"An Extraordinary Discovery of Gold" (Part 2)

 (Mexican miners brought their hard-rock expertise to Carson Hill.)

The rich gold discoveries from 1848-1851 at Carson Hill in California's Motherlode Region prompted a rush of their own as thousands of erstwhile Argonauts headed for the placer and hard-rock diggings there. Foremost among these were many Mexican miners who, because of their experience working gold and silver mines in Old Mexico, were much sought after for their mining expertise.

Despite the fact many Anglo miners and claim owners needed the Mexicans and their experience, the inherent class and ethnic order of the day required a certain measure of separation of the races. Thus, the Mexicanos lived in nearby Melones (named after the melon-seed like shape and size of the placer gold there) while putting in the bulk of their mining time in on Carson Hill. As Anglo miner L.W. Noyes recorded in his diary:

"The whole of Carson Hill was worked by Mexicans hired on shares while a town called Melones was started on the opposite side of the Hill from Carson Creek. This place called Melones was built of brush streets say 10-feet wide lined on each side with these brush houses where gambling was carried on at an enormous extent, all the Mexicans having money."

"Now Silent and Deserted"

It wasn't long before unrestrained greed became a significant factor at Carson Hill when numerous parties (and their newly hired lawyers) began fighting over claim validity and ownership issues. During this period even Alfred Morgan, owner of the Morgan Mine which produced over $2,000,000 its first year of operation, was run off the Hill by an angry mob of less-successful miners who questioned his ownership of the claim and forcibly booted him off Carson Hill. In some circles it's said that Morgan valued for his life more than the gold that still lay within the bosom of the mine named after him. After all, how can a dead man spend a king's ransom?

The upshot of all this greed, manipulation, and violence was that Carson Hill sat unworked for nearly three years while wealthy "entrepreneurs" from San Fransisco, local miners, various gangs of ruffians, and the inevitable lapdog lawyers went at it. Even good old Alfred Morgan entered the legal fray while maintaining a safe distance as he fought to regain his claim on the Hill. During this time the Mexican miners could no longer make a go of it and departed for calmer gold ground or headed back south to Mexico in disgust. Nearby Melones soon became a ghost town. As one passerby noted:

"That encampment, called by the Mexicans Melones, is now silent and deserted. One old Mexican is found there watching the barley that has sprung up from last year's waste in horse lots that then were worth thousands of dollars each. The multitude is now gone."

The Real Kicker

Persistence paid off for Alfred Morgan in 1853 when final legal judgment was rendered in his favor (along with his "associates"). After getting the Morgan Mine back in his possession he headed off to England to put his fabulously rich mine up for sale. Historical records indicate that the provisional price Morgan was paid for his Carson Hill claim and its mine was $4,700,000. This amount would make you or I very wealthy men or women...after all, even today a half billion dollars is nothing to sneeze at despite the shaky economy and our politicians' best efforts to wreck it completely.

(Gold in quartz from Calaveras County, California.)

Now comes the real kicker. In 1854 the largest complete gold mass ever found in the United States was uncovered from another claim (the "Comstock") on Carson Hill. The so-called "Calaveras Nugget" weighed in at a whopping 195 troy pounds! Unfortunately for the world at large and specimen collectors specifically, the "Calaveras Nugget" was melted down into bullion and gold coins. You see, back in those days it was all about the gold...nothing else. On the other hand, if the "Calaveras Nugget" still existed today it would be priceless as both a geological "freak" of nature and as a significant historical item. (If I owned it, I think I could probably ask any price I wanted for this "priceless" chunk of gold...so could you, for that matter.)

Couldn't Help Thinking...

Gold continued to be mined from quartz veins on and in Carson Hill right up until the start of World War II when a combination of mine structure fires and government restrictions brought an end to large-scale mining operations there. Today, many small-scale gold miners still work the gullies, washes, and streams in Calaveras County. These locations continue to produce placer gold for those who know where to look for it.

In the late 1980s when I was driving back south along Highway 49 (California's "Gold Rush" Highway) from a mining stint on the North Yuba River I pulled off the road and spent a pleasant afternoon sampling spots in the Carson Hill area. I didn't find a lot of gold, but I did find one small nugget the size and shape of a watermelon seed. When I saw that piece of gold in my pan I couldn't help thinking of how Melones got its name and how fabulously rich Carson Hill once was.

I guess I was born too late...

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

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


  1. Good morning Jim, I was wondering, if Carson Hill, is a hill, is there gold in the entire mound or just on the outside surface? I'm sure someone must have drilled into it to find out. The picture of what it looks like today, looks like there would still be a lot there to go through. If it is only on the surface, why do you think that would be? Is it a volcanic hill where the gold could have maybe bubbled up last? Gary

  2. I don't know the actual geological composition of Carson Hill, but I suspect that much of the country rock in that area was calaverite cut through with numerous gold-bearing quartz veins. The rich placers below and elluvial gold on the slopes of the Hill had eroded out from the rich ledges and veins that were exposed toward the top of the Hill. My understanding is that the interior of Carson Hill was riddled with hard-rock workings and much later on, some open-pit operations took place there. Best, J.R.

  3. Jim....I have been there....many times...mostly too look...but did a little sampling on private property...with permission, of course. Found tailing piles...old mining equipment and a number of interesting artifacts from that era. My time was very limited....so not much to show for it....but....saw many possibilities! Also spent time on the "New Melones" lake,,,in the back tributaries of the lake....I've seen numerous signs of small scale mining...although most of this could easily be "Pre" WWII. Always getting in trouble with the guys I fish with there...they say I spend too much time looking for "interesting places to find gold" ,,,and not enough time focusing on fishing. Anyways....I have some interesting "Folsom" stories from recent visits.... I will share with you later. Stay safe out there!

  4. It's a great area for sure...still lots of gold about. The Melones Lake project covered up some good placer ground and undoubtedly the workings you saw near the lake were pre-WWII (as you rightly state). You and I would do well together...I love to fish too but I love gold mining more! Best, J.R.


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