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 Mineral Wealth of California

The preceding detail of the agricultural resources of California presents a most hopeful aspect, but, prolific as is the soil, extensive the area and genial the climate, the mineral resources will dispute with agriculture for the precedence. The mineral wealth lies buried deep beneath the soil, and while the surface is furnishing its stores of food and clothing, the hidden rocks are yielding their varied treasures, neither interfering with the other, but both rendering mutual assistance. Above and below, agriculture and mining, these are the twin sisters of wealth which constitute the pride and the grandeur of the Golden State. From north to south through our broad domain; from whore our eastern boundary pierces the eternal snows to where the Pacific laves the golden sand, every hill and mountain range bear precious mines and veins of ore. No limit can be given to their extent, nor catalogue of their different names. Almost every valuable substance sought by the metallurgist in the soil and the rocks of the earth are found in greater or less abundance. As explorations continue, new discoveries are made, and with development new sources of wealth are opened.

In the extreme sense the word mineral includes every inorganic substance flowing from or taken from the earth, as springs or wells of water, clay for bricks, sand for mortar, etc., but in a more limited sense it is applied to metals and metalliferous rocks; oil, salt and medicinal springs; sulphur beds, and borax fields, and kindred matters. However it may be limited or extended, California, in every sense, is preeminent in minerals. But in discussing this resource of our State it would be almost impossible, if not unfair, to disconnect it from our neighboring State of Nevada, whoso associations are so intimate that for all matters of business they should be regarded as one, though generally in this article we shall refer to the minerals of California alone.

The history of mining is coeval with the occupation of the State. The very earliest explorers of the Coast, Sir Francis Drake, Cabrillo, Viscaino, and others, gave glowing accounts of mythical mines, but, extravagant as were their descriptions, the realities of subsequent centuries have equaled the vivid imaginings of the romancing navigators.

The earliest gold washings known are in what are now called the San Francisquito hills, bordering the Santa Clara River in Los Angeles County. These were discovered and worked to some extent about 1880, and gold from them was sent by Don Abel Stearns to the United States Mint at Philadelphia. On the San Gabriel in the same county and in the same period gold was also mined. The profits attending these operations are not recorded, but the enterprise was not conducted with great energy, as the present condition of the ancient placers indicate. Silver and copper were also found in the same localities, but have not been mined profitably.

Notwithstanding the early assumption of mineral wealth, and the workings of the fields of Los Angeles, the mining history of the coast, to which general attention is paid, dates back only to the eventful day, the 19th of January, 1848, when Marshall picked up the shining particles in the saw-mill race at Coloma, which proved to be gold, and which discovery has proven of so much importance to the world. A new era in commerce, and civilization dates from that discovery. The world was set ablaze with excitement; new life was given to commerce; great enterprises were encouraged and sustained, and the progress of centuries was consummated in a decade. Revolutions in politics and governments as well as in business were effected, and man in intelligence, independence and enlightenment took a gigantic stride forward never to recoil. The influence was electric and worldwide. Nations fraternized, and the civilization and power of Christendom rapidly encircled the globe. Human rights and liberal ideas gained the ascendancy over oppressive institutions and debasing prejudices, and the masses opened for themselves a field for the pursuit of knowledge, wealth and happiness. These grand advances were due almost exclusively to the gold discoveries in California, and the new life infused thereby. The country was fortunately in the hands of a free government, and rapidly filled with a brave, intelligent and law-abiding people, whose influence never ceases to be felt, and whose example has led to the great results claimed.


The royal metal claims our first attention. The auriferous belt is now known to extend through the entire length of the State, and at both extremes is mined extensively and successfully. This belt, however, cannot be claimed as continuous, at least as far as demonstrated from present development. The majestic range of mountains, the Sierra Nevada, rises through the peninsula of Lower California, and extends northward into Oregon, and turning to the coast westward of Mount Shasta. Throughout this range, with the exception of slight intervals, gold is found. It is difficult to localize it or define its extent. In veins and placers; in slate and porphyritic seams; in deep gravel beds and under the lava of dead volcanoes: in river channels and bars; in the alluvium of the surface and on the deep bed-rock of the ancient drift, gold is found in lumps and nuggets; in flaky, brilliant scales, and in infinitesimal dust. The quartz mill, the drift, the hydraulic and the sluice are used to obtain the glittering metal.

