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Pay Dirt

by Johanna M. Blume, Eiteljorg assistant curator of Western art | Apr 16, 2015
I maintain that science is the blindest guide that one could have on a gold-finding expedition. Those men who judge by the appearance of the soil, and depend upon geological calculations, are invariably disappointed, while the ignorant adventurer, who digs just for the sake of digging, is almost sure to be successful.

—Miner quoted by Louise Clappe, April 10, 1852

Dutch Flat was a very prosperous mining town years ago, but now, with many other towns that have engaged in mining, it is rapidly on the decline. The cause of this is that hydraulic mining, which was the mode of mining here in the mountains, has been stopped by order of court. The complaint being that the tailings, or debris, from the mines was washed into the lands of the farmers in the valleys below.
—Frank Liebling, Dutch Flat, California; The Sabbath Visitor, November, 1887

During the California gold rush, placer mining—sifting through loose deposits of dirt, sand, and/or gravel, usually in or along stream beds—was the most common practice. Miners used a variety of tools to extract any gold that might be found, including hand tools such as gold pans; shovels; pick axes; larger equipment like rockers, sluice boxes, and “long toms”; and heavy machinery like stamp mills. Rockers, sluices, and long toms all used water, gravity, and the weight of the gold to separate the ore from the sediment. Stamp mills were used to crush larger rocks into finer particles, releasing the gold for further processing.

Another method of gold mining that developed in California was hydraulic mining, a fast and effective means of loosening gold-bearing dirt through the use of highly pressurized water. After years of conflict between miners and farmers over its detrimental effect on the surrounding landscape and its impact on agriculture, the practice was banned in California in 1879.
 
dag-0100b-spanish flat
Spanish Flat, ca. 1852
Photographer:  Joseph B. Starkweather
Image courtesy of the California State Library, California History Room
DAG-0100

Hydraulic Mining near French Corral, Nevada County,
Hydraulic Mining near French Corral, Nevada County, 1866
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division; LC-USZ62-9889

HN001076a - MINERS COAT OF ARMS
 Miner’s Coat of Arms, 1856
Britton & Rey (lithographer and publisher)
Lithograph
Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
BANC PIC 1963.002:0086—A

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