Nevada's Sawtooth Mining District

As time has gone by I've been considering Nevada more and more these days for its small-scale gold mining (and prospecting) potential. Unlike California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and most other western states, Nevada has not been overrun by glassy eyed "greenies" looking to put an end to ALL mining activities, small-scale or otherwise. That says something about the importance of mining to the Silver State as well as the independent spirit of the majority of Nevadans.

Sawtooth Mining District

Nevada's Humboldt and Pershing Counties lie in the northwestern quadrant of the state. The Sawtooth Mining District can be found where the two county boundaries meet, about 20 miles southwest of an old whistle stop on the Western Pacific Railroad called Jungo. The district's core is in the Antelope Range near Sawtooth Knob.

In the old days (late1800s and early 1900s) prospectors scoured the area searching for significant lode deposits of silver or gold but their efforts met with mixed results at best and the old timers went on their way looking for better ground. Besides, there was no water to work potential gold placers anyway. Then came the economic collapse of the late 1920s-early 1930s known here in the United States as the Great Depression. With no work to be had and tough times blanketing most of the country, many "down-'n-outers" (as they were commonly known back then) headed to the goldfields to try and eke out a living at small-scale gold mining. One area they returned to was the Sawtooth District. The old timers were so focused on lode discoveries that they paid little attention to the presence of elluvial or alluvial placer deposits until a down-'n-outer named Rufus Stevens stumbled upon vein gold that had eroded out forming small placers near Scossa (about 12 miles southeast of Sawtooth Knob). When news of Stevens' find reached the ears of other Depression-era Argonauts in the area a mini-rush ensued, complete with a flurry of claim filing on the best ground. By the summer of 1931, as many as 30-50 small-scale miners were sorting the placer gravels using hand-made dry washers. The gold take for some of these down-n-outers was as much as a troy ounce a day with a few lucky souls pulling in as much as three times that amount in placer gold. However, since the Sawtooth District's placers were fairly new (geologically speaking, that is) and not extensive it didn't take long for local miners to consider them "played out." In fact, it only took a year or so before the inevitable happened in this regard.

 (That's Sawtooth Knob in the background.)

In 1932 the Oregon-Nevada Mining Company stepped in and acquired about 300 acres of Sawtooth placer ground. The O-N Company was hell bent on working the gold gravels on a large scale (whatever that meant at the time) but the Company's efforts proved fruitless and they sold their holdings to another mining venture that leased the placer ground to down-'n-outers for 25 cents a day (hand-powered dry washers only) or 50 cents a day if you ran a motorized or "powered" dry washer. Like most dry or desert placer gold districts, little if any water is available in the Sawtooth District and running a dry washer is your best bet for moving gold-bearing dirt and gravel. That gold-bearing material in the Sawtooth District is spread out over a six-square mile area and here's the good news: the District's best gold values are found at shallow depths! See? I've told you time and time again that Ma Nature does weird things with gold in dry and desert placers and here's a perfect example of what I'm talking about. OK, now here are a few tips for getting the gold in the Sawtooth District:

1) The gold will be found sitting just above or on a false bedrock composed of clay at depths as shallow as two inches and no deeper (typically, anyway) than two feet.

2) Look for gravel that is rough and angular in appearance mixed in with larger rocks or even a boulder or two.

3) The more clay you come across the better the gold values. Be advised, however, that if the clay is damp you'll need to dry it out completely. If the clay is fused into a form of caliche ("desert cement") you're gonna have to pulverize or crush it and then run it through your dry washer. Make sure any material you run is bone dry before you feed it to your machine.

 (Note the angular gravels here embedded in caliche.)

4) Sawtooth placer gold averages between .800-.880 fine and is very coarse in appearance and size. Quite a few nuggets have been found in the District with the largest of these running about 8 grams (1/4 ounce).

5) Due to the shallow depth of the gold in the Sawtooths (and its coarseness) I believe this area holds good potential for nugget shooters as well.

(Re: nugget shooting. This photo was taken in the Sawtooth District.)

Although accurate production reports are hard to come by, it's estimated that at least a half million dollars worth (at today's prices) of placer gold was taken out of the Sawtooth District back in the 1930s. That's not small potatoes brothers and sisters. The other plus about many Nevada gold locations is that you typically won't run up against severe access issues like you do elsewhere in the West.

Anyone up for a prospecting/mining trip to the Sawtooths? Come September I'm available!

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

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Jim
    I dscussef the eolian issue with you awhile back. I have been to sawtooth district twice and although I only left with a couple of nuggets found with a gpx4000 I agree with you. Access if not a problem and I believe with petsistsnce and devotion the area could produce well. Thanks for another great artiSeptember we will just have to see what September has in store.
    Jack McDade

  2. Thanks for your input Jack.

  3. this sounds great already,and a road trip to boot.I have been watching Australian and western US videos on my path"not quite a road yet" to getting a better grasp on small scale mining.With all the advances in electronics and coils,in the past few years,they are going back over old thought to be worked out areas and getting good gold for their efforts.This could be an exciting trip.Thanks as always for your efforts JR and sharing your new book with us.bill bailey

  4. Does anyone still go out here?


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