Pocket Gold Mining (Part 2)

(A singular and solitary breed.)

The old time pocket gold miners were a singular and solitary breed. Of the tens of thousands of aspiring Argonauts who flooded California during the height of the Gold Rush, I'd estimate that fewer than 1% were full-time pocket miners. I'd also hazard a guess that there are few, if any, small-scale gold miners around today who've practiced pocket mining, let alone made it their mainstay approach to getting placer (or lode) gold.

This introductory point is understandable. Pocket mining is extremely difficult...even on the best of days and under optimal conditions. You see, gold pockets tend to be scattered haphazardly about and are extremely hard to find, especially for those with little pocket mining experience. Oh hell...let me be blunt here...pocket gold mining is a tough nut even for those experienced at it. Sure, small-scale miners in the past stumbled across pockets in their day-to-day mining routines and even a few of you probably fall into this category. I know I do. Truth is, I've never found a gold pocket by strictly searching for one...only by stumbling across them as a part of routine mining activities. So just HOW did the old timers practice the art and erstwhile science of pocket mining?

Fundamental Drivers

Well, there was a method (if not much science) to their madness. First, the old timers eyeballed gold-bearing terrain using their personal versions of X-Ray vision and then selected a likely looking locale. Again, some of what they were looking for were areas where deposition patterns (stream hydraulics), natural events (mudslides, flash flooding, rock slides, etc.), or large obstacles predominated or at least were key elements in the streambeds, washes, benches, terraces, and hillsides the old timers chose to work. Speaking less objectively here, many of them just had a knack or intuition for "sniffing out" potential gold pockets which is one reason I've gently suggested to you in the past to go with your gut feelings at times. You see, in my mind finding gold is a triadic affair based on both objective and subjective considerations:

1) Knowledge (objective)
2) Experience (objective)
3) Intuition (subjective)

If you can make these three elements strong, fundamental drivers in your gold prospecting and mining activities you'll be much more successful over the long haul than those small-scale types who focus singularly on either objective or subjective at the cost of one over the other. It's the combination of the three elements here that make this mining triad so powerful.

To be really good at anything takes a commitment of heart and mind, body and soul. That's the mining philosopher in me coming out but don't think for an instant that what I'm laying out here isn't a BIG TIP because it is. Question is, are you going to grab it and make it part of who you are and what you do?

A Foolish Pursuit?

OK, enough of that. Let's get back to one of the main approaches used by pocket gold miners in the past. It's called the "fandango" approach (a.k.a., the "fan" approach). A fandango is a lively Spanish dance between two persons, typically a male and female (these days, who knows?). The old timers were very familiar with California's Spanish antecedents and no small number of Spanish miners as well as others from Mexico, Central America, and South America were working the California mines (and many other mines in the West and Southwest). So fandangos weren't all that uncommon. You'll love this next item, however. Another definition for fandango is (and I quote) "A foolish or worthless pursuit." How's that for descriptive power?!

(The fandango.)

Now it could very well be that a few old time pocket gold miners came to believe that the English translation of fandango was "fan" (like a hand-held woman's fan) but that's not the translation at all. Whatever the case, the old time pocket miners used a search pattern that resembled a woman's hand fan and that puts us back at fandango. It just goes round and round and round. Or back and forth as the case may be. The handle of the fan points away from the pocket miner while the spread of the fan represents the area he or she must search to find golden clues to the location of the pockets themselves. The idea is that if those clues show up within the fan, they will continue as the fan narrows in width, and that at the end of the handle lies the pocket. There is a logic to this approach that we'll discuss as I bring this series on pocket mining to its conclusion in my next post. You've been given some food for thought here...now it's time to digest it.


(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2015

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


  1. I have a couple of claims in pocket country. I haven't pursued pocket hunting lately because of the time and work involved. My claims have enough gold in the placer to keep me busy for a long long time. I may try pocket hunting this spring and summer when it warms up, just to be doing something different for a change.
    Pocket hunting means a lot of digging all the way to bedrock and sampling the material from the surface down to bedrock. Especially the material right on top of bedrock and in the cracks. You must sample at specific intervals (10 or 20 feet apart, etc) at the base of a hill; for maybe hundreds of feet. When you find color in any samples you note them, and then move up the hill 10 or 20 feet and do samples paralleling the lower row of samples that contained gold. You keep doing this until you triangulate to the source of the gold. If you get above the source of the gold, your samples won't have any gold and you must drop back down the hill to where you last found gold in the sample. And so on.
    When I have time I'll have to tell you about some pockets that were found 30 years ago.
    Best wishes for now.
    Rattlesnake Jim

    1. Your way to start Mr. Rattlesnake will probably work but I reread J.R.'s first post about pocket mining again. It would be better to use one's intuition to find where the gold flowing downstream went "kaput". Then apply your technique with the distances and depths. If using the fan pattern method would you guys really dig down to bedrock every time or try the pattern shallower and then go back to dig deeper. One way is more thorough but time consuming I'd think vs moving quickly spot to spot and moving on. What's to do if the triangular tip for the source of the gold ends in water. Maybe start the fan pattern again and keep moving up. That could take years.

    2. Ok Anonymous, you have it backwards. Think of a pyramid with the source of the gold being up at the top. As the gold erodes out of the vein it spreads wider as it goes down the hill. You start and go upstream or up a gulley. In the stream or gulley there may be no gold or lots of gold. If there is no gold, you find another stream or gulley. Go up the stream or gulley sampling until you find no gold at all. Where you last found gold is where you start your pyramid going up the sides of the hill to locate the source.
      Rattlesnake Jim

    3. If I were to prospect the stream/gulley route I'd just check the potential drop out areas. You know, all the classic looking places. That's pocket mining the way I understand from reading here. A triangular pattern wouldn't be of any help to me, it's mother nature at the helm of gold deposition- how could a triangular pattern be of any help when more than likely the pattern for gold in pockets is in the form of a meandering stream or wash? You know, envision water flowing during high or regular run-off periods and then dig the pockets at dry/low water times. I do agree with the 10 ft. parallel digging but like you said only if you find gold at a lower place. Maybe if J.R. could put up some pictures of different types of wash/gully examples we could all comment on where we'd start prospecting and compare answers. Maybe each of us start with 2 choices so that one person doesn't hog all the good spots with his answer. Then we could see how one another thinks.

  2. Fan shape with the pocket at the end of the handle......like a funnel? I can picture that.....

  3. PS: I'm glad you got rid of the "prove you are not a robot" stuff.....half the time I had to try 2 or 3 times!!! THANKS!!


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