|Gold was discovered by James Marshall on the American River at Coloma, California on January 24, 1848. Within a year the quest for the glittering prize at the end of a get rich quick rainbow began. By 1849 the rush of prospectors from the eastern United States came, followed by miners from Europe, Australia, and China. Those early gold-seekers were called "forty-niners." They lived in canvas tents and log shacks. Each miner usually had a cot or hay for sleeping, a washing table, and a chair. The forty-niners were not prepared for the harsh weather conditions they encountered in the gold fields.
Most prospectors used metal pans to gather gold from rivers and streams. The Yuba River, Bear River, Deer Creek, Wolfe Creek, and Gold Run were all places that had rich deposits of gold. The prospectors' tools included picks, shovels, pans, buckets, and rockers.
Panning was the first method used by the early prospectors. One method of panning was called tailing up which involved swirling a small amount of water until only black sand remained in the bottom of the pan. When the swirling was done correctly the gold stayed in the bottom with the black sand and showed color in the tail of the swirl.
The miners thought it was going to be easy to find gold. In the beginning gold was more plentiful. As time passed more claims were staked and thousands of gold seekers arrived, making it more difficult for the miner to earn a living. Many miners decided panning was too slow and they needed a faster method of washing the gold from the icy streams and rivers.
When pay dirt was discovered the miners staked a claim on a section of land near the riverbank. By law, miners could leave their claim for three to fifteen days without anyone stealing it or he could sell the claim.
Some miners learned that it was helpful to have a partner to share the work and expenses. They invented new methods of mining gold which were faster and easier. The cradle or rocker was invented and used to rock the dirt like a baby in a cradle. It was made of a hollowed out log or barrel cut in half with open ends. A box or hopper was nailed to the top. As the cradle was rocked one miner would shovel gravel and the other would pour water into the hopper. As the dirt was washed over wooden riffles the gold was caught between the riffle bars in the cradle.
The Sluice box was another efficient method of placer mining because more dirt could be washed in a shorter amount of time. The sluice box was used to wash dirt over a long row of riffles. The gold was trapped in the rifles and was gathered when the box was cleaned. Open boxes were joined together and could be as long as one thousand feet.
Placer Mining Today
Many people still enjoy panning and dredging for gold in our local rivers and streams. During the summer you can drive down any road and see people placer mining and finding gold.