Huge Nugget Finds That Were Not Well Substantiated….

The following gold rush story is an account of the purported recovery of a huge nugget found in Sierra County in 1853, taken from the work “California in the Days of Gold” by Thermal R Jones. Although this find is unauthenticated, if true, this would be the largest nugget which was ever mined from any location in the state of California. It was dug by a miner named John Dodge and his partners from a ravine located near Downieville in 1853.

Mr. Dodge claims that he and his partners kept the find concealed for the very plausible reason that owing to the many highway robberies in that section of the country at that time, they feared the news of such a find would attract attention of a dangerous nature that they did not want. It was not until 1858, when Dodge made it known to a friend who whom he gave the following statement publically, that the incident became known. This is the tale of the find, and the facts are as follows:

“I worked in the summer of 1852 on the Middle Fork of the Yuba River. There I heard of a rich claim on a ravine about a mile from Downieville.  Bill Haskins, a gentleman who was Dutch, and I went there and the three of us began working on an abandoned claim. We stripped the ground in the opposite direction from the one which it had been worked by the previous owner and struck a rich deposit of gravel. It contained much coarse gold - and we made, for several weeks one to three ounces of gold per man per day. As to gravel was going deeper and we had more ground to strip, I started a drift along the bedrock to see how wide the gravel deposit was, so we would know how wide to strip the overburden away. About noon on a Saturday, I stuck my pick down into a deep crevice in the slate bedrock. My pick exposed a large bright yellow streak.



I tried to pry the lump out but it was too firmly held. I then I worked around it and it appeared to grow larger and larger as I dug the gavel and slate away. I then placed my partner Dutchy on the lookout be see that no stranger surprised us and I can say my partners and I were very excited. After some time I got it loose and by heavy lifting we got it out of its bed and there it lay on the bank - a lump of almost pure gold in the shape of a heart. There was some quartz attached to it, but that would not have exceeded a weight of five pounds. We carried it into our cabin as quickly as we could, and put it into a sack. For the time being, we concealed it beneath a bunk, intending to make a closer examination at night. We concluded not to take it to Downieville, but to weigh it in the cabin and then divide it then so as not to create the kind of excitement that we knew it would cause if the discovery became known. Our gold scales would measure only up to two pounds. After some time spent in discussion, we piled onto an emergency-made balance scales some rocks and pieces of iron until we balanced the nugget and then weighed out the individual pieces of rock and iron on our smaller scales.  We thus ascertained its weight to be two hundred and twenty seven pounds and its worth to be $49,000 dollars. On Monday, we cleaned out the crevice where we had found the nugget, and it was very rich, but the yield seemed very small to us now.

Concluding that we had enough gold, for we had over fifty thousand dollars worth to divide among the three of us, we decided to cut the nugget into three equal pieces and to all depart on the next steamer bound for New York. I went into Downieville and bought a cold chisel with which to divide our nugget.  Even taking turns, it took us all night to do it. It seemed to me like we were vandals to destroy that great specimen of the work of nature. At the first blow, the chisel sank deep into the yellow metal. By morning, each of us had his dividend. We then had a sleep, and cooked our last meal in the cabin. We rolled our blankets around our gold and departed. After passing Goodyear Bar and Nigger Tent, the two supposed rendezvous points of the road agents and thieves, we drew a breath of relief and arrived in San Francisco with our gold in time to get on the steamer for New York via Panama. When we landed with our treasure, we promptly sold it to the Philadelphia mint.'' Like most miners, his riches had wings and by 1859, John Dodge was working as a teamster in Australia.

Finney’s 5000 ounce Nugget….
Here is another tale of a very large nugget found in California which has some report of documentation, but not as much as many others. There are several reports in various publications of a 5009 ounce nugget, some placing the origin near Downiville, some place the location of its find near Laporte. The following article concerning a huge nugget which was reportedly found near Downieville in 1853 appeared in the mountain messenger of October 15, 1904.  The editor of the mountain messenger comments as follows:



Mr. Louis Blanding is one of the best informed of old Pioneer miners still living in California sends us a copy of the Sacramento Union with the following communication concerning the finding of the largest nugget from the early placer mining operations of the state of California.  In his letter he states “I note in a recent publication a statement as to the largest nugget of gold which is said to have been found in United States weighed 195 pounds and was valued at $43,634.  There is an area here which I wish to correct for the sake of truth and the record, but the largest nugget of gold ever found in the United States was discovered by G. G. Finney in 1853 near Downieville, Sierra County.  It weighed 5009 ounces and was valued at $84,302 and contained only 3% of foreign matter which was mostly quartz.  It had the form of a pair of dumbbells and getting the nugget out with his pick Finney broke the link connecting the two bells. It was taken to San Francisco and the two pieces were riveted together with a steel strap.  A link hole in the strap was bored to the nugget and a small chain made to pass through so that a segment secured the nugget to the counter in the offices of a prominent mercantile firm there. It was viewed by thousands before being shipped to the East end was a curiosity even in those days of abundant gold dust and nuggets.  It was found in the year of California's richest gold and tied for the state produced $83 million that year, mostly from the placer diggings.  The writer has stood on the spot of Finney's fine in Sierra County and often conversed with him regarding it hence, this definite statement that he came from Virginia and was known all through the Northern mines of California as old Virginia. 

It is an interesting fact that he who discovered the largest nugget should also have given his name to the town of Virginia City in Nevada in which existed the greatest gold and silver lode (the Comstock lode) ever developed or probably ever will be.  It is a coincidence that from an old an intimate friend of Finney (that is Comstock) the celebrated lode took its name the writer also drew the first deed from the Comstock to Donald Davidson foreground upon the load and Mount Davidson, which stands guard over Virginia City, its summit having an elevation of 8000 feet above sea level, took its name from him.  Mr. Davidson was in early days largely interested in the mines of California including the Soulsby, Confidence and others in Nevada County.

Return To: California Gold Rush: True Tales of the 49ers



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