More than a California Gold Rush
To start the New Year, here’s a look back at an interesting bit of gold history.
The 1848 California “gold rush” is arguably the most famous of its type, certainly here in the U.S. But the search for mineral wealth wasn’t just limited to “The Golden State.” The influx of fortune seekers was felt throughout the Pacific Northwest. Here, from the “Oregon History Project” created by the Oregon Historical Society, is a fascinating overview of the gold rush’s impact on Oregon from 1848 until the original rush died out just over a decade later.
Gold Rush in the Pacific Northwest
The 1848 California gold discovery brought Gold Rush-bound prospectors through southwest Oregon. In 1850 and 1851, miners found gold on Josephine Creek, the Illinois River, and on creeks near Jacksonville. Publicity about the find in the San Francisco Alta California brought miners to the region from California and the Willamette Valley and soon gold-seekers staked claims on the Applegate, Illinois, and Rogue rivers. Miners also worked placers on the coast near Pistol River and Port Orford and at present-day Gold Beach where black sand held gold and platinum deposits.
Who were the Original Miners?
Primarily young men in their twenties and thirties, the miners came from Belgium, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, England, and other countries, as well as from Massachusetts, New York, Missouri, Tennessee, and other states. Although no reliable census data exist for the early 1850s, the 1860 federal census counted several hundred miners in various mining precincts.
Using rockers and sluice boxes to process the gravels, enterprising miners worked long hours. “I commenced to dig,” Herman Reinhart wrote while working in the Waldo area. “After getting down about two or three feet, I washed out a pan of dirt and got a good prospect of coarse gold….We kept bailing out the water and digging down to about three and a half feet. It was so good a prospect that I concluded to stake off our claims.”
At Althouse, Browntown, and Sterlingville canvas tents and log dwellings clustered near the diggings. The mining camps of Waldo and Ellensburg (Gold Beach) soon developed into service centers where frame and brick buildings replaced temporary structures. Jacksonville emerged as the first true community in the region, with churches and schools as well as boarding houses and saloons.
End of the Boom
Although no precise date marks the end of the first period of gold placer mining in southwestern Oregon, the initial boom had ended by the late 1860s. With few exceptions, the mining camps faded from the landscape. As the miners moved on, merchants and farmers became the new leaders in the economy.”