San Diego, the most southern county, is the most recent to develop her wealth in gold. In 1869, some placer gold was found in one of the gulches of the Cuyamaca Mountains, near the head of the San Diego River, and about fifty miles from the bay. This led to the discovery of quartz veins, and the Julian mining district was organized, shortly followed by the organization of Banner District, adjoining it on the east. The Washington mine for a period led the van, and many other ledges were discovered showing rich specimens of gold, and a sharp excitement was created. The Golden Chariot, now Ghariot Mill, Ready Relief, Redman, Owens, Stonewall Jackson, and many other veins have been discovered, and worked with energy and profit. Six or seven quartz mills, with an aggregate of forty or fifty stamps, are employed in reducing the ore, which is usually of a high grade, from $10 to $250 per ton, although the veins are generally small, ranging from one foot to fifteen feet in width. The product of those mines for the period since their development has been largo, nearly $1,000,000 in the year 1874, and from several, high dividends have been paid. The Bladen mines are a new discovery about twenty five miles south of the peak of San Bernardino, and are opening with fine prospects.

The success of these mines, being in a locality not until recently regarded as in the golden belt, has given a great impetus to progress in San Diego County, giving employment to large numbers of people, furnishing a market for produce, paying fortunes to the owners, and adding now resources to the State. To what extent explorations will connect these districts with the northern districts of the State, time only can tell. At present, a barren space intervenes, and we travel northward to the gold mines of Holcomb Valley, in San Bernardino County. Here is an extensive region upon the northern and western elope of the great peak of San Bernardino, and rich placers as well as paying quartz lodes are found. These mines have been worked since 1860, and have produced large quantities of the precious metal. Mining and prospecting is conducted with vigor, and discoveries of a most encouraging character were recently made. Holcomb Valley, Bear Valley, Gold Mountain, Lytle Creek, and other places, are prominent mining localities.

Some fifty or sixty miles northwesterly are the ancient placers of the San Gabriel and the San Francisquito, never extensively, and now indifferently, worked. The irregularity of the mountains from the San Gabriel in Los Angeles County to Fort Tejon in Kern County sends us wandering for the chain, and through this distance are found but few prominent gold mines. At Solidad, in Los Angeles County, near the summit of the dividing ridge, veins of gold-bearing quartz have been found and worked to some extent, and at Tehachipi, in the southern part of Kern, hydraulic washing has been successfully conducted for the past twelve or fourteen years.

Northward from Walker's Pass, in latitude 35° 30', the great mountain rises in its sublime majesty and extends in one grand serrated column of five hundred miles in length, and studded with peaks the highest in the United States. Here is the great gold field of the world. The western flank of this noble range is seamed with veins of gold, and its riverbeds and ancient gravel deposits are stored with the precious metal. In this region have been the great mining enterprises, and from it has been taken the vast treasure that has flooded the world. Twenty-seven counties upon this belt claim gold mining chiefly or as a part of their resources. Centrally, at Coloma, in El Dorado County, gold was first discovered, and through this central portion the bolt of placers appears widest and richest. In Mariposa, Amador, and Nevada Counties have been developed the most extensive quartz veins, and in Placer, Nevada, and Yuba, the most complete system of hydraulic mining.

In Tuolumne, Calaveras, and Amador Counties exists a large vein, or a series perhaps, which is claimed to be continuous, and is called the "Mother-lode," and the very rich mines of Sutter Creek, in Amador, Angels, in Calaveras, and at Quartz Mountain, in Tuolumne, are upon the vein. The Princeton, and other mines of the Mariposa estate in the south, and the mines of Grass Valley, in the north, are also thought to be on the same, but as in the different localities are many parallel veins, and as far from the line of the "Mother-lode," are gold-bearing ledges of great value, the theory of the existence of a continuous great vein, or that the rich mines are all on one lodge, cannot be held as proven. Far in the northwest, in distant Siskiyou, are the great Klamath, and Black Bear mines, on a vein of similar features as the "Mother-lode," indicating by the wide separation a multiplicity of veins rather than a continuous one. High up in the Sierra, and low down in the foot-hills, the gold-bearing veins are found, and their number is countless. Their width varies from a few inches to twenty feet, their course usually north a few degrees west, and dipping to the eastward. The deepest explorations are in the Amador mines, where a depth of 1,300 feet has been reached. At Mariposa 600 feet has been sunk; at Grass Valley, 1,000; and 500 feet at the Black Bear, in Siskiyou County. These explorations are comparatively slight, but are the most extensive in the State. The Amador mine, in Amador County, is at the surface, 900 feet above the level of the sea, consequently its present workings are several hundred feet below the ocean.

