A Different Spin on Finding Gold (Part 2)

 (Searching for color in that pan.)

As I stated in my last post, there's both placer and lode gold out there waiting to be found and recovered by the astute miner or prospector who isn't averse to research and is patient and thorough. Luck? Being lucky never hurts when you set out to recover gold without actually doing any mining, which is the core topic of this series.

While we're on the subject, I'd like to give you my take on luck. Simply put, it's vastly overrated. Luck or fate may have a hand in things, but I believe that you make your own luck to the greatest extent. When it comes to finding placer or lode gold in any context your knowledge, skill, experience, patience, persistence, and perseverance are the true determining factors...not luck. Even if you disagree with what I'm saying here, try looking at it this way. If you apply those factors to what you're doing, you're only bound to increase your luck! There it is.

"Down and Outers"

OK, let me present you with another true incident that underlines this concept of finding and recovering gold by alternate means other than your traditional mining approaches. Back during the Great Depression, that devastating American economic upheaval of the 1930s, Jess Coffey and his wife Dot found themselves "down and outers" like millions of other Americans who had lost everything. Jess had lost his job as a civil engineer and the small savings grubstake they had worked so hard for had disappeared when their bank went under like hundreds of others. In fact in 1930 alone over 1,300 U.S. banks closed their doors taking the savings of people like Jess and Dot with them. You see, there was no Federal insurance for bank deposits back then.

 ("Down and outers" waiting in line for a cup of coffee and a donut.)

Many "down and outers," Jess and Dot included, decided to try their hand at small-scale gold mining during these hard times. They figured it was better than starving or bearing the humiliation of standing in government-sponsored soup lines for sustenance. Many thousands of other would-be gold prospectors and miners followed the Coffey's path and headed for the abandoned gold fields of the American west, hoping to pan, sluice, dry wash, or blast enough gold out of the earth to put food on the table for themselves and their families. As you know, small-scale gold mining is a very tough road as most of these 20th Century Argonauts found out, but the majority stuck with it because...well...they had no choice. Like the gold rushes of old, the "rush" of  the 1930s presented many similarities...hard living, danger, sickness, crime, and relentless toil in boiling heat, incessant rain, and sometimes, freezing cold. Unlike today however, a small-scale guy or gal could file a patented claim and build a cabin on it if they had the money to pay the fees, which most didn't. Like Jess and Dot, some worked out a percentage deal with a claim owner and others simply squatted on abandoned claims. Remember, this wasn't about having fun and enjoying the great outdoors. No sir or ma'am. It was about survival, pure and simple. One blessing of the period though was the fact that governmental interference with small-scale miners and their activities was virtually non-existent. You could pretty much come and go as you pleased in the goldfields as long as the local sheriff or some angry claim holder didn't show up as they did when the occasion called for it.

 (California's N. Yuba River where Jess and Dot fed and clothed themselves through small-scale gold mining during the Depression.)

Money in Their Pockets

Jess and Dot first tried their best in the Southern Motherlode Region of California but found the pickings too meager there. They headed north and ended up on a stretch of the North Yuba River not far from the gold rush town of Downieville (my old dredging grounds). Here they built a small cabin and started to work with a pick, shovel, and a wooden sluice box that Jess had built. With a bit of time and hard work the Coffeys began recovering enough placer gold from the N. Yuba to keep life and limb together plus a little. They fed and clothed themselves and lived a much healthier and happy life in the Northern Motherlode than they would ever have found on the streets taking government hand outs. One day, an old timer from the area told them about an old mining camp that had long been forgotten since the days of the California Gold Rush. They decided to investigate and eventually found the site of the old camp. Most of the wooden buildings were gone and only their dirt foundations remained. The old timer told them that if they sifted the dirt from where the old saloon used to be they might find gold since the flooring of the time usually included small gaps between the floorboards and many a pinch of fine gold dust used as currency undoubtedly slipped through to fall underneath to the dirt below. Well, to make a long story shorter, Jess and Dot found the old saloon's dirt foundation although all that remained of the structure itself showed the evidence of a bad fire. The Coffeys began running the dirt from the saloon's foundation and right away gold began showing up...and lots of it! An additional bonus were some old silver and gold coins, some melted or showing traces of the fire, but money in their pockets just the same.

 (Old mining camp post office.)

Living the Simple Life

So there you go. Another example of what this series of posts is all about. This story is true although I'm recalling the exact details from nearly 36 years of an increasing foggy memory. Want to learn more about the Coffeys and their Depression-era small-scale mining activities? Then buy or locate a copy of their book, Bacon and Beans From a Gold Pan. It's a book that should be in every small-scale miner's library. What happened to Jess and Dot? Well, they continued to mine the N. Yuba all through the Depression years, supporting themselves and living the simple, uncomplicated life most of us yearn for and even dream about. When World War II came along, they left mining to take jobs in the war industry, raise a family, and prosper and grow. Jess and Dot may be on the other side of the great Divide now, but their lives and the joy they took in this life remain forever. God bless 'em both...

Getting a few ideas now, are you? Good. There's more to come, so stay tuned.

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2016

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


  1. JR, the Great Depression, is something most folks really can't imagine today. Work can be hard to find now, but nothing like it was then. The jobs just were not there, everyone was broke. A guy I knew here named Ray Stoddard said during the depression he panned for gold and made as good as or better wages as most working "real jobs". He died before I got into this. I wish I had been smart enough to ask a few questions as to how and where. I know it was above my house somewhere not far from here.....
    My Great Grandpa Parish made more money than most trapping warf rats on the Seattle waterfront for a bounty....anything to put food on the table. Not a job most folks today would even consider today, but he was glad to have it back then.


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