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Monday, June 6, 2016

A Little History About the Northern Mines and CA Gold Rush....... By Gail L. Jenner

California's "northern" gold rush, considered by some to be a second rush, covered a region that crossed from northern California into southern Oregon, and the area was far more rugged and isolated than the better-known Sierra Nevada "Mother Lode" country. Many disenchanted miners left the Mother Lode to travel north, which required men walking or packing into and through some tremendous mountainous terrain. These areas remained isolated for many years even after the first settlers moved in to populate the small communities that grew up along the wild rivers, such as the Sacramento, Salmon, Scott, Klamath, Smith, Rogue, and others. And, as in any rough region emerging during this time, mining settlements often boasted unusual names or attributes...

The Salmon River is a rugged river.

The popular Klamath River boasted placer gold along its entire stretch, and was well known for abundant nuggets and flakes. Orleans Bar was an area where many hydraulic operations were performed. The Klamath River runs from Klamath County in Oregon into Siskiyou County, California and stretches into both Del Norte and Humboldt Counties.

The Trinity River is the longest tributary of the Klamath River and was an excellent gold producing river.  Good placer deposits can still be located everywhere along the river. Gold producing tributaries of the the Trinity River included Coffee Creek, New River, Indian Creek, Willow Creek, Hayford Creek and the East Fork. 

The Smith River also had important placer gold deposits. On the South Fork of the Smith River, which had large scale dredging operations, is Coon Creek, and gold has been found in the cemented gravels of the creek and gravel bars. There were several dredging operations conducted on the South Fork of the Smith River and its tributaries.  

Shasta County was one of the northern counties to grow into a destination for the early argonauts after gold was discovered along Clear Creek in 1848 by Pierson B. Reading.  It has been suggested, however, that gold was found in Shasta County even earlier than 1848 by several Oregon miners who passed through the area on the way south. But then, as the rush drew Americans west, the miners arrived in droves and, by 1853, a local newspaper reported that there wasn’t a river, gulch, creek or ravine in northern California that had been left untouched by the miners. 

"Captain" Reading had actually been given a land grant by the Mexican government in 1843, and, interestingly, rather than driving the local Indian tribes out—as was typically done—Reading befriended them. But that would not be the end of conflict in the region, but just the beginning. On the other hand, many miners married Native American women and settled to build homes and start families. In the region of Happy Camp, many old families still residing there have their roots in the intermarriage of miners and tribeswomen.
As in most California locations, miners panned along the many creeks and rivers when they could, but they quickly added shovels and picks, rockers and/or long toms. Then, as surface gold deposits waned, and gold grew harder to find, they turned to other, harsher techniques, including hydraulic mining. Gold, in fact, became the most significant industry in Shasta County, as well as across northern California and southern Oregon, for fifty or more years. 

Typically mines were named for individuals or groups, or reflected the miners’ dream of a rich find; there were any number of Paradise Mines throughout the region. Others mines were named in honor of hometowns left behind, as in the Boston Mine or New York Mine. Names like Dead Horse or Dog Creek or Jump Off Joe were given to locations where some tragedy had occurred. Many of these names are still part of the local vernacular. A few mines were also named for women or lost lovers.

There were locations denoting cultures from around the world, too, as in China Gulch and China Creek. And, while there was tremendous prejudice and pressure to tax or limit access or interaction, there were thousands of Chinese and other ethnic groups that mined the area successfully. 

Kanaka, a designation given to many mines throughout the northern region, was actually the name given to native Hawaiians, many of whom had been brought over to work for John Sutter in Sacramento, but who emigrated north soon after gold was discovered. There were at least 13 known Kanaka mining camps, some tagged as Kanaka Bar, or Kanaka Flat, or Kanaka Creek. In Shasta, the camp was designated Kanaka Bar/Creek. It was a tributary to Clear Creek, where gold was discovered in the 1850s. Today, many descendants of the Kanaka still reside in the region.

Portuguese Flat was located near the upper Sacramento River, north of Dog Creek—a sign that visitors still pass on Interstate 5. Reportedly in 1856, two prospectors mined 125 dollars in gold in one day! Also, the diggings here had a reputation for being one of the roughest mining camps in the northern mines.

Many camps were even named for games of chance, as in Pair-a-dice (later to be renamed Paradise!). Whiskeytown, often called Whiskey, was located about ten miles northwest of Redding, California, on Whiskey Creek. Settled in 1849, it was first called Franklin City. By 1852, it had become Whiskey Creek and was listed as one of the nine principal mining locales in all of Shasta County. A post office was established in 1856, but was discontinued in 1864. In 1881, a post office was re-established, but under the names of Blair, Stella, and Schilling, until 1952 when the name was officially changed to Whiskeytown.



  1. Gail,
    I've been following John Putnam's posts about mining in California. I thank ou for adding even more information about such a dynamic and harrowing time. I can't imagine hauling the necessary equipment into the wild and difficult regions you speak of. Thank you. Doris

    1. Hi Doris! Yes, this area is characterized by rugged ranges. Where we live is a small mountain valley surrounded by the Salmon-Trinity Alps and the Marble Mt. Wilderness and Klamath forests. The area also produced as much gold as did the Mother Lode, but most people don't realize how much history has been overlooked when we talk about the gold rush. Also, the gold miners worked this land and these rivers far longer, well into the 20th century. Many of our small communities are real throwbacks to that time. In other words, many of these locations still "look" like they did in the early days...

  2. Gail,

    I know so little about the California mining era, so thank you for sharing this gem of an article. :-) One little tidbit I have read about was the monetary success some women enjoyed by providing baked goods to the miners who were 'starved' so-to-speak for those sorts of homey reminders.

    1. I think anything a woman provided was easily bought up!! We have one local story that was interesting. There were so few women and when one woman (newly married)arrived, she was seen hanging laundry and dozens of men stopped to stare at her. Nothing "untoward" was said or done, but one man simply stated that it was so wonderful to see something that reminded him of home that he couldn't not watch. Shows how lonely many of these men were! As more women arrived, there was no shortage of attention given.

  3. Gail, I was born and raised in Nevada City so considered myself an expert about that area, but you've opened my eyes to how much more of the country was impacted by the search for gold. It's truly all about the men and women who risked it all. Thanks to you and Monica for making this wealth of information available.

    1. Hey, Vella!!! Thanks for stopping by.....I know you have a wealth of history of your own :-) It'd be fun to compile all of it!?