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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 80/February 1912/History of Gold Mining in the United States

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 80‎ | February 1912

HISTORY OF GOLD MINING IN THE UNITED STATES
By Professor R. A. F. PENROSE, Jr.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.

Period from 1800-1848

GOLD was known by the Indians to exist in the United States long before the white people discovered it, but unlike the Indians of Mexico, the more northern natives did not make elaborate use of it, and it did not seriously attract the attention of the settlers until shortly before the beginning of the nineteenth century. No very important mining, however, was done until after 1800, when a little gold began to be obtained in North Carolina. Long before that time the gold of California had also been known to the natives and to the Franciscan monks, but that country then belonged to Mexico and was not taken by the United States until 1846.

The first important gold mining, therefore, in the United States was in North Carolina, when shortly after 1800 the auriferous gravels of Cabarrus and Montgomery counties were worked in a small way. From that time until 1827 small quantities of gold were produced in these and other parts of North Carolina, though not enough to cause much excitement; but the discoveries then spread into the adjoining states, and in the next two or three years South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia began to produce important quantities of gold, while Alabama and Tennessee also soon began to supply a small amount. In the meantime gold-bearing veins had been discovered in addition to the gravels, and from the two sources the production of gold grew considerably. A great excitement followed and many thousands of people rushed to the gold diggings.

Later discoveries extended the area in which gold was found until it had been traced from Alabama northeastward to the Canadian border, but very little was discovered beyond Virginia. The gold deposits characterize certain geologic horizons which flank the east slope of the Appalachian Mountains, and the most productive part of this belt has so far proved to be in western North Carolina, the adjoining part of South Carolina and northern Georgia, while Virginia and Alabama have been smaller producers and Tennessee has supplied a little. In the states north of Virginia small quantities of gold have occasionally been found, but not enough to be of much commercial importance,[1] while to the south, the gold formation, after passing through part of Alabama, disappears under the younger formations of the lower Mississippi Valley.

The annual production in the southern states never reached much over $1,000,000, and up to 1847 the total had been $34,537,000.[2] After that time the production fell off considerably, and though it rose later under the general stimulus to gold mining caused by the California discoveries, it soon fell again. Mining still continues, however, to the present day, and the production some years reaches several hundred thousand dollars, in others only a small part of this amount. The experience people had obtained in gold mining in the south and the fact that the production of that region was on the wane, caused them to be quickly attracted to new fields when the reports of the discoveries in California reached the east in 1848.

 

Period from 1848-1859

The gold of California was known long before 1848, but the knowledge concerning it was too vague to attract much attention. About 1769, when California was a remote Mexican province, the Franciscan monks began to establish missions along the coast for the conversion of the Indians, and gradually extended their influence over them, employing many in rural pursuits and trading with the others. The missions became the seats of government of prosperous communities, and the Indians from the outside, who came to trade for provisions and clothes, were observed to be always well provided with gold dust for this purpose. The monks thus became aware that an abundance of gold existed on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada, but they feared the effect such news would cause if it reached the outside world. They remembered the cruelties that had been practised by the early explorers of Mexico and South America in their mad rush for gold, how the land had been devastated, towns destroyed and whole tribes almost annihilated by the plunderers. They knew that there would be a rush to California if its wealth became known, and they feared that the man of their own day would be no more conscientious in his methods of securing gold than had been the man of the sixteenth century. They saw the possibility of their quiet settlements being disturbed and their power overthrown; hence they concealed their secret. In the meantime a little mining had been done from time to time by adventurous strangers who came that way, but the results were not sufficiently important to attract much attention, and the gold of California did not become generally known until it was discovered by Americans in their irresistible trend westward.

The discovery was made by James W. Marshall in the latter part of January, 1848. Americans had begun coming into California several years previously and a colony was already established near where Sacramento now stands. Marshall was constructing a saw mill some forty miles distant on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada and on the south fork of the American River, which is a tributary of the Sacramento River. He observed some glistening particles in the gravel washed by the waters of the mill, and at once identified them as gold. A few days later he went down to the settlement on the Sacramento River to tell of his discovery to Colonel Sutter, with whom he was associated in the erection of the mill.

