Turning the Mining Behavior of the Old Timers to Your Advantage (Part 2)

 (The old timers were good, but not perfect.)

As good as they could be at sniffing out and recovering gold, many old timers practiced mining behaviors that can be worked to your advantage. Here's a very important one for your consideration.

Before I get started I'd like to give kudos to an anonymous but very perceptive reader who commented on the previous post in this series. He obviously knows his prospecting and mining and was one step ahead of me. Good job!

What I'm passing along here is not brand new since I wrote about this potential advantage some years back. However, with the bulk of the Bedrock Dreams archives no longer available for free I think I should bring this tip forward again. It has significance and value, particularly to those of you who like research and are patient and thorough. If you're lucky as well...that's even better.

Mining Claim Abutments

First off, what I'm speaking to in this post is primarily targeted toward placer gold miners. There are undoubtedly instances where similar situations developed along hard-rock or lode gold claims, but I'm not going to be speaking to those directly, OK?

Gold Prospecting 
Gold Pans

A mining claim abutment is the narrow strip of ground lying on either side of the actual (or supposed) mining claim boundaries of a past or current claim. To look at this another way, claim abutments are not unlike those narrow zones on either side of a modern property line where the abutments are either legally or informally considered a "cushion" between two properties...a neutral zone of sorts.

Unwritten Rules

Nowadays it's not uncommon for some dredgers or placer miners to push the limits and work right to the very boundary lines of their claim and the adjoining claim or claims. In certain circumstances, unscrupulous types will even cross over their abutments into the neutral zone(s) of their neighbors. I know...I've seen this happen more than once. This is claim jumping, no matter how you slice it and not a practice you want to consider. Back in the 1980s I know of two separate instances where miners lost their lives (i.e., were murdered) for similar transgressions in California. That's how serious this can get.

Back in the day, the old timers had even less patience for claim jumpers and other unsavory types. Similar to those instances I just mentioned, in the old days if a miner got carried away and ended up too close to, or crossed over that abutment, bad things were bound to happen...from heated arguments to fisticuffs, or in numerous documented instances, to being gunned down or strung up from a nearby tree. As you already know, many of the early mining camps were very lawless places and it was up to the miners themselves to "police" things the way they saw fit. There were unwritten rules in the mines in those days and violations of those rules were taken seriously. Vestiges of this attitude carried right on into the early 1900s and even the Depression-era 1930s here in the United States.

(Mining claim boundaries are the key...but you'll need to find inactive, abandoned, or better yet...historical abutments that most aren't aware of.)

All this said, most of the old timers were very good about respecting claim boundaries and abutments. They would typically err on the side of caution in this regard and when they worked close to an adjoining claim they would typically leave a cushion of at least a foot or two on their side of the line untouched, as did their neighbors on adjoining claims.

Research, Luck, or?

These narrow neutral zones were virgin gold ground back then. They still are, providing you can locate one. Since most old-timer placer claim lines ran from the center of a wash or stream and up the banks to adjoining terraces or hillsides, these narrow strips held a lot of gravel and sometimes more gold than you and I have ever seen (or will see). Find one of these old abutments and you'll be sitting in the cat bird seat (at least for a while).

Have others found these narrow strips of virgin ground left behind by the old timers? Yes, they have. Back in the 1930s when they were mining to survive the Great Depression, Jess and Dot Coffey found one along the North Yuba River outside of Downieville and pulled a good amount of gold from it. Not too many years ago another miner found a similar abutment in the same area. These are documented instances...a savvy prospector or miner, on the other hand, is not going to say word one about this type of discovery...for very obvious reasons. If you do, sorry...but you're not as smart as I think you are.

How can you find one of these old abutments? It's going to take painstaking research or a good deal of luck...perhaps both. I myself managed to pull something like this off back in the early 1980s through a combination of good research and blind luck. I didn't get rich from it but the whole deal taught me a valuable lesson. One of those lessons was "Keep thy mouth shut, stupid!"

One last thing that can help you find an old claim abutment are your eyes. There's that visual clue thing again...if you see something out of place, or that doesn't look natural, and is trending in a linear direction...well, golly gee gosh! You might be on to something.

Best of luck to you.

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2013

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

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  1. Well...well....well! Learn something new everyday....that's my motto. Jim....I learned today about the claim abutments. I like that. It's the little things that make a good miner smart. Thanks for passing that on. A couple of feet of possible "pay dirt". It always pay to read. Thanks for sharing. Be safe out there!

  2. Thanks my friend. I try to offer info that others don't or with a different perspective at least. Take care! J.R.

  3. Jim, earlier while discussing the "claims" procedure....the guest writer noted the need for clear markers / monument style boundary markers. Is it still possible that some of these are still in place from previous claims? Ones that haven't been removed by miners...or left there when the claim was abandoned?

    I would think that eventually some of these would be over grown...but may still evident to the trained eye. So...any other signs (no pun intended) we should be looking for...if we are in the area? Thanks for the post.... interesting!

  4. Many old boundary markers can still be seen out there. The old timers often used pyramids of stacked rocks, etc. Nowadays they like iron or wooden posts. It's pretty much a crap shoot in truth though...the BLM and better yet, the county recorder/clerk offices have the most detailed info on CURRENT claims though. Best, J.R.

  5. I think your right J.R. a good eye will go a long way to finding those old abutments, common sense will tell us that when the old timers were moving material to wash, rock oversize was likely to be dis-guarded onto the abutment.

    No oldtimer in their right mind was going to move a large rock any further then they had to. Dumping them onto the abutment served as a way to keep your neighbor honest, and to serve as a early notice of where the boundary of the claim was believed to lie.

    The wall of a sample trench intersecting an old abutment, is going to look very, very different from everything else on those worked out claims.


  6. You make some excellent points in your comments Cal. Thanks! J.R.


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