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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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  • Ship of Gold

    by James H. Nottage, Eiteljorg vice president and chief curatorial officer | Apr 16, 2015

                After it became apparent that the ship must, sooner or later, surrender to the angry elements, the scene among the passengers on deck, and throughout the vessel was one of the most indescribable confusion and alarm.
    Detroit Free Press, September 23, 1857

       TOTAL LOSS OF THE TREASURE
    New York Times, September 19, 1857

    The Greatest Treasure Ever Found
    LIFE, March 1992

    The SS Central America (earlier named the SS George Law) was a 280-foot sidewheel steamer that transported passengers and freight from the West coast to the East. In September of 1857 it sank in a hurricane off the coast of North Carolina, killing 425 of the nearly 580 passengers and crew. Until the 1980s it rested at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, 8,000 feet below the surface, with more than 30,000 pounds of California gold on board. Loss of the treasure contributed to the worldwide financial panic of 1857, from which the United States would not recover until after the Civil War.

    The coin and gold bars in this case are from among the hundreds of bars and thousands of coins recovered using a deep-water submarine.

    Gold bars recovered from the wreck of the SS Central America
    Gold bars recovered from the wreck of the SS Central America
    Loan courtesy of CPB
    Photography by Hadley Fruits

    Wreck of the Steamship Central America
     
    Wreck of the Steamship Central America
    J. Childs
    Lithograph
    Image courtesy of the Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, VA; LP2438

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  • Gold! Riches and Ruin |Natives and Outsiders

    by Johanna Blume, Eiteljorg assistant curator | Mar 26, 2015

    For years George Carmack, the son of a California forty-niner, took credit as the first to discover gold in the Klondike in 1896. However, two First Nations men who were related to him by marriage may have been the first. Historians now acknowledge that Skookum Jim Mason, the brother of Carmack’s wife, Kate, and Tagish (or Dawson) Charley likely made the find. Regardless, as the word spread it triggered a massive stampede to the Far North.

    The Canadian government foresaw the need to establish a law enforcement presence along the border between the United States and Canada, and in the communities growing and developing in response to the gold rush. The rapid increase in population led to the Yukon Territory’s establishment as a province. Many American gold seekers didn’t realize at first that the discovery existed in another country, and they chafed under Canadian authority.

    A vibrant and diverse indigenous population had long occupied the region. Because of their familiarity with the landscape, many First Nations people were hired as packers and guides on the trails to Dawson, and some worked mining claims. Although many of the outsiders adopted aspects of Native culture, such as wearing parkas and mukluks, overall the Yukon-Klondike gold rush led to the systematic degradation of the Native cultures in the region. 

     NWMP Constables Leason

    Klondikers and Indian Packers                      

     [TOP]
    NWMP Constables Leason, Cutting, Brown, Harrington, Ward, Livingstone, Campbell and Ball posing on White Pass Summit beside Union Jack and US Flag with Unidentified Civilian at Extreme Right, 1899
    Image courtesy of Royal Canadian Mounted Police Historical Collections Unit; 1933.8.1

    [BOTTOM]
    Klondikers and Indian Packers near Stone House, Chilkoot Trail, Alaska, 1897
    Photographer: Frank LaRoche
    Image courtesy of University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections; LaRoche 10042

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  • Gold in the Black Hills

    by James H. Nottage & Johanna M. Blume, Eiteljorg curators | Mar 26, 2015

    Hedren-3 - resized for blackhills blog

    Custer’s Black Hills Expedition, 1874
    Image courtesy of Paul L. Hedren

    A treaty with the Lakota Nation in 1868 guaranteed the tribe’s right to occupy its beloved homeland, Paha Sapa, the Black Hills of Dakota Territory. As rumors of gold being found in the region spread, the government at first discouraged trespassers on the Indian land. However, in 1874 the Army sent Lt. Col. George A. Custer and the 7th Cavalry to explore the region. The expedition entered the Black Hills with more than 1,000 men, 100 wagons, a brass band, geologists, and reporters. When gold was found, word spread rapidly, and the rush was on. Although efforts were made initially to stop intrusions on the Lakota land, the tide of prospectors swept in, unrestrained by the federal government.

    President Ulysses Grant tried but failed to purchase the Black Hills from the Lakota. Abandoning efforts to keep intruders from the Black Hills, the government summarily ordered the Indians onto a reservation by January 31, 1876. The war that resulted is sometimes referred to by the Lakota as “the fight where we lost the Black Hills.” To this day, Lakota writers and leaders make the violation of the 1868 treaty and the taking of the Black Hills a core theme of their advocacy for tribal rights.

    Gold has been found at several places. . . . I have on my table forty or fifty small particles of pure gold . . . most of it obtained today from one pan full of earth.

    —George Custer’s report to General Alfred Terry, 1874

    The Americans stole my country, and the gold in the Black Hills. We asked the Americans to give us traders, instead they give us death. All of them robbed, cheated, and laughed at us.

    —Tatanka Yotanka (Sitting Bull), Hunkpapa Lakota 1877

    All of our origin stories go back to this place. We have a spiritual connection to the Black Hills that can’t be sold. I don’t think I could face the Creator with an open heart if I ever took money for it.

    —Rick Two Dogs, Oglala Lakota spiritual leader, about 2011

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  • Gold Fever

    by Johanna Blume, Eiteljorg assistant curator of Western Art | Mar 22, 2015

    Ho for California

    Take notice. Ho! for California!: A meeting of the Citizens of the Village of Canajoharie and its vicinity, will be held at the house of T. W. Bingham, . . . Jan. 16, 1849 
    Letterpress print on paper
    Image courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
    BANC PIC 1963.002:1802—A



    This mountain-mass of gold, is an immense magnet, whose attractive power is drawing men from all parts of the world to itself.
    —Reverend Elisha L. Cleaveland, 1849

    As word of the gold discovery spread, thousands of people from all over the word prepared to undertake the arduous journey to California. Depending on the departure point, there were a number of routes to the gold country.

    Thousands migrated west by foot and with wagon trains along a network of trails that worked its way across the continental United States. These overland routes seemed direct enough, but they contained a host of unpredictable dangers. Misinformation from guidebooks meant many left ill prepared, and accidents, disease, supply shortages, breakdowns, and bad weather all posed serious threats once the trip had begun.

    For others, routes to California by sea offered a slightly safer alternative. Clipper ships departing from Eastern ports were the safest option, but this route also took the longest, as the ships had to travel south around the southern edge of South America before turning north to San Francisco. A popular alternative was to go by ship as far south as Chagres, Panama, disembark, then travel across the Isthmus of Panama to Panama City by foot or in smaller river boats. Once on the western coast of the country, travelers boarded a second ship that would take them onward to California. However, the demand for ships heading north was far greater than the supply, which left many eager gold seekers stuck in Panama City indefinitely.

    In addition to the tens of thousands who journeyed to California from the East, thousands more traveled from Europe and across the Pacific Ocean from places like China, Australia, and the Hawaiian Islands. 

     map01082

    Map of Overland Routes to California|
    From Precious Dust, 1994

     map02083

    Map of Water Routes to California
    From Precious Dust, 1994

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