In spite of all efforts to keep the discovery from public notice the news spread; the people in the neighborhood made further search, and soon found gold to be abundant in many other places. The excitement rapidly increased, and by the summer of 1848 several thousand people were already mining in the neighborhood. San Francisco, then a small village, was almost depopulated in the sudden exodus for the gold fields. By autumn the news had reached the eastern states and foreign countries, and history has never before or since recorded such a mad rush of different races of people to a common center, overcoming difficulties that would have been considered almost insurmountable had it not been for the idea of gold, limitless gold, lying there in the ground to be dug up by the first who came. Among the earliest to arrive from the outside were Mexicans, Peruvians, Chileans and Chinese, as they could reach the region quickly by sea; but the great tide of immigration that soon came from the eastern states, around Cape Horn, across the Isthmus of Panama and over the emigrant trail, soon placed the Americans in the majority, and by the end of 1849, there were nearly 100,000 miners on the ground. Thousands of others died on the way, from exposure and starvation, from heat and thirst in the desert, from attacks by the Indians and from cholera, which killed many along the trail in 1849.

In the meantime one discovery of gold rapidly followed another in the gravels of the many rivers and creeks that run down the west slope of the Sierra Nevada, and miners were soon working for over 150 miles along the mountains. Since then the range of the gold discoveries has spread over wider limits, reaching from the northern to the southern boundary of the state, but the larger part has come from the region worked in the early days, extending from Mariposa County on the south to the Feather River on the north. Fortunes were made quickly and lost with equal facility, but in the meantime a new region was being developed with wonderful rapidity and the western progress of the United States had, as if by a single jump, been advanced over fifteen hundred miles, from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. Throughout the world, the discoveries in California stimulated interest in gold mining, and as a direct result the great Australian gold fields became known in 1851 and mining in the gold regions of the southern states was greatly stimulated. With all these notable results, it is pathetic to relate that Marshall, who discovered the California gold, and his associate Sutter, both died poor and disappointed men, many years later.

The first gold mining in California was done along the bars and banks of rivers and creeks, while later the whole streams were turned from their courses, and the gravel in their beds was washed for gold. The American, Yuba, Feather, Stanislaus, Tuolumne and other rivers, became famous as gold producers. The gravels in the dry ravines were also washed, and these were called "dry diggings" in distinction from the river, or "wet diggings." When the gravels in the lowlands began to show signs of exhaustion, the miners sought others higher up in the mountains, and there they found the old Tertiary deposits, known as "high gravels." In the meantime the gold-bearing quartz veins were discovered, and thus began the operation of many of the more lasting mining districts of California, such as Angels Camp, Chinese Camp, Amador City, Sonora, Grass Valley, Nevada City and many other places which made the great Mother Lode and other quartz lodes of the Pacific Coast famous.

In the early mining operations, gold had been obtained by digging the gravel by hand and washing in pans or in the devices known as cradles and sluices; but when the richer deposits were exhausted and lower grade gravels had to be worked, efforts were made to find means to mine on a larger and cheaper scale. The result was the introduction of what became known as hydraulic mining, a process invented in 1852 by Mr. Matteson, from Connecticut. This consisted in throwing a stream of water through an iron nozzle, called a monitor, under immense pressure, against a gravel bank. The gravel was thus torn down and washed through the sluices, where the gold was recovered. The method was so much more rapid than the old devices, that it was extensively introduced, and whole hills were washed away. In the meantime, however, the farming interests of California had become important, and the immense quantities of gravel and sand washed into the rivers by hydraulic mining filled the channels and caused floods, which devastated the lands. This difficulty became so serious that in later years a law was passed restricting hydraulic mining in places where the débris interfered with farming lands below. Still more recently the process of working gold-bearing gravels by dredging has been extensively introduced and has considerably increased the production.

The most productive era in California gold mining was from 1850 to 1859, when the average annual output was about $55,000,000, while the year of greatest output was 1853, when almost $65,000,000[3] were produced. After 1859 the production fell off greatly, partly from the exhaustion of the richer placers, and partly because thousands of California miners left for the Comstock lode. In 1889 it had fallen to a little over $11,000,000,[4] but in more recent years it has risen again, and has ranged from about $16,000,000 to over $31,000,000 annually. The total production of gold in California from 1848 to 1910 has been over $1,500,000,000, or almost half of the total production of the United States to date.