Hydraulic washing constitutes a novel and interesting system of mining. The deep gravel deposits having fine particles of gold disseminated through the mass, require rapid removal to extract the precious metal with profit. For this the hydraulic has come into use. Large capital, bold enterprise and good judgement are required, but with these success may be assured. The gravel ridges vary in depth from fifty to five hundred feet, and if containing gold of the value of ten cents per cubic yard, and favorable for washing, are mined profitably. To wash them sluices from four to eight feet in width, and sometimes extending a mile or more in length, are placed, reaching from the lowest bed of the gravel down some adjacent canon. With an iron pipe from a foot to twenty inches in diameter a column of water under great pressure is led to the base of the gravel, against which it hurls itself like a liquid catapult and the bank melts before it and flows through the sluices where the golden particles settle and remain. Nozzles, distributors, riffles, undercurrents, quicksilver, etc., are required to complete the apparatus. Gratifying success has attended this class of mining in Nevada, Placer, Yuba and Butte counties, and the system is extending in grand proportions. Preparing for the purpose are many grand enterprises, as the Amador Canal Company in Amador County; the El Dorado Deep Gravel Company, and the Mount Gregory Water and Mining Company, in El Dorado County; the Iowa Hill Canal Company and the Bear River Tunnel Company, in Placer County, and the North Bloomfield Water and Mining Company, in Nevada County, and many others which promise to restore the mining counties to their former wealth and prosperity. The great flood of gold obtained in the first few years of mining was from the easily worked placers, the river bars and beds, the ravines, gulches, flats and hill-sides, by the simplest processes and by labor unassisted by capital. With the decline in value of the shallow placers, the grandest of enterprises, in the opening of the deep hill deposits, were undertaken and prosecuted with an energy having no parallel in mining history. These were often undertaken in a hap-hazard manner and conducted with great sacrifices, sometimes resulting in an entire failure or loss to the projector, but adding greatly to the aggregate product of gold, giving enormous incomes to successful individuals and general wealth to the country. But the losses resulting from the guess-work system discouraged enterprises of the kind, which, together with the excitements attending other mineral discoveries in the neighboring States and Territories, caused an exodus of miners from the placers of California, and the great decline of the mining interest. Every period of excitement has shown a decrease in the gold product, and although they incite to great enterprise and extend the area of the mineral territory, have caused great loss to the mining interests of the State. This depression can be but temporary, as the gold will not waste by waiting in the deep gravel-beds or the countless veins of quartz which seam the mountains. The lack of any outside excitement is readily shown in the increased receipts of California gold at the Mint and Assay Offices in San Francisco.

The courage with which the laboring miner formerly sought the hidden treasure is in extreme contrast with the timidity exhibited by the capitalists of the country. An air of distrust has constantly been thrown around every mining enterprise in California, until the belief prevailed that the decline in the receipt of bullion, and consequent decline in prosperity, was caused by the actual exhaustion of the mineral deposits.

Never was there a greater error! There are hundreds of square miles of deep auriferous deposits, where but the surface or some small point has been touched, leaving the mass to be explored by the future miner. These great regions seem formed by glacio-aqueous action, the material torn from more elevated regions by ice, ground into sand, clay and boulders, freeing the gold from its original matrix, and quietly depositing all in gently flowing currents or standing bodies of water. The crushing of the rocks and the enormous boulders found beneath, within and above strata of clay and sand, indicate an inconceivable power; the deep deposits of clay, sand and gravel in level beds and horizontal strata are proof of the lengthy period and quiet manner of the deposition; also, that there has been no great disturbance of the deposits during or since they were made, and the character of the rocks and the gold being similar to those found in the higher elevations of the Sierra, point out the direction of the current. The theory of the ancient "Blue River," running from north to south through the Sierra, whose channel was the great "blue lead," can have no foundation when the facts are critically examined. There are many such leads and channels, and of different degrees of altitude throughout the mountains.

