When Finding Gold was Easy (Part 1)

(There was a time when gold really was easy to get...relatively speaking, of course.)

There was a time when finding gold was easy for the lucky few who were first on the scene. Nowhere was this point driven home with greater emphasis than during the early days of the California Gold Rush when virgin placer and hard rock ground abounded. Read on and dream...

In 1848, the Reverend Walter Colton was intent on bringing the word of God to the wild and wooly California goldfields. As he proceeded to convert the heathen, the good Reverend recorded much of what he saw and heard around him in a journal he eventually published as a book. Included were many interesting and unusual gold finds:

"After arriving in the land of gold I jumped from my horse, took a pick, and in five minutes found a piece of gold large enough to make a signet ring."

Reverend Colton continued writing in his journal and recorded these observations as well:

"A German this morning, picking away at a hole in the ground for a tent pole near our camp struck a piece of gold weighing about three ounces. As soon as it became known, some forty picks were flying in the earth all around the spot."

"In a ravine seven miles distant, a young girl this morning picked up what she thought to be a curious stone and brought it to her mother who, after removing the extraneous matter, found it to be a lump of pure gold weighing between six and seven pounds!"

 (1848, 2008, or 2018...good gold will always be found somewhere.)

"Near Stanislaus an Irishman had gone to the river to bathe. Throwing off his clothes he had dropped his jack knife which slipped into a crevice between the rocks. It was here he discovered a pile of gold and in less than an hour a storm of picks and crowbars were shivering the rocks all around him."

The gold finds in California's Motherlode Region just kept turning up from 1848-1855, even as Revered Colton faded into the twilight. Here are a few exceptional finds (remember, this was back when gold sold for $16.00-$22.00 per troy ounce):
  • A deserter from the U.S. Army dismounted along the Mokelumne River near Calaveras to water his horse and promptly stepped onto a chunk of placer gold weighing twenty four troy pounds (yep pounds, not ounces).
  • Near Hangtown (modern Placerville) two men digging the dirt floor of a wooden cabin found over $20,000 in placer gold in the excavated dirt, a gold recovery today worth well over a million dollars.
  • Three Frenchmen who were trying to dig up an old stump to clear the way for a wagon road found more than 200 troy ounce's worth of flakes and nuggets clinging to the dirt of the stump's roots.
 (How about a cool million?)
  • One down-on-his-luck Argonaut staked his mule down for the night and then curled up to sleep off his misery. When he pulled up the stake his mule was tied to the following morning, he found dozens of gold flakes stuck to it which he cashed in.

Steak, Not Crow

Along the Tuolumne River a half-starved miner shot a bear which promptly tumbled over a cliff down a nearby ravine. When the 49er climbed down after his kill, he ended atop a quartz ledge just above the bear's corpse. Upon closer examination, the ledge was laced throughout its exposed portions with stringers of free-milling gold. Not long after, a horde of would-be hard rock miners descended on the location while our claimant and bear killer extraordinaire just smiled...he was too busy eating steak, not crow.

Although they read like fiction at times, these aren't tall tales brothers and sisters but actual finds from the period in question. The California Motherlode was probably the richest gold discovery in the world and remains the root cause of one of the largest mass migrations in human history.

There's more to come, so stay tuned.

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

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


  1. Jim, there is a gulch not far from here that I have been studying about. It was first thought of as a rich strike,but it was latter decided because of the amount of boulders it was best left as "China diggings". It said the best they could do because of the boulders was $3 per day. Well, gold at the time was just over $18 an ounce so $3 then would be about $100 today. I never made it there last summer, but a friend hiked down into it last fall and said he did not see the typical signs of "China diggings". Then again, he said he didn't really see any big boulders either, so I'm not sure he was in the right place. Come summer it's a place to try for sure. This world is a big place, there is still plenty out there to find, but it is hiding pretty well! Gary

  2. Those are the sorts of tips or leads that can pay off sometimes Gary. I wish I could explore and sample that gulch with you. Best, J.R.


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