Friday, July 10, 2015

The Little-Known California Gold Rush

Sweet Americana Sweethearts welcomes guest author Gail L. Jenner. Enjoy her post about the "other" California gold rush in northern California and southern Oregon. She is featuring her newest novel, July's Bride.

The Little-Known California Gold Rush  
By Gail L. Jenner

Most school children know that the great Gold Rush of 1848-49 is what caused California to boom. But most people outside of the northern region of California and southern Oregon don’t know that the “northern mines” were just as significant in the great rush for gold! Thousands descended on the region and while most left broken-hearted and with empty pockets, some stayed and settled; today this region incorporates most of Shasta, Trinity, Humboldt, and Siskiyou Counties in northern California, and Jackson and Jefferson Counties in southern Oregon. The area is characterized by rugged mountains, rivers, and isolated valleys.

The northern gold rush covered a region that crossed into southern Oregon, and the area was far more rugged and isolated than the Sierra Nevada “Mother Lode” country. Many disenchanted miners left the Mother Lode to travel north, which required men walking or packing in through 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, Klamath, Smith, Rogue, and others. Today the area is still the least populated section of California.

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, only the beginning of the tragic conflict that raged between the miners and the many tribes and bands residing there. On the other hand, many miners married Native American women and settled to build homes and start families.                                           

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. In 1897, copper mining was added to Shasta County’s profitable mining operations. 

Throughout the region, there were hundreds of smaller mines that went unnamed, but many bore interesting or unusual names. 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.

In Shasta County, in 1852, an article in the local paper announced that gold had been discovered along Backbone Creek, located in the northeast corner of today’s Shasta Lake. This location would eventually be known as Kennett, which became an incredibly important copper mine. The first miners named it Backbone because of the nearby rugged mountain the locals called Backbone. Both gold and silver were mined here, and The Uncle Sam Mine, largest producer in this district, yielded more than a million dollars in gold.

Buckeye, located north of Redding, was discovered by Mr. – Johnson, in the 1850s. As reported by one early source, the quartz lead between Buckeye and Churntown was “the richest of any as yet known in California,” although the yield proved not as great as once hoped! Interestingly, Buckeye was a popular name, with at least fifteen other “Buckeye” mines located in California.

French Gulch was an important mining district. Located on Clear Creek, northwest of Whiskeytown (a great name!), it was discovered by a party of French miners in 1849 and boasted two water-driven quartz mills by 1851, according to the 1859 State Register. A post office was established in 1856 and the budding community became a major supply stop for local miners. Also, according to a report dated August in 1856, a lump of gold weighing two pounds was found there. By 1869, there were two mills with thirty-two stamps, and in 1902, there were nine stamp mills. A stamp mill is a specialized machine that stamps ore into a powder for further processing.

The mines at French Gulch operated until the mid-twentieth century, with production from both placers and underground mining estimated at 800,000 to 1.5 million ounces.  The French Gulch Mining District covered an area at least 9 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. Among the most productive mines located there were the Brown Bear, the Gladstone, the Mad Mule, the Milkmaid and Franklin, the Niagara, and the Washington.

The Washington Mine was discovered in 1851; from 1852 through 1950 it yielded about 185,000 ounces of gold. Even in the mid 1990s, private companies mined around 19,000 ounces of gold. Total gold production from the Washington Mines has been estimated at 300,000 ounces. Reportedly, the district has been the largest gold-producing area in the northern region, and contains some of the highest vein gold grades. Other high-yielding mines in the French Gulch District included the Brown Bear and the Gladstone. Several drift and hydraulic mines in Shasta County, including the Hardscrabble and Russell mines, produced well from the 1860s through the 1880s.

There were, of course, a number of Chinese placer mines taken up during this time. Though prejudices ran deep, there were a number of well-established and successful mines run by Chinese companies, too. Other ethnic groups also moved into the region, including many men from South America and Mexico.

Even in later years, from the 1930s through 1959, the use of power shovels and dragline dredges yielded an additional output of at least 115,000 ounces of gold. Today gold mining is more recreational in nature in this region, but a few miners continue to mine more seriously. Curiously, it’s been said that there remains more gold under the ground than has been dug up! Without a doubt, however, mining is what launched California as a destination to the westward-moving pioneers and settlers.

