Arizona's Golden Past (Conclusion)
(A 6.59 gram Arizona nugget.)
I'll be closing out this series on Arizona's golden past in this post. By now you've come to realize that the Grand Canyon State had many lode gold and placer strikes and that it remains a good place to be for many small-scale prospectors and miners. So I want to regress a bit here and talk to you about the La Paz placers.
Weaver and La Paz
Remember Pauline Weaver? He of the Rich Hill discovery in 1863? Well, despite the somewhat feminine connotation of his first name Weaver was no sissy. He left his home state of Tennessee as a young man and headed into the untamed West with all its inherent dangers and transformed himself into a mountain man. Eventually he became an explorer of sorts and an erstwhile precious metals prospector. Weaver must've been born under a lucky star. He not only was in on the fabulous gold discovery at Rich Hill, but in 1862 he led a prospecting party into the western Arizona desert to check out the area near the Colorado River. Across the river from modern day Blythe, California, Weaver and his party discovered rich dry diggings at what became known as the La Paz placers. Although not extensive in its gold coverage, La Paz was known for producing large, coarse gold nuggets, some of the largest of which Pauline Weaver and crew picked up from the desert floor. But Weaver wasn't a miner, he was a prospector and wanderer, never remaining in one spot too long. Weaver's Needle in Arizona's Superstition Mountains is named after Pauline, and he remains a central figure in Arizona's golden history. As I mentioned previously, on occasion I worked a dry placer claim at La Paz with my motorized puffer dry washer and my mining friend "Rattlesnake" Jim found his first gold nugget with a metal detector at La Paz as well. It's a brutal environment though and not a spot you want to be working during the hottest months of the year.
There were many smaller placer and lode gold strikes in Arizona in the latter half of the 1800s, but none quite as rich as La Paz, Rich Hill, Lynx Creek, or the Vulture Mine. Some came close though. Other significant gold discoveries in the Territory occurred along the Gila River, at Dome Rock, Yavapai, and near Greaterville. By 1885 however, the cream of the placer gold crop in Arizona had been skimmed off. What gold remained required greater effort to recover but many small-scale miners continued to eke out a living using the crudest of mining gear, including the venerable dry washer. Many small or seemingly inconsequential gold placers were sampled or worked for a short time but with gold at $22.00 a troy ounce most of these limited placer locations were simply abandoned as the miners moved on to what they hoped was better gold ground over the next hill. The reason I mention this is twofold: 1) it's part of Arizona's golden past and 2) I'm dropping a hint. It's as simple as that. I suspect there are numerous small or limited gold placers still to be found in Arizona, some that may only produce an ounce or two of gold while others may produce dozens. With gold prices the way they are today, these lost or abandoned placers would certainly be worth working for small-scale guys and gals like you and I.
(Signs of old mining at Dome Rock.)
Up Against It
The last big surge of gold mining (placer and lode) took place in Arizona during the Depression Years of the 1930s as many "down-n'-outers" headed back to the old goldfields to try and put food on the table for themselves and their families. When these hardy (and sometimes luckless) souls set up camp and went to work by themselves or in small groups, they were really up against it. The U.S. government had fixed the price of gold to $20.67 a troy ounce...a worse price than the old timers who preceded them sold their gold at. It was the roughest of times and a rough way to live and work. But many down-n'-outers stuck it out since they had no better option. In the cities and larger towns many Americans were standing in soup or bread lines, totally dependent on Franklin Delano Rooosevelt's public dole. As an aside, whether most like to admit or not, F.D.R. was the father of the modern welfare state. But miners being miners, most of them refused to take government handouts and preferred instead to make things happen through hard work and determination. The U.S. government finally relented on the issue of gold pricing and raised the value of a troy ounce of gold to a little over twenty five dollars in 1933, and in 1934 it went up to $35.00 an ounce. Whether done to help the mining industry and the down-n'-outers, or to fulfill some sort of grand banking scheme behind the scenes, these higher gold prices helped small-scale miners sustain themselves throughout the West and Southwest in the Depression years.
(Many down-n'-outers chose gold mining over soup lines.)
Oatman and Goldroad
There were two big gold centers in Arizona during the Depression years, one at Goldroad and the other at Oatman. The Goldroad discovery had actually happened in the early 1900s and early on the hard-rock mines there employed over 300 men. Goldroad fell fallow over the intervening years but by 1931 it had produced over seven million dollars worth of gold. For the rest of the 1930s Gold road was worked and worked hard. The main issue miners faced there was the simple fact that Goldroad ore wasn't high-grade and usually averaged out at six grams of gold per ton of material mined and processed. Still, the down-n'-outers persisted there and gave Goldroad their best shot. A number of mines had been discovered near Oatman many years before the Depression era came about, but the majority of these gold discoveries were worked haphazardly or inefficiently. It's estmated that nearly $18,000,000 was produced at the Oatmine mines over the years and they remained active until the U.S. movement shut them down in 1942, as it did with all U.S. gold mines.
(Old photo showing the Goldroad Mill at Oatman.)
Gold miners are dreamers and, to a great extent, gamblers. Arizona's golden past has had its share of dreamers and gamblers, and many still dream and gamble there today. Along with some very rich gold ground, the Grand Canyon State is also rich in history. It took a hardy soul to venture into the Territory in its early days. Men and women of strength, fortitude, and spirit.
Thanks for being here!
(c) Jim Rocha 2016
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org