Abandoned Mines in California

Abandoned Mines in California

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Abandoned Mines in California are a popular destination for mine explorers.  California’s iconic mining history is the Gold Rush of 1848.

The California Gold Rush began at Sutter’s Mill, near Coloma..  On January 24, 1848 James W. Marshall, a foreman working for Sacramento pioneer John Sutter, found shiny metal in the tailrace of a lumber mill Marshall was building for Sutter on the American River. Marshall brought what he found to John Sutter, and the two privately tested the metal. After the tests showed that it was gold, Sutter expressed dismay: he wanted to keep the news quiet because he feared what would happen to his plans for an agricultural empire if there were a mass search for gold.However, rumors soon started to spread and were confirmed in March 1848 by San Francisco newspaper publisher and merchant Samuel Brannan. The most famous quote of the California Gold Rush was by Brannan; after he had hurriedly set up a store to sell gold prospecting supplies, Brannan strode through the streets of San Francisco, holding aloft a vial of gold, shouting “Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!”

At the time gold was discovered, California was part of the Mexican territory of Alta California, which was ceded to the U.S. after the end of the Mexican-American War with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848, less than two weeks after the discovery.

On August 19, 1848, the New York Herald was the first major newspaper on the East Coast to report the discovery of gold. On December 5, 1848, PresidentJames Polk confirmed the discovery of gold in an address to Congress. Soon, waves of immigrants from around the world, later called the “forty-niners”, invaded the Gold Country of California or “Mother Lode”. As Sutter had feared, he was ruined; his workers left in search of gold, and squatters took over his land and stole his crops and cattle.

San Francisco had been a tiny settlement before the rush began. When residents learned about the discovery, it at first became a ghost town of abandoned ships and businesses, but then boomed as merchants and new people arrived. The population of San Francisco exploded from perhaps about 1,000  in 1848 to 25,000 full-time residents by 1850.  Miners lived in tents, wood shanties, or deck cabins removed from abandoned ships. Wherever gold was discovered, hundreds of miners would collaborate to put up a camp and stake their claims. With names like Rough and Ready and Hangtown (Placerville, California), each camp often had its own saloon and gambling house.

In what has been referred to as the “first world-class gold rush”, there was no easy way to get to California; forty-niners faced hardship and often death on the way. At first, most Argonauts, as they were also known, traveled by sea. From the East Coast, a sailing voyage around the tip of South America would take five to eight months, and cover some 18,000 nautical miles (33,000 km). An alternative was to sail to the Atlantic side of the Isthmus of Panama, take canoes and mules for a week through the jungle, and then on the Pacific side, wait for a ship sailing for San Francisco.[18] There was also a route across Mexico starting at Veracruz. Many gold-seekers took the overland route across the continental United States, particularly along the California Trail.  Each of these routes had its own deadly hazards, from shipwreck to typhoid fever and cholera.

To meet the demands of the arrivals, ships bearing goods from around the world came to San Francisco as well. Ships’ captains found that their crews deserted to go to the gold fields. The wharves and docks of San Francisco became a forest of masts, as hundreds of ships were abandoned. Enterprising San Franciscans turned the abandoned ships into warehouses, stores, taverns, hotels, and one into a jail.[21] Many of these ships were later destroyed and used for landfill to create more buildable land in the boomtown.[21]

Abandoned Mines in California

Within a few years, there was an important but lesser-known surge of prospectors into far Northern California, specifically into present-daySiskiyouShasta and Trinity Counties.  Discovery of gold nuggets at the site of present-day Yreka in 1851 brought thousands of gold-seekers up the Siskiyou Trail and throughout California’s northern counties. Settlements of the Gold Rush era, such as Portuguese Flaton the Sacramento River, sprang into existence and then faded. The Gold Rush town of Weaverville on the Trinity River today retains the oldest continuously used Taoist temple in California, a legacy of Chinese miners who came. While there are not many Gold Rush era ghost towns still in existence, the remains of the once-bustling town of Shasta have been preserved in a California State Historic Park in Northern California.

Gold was also discovered in Southern California but on a much smaller scale. The first discovery of gold, at Rancho San Francisco in the mountains north of present-day Los Angeles, had been in 1842, six years before Marshall’s discovery, while California was still part of Mexico.[26] However, these first deposits, and later discoveries in Southern California mountains, attracted little notice and were of limited consequence economically.

By 1850, most of the easily accessible gold had been collected, and attention turned to extracting gold from more difficult locations. Faced with gold increasingly difficult to retrieve, Americans began to drive out foreigners to get at the most accessible gold that remained. The newCalifornia State Legislature passed a foreign miners tax of twenty dollars per month ($560 per month as of 2013), and American prospectors began organized attacks on foreign miners, particularly Latin Americans and Chinese.In addition, the huge numbers of newcomers were driving Native Americans out of their traditional hunting, fishing and food-gathering areas. To protect their homes and livelihood, some Native Americans responded by attacking the miners. This provoked counter-attacks on native villages. The Native Americans, out-gunned, were often slaughtered. Those who escaped massacres were many times unable to survive without access to their food-gathering areas, and they starved to death. Novelist and poet Joaquin Miller vividly captured one such attack in his semi-autobiographical work, Life Amongst the Modocs.

Today, abandoned mines in California are a lasting legacy to the rich and wonderful history California has to offer.

Recommended Reading for Abandoned Mines in California: Desert Fever, by Russell Hartill.

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