Gail L. Jenner resides in Scott Valley, in Siskiyou County; she is the wife a fourth generation cattle rancher and they live on the family’s historic homestead. She writes about the region and local history; five of her nonfiction titles focus on that history. She is also an award-winning historical fiction author, whose first novel, ACROSS THE SWEET GRASS HILLS (re-released in 2013 by Prairie Rose Publications), won a WILLA Literary Award from Women Writing the West. Her second historical novel, BLACK BART: THE POET BANDIT placed in the Jack London Novel Contest. Her newest release is the western romance, JULY’S BRIDE, from Prairie Rose Publications. For more, visit: or visit her on Facebook at Gail Jenner Author.


  1. Whew! Who knew there were so many gold mines? I find it interesting that Reading had a good relationship with the Native Americans. Too bad that didn't hold true with everyone else.
    Just curious about this--when I lived in Omaha, Nebraska there were soft drinks made by a company named Shasta. Is that company named for the county of Shasta? Just wondering.
    In Pennsylvania, there were soft drinks called birch beer only sold there that I know of. And here in North Carolina, we have a soft drink called Cheerwine that is locally made and tastes like fizzy cherries. I think one of the first manufacturers of Pepsi was in Charlotte, NC. Just kinda interesting.
    I love July as the name of your hero. I wish you great happiness and success, Gail.

  2. Thanks, Sarah! Yes, Shasta sodas were named for the region surrounding Mt. Shasta. Shasta County is actually quite a few miles south....but Shasta is given to a number of businesses in this part of the state. There were thousands and thousands of gold mines; many never earned any kind of "headline," but I find it curious that so many were named similar or exactly the same names :-)
    Thanks for stopping by -- I hope you'll check out July's story :-)

  3. Gail,
    An illuminating article on your northern gold country. Like ours to the south, the area has a rich assortment of unusual names that speak to character and story. I especially like Jump Off Joe, Milkmaid and Mad Mule. You've managed to show the details of mining nicely and hit on the immigration of races and cultures that mining attracted throughout the west. Now, I want to know more about JULY'S BRIDE!

    1. Well, July's Bride is the story of a woman who THINKS she's a mail-order bride, only to discover that her groom has no idea she's intended for him.....the arrangement was made by two crusty men. She arrives and then..... :-)

  4. Gail,
    Gold and gold mining are so fascinating. As I'm sure you know, Colorado also has had its fair share of mines. What an interesting time in our countries history. Thank you for adding to my knowledge of the northern mines. Doris/Angela

    1. Yes, so much of the West was actually settled as a result of mining and the lure of making a fortune! Sadly, most of the argonauts only ended up disillusioned, broke, or died in the process!

  5. Hello from coloma,ca land of fabled gold rush beginnings,even though debated was it "1847"san gabriel mountains or the brothers from the south in 1847"formed a lil homestead along the consumes river,el Dorado county called Nashville..seeing gold before the Jan 24th or was it the 19th 1848 by two teenage helpers of Marshall,one was supposedly nineteen maybe that's why at first they stated the date of the 19th as gold being discovered in the last two rungs of the tail race of the saw mill for which John Sutter owned and Marshall ran logs...anyway a family story my father told me,he is the grandson to issac Oliver jillson owner up to 1912 of the Gladstone mine up Cline gulch;stated that my grandmother leeta jillson would get bored at the mine and of all the younger kids around the mine and would ride into Redding with a man whom was a courier that delivered necessities for the mine,I imagine my great grandfather trusted this man for whom my grandmother enjoyed at the age of 16 or seventeen to travel to Redding and back just to get away from all the younger kids..I love the story whom was told to my dad by my nana leeta..

  6. P.s the oriental man photo with fish could possibly be the cook my family had at the mines "the jillson mine(Hornbrook/Henley)then the Gladstone he went by the name "tong"i grew up eating two of his items he'd cook for the miners one was "potatoes pie"...