Time to Saddle Up for Rawhide?
(A young Clint as Rowdy Yates on the "Rawhide" TV series.)
When I was a youngster there was a popular western on television called "Rawhide" that included an up and coming young actor named Clint Eastwood. Yep, our boy Clint. But I'm not here to talk about the TV series or Clint. Nope. I'm here to tell you about another Rawhide...one that includes placer gold in its cast of characters.
Periodically I mention my ongoing desire to do a bit of gold prospecting and mining in Nevada. This desire has been simmering in the back of my mind for some time now and I'll tell you why. Of all the western states in the good ol' U.S. of A., I believe the Silver State holds excellent potential for small-scale miners, prospectors, and nugget shooters. This is not only due to the fact that Nevada encompasses vast swaths of mineralized terrain, but unlike California, Oregon, Idaho, and other western states, the Silver State hasn't been as heavily targeted by the green Nazis or tainted by crazy over-regulation on the part of sycophantic, money grubbing politicians. Oooops! Let me correct myself here. I momentarily forgot about that skinny, ass wipe of a Democratic Senator named Harry Reid. Well, can't win 'em all, I guess. But undoubtedly, big-monied interests were behind this dufus's election and not the common folk of Nevada like ranchers and miners. Whatever, the case I still believe that Nevada holds great promise for small-scale gold miners and prospectors, despite the very clear fact that I personally have never entered the Silver State in my search for gold. Call it blind faith if you want, but it is what it is.
(Harry Reid...one not-so-pleasant aspect of Nevada.)
"Work Hard, Play Hard"
OK, let's move on. Back in the early 1900s small groups of prospectors had drifted southeast some 60 miles or so from Fallon, Nevada (Churchill County) into part of what was then Esmeralda County (now Mineral County) looking for precious metals. Like many mineralized zones in the Silver State, this area was dry, desert ground with an average, annual rainfall of only eight inches. Inhospitable terrain? Yep, for the most part anyway. But that didn't stop these gold and silver seekers. They were after the goods and were bound and determined to find and recover them. Near a cluster of desert hills these treasure seekers eventually found what they were searching for in a series of dry washes trending in a southeastern direction toward Gabbs Flat. The gravels in these washes contained placer gold in quantity, including many nuggets weighing three troy ounces or more. The only downside to the gold in these washes was that it was heavily alloyed with silver to the point that the old timers referred to it as "electrum" or "white gold." Just so's you know, electrum is an ancient term referring to an alloyed blend of silver and gold with a dash of copper thrown into the mix. True electrum would be a 50-50 mix of silver and gold (with trace copper) but the placer gold these Nevada prospectors and miners turned up ran closer to .600-.700 fine gold content, with higher purity values found at times. Whatever the case, more miners and prospectors flooded the area and soon a rough and tumble mining camp named Rawhide was established. By 1908, Rawhide hosted over 8,000 residents and, believe it or not, 40 saloons! "Work hard and play hard" was the rule of the day, just as it was in hundreds of other Western mining camps of the era.
(Rawhide back in the day.)
One More Gone...
When the placers near Rawhide were supposedly "worked out" (placers are NEVER totally worked out, by the way) miners and prospectors turned their eyes upward to the hills above them and soon discovered large amounts of gold and silver locked into altered volcanic rocks of the Miocene Period. The richest gold and silver-bearing areas were found on the slopes of Crazy, Hooligan, Balloon, Grutt, and Murray Hills and along with the vein and lode discoveries came finds of rich elluvial placer deposits on nearby hillsides and terraces. Most hard-rock operations of Rawhide's early period were small group efforts where miners leased claims from their owners for a percentage of the take. Many of these small lode operations were crude and often dangerous undertakings with the deepest shaft descending vertically some 500-600 feet or so. In the 40-year period between 1908-1948, Rawhide produced an estimated 50,000 troy ounces of placer and lode gold along with nearly three quarters of a million troy ounces of silver. Decent amounts of copper and lead were also produced as "by products" of Rawhide's mines. By the 1980s (and into the 1990s) major mining concerns were conducting large-scale, open-pit mining operations in the Rawhide area and one source I researched stated that the largest of these operations literally obliterated the actual site of the old Rawhide town site. There's one more old mining ghost town gone by the wayside, sad to say.
(Rawhide in the early 1950s.)
10 Square Miles of Alluvial Fans
Another source states that the washes and terraces in the immediate area still hold good gold potential for small-scale miners if worked with dry washers. However, I suspect the main gold-bearing washes like Stingaree and Rawhide Gulches are either still owned by mining companies, claimed up one way or another, or have simply disappeared in the giant maw of open-pit mining. I can't say this for sure since I've never been to the area, but based on what I DO know, this assumption is more than likely fact. But here's the deal. If I myself were there, I would give the alluvial flood plains or fans in the Rawhide area a good looking over as well as any terraces or smaller washes in the area since everything is highly mineralized and conducive to precious metal formation and disposition. Remember, the old timers tended to go for the good stuff or the "cream" and were reluctant to work what they considered to be marginal ores or placers with gold at $18.95 a troy ounce (as it was in 1908). I'd also poke around any small hills in the region that weren't dug to death with gopher holes or bulldozed down to nothing by open-pit operations. You and I both know as sure as we're sitting at our respective computers that there's still gold to be found in the Rawhide area, and that's a fact. As an addendum to that statement, old records indicate that the alluvial fans I mentioned earlier encompass nearly 10 square miles of the surrounding area and I seriously doubt all of that was dug up and worked. The gold can be spotty at Rawhide (like most desert placers) but the potential is there, brothers and sisters.
(Evidence of the open-pit mining operations near Rawhide.)
I'd appreciate anything further on Rawhide you Nevada miners or prospectors out there may know. Otherwise, here's a tip for the rest of you:
Maybe it's time to saddle up for Rawhide.
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2015
Questions? E-mail me at email@example.com