A Tough Way to Get Rich (Part 1)

('49ers tending long toms in the California goldfields.)

Am I Bad or What?

If you’ve followed me for a while now you know that I tend to tell it like it is in “Bedrock Dreams.” I figure I owe it to those budding or novice placer miners out there as well as my loyal readers who have come to expect a straightforward, no-BS approach from me when it comes to all things mining.

Gold Concentrates
Gold Pans
Gold Prospecting Books

On the other hand, if you’re looking for the soft-sell hustle approach and someone to tell you just how easy it is to get “an ounce of gold a day,” there are plenty of mining and prospecting sites online both individual and commercial that will be more than glad to blow smoke up your rear end in that regard. (Am I bad or what?!)

Most Came Up Short

Anyhoo, as I’ve stated time and time again in this blog, small-scale mining (hard rock or placer) is very hard work even on the best of ground. More importantly, mining is an extremely tough way to try and get rich….hell why beat around the bush here? It’s nearly impossible.

This fact is nothing new. All we need to do to verify it is to look back in history to the California Gold Rush. Even though they were swinging picks and shovels over virgin ground where staggering amounts of placer gold had accumulated over millions of years, most ‘49ers (and those that followed hard on their heels) came up short.

Golden Dreams and Reality

Did you know that the great majority of those hapless souls “rushing” California had little if any experience with gold mining, mining processes, deposition physics, stream hydrology, gold geology, or mining equipment? Most of these Argonauts actually envisioned themselves prying thousands of dollars worth of placer nuggets from cracks and crevices using their penknives (which the earliest arrivals actually did at certain locations).

Others saw themselves simply walking to and fro plucking bushels of nuggets and loose gold from the ground where it was obviously scattered about awaiting their arrival. The reality, of course, was far less tolerant regarding their golden dreams.

"I Fear I Will Starve to Death"

After all the hardships, travail, and loneliness they had endured some arrived at places like Hangtown, Rough and Ready, Goodyear’s Bar, or Angel’s Camp dead broke, exhausted, sick, or half starved. Those that could scrounge a shovel and gold pan worked like dogs, just trying to eke out the barest of subsistence living.

To paraphrase one young man of the time in a letter home to his mother:

“In truth the life we lead here is not fit for man nor the lowest order of beast. We work every bit as hard as the slaves of the Egyptian kings and receive in turn a pittance for our labors. No man here has made a daily wage this past month and I fear I will starve to death if you do not send me money.”

Wolverine Boots
Dickies Work Clothes

Remember, we mine because we love mining, not because we expect to become wealthy robber barons. Keep your perspective and keep your cool. It’ll all “wash out” in the end…

There’ll be more to come in my next post. Good luck until then.

If you liked this post, you may want to read: “Independent Spirits: Female Gold Miners”

© J.R. 2010

Questions? E-mail me at jr872vt90@yahoo.com


  1. "Remember, we mine because we love mining, not because we expect to become wealthy robber barons. Keep your perspective and keep your cool. It’ll all “wash out” in the end…"

    I especially liked that part. Nice article, I've retweeted it on Twitter.

  2. Thank you Mr. Dan. I appreciate your comments and the "tweets." J.R.


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