"An Extraordinary Discovery of Gold" (Part 1)
(Carson Hill as it appears today.)
Of all the locations where unbelievably rich gold discoveries occurred during the the early days of the California Gold Rush, Carson Hill ranks among the greats. In fact, the largest mass of gold ever found in the United States was unearthed at Carson Hill.
Sixteen Ounces a Day
Named after would-be Argonaut James H. Carson, who discovered gold in nearby Carson Creek in the Fall of 1848, Carson Hill was initially bypassed by other 49ers who were fixated on "richer" placer gold discoveries farther north along the American River. This despite the fact that Jim Carson and his small band of followers had recovered over 160 troy ounces of gold each in the space of ten days along Carson Creek and near the base of Carson Hill itself. I don't know about you, but an average of 16 troy ounces a day would suit me just fine!
Despite their rich gold finds, Carson and his party moved on and Carson Hill dropped off the mining radar for a short time. In December 1849 (a full year later) a traveler passing through the area commented:
"We passed by Carson Creek where there were few miners then, though Jim Carson had discovered gold there previously."
Ant-Like Swarms of Miners
A this time only a total of twenty nine miners voted in the first election ever held in the newly established Carson Mining District of Calaveras County...not exactly what we'd call overpopulation these days. Yet the following year when James Carson returned to the site of his earlier placer gold discovery he was astonished to find bustling, ant-like swarms of would-be Argonauts mining the Carson Hill area. Here's how Carson himself described things:
"When we reached the top of the mountains overlooking Carson and Angel's Creeks, we had to stand and gaze on the scene before us...the hillsides were dotted with tents and the creeks filled with human beings to such a degree that it seemed as if a day's work of the mass would not leave a single stone unturned in them."
(Specimen gold in mariposite from the Southern Motherlode Region.)
Like most of the mining activities that took place in California's Motherlode Region, the approach used to get the gold at Carson Hill by early miners was typified by the use of sluice boxes, rockers, and long toms. Yet, as rich as the placer diggings were in Carson Creek, much more gold awaited discovery higher up on Carson Hill itself.
Mr. Pacheco and the Morgan Mine
Although numerous tall tales still claim a party of "white" miners made the first hard-rock gold finds at Carson Hill, the truth is that the finder was an old Mexican named Pacheco. It seems that Mr. Pacheco had mined for lode gold and silver down in Old Mexico and knew his stuff when it came to precious metals in quartz. When he found numerous quartz outcroppings showing lots of free gold on the summit of Carson Hill, he knew they were valuable. Along with a small group of Anglo miners, Pacheco hurriedly claimed the location. Eventually the news of the old Mexican's find reached San Francisco and the following article in the Alta California (a popular news rag of the day) triggered a second wave of mining aspirants who grabbed their gear and headed posthaste for Carson Hill:
"From Carson Creek and vicinity: for the past few days a vague an undefined rumor has been in circulation in town, which we cannot trace to any reliable authority, that an extraordinary discovery of gold has been made in the above locality. Rumor says that as much as $200,000 has been taken out and that the vein still leads into the rock without any diminution of its size and quality. The lead is described as being six inches in thickness of pure gold."
(Old stock certificate for the Carson Hill Gold Mining Corporation.)
Not long after this sterling example of suggestive journalism, the Sonora Herald provided its take on the goings on at Carson Hill:
"There have been rumors in town for the last few days sufficient to startle the imagination of Baron Munchausen, of the extraordinary deposits of gold just discovered at Carson Hill and Maloney's Diggings."
What eventually happened to the finder of all this gold, Mr. Pacheco, is not fully known but by 1857 the rich gold ledge he'd discovered was known as the Morgan Mine (named after a member of Carson's original prospecting party). In one year's time, the Morgan Mine produced nearly $3,000,000 worth of gold back in a day when a troy ounce could be bought and sold for around $16.00-$22.00. At today's gold prices, that year's worth of gold from Carson Hill would be worth more than a quarter billion dollars (yep, you heard right...BILLION!).
There's more to come, so stay tuned.
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2013
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