Where to Hunt for Big Gold in California (Part 2)
(A six pound [72 troy ounces] "biggee" from California.)
This series of posts is mean to tune you in to areas in California where you might (and probably still can) find big gold. As I said in my last post, if you want to find big gold you need to be looking where large nuggets were found in the past.
Sierra City District
Northern California's Sierra County was my old stomping grounds all through the 1980s. That's where I sniped, sluiced, highbanked, and dredged along the North Yuba River and worked various claims and certain "open" spots that are no longer available to the public. I let my last claim lapse there in 2012, by the way. Sierra County was unbelievably rich in placer and lode gold back in the day and can still produce large gold to those with experience and access to the right areas within the county. Downieville is the county seat and Sierra City is a 13-mile drive north from there along State Highway 49, the "Gold Rush" Highway. I know the area around both towns well and it was my NUMBER ONE favorite gold area, rich in natural beauty and rich in placer gold as well.
The District's Monumental Mine was worked for lode gold in the 1850s and 1860s (and beyond those decades at a lesser scale). In 1859 a single gold mass was recovered from the Monumental that weighed in at a whopping 189.3 troy pounds or 1,893 troy ounces. A decade later in 1869 the Monumental Mine produced another big hit, this one weighing in at 133 troy pounds (1,596 troy ounces)! Undoubtedly the North Yuba River was the recipient of some of this large gold as many of the hard-rock mines in the area are located up steep hillsides or ravines and over time nature eroded out gold from those lodes and veins, and then gravity carried that gold down into the North Yuba at or right near Sierra City.
(Downtown Sierra City, California.)
Your main issue in the Sierra City District is, of course, access. Much of the nearby terrain is claimed up already or on private property. However, don't let that dissuade you if you're considering taking a chance for big gold there. Where there's a will, there's a way, right? You may be able to work some ground there on a "pay-as-you-go" status or perhaps even work out a lease deal with one of the locals. This is a great area known for big gold (placer and lode) so it's worth looking into if you live in the once-Golden State or are taking a prospecting/mining trip there.
This district is in California's Southern Motherlode Region and is located about five miles north of the town of Mariposa (Spanish for butterfly). This area saw heavy placer mining hard on the heels of the early Gold Rush days and the main gold locations worked were at Colorado, Sherlock Creek, and Whiskey Flat. A lot of big nuggets and large specimen gold were recovered from both lode and placers here but the historical accounts are sketchy concerning big nuggets or large gold masses. Miners didn't think about specimen beauty or specimen dollar value back then. Everything was sold and melted down, much to history's dismay.
(Natural gold from the Diltz Mine.)
However, in 1932 things changed in this regard. As the Great Depression took hold in America, many "down n' outers" headed back to the old goldfields to try and eke out a subsistence living rather than standing in soup lines. During this period the Diltz Mine was operating and its stellar recovery was a 52-troy pound nugget (or mass). That's 624 troy ounces of gold folks. Not too shabby I reckon. This part of the Motherlode does contain running streams and creeks but there are probably just as many (if not more) dry gulches in the area, particularly during the summer months. These were worked erratically for gold in the old days and probably still hold good potential for gold and big gold if you can gain access and can put up with the summer heat in the area. It gets hot in that part of the Motherlode in the summer...trust me on that.
The Columbia District is one of the most famous placer gold producers in the Southern Motherlode. It lies in north-central Tuolumne County and includes Yankee Hill, Squabbletown, Sawmill Flat, and the Springfield areas. The early strikes here were very, very rich and were first discovered by mineros from Old Mexico. The Mexicans were soon run off or forced to abandon their claims when white miners entered the region. The town of Columbia eventually came to be the main supply, transshipment, and entertainment spot in the area and it remains a central feature of the southern portion of Highway 49. A 50-pound nugget (600 troy ounces) was recovered here near Knapp's Ranch in the 1850s and huge amounts of "smaller" placer were recovered as well. I used to pass through Columbia on various occasions on my way to the Northern Motherlode in the 1980s and always found it to be a quaint example of early gold rush towns. Many old buildings and homes had been restored and you got a good sense of how Columbia might have looked in the 1800s. Now? Who knows? Maybe the real estate developers have turned everything into strip malls and asphalt. I haven't been there in nearly 30 years.
(Schoolhouse at Columbia.)
There's more to come...
(c) Jim Rocha 2017
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org