Beach Mining For Gold, Part II: Alaska and California

Alaska Beach Placers:
The beach at Nome, Alaska, is a narrow strip about 200 feet wide, from which over $2,000,000 in fine gold has been washed ; the flaky gold averaged 7000 or 8000 colors to the pennyweight.  Two older elevated beach lines are found farther inland. During the summer months of 1899, in addition to the gold along the creeks, rich deposits, easy to extract, were found in the beach extending for miles by the sea, every one at Nome had an opportunity to share in nature's unexpected gift. Consequently, upon the return in the fall, the story of the wonderful wealth of this weird country was circulated broadcast. All kinds of schemes, honest and dishonest, were devised during the winter to obtain the gold the following season. Of course, as had been clearly demonstrated in the preliminary United States geological report, the beach gold had been carried down from the interior by the streams emptying into Bering Sea, and there distributed in the black and "ruby" sand. By 1900 The beach about Nome had been already practically exhausted, so that it yielded in its best spots only a few dollars a day (that is a few pennyweights), which is an amount that does not go very far in a new country with high costs.

Undoubtedly, the poverty of the beach, which was considered common property, was a keen disappointment to the many who had rushed to Nome planning to take from it sufficient wherewithal to tide them through the winter and furnish a little capital for future operations. The working season is short, scarcely three months, as operations must practically cease when the water freezes; and one must "strike it" early, or not at all. In the gold rush days, westward along the Nome beach, for miles, all kinds of contrivances, from the simple hand-rocker" to complicated machinery, were being used to get the gold; but the men did not seem cheerful in their work, and most of them would freely and candidly admit that they were not making even good wages. Among the many strange sights on the beach was an enormous machine, built upon huge barrels, which some of our friends with the blueprints were making ready to dredge gold from the sea.

 

 

Hundreds were living in tents upon the beach, thanks to the clemency of the weather. Within a very short distance from our camp, with their freight piled about, were the "syndicate," and quite unenthusiastic. There was defection in their camp. Actually, the "syndicate" were selling out, and without a struggle. Several of its members very soon bade us farewell, and pulled out for what they thought the "real thing" - quartz-mines in Oregon. And yet some of the mines on Anvil Creek even then, and with only a few men shoveling the pay dirt into the sluice-boxes, were turning out from ten to fifteen thousand dollars a day. To be sure, this was for the very few only, but, at the same tune, it went to prove that the country was not a fraud. Even the dirt in those miserable Nome streets contained "colors," or small particles of gold; and it is an incongruous thought that, of all the cities of the world, Nome City, as it is called, most nearly approaches the apocalyptic condition of having its streets paved with gold!

California Beach Placers:
Ocean-Beach Auriferous Sands: The gold-bearing deposits of California occur in many forms, but perhaps the least worked are the beach placers of the state. Beach-mining is the business of washing the sands of the ocean-beach. Between Point Mendocino, in California, and the mouth of the Umpqua
River, in Oregon, the beach-sand contains gold, and in some places it is very rich. The beach is narrow, and lies at the foot of a bluff bank of auriferous sand. In times of storm, the waves wash against this bank, undermine it, sweep away the pieces which tumble down, leaving the gold on the beach. The gold is in very fine particles, and it moves with the heavier sand, which alters its position frequently under the influence of the waves and surf. One day, the beach will have. six feet depth of sand ; the next, there will be nothing save bare rocks. The sand differs greatly in richness at various times : one day, it will be full of golden specks ; a few days later, at the same place it will be barren. The sand in the mean time has been moved by the waves, and replaced by other sand. Generally the layers of black sand, showing a concentration of the heavy materials in the sand, are the ones that carry significant gold. When it is most perfectly concentrated, it is said that at times the beach sand in the sunlight is said to be actually dazzling yellow with visible gold.

The auriferous beach sands, which once afforded profitable employment to many men, have years since become so impoverished that they figure but slightly among our available mineral resources. These ocean placers have, in fact, responded feebly to the attempts made of late to work them. But, for all this, we have these deposits of low grade in infinite quantity occurring at intervals. They reach along the sea-shore for many miles, extending at several points, in the form of buried channels, some distance inland. So abundant, but now so poor, these gold-bearing sands await the mining machine that is to make their further working profitable. Meantime, the auriferous beaches continue to be worked by hand at a few points and in a small way. Along the sea-shore in Humboldt and Del Norte counties, formerly the chief sites of this class of mining, the residents of that section of the State gather from these sands by hand-sluicing a little gold every year. Normally this is done during the low tide after major storms, during which time the wave actions form lines and layers of gold bearing black sand along the beach. The richest dirt often lies the farthest down on the beach, so still weather and low tide are the best times for getting it. When a rich place is discovered low down on the beach, great exertions are made to get as much of the sand as possible before the tide rises and covers it. The beach sand, having been separated from all clay and soluble matter by the action of the sea, is very easily washed, and all the gold bearing material collected in a month can be washed in two days time in a sluice.

 

 

Along the shore further south some little work of this kind is also being done. Between Point Sal and Point Concepcion, off the coast of Santa Barbara, several small companies have been engaged in washing the beach sand. The most successful machine for treating the "black sands" seems to be what is known as the "Oregon Tom," which is described and illustrated in the Thirteenth Report of the State Mineralogist. Ocean placers or beach gravels occur along the Pacific coast at various points extending from Klamath County, California, northward into Oregon. There are several theories as to the origin of the gold in the sands, of which the following have been given some prominence:

1. Sub-ocean quartz ledges may furnish, the gold. In fact it is well known that a gold-bearing formation exists, and extends beneath the ocean from Point San Pedro to Point Reyes. However, the theory is hardly tenable.
2. The gold may be brought down with the silt as a deposit from the waters of the Sacramento River, which are subject to redistribution by the tidal currents.
3. That the source of the gold is the adjacent bluffs, which are known to contain gold, and further the beaches are noticeably enriched after a storm that has broken away large masses of the bluffs. However, it is rather odd that less coarse gold is found with the source so near at hand, yet the bluffs themselves may have been built up from similar materials.
4. Deposition of gold from solution in the sea water has been suggested, especially in connection with the beach gravels of Cape Nome, Alaska. This also has been eliminated by the facts of science.

Continue on to:
Beach Mining: Part I, Shore Deposits

Beach Mining: Part II, Alaska and California
Beach Mining: Part III, Oregon
Beach Mining: Part IV, Nome, Alaska

Return To:
All About Placer Gold Deposits

 

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