 

Period from 1859-1890

While these events were going on in California, gold and silver were being discovered in many places in the Eocky Mountains and in the desert country between them and the Sierra Nevada, known as the Great Basin. Though these regions are nearer the eastern states than California, their mining resources were not developed until long after those of the latter. This was due to several causes: The mines of California had already been discovered while those of the interior were as yet unknown; many California pioneers came by sea and knew nothing of the interior, while those who came by the emigrant trail found the difficulties and dangers such that they felt fortunate when they crossed the Sierra Nevada and entered the fertile valleys and salubrious climate of the coast. They tarried, therefore, as little as possible in the Rocky Mountains and the Great Basin, but hurried on to where they knew gold existed and where they would be safe from dangers which had already lined the emigrant trail with the bones of thousands of people. Hence it was not until over ten years after the discovery of gold in California that important mining began to the eastward.

After the California placers had been shorn of their richest treasures, many men left them to seek new discoveries, spreading north and south along the coast, and eastward beyond the Sierra Nevada. The result was that many mines which have since become noted were found during that time. Among them the most celebrated was the Comstock lode, which was destined to produce more gold and silver than any other one lode that history had recorded, and the development of which was accompanied by the most sensational and dramatic series of events ever recorded in a mining camp.

The Comstock lode is situated on the slope of Mt. Davidson, just east of the main range of the Sierra Nevada, some twenty miles beyond the California border, in what is now Nevada, but what was then a part of the Territory of Utah. It is just south of the emigrant trail over which many early explorers of California had passed, but the region was a dry, inhospitable desert, destitute of vegetation and inhabited only by a few half-starved Indians, so that the pioneers had given it but little attention. Shortly before the discovery of the Comstock, however, some placer gold was found in that vicinity and a small settlement started, which later became Carson City. In 1857 two brothers named Grosh discovered the Comstock lode itself, but they died shortly afterwards, and the next year it was worked in a small way by others. Large bodies of ore, however, were first found in 1859, and then the news of the discovery spread rapidly and a great rush of people commenced, among them Henry Comstock, for whom the lode was named. The town of Virginia City sprang up from the desert and became a flourishing community.

The Comstock lode is an immense vein about four miles in length and several hundred feet in width, enclosed in igneous rock. Its great size admitted the locating of numerous mines along its course, many of which later became famous, such as the Consolidated California and Virginia, the Yellow Jacket, Crown Point, Hale and Norcross, Ophir, Belcher, Chollar and many others. Virginia City was at that time more accessible from San Francisco than from any other city, and hence the latter place became the supply point for the wants of the Comstock mines. San Francisco capital and energy poured into the district; the Comstock mining stocks were listed and dealt in on the San Francisco exchange, and San Francisco grew rich with the Comstock's millions. The gold discoveries in California had given San Francisco its first boom and had raised it from an obscure village to an active, bustling seaport; the discovery of the Comstock advanced it still further to a great city and one of the most important seaports in the world.

Mining progressed at a rapid rate at Virginia City, the mines reached great depths, and the water and heat increased at an abnormally rapid rate. It was then that Adolph Sutro commenced the great tunnel which bears his name, with the object of draining the mines and making an easier outlet for the ore, but before the project was completed the great "bonanzas" were largely exhausted, and by 1880 the production of the district had greatly declined. For a long time after that, mining consisted mostly in going over the old workings and waste dumps where the haste of the early days had left many rich pickings, but in recent years some entirely new development work has been started, and some of the old mines have taken a new lease of life.

The ore of the Comstock lode carried both gold and silver, with silver in the preponderance. In the haste and excitement of early days, accurate records of production were often neglected, but the total output of the Comstock mines to date has probabaly been between $400,000,000 and $500,000,000, while some estimates are even higher. So great was the quantity of silver produced that the monetary ratio between gold and silver was disturbed, and the curtailment of the coinage of silver in several countries of America and Europe was brought on partly by the immense quantity of the metal suddenly thrown on the world from the Comstock mines.

In the meantime the Rocky Mountains had been receiving the long-delayed attention of the prospector, and in 1858 gold was found in Colorado, in the sands of Cherry Creek, a tributary of the South Platte River, where the present city of Denver soon grew up. Pioneers poured in from the east, and discoveries followed in rapid succession. In the following few years the mines of the Blackhawk, Central City, Golden, Breckenridge, Boulder and other districts were discovered. In 1859 the placer gold of California Gulch, near where Leadville now stands, was discovered, and the town of Oro City sprang up. The diggings were soon exhausted, however, and Oro City vanished, to be replaced a few years later by Leadville, which grew up after valuable silver ores were discovered in the same locality. Many of the early gold districts of Colorado continue to produce gold, and though some of them are not so much heard of now as are the later discoveries like Cripple Creek, yet they have added largely to the prosperity of the state.

