(Some hit it big while others ended up broke.)
For those fortunate few who were early on the scene in the world's major gold rushes fantastic gold finds were not an unusual occurrence. In this post on the early California Gold Rush period, I'll wrap up some of these finds for you.
A Reluctant Ramrod
In the California Motherlode's southern region near Angel's Camp, storekeeper Ben Raspberry was out hunting one fine day when his musket's ramrod became jammed in the barrel. When he couldn't work it out by hand Ben decided to fire the weapon and thus expel the reluctant ramrod. This strategy worked just fine as the storekeeper's ramrod went flying through the air and ended up stuck between the exposed roots of a manzanita bush in a small gulley.
As Ben worked the ramrod loose from the manzanita's root system, he noticed that the dirt clinging to the roots gleamed with placer gold...ounce after lustrous ounce. His find triggered a stampede of the area, with would-be Argonauts swarming the adjoining hillsides and gulleys. In later years a location near Ben's lucky find became the focus of one of the southern Motherlode's richest hard rock mining operations.
Claiming the Very Streets
The tiny mining village of Soulsbyville in Tuolumne County was first settled in 1851 by its namesake, Ben Soulsby. Unlike many of his gold-crazy neighbors and associates, Ben preferred farming and lumbering to the foolish pursuit of gold in any form. That is, until the day Soulsby's 12-year old son literally stumbled over a very large gold nugget while driving the family cow home from pasture. After that discovery, Ben Soulsby and his family began working and developing one of the first hard rock mines in the area.
(Large nugget finds were commonplace in the earliest days of the California Gold Rush.)
The thriving gold boom town of Sonora was not only surrounded by lode and placer gold in great quantity, but as things turned out, its very streets were "paved" with the precious yellow metal. One day after a particularly heavy rainfall, a lucky soul with a mule and cart ended up with one wheel stuck firmly in the mud. As he dug deeper into the street's mud, this gentleman uncovered a placer gold nugget worth $500 (when gold was $16.00-$22.00 a troy ounce). In less than an hour the entire area and the street itself were claimed up. Unfortunately, only our lucky cart driver hit it big...no other big nuggets were found. Eventually Sonora's main drag became a thoroughfare again.
Like All Good Things
And so it went throughout the Motherlode Region from 1848-1855. Miners uncovered placer nuggets that were weighed in pounds, not ounces. They dug into veins so rich that the quartz was held in place by the gold, not the other way around. A few lucky Argonauts even stumbled onto pockets and paystreaks that would have made you and I multi-millionaires in a single day.
But like all good things, these sorts of discoveries didn't last. As the so-called "easy to get gold" was gotten, big time discoveries dwindled accordingly. As the fantastic and unusually rich finds became less frequent, gold mining became what it always had been...very hard work for very small returns. Finally, despite the richness of the gold ground in those days, very few prospectors or miners ever struck it rich. In fact, most went broke.
Best of luck to all of you.
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2013
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org