than the major corporations.

Hydraulicking a type of placer mining in California where high pressure water was directed against gold bearing gravel deposits.  This particular operation was at Dutch Flats, California.  Hydraulic gold mining was outlawed during the 19th century as one of the first environmental laws ever passed. 

Even though the areas that were extensively mined during the gold rush are still capable of yielding placer gold in quantities large enough to attract the small-scale miner, gold can be found in virtually all the rivers and streams in the state, as well as along the beaches of the Pacific Ocean.

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