In the meantime the report of the discovery of gold on Pikes Peak drew a vast multitude of people there in 1859, only to be disappointed in their search. Their numbers were greatly increased by many of those who suffered in the financial panic of 1857, and about 100,000 people are said to have sought the new region in the first year. Nothing of value was found on Pikes Peak, and many of the enthusiastic explorers, who had traveled thither in the wagons known as prairie schooners, bearing the inscription "Pikes Peak or Bust," went away with this changed to "Busted." Little did they dream in their disappointment that just west of Pikes Peak, on the small stream of Cripple Creek, were immensely rich gold deposits, that were to be discovered thirty-odd years later. Though the Pikes Peak episode was a failure, it had the effect of bringing a large number of people to Colorado, many of whom, instead of going home, started into the mountains and were the early explorers of mining camps throughout the west. The high and rugged character of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado impeded, though it could not altogether stop, the direct passage westward; in fact, so dangerous were some of the mountain trails that the expression that a man had "gone over the range" came to be applied to any one who had died, and is still heard among "old timers" in many parts of the Colorado Rockies. Hence the Colorado miner tended to spread to the south and north, while the Californians continued to spread along the Pacific coast and eastward into the desert. The two tides of exploration rapidly invaded the interior country, and between 1860 and 1885 made many discoveries, the mining camps to the eastward becoming affiliated with Denver as a center, those to the westward having closer relations with San Francisco. Even to-day this distinction is observable.

After the discovery of the Comstock lode, Californians began to appreciate the possibilities of the desert and they rapidly overran that region, but even before the discovery of the Comstock they had begun to explore the region east of the Colorado River, then known as New Mexico, but later divided into New Mexico and Arizona. Here gold had been mined by the Mexicans long before the American conquest, and many of the old mines were reopened and new ones discovered by the American miners. As early as 1853, the old town of Tucson became an active mining center, and somewhat later the gold mines near Prescott, Phoenix, Santa Fé and many other places were developed. Between 1860 and 1864 the gold of the region now included in Idaho and Montana was discovered, and the Snake, Clearwater and Salmon River regions, the Boisé Basin, the Owyhee region. Deer Lodge, Bannack City, Alder Gulch, Helena and many other districts became important gold producers.

Though all these discoveries were of much local importance, no one of them was great enough to mark an epoch in the gold mining industry of the country, as was the case in the discovery of the gold of California and the Comstock. An exception to this, however, should be made in the case of the Boisé Basin and the surrounding country, from which many millions in gold were taken in a short time. Most of this gold, however, was sent to San Francisco, and in those early days, when people were too busy to keep very accurate records, a large part of it was credited to California mines; but those who know the Boisé region and the prosperous city of Boisé are familiar with the immense production that once came from there.

We now come to the discovery of gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota, a region somewhat removed from those we have been discussing. In 1874 General G. A. Custer, while on an exploring expedition there, reported gold in some of the stream beds. The following year miners began to come into the region and very soon a general rush for the new gold fields occurred. The Black Hills, however, were then a part of the Sioux Indian reservation, which was not open to settlers, and the various United States military posts were instructed to keep the people out; but in spite of this and the fierce opposition of the Indians, numerous exploring parties managed to reach there; and finally, in 1876, this mountainous region, which had long been looked on by the Indians as their last resort for safety, was thrown open to settlers. From that time until the present the Black Hills region has been a steady producer of much gold and some silver, the production of gold usually amounting to several million dollars yearly, and aggregating, up to 1910, approximately $150,000,000. At the present time, the old placers have been largely exhausted, but the gold-bearing veins are extensively worked, especially at the celebrated Homestake Mine.

 

Effect of Discoveries of Silver on Gold Mining, 1859-1890

While the gold of the west was thus being found and poured into the mints and commerce of the world, numerous discoveries of silver ores, often of immense value, were being made in the Rocky Mountains and the Great Basin. The first great discovery of silver ore in the United States was that at the Comstock lode, but others followed rapidly, until the multitude of mines opened between 1860 and 1885, made the United States the greatest silver producer in the world. Silver was then valuable, the deposits were larger than had ever been known to exist before, and the profits were immense. Towns grew up based entirely on the silver industry, and silver was the chief topic of the thoughts, conversation and daily pursuit of the people; the prospector looked only for silver, and a class of people began to grow up who knew silver ores but not much about other ores, so that many gold deposits were passed over, to be discovered years later.

