Placer Gold in Minnesota's Zumbro River?

( Minnesota's Zumbro River.)

(Note: This post was published in my other blog, "Treasure Trove Dreams," but I think it deserves posting here as well. Enjoy! J.R.)

Is there a lost gold placer of substantial scale in southeastern Minnesota's Zumbro River? Yes, according to the following lost treasure tale:

Why Couldn't Gold be in the Zumbro?

By 1858 most Americans living east of the Mississippi River had read about or heard first-hand accounts of the extremely rich strikes in the California goldfields. Although the Gold Rush was already waning, a few Minnesotans still retained their own personal cases of "gold fever."

One of these "afflicted" individuals was Holden Whipple who lived in the Oronoco, Minnesota area. In Holden's mind, if placer gold could be found in and along rivers and streams out West, then why couldn't it be found in the nearby Zumbro River. After all, Minnesota had iron mines didn't it?

An Errant Gold-Seeker Persists

Thus armed and equipped with virtually no knowledge of placer gold or gold mineralization geology, Holden Whipple set out to make a strike on the Zumbro. For weeks, armed only with a shovel and a frying pan, he prowled and investigated the river's banks and gravel bars, searching high and low for that elusive yellow metal.

Many of his neighbors thought Holden had lost his mind and he thus became fair game for their sharped-tongue barbs and malicious laughter. But the errant gold-seeker persisted in the face of all adversity despite the ridicule.


Then came the day that Holden dug into a likely spot along the Zumbro and spotted something shiny in the shovelful of gravel he had unearthed. Kneeling down for a closer look he saw the gleam of yellow metal. Gold!

What Holden held in his trembling hand was a small placer nugget of exceptional purity. Soon, the entire region was inflamed with a virulent case of "gold fever" and Holden Whipple had gone from village idiot to town hero.

The Oronoco Mining Company is Born

In short order the Oronoco Mining Company was born, it's main investors some of the region's more affluent businessmen and landholders. These included S. B. Clark, J. Stevens, A. Ellithorpe, E. Collins, W. H. Pierce, and others. Whether or not Holden Whipple was part of this mining cabal remains unknown.

What is known however is that the Oronoco Mining Company began running the Zumbro's gravels through a series of sluice boxes and "long toms" in the Spring of 1858. Although the Company's gold recoveries were spotty at best, there were indications of large paystreaks of placer gold resting atop an extensive layer of "false" bedrock composed of clay.

2 Floods and the Demise of the Company

Placer gold mining continued along the Zumbro near Oronoco until winter's frigid blasts shut down operations until Spring. Then, once again, the Oronoco Mining Company set up shop to "hit the big one," the paystreak that would make its investors wealthier than their wildest dreams.

However, Spring flooding and turbulent high water wrecked most of the wooden sluices and carried them off downstream. Once the flood waters receded the Company rebuilt it's processing equipment and returned to placer mining the Zumbro.

Then, on July 3, 1859 a devastating flood once again destroyed all the Company's gear. This time the Company's investors threw in the towel and abandoned all mining operations. The Oronoco Mining Company was no more.

The View from the State's Natural Resources Department

Once again we must ask the question of the moment: is there placer gold in the Zumbro River near Oronoco, Minnesota and more importantly, is there a lost gold paystreak of commercial scale worth hundreds of thousands of dollars? Here's what the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has to say on the subject:

"There have been no commercial placer gold discoveries in Minnesota. The topography, climate, glacial geology, and landscape have combined to create streams and rivers that are less favorable, in general, for placer gold deposits than in other parts of the United States. However, Minnesota’s bedrock may contain undiscovered lode gold deposits. There have been searches for hardrock gold deposits in Minnesota using modern exploration methods."

Treasure Hunting

"The possibility of prospecting success may be improved by exploring Minnesota’s numerous sand and gravel deposits. Minnesota has sand and gravel deposits that were created by fast-moving meltwaters from the glaciers. Some of these deposits appear to have had favorable conditions for the formation of placer gold deposits, especially in areas of the state where gold has been found nearby in small amounts in the bedrock. Such sand and gravel deposits offer the same prospecting challenges as modern streambeds, but are likely in general to have much better potential for the occurrence of gold grains."

So there you have it. A tale of a lost placer gold paystreak in Minnesota along the Zumbro River.

Interested? If you are, who knows? You may just strike it rich!

Good hunting.

If you liked this post you may want to read: "Butch Cassidy's Lost Cache"

(c) J.R. 2009

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