These are the great reservoirs of treasure that now invite development. Their mysteries are hidden beneath the accumulations of countless years, and in many instances are locked in the embrace of the basalt and debris of the ancient volcano. Such hills as were of convenient access have been explored, and in some cases mined away by the drift or hydraulic; but by far the greater part still remain but slightly or entirely untouched. To develop these and demonstrate their value is an object worthy the National or State Government's attention. The formation not being fully understood, the unaided efforts of the miners to fathom their depths have been baffled; in some instances by the quantity of water, the great depth, the length of tunnel required, and the misdirection of work. There are also many great ridges branching off from the main chain, entirely covered with volcanic matter, concealing the auriferous drift, if there should be any, but which it is reasonable to suppose contain the golden channel beneath the rugged rock or noble forest that crowns the hills. Such channels were found beneath the basalt of Table Mountain, in Tuolumne County; another in a similar mountain in Butte County; also, in other localities.

These ridges flank the Sierra its whole length, like great ribs from the dorsal column, and constitute first class fire insurance a resource of the precious metal which will take generations to exhaust, while adding to the wealth of the country.

The river beds still constitute an important mining resource, having never been exhausted, and their treasures replenished by the waste from the washing of the mines upon their banks. Lower rates of wages and subsistence, with a comprehensive system, will yet enable the extraction of a vast amount of gold from these deposits.

The most lasting of the mineral resources of California is generally conceded to be the quartz veins. From these, it cannot be doubted, came the gold which enriched the placers with a wealth never before known. The gold-bearing veins are found throughout the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, and in the mountains of the northwest coast. The number it would be difficult to estimate, and new discoveries are continually adding to the list. Comparatively few of the many thousands known are developed, and the majority of those worked upon are so indifferently managed that their great value is scarcely known. It has been the misfortune of the State that the most of the mining enterprises of this department have been undertaken by men limited in both means and experience. In some instances they have risen with the occasion, and by skill and energy developed properties of extraordinary value. Small and incomplete mills, with rude methods of saving the gold, incurring expense and loss, have generally been established to aid in the development of a mine, and unless the quartz was exceedingly rich, failure was the natural consequence. A better understanding of the subject is now beginning to prevail; greater confidence is felt in mining interests than formerly; men of wealth and business capacity are turning their attention to it, and we may say that a new era in quartz mining appears to be opening in California. It is well to hope that such is the case. The resource is grand, illimitable, and inexhaustible. The gold-bearing veins are in countless numbers, and are found from the extreme southern border of the State to the northern line, and in the Sierra Nevada from its base to its summit. The gold is contained in the rock in various proportions, from a few dollars to several hundred per ton. The rapid mountain streams furnish abundant waterpower, or the plentiful forests supply fuel for steam purposes, thus giving convenient aid for propelling the necessary machinery. Everywhere the conditions are most favorable, and it is reasonable to expect that great wealth will result from the full development of the quartz and hydraulic mines.

There are no satisfactory statistics of the amount of gold produced in California since 1818, but it is estimated by the best authorities at $1,150,000,000, or $l,200,000,000. The largest amount reported mined in any one year was in 1853, when upwards of $60,000,000 were exported, and it was believed that nearly fifty per cent, more was mined and retained in use or carried out of the country by private means. At that time the great gold excitement which had stirred the world was at its culmination, the mountains were alive with men, the precious dust was easily obtained, the river beds and bars were yielding their riches, abundant rains gave the "dry diggings" the needed water, and work was conducted with great energy. The discovery of the silver mines of Nevada drew away men and capital, and the gold product declined to about 520,000,000 in 1870. Latterly the transportation of bullion having concentrated almost entirely in the express of Wells, Fargo & Co., a reliable source of statistical information is established. The general superintendent of that company reports the transportation of 318,025,722 in 1878, and 520,000,000 of California bullion in 1874. Of this, in 1873, $17,280,951 was gold, and $74l,771 in silver and base bullion. The impression is that a considerable amount goes by other means, swelling the aggregate for 1874 to $20,000,000. The bullion product of Nevada in 1873 was 835,254,507, and the grand total for all the mining States and Territories west of the Mississippi in the same year was 372,258,093.

California Gazetteer | AHGP California

Source: Pacific Coast Business Directory for 1876-78, Compiled by Henry G. Langley, San Francisco, 1875

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