This condition of affairs had the effect of stimulating the silver industry to its greatest extent, almost to the total exclusion of the search for gold, and discovery after discovery of silver deposits in the Rocky Mountains and the Great Basin was the result. First came the Comstock lode in 1859, and then followed rapidly between the years 1860 and 1885 the Reese River, Eureka, White Pine, Pioche and the Calico districts in Nevada; the Park City, Little Cottonwood Cañon, Frisco and Tintic districts in Utah; the Leadville, Silver Cliff, Aspen, San Juan districts in Colorado; Butte City, Montana; Tombstone, Arizona; Silver City and Lake Valley, New Mexico; Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and in more recent years, Creede and Tonopah. Many other regions of silver discoveries might be mentioned, but the above list shows the vastness that the industry had reached.

 

Effect of Depreciation of Silver on Gold Mining, 1875-1890

The enormous production of silver, accompanied by increasing outputs in Mexico and elsewhere, brought about the inevitable result and caused the fall in the value of the metal. At the time of the opening of the Comstock lode in 1859, the price of silver was $1.36 per ounce. Until then silver had been very scarce, and in spite of the enormous output of the Comstock and other mines discovered later, the price of the metal held up wonderfully until 1873, ranging in value from $1.36 to $1.29. The great flood of silver that was being produced, however, finally made itself felt, and slowly but surely the price fell. In the meantime the governments of America and Europe, fearing that silver was becoming too common a metal, began to curtail its coinage; and this action still further depreciated its value.

Previous to this great output of silver the enormous quantity of gold from California and Australia had discredited the stability of the value of the latter metal, and silver was considered by many to be the safer of the two for coinage. In fact, Holland had actually adopted a silver standard for coinage in order to avoid the dangers of the depreciation of gold, but from the day the output of the western mines made people realize the possibility of an enormous production of silver, that metal fell into disrepute. In 1886 the price fell for the first time to less than $1 per ounce, and after that it continued downward, with occasionally slight fluctuations upward, until it went below 50 cents per ounce. In late years, with the curtailment of production, silver has risen somewhat and has ranged a few cents above fifty cents an ounce. At the present time most of the great mines that were once worked entirely or mostly for silver are closed, and the production of that metal in the United States, though still large, is derived principally from ores containing both gold and silver, and as a by-product from copper and lead ores, with a little from zinc ores.

With the closing of the silver mines many men were thrown out of employment, and thousands of them started into the mountains to find something more desirable to work than the discredited silver. The long-neglected search for gold attracted many of them, for in gold they saw a metal that was not falling in value day by day. The result was remarkable, and in an incredibly short time many new discoveries of gold began to be made.

 

Period prom 1890-1911

The Cripple Creek district in Colorado was the most noted of the early gold discoveries following in the wake of the fall of silver, but so little confidence was put in it at first that those working there were scoffed at and called "alfalfa" miners by the old-time silver men; yet in a few years it was producing many millions annually and Colorado had risen to the foremost ranks as a gold producer. The gold of Cripple Creek was discovered in 1890 by Robert Womack, but was first actively worked in 1891 by E. C. Frisbee and E. M. De La Vergne; and in 1892 and 1893 the rush began which brought many thousands to this new El Dorado, where they hoped to recuperate fortunes lost in silver mining and in the financial panics of that time. The town of Cripple Creek suddenly sprang into existence high up on the mountains just west of Pikes Peak, and soon had a population of over 10,000 people, while the surrounding district contained several times that number. Many millions were produced yearly, and though the output is now less than formerly, it is still large, and Cripple Creek possesses a record for gold production rarely equalled. The total production up to 1910 was over $200,000,000.

The gold of Cripple Creek occurs mostly in veins, though some small placer deposits were worked in the early days. Instead of one great vein as at the Comstock lode in Nevada, there are very many smaller veins, representing ore bodies formed in fissures in the choked-up neck of an old volcano. Erosion has altered the appearance of the volcanic vent, but the geological structure proves the origin of the region.

About the time of the discovery of the Cripple Creek district, new gold deposits were found at Leadville, in Colorado. We have seen that gold placers were worked in this region in 1859, but were soon exhausted, and that in 1874 silver-lead ores were discovered and again brought a boom to the region. With the fall of silver, Leadville had lost much of its prosperity, but again picked up on the discovery of gold ores shortly after 1890, About this time, and later, many mines in the San Juan region and elsewhere in southern Colorado also became important gold producers.

Following quickly in the train of the fall of silver, news came of the discoveries of gold in the Klondike region. The Treadwell and other mines in southern Alaska had long been worked, but in the far north mining had not been very active. More or less gold had been mined on the Yukon and its tributaries for many years, and from 1886 to 1895 interest was somewhat stimulated by discoveries on Forty-Mile Creek, Koyukuk River, Mission Creek, Mynook Creek, Tanana River and many other streams flowing into the Yukon; but the production was not very great and the industry was carried on in a desultory way. With the discovery, however, of gold on the Klondike River in 1896, this apparent apathy was turned to the wildest excitement.

The Klondike River is in the Yukon Territory of Canada and flows into the upper Yukon River east of the Alaska border. Gold was discovered there on August 17, 1896, and a stampede to the new district followed which will always be memorable for the hardships encountered and the frightful mortality among those who took part in it. By 1898 over 40,000 people were camped on the Yukon, at the mouth of the Klondike, while many had died on the way, frozen on the White Pass, or on the long winter trail from Edmonton, or starved in the forest, or drowned in the Yukon, or shipwrecked in the Pacific. Whole parties often perished and nothing was heard of them until perhaps years later their outfits were found on the wilderness trails. Dawson City came suddenly into existence on what a few months before had been a barren river bank, and took its place as the metropolis of the gold regions of Arctic America. Soon after the first discovery of the Klondike gold, the deposits on various smaller streams in the vicinity, such as Bonanza Creek, Eldorado, Hunker, Gold Bottom, Dominion, Sulphur, Gold Run, Quartz and other creeks, were found.

The richest of the Klondike placers were exhausted in a few years, the production began to fall and people predicted the end of mining there, especially as no very important gold-bearing veins had as yet been discovered; but in recent years, with the introduction of more modern and economical appliances, the immense areas of low-grade gravels are being successfully worked, and the Klondike will probably be an active gold producer for many years to come.

In 1898, at the height of the Klondike excitement, gold was found at Cape Nome on the Alaska Coast of Behring Sea, north of the mouth of the Yukon. The first discoveries were made on Anvil Creek, a few miles back from the beach, and during the following year in the beach sands themselves. Again a stampede started to the north, and though not so many people went there as to Dawson City, yet the number was considerable, and large quantities of gold were quickly produced by those who were fortunate enough to escape shipwreck and other disasters on the way.

The result of these far-north gold discoveries was the exploration of that country many years before it would otherwise have taken place, and in a very short time the region, up until then little known, except in spots, became familiar to all. The whole of it has since been overrun by the prospector, and many other gold districts than those mentioned have been found, but the chief producers to-day are the Klondike, Cape Nome and the Fairbanks regions, the last being on the Tanana River, a tributary of the Yukon in Alaska. The production of Alaska in 1910 was estimated at $16,987,990, while that of the Yukon territory of Canada, which includes the Klondike, was estimated at $4,550,000, a decrease from the maximum of $22,275,000 in the boom year of 1900.[5]

The Goldfield. district in Esmeralda County, Nevada, was another discovery that followed after the fall in price of silver, and here from 1902 to 1904, and later, were found great deposits of gold-bearing quartz that have made the region one of the most important gold districts of the world. The Goldfield Consolidated Company to-day is the largest single gold-producer in the United States, its output in the year ending October 31, 1910, being $10,866,752. The region is not far from the Comstock lode, and many an old prospector of the latter region doubtless trod over it without realizing the value of what was to be discovered over forty years later. Other districts in Nevada, such as Silver Peak, Rawhide, Bullfrog, Round Mountain, Delamar and many other places, also became important gold-mining centers; and Nevada, like Colorado, from being mostly a silver-mining state, has become a great gold producer.

In the same way, after the fall in silver, the mines of Fergus, Chouteau, Madison and other counties in Montana, assumed fresh activities; in Idaho the old gold regions of the Boisé Basin and other places in Boisé County, as well as in Owyhee and other counties, again attracted attention; in Utah the old gold mines at Mercur, in the Camp Floyd district and elsewhere were reopened; in Arizona some of the gold districts of early days, which had long been abandoned for silver mining, were reopened, while new discoveries were made in many places, especially from the Gila River northwestward to the Colorado River; in New Mexico several old districts were reopened and a few new ones discovered. In California there was a general revival of gold mining and the production materially increased. New discoveries were made in the northern part of the state, in Shasta, Trinity and other countries, and also in the barren regions of the southern part, where many districts were added to the list of producers. Oregon and Washington also felt the stimulus to gold mining, though the production from those states has never been large. Even the Philippine Islands have begun to produce some gold, and though the amount is yet small, it will probably increase.

 

Present Distribution of Gold Mining in the United States

The final result of the exploration for gold in the United States since 1800 is that the metal has been found in large quantities along the Pacific Coast from California to Alaska, also in the Great Basin region east of the Sierra Nevada, in the Rocky Mountains and in that eastern outlier of the Rocky Mountains known as the Black Hills; it has been found in much smaller quantities in the Appalachian region of the eastern states, and sporadically elsewhere in the region lying between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. Among the latter instances may be mentioned the Ropes mine in Michigan, where a goldbearing vein was worked for a number of years, and many other places where a little gold has been obtained, but not enough to cut any important figure in the general production of the country.

At the present time the chief gold-producing regions in the United States are California, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska, South Dakota, Utah, Montana, Arizona and Idaho, while the first four produce by far the larger part of the American output.

Events Influencing Gold Discoveries in the United States Several important events in the history of the United States have done much to stimulate the search for gold. In California the declaration of freedom from Mexico about a year and a half before the discovery of gold, brought many adventurous people there who did much to develop the gold resources when found; in fact, the very discovery of gold was made in the building of a mill to supply the wants of the increasing population of California.

After our Civil War had ended, in 1865, many men who had served in both armies had become too much accustomed to constant excitement and action to settle down to the ordinary monotonous callings of life, and thousands of them started for the west as a country offering the life of adventure that they sought. Such men were thrifty, intelligent, brave and used to hardships. No pioneers of a new country were ever more suited to their task than they, and the result was soon seen in many new mining discoveries, made in the years immediately following the war.

Again, after the price of silver began to fall, many men were thrown out of work by the closing of the mines, and the search for gold attracted them as offering a more stable pursuit: with the result that in the years from 1890 to 1905 some of the great gold discoveries of the world were made, including the Cripple Creek, Klondike, Goldfield and other regions.

Financial panics and times of business depression have also marked epochs in the development of mining, especially gold mining. When manufacturing and other commercial pursuits are-not prosperous, when men are thrown out of work, speculators financially ruined, banks closed and the whole world seems gloomy, then gold mining has often been most prosperous; for the unemployed and the unfortunate have taken to it as a means of earning a livelihood or of recuperating their shattered fortunes, and in doing so have often made rich discoveries. Many of the pioneers who came to Colorado in the 1859 rush were men who had suffered in the financial panic of 1857; and many of the early prospectors in the Cripple Creek region were people who had been similarly injured in the panic of 1893, while many a Klondike explorer had been a prosperous business man before the latter sad era. In the same way a marked increase in the production of gold in 1908 followed the financial panic of 1907. This feature of gold mining as a last help to the unfortunate has been observed not only in the United States, but in many other parts of the world. When all else fails, the people take to gold mining, especially placer mining, which requires but little equipment, is easily learned, and in some places is sure to afford a certain, though often meager, profit.

An important factor in the progress of gold mining has been the increased respect for the industry on the part of the public at large. Not many years ago, many people, especially in the east, looked on gold mining as a gamble and a calling of questionable character; and the numerous fraudulent schemes that had been floated gave them some justification for their ideas. Many a person who sought to increase his fortune by mining, kept the matter a secret, so as not to injure his standing with his more conservative business associates. Since then, however, people have realized that there is good as well as bad in gold mining, as in every other business, and the credit of the industry has improved greatly, so that more and more interest is being taken in it.

 

Production of Gold ix the United States[6]

The production of gold in the United States up to 1834 has been estimated at $14,000,000,[7] all of it from the southern states. In 1834 the annual production was about $1,000,000, and in 1853 the discoveries in California had increased it to about $65,000,000. Later, the exhaustion of some of the California mines caused the production of the United States to fall off, until, with various fluctuations, it sank to $31,801,000 in 1885. Since then the renewed interest in gold mining has increased the production. In 1895 it had risen to $46,610,000, and in 1905 it was $88,180,700, while in 1909 it reached $99,673,400, an annual production not known to have been exceeded to that time by any country except the Transvaal.

The total production of the United States in gold, since that metal was first mined in this country, in the early part of the last century, up to the end of 1909, has been $3,165,304,400.[8] When it is remembered that most of this immense sum has been produced since 1848, some idea can be had of its vast effect on the political and economic conditions, not only of the United States but of the world.

 

Future of Gold Mining in the United States

It is difficult to make accurate predictions about the future of any mining industry except from the mines already known, and even then such predictions are liable to grave error. The difficulty, however, becomes still greater when we discuss the possibility of the discovery of new mines, and this is especially true in the United States, where there are wide regions in which new mines might be found, but where no one can yet say that they do exist.

A striking feature of past experience is the fact that many of the greatest gold discoveries in the United States were made in regions that were already well known, and in some cases had been passed over time and again by prospectors. The gold of the southern states was found in parts of the country that were well settled by an agricultural population, and yet for a long time it excited no attention. In this case the fact that the people had had no experience in gold mining was doubtless sufficient reason for this neglect; but when we see similar cases in the west, where mining has been the chief occupation of the people since the country was settled, the fact becomes more noteworthy.

The gold of California was discovered purely by accident, in a country which, though not exactly well known, had yet been passed over by many people, and was at least well enough known to warrant the existence of a mill, in the construction of which the gold was found. The Cripple Creek district was discovered in one of the best known parts of Colorado, in a region that had for many years been settled by ranchers. Year by year the cowboys and others, among them many miners, had passed over it without noticing the ore, and yet the latter was lying in lumps on the ground or protruding in outcrops in a way that made it a prominent feature of the neighborhood. Goldfield in Nevada was also discovered in a region that was well known to prospectors, and the ore occurred in large prominent outcrops, yet it lay for years ignored. The gold gravels of the Klondike had been trodden over by Hudson Bay trappers and the early miners of the Yukon for years before they were discovered.

Many other similar cases might be mentioned of new discoveries in well-known regions, where the gold was at last found by some inquisitive prospector having an assay made of a piece of strange-looking rock, which every one else had always seen but never thought of value, or by sinking a well for water, digging a ditch, planting a tree, or in walking over a place where the forest had recently been burned. The long delay in many of these belated discoveries was due to the ignorance of the prospector who could recognize certain ores but not others, while the general neglect of gold mining and the craze for silver mining in parts of the west for thirty years, from 1860 to 1890, was doubtless a contributing cause.

The fact remains, however, that the three greatest gold regions discovered in recent years, that is, the Cripple Creek, Klondike and Goldfield districts, were all found in well-known localities; and the question naturally arises, may not many other discoveries be made not only in the less explored parts of the west, but even in the shadow of the towns and ranches? One can not refrain from the conclusion that this is not only possible, but probable. Moreover, the better knowledge of the nature and occurrence of ores, which the prospector of to-day is gradually acquiring, will greatly assist in the search.

Aside from the possibility of new discoveries of gold, the improved metallurgical methods, the cheaper fuel, transportation facilities a other conditions are constantly enabling the gold miner to treat ores of lower and lower grade. Ores that were once considered of too low grade to be of value are now treated at a large profit, and many a mine abandoned years ago as worked out has been reopened and has become very profitable; while the old waste dumps have been sorted over for ore that was thrown away as worthless in the early days.

In placer mining the same progress has taken place. The early work by hand with pans and cradles was replaced by sluices, then these by hydraulic machinery and sluices, while later the system of dredging the gravel was introduced. Each method marked a step in the economical evolution of gravel mining, and to-day in many parts of the west gravels are being worked which have already been handled several times over by older methods.

An important amount of gold comes as a by-product from the treatment of copper and lead ores, and to some extent zinc, iron and other ores, and as the amount of base metals mined is constantly increasing, the gold from this source will also probably increase.

When we consider the probability of new gold discoveries in the United States, the longer life of known mines under improved conditions, the increased production as a by-product from the base metals, the future of gold in the United States seems bright. For a long time to come the present production of approximately $100,000,000 yearly should easily be maintained and there is a strong probability that it may in time be greatly exceeded.

  1. Exception to this must be made where small quantities of gold are produced as a by-product from copper ores in Tennessee, Maryland and New Hampshire, and from iron ores at Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
  2. Report of the Director of the Mint, 1910.
  3. Report of the Director of the Mint, 1910.
  4. Charles G. Yale, California State Mining Bureau, Report State Mineralogist, 1896, p. 64.
  5. "Mineral Industry," New York, ]910, p. 266.
  6. Space does not permit giving here detailed figures of the production of gold in different parts of the United States, and only enough statistics are given to make the present paper intelligible. Fuller statistics are easily obtained in the Reports of the Director of the Mint, the "Mineral Resources of the United States" and the "Mineral Industry."
  7. Annual Report, Director of the Mint, 1910.
  8. Annual Report, Director of the Mint, 1910.