Gold Mining & The Great Depression

During the Great Depression many people were out of work, banks failed, people lost their homes and there was not much of a way to make money let alone feed themselves. But there were some who had the foresight to realize that they could make a least a little money to feed their families by digging some of God’s natural wealth from the earth. My favorite prospecting related book is called “Bacon and Bean from a Gold Pan” - This is an awesome true story about a husband and wife who lived during the Great Depression and around the year 1935 they decided that living in the city and waiting in bread lines for measly handouts from the government wasn’t the life for them. He remembered how his dad took him to the mountains of the Mother Lode region to pan for gold as a child and decided that was the way to live. So they left to the hills to try and survive that way! This book is filled with real life adventures that is absolutely fascinating! I’m actually reading it again right now! It’s not an easy book to find and it’s a little pricey but worth every penny! You’ll also learn more about true prospecting than what you’ll read in most prospecting books that are out there!

During the Great Depression, 25% of Americans had no job and many had to take severe pay cuts. It is estimated that 40% of Americans faced extreme hardship during this time. Word got out that there were jobs in California, as well as land to be bought, so many people headed west. When they arrived, they discovered that the opposite was true, further deepening their despair. However, some of the more enterprising individuals and families went to the mountains and deserts to try their hand at gold mining.

Gold Prospectors Dreams Of Riches

Gold prospecting and dreams of riches go hand in hand. The Great Depression of 1929 heralded in an era where men would head into the outback, the great unknown, to chase the yellow metal. Gold fever has changed many people and many landscapes. There is nothing like a period of economic turmoil to send men into the hills seeking an answer to prayer, and large lump of gold, to solve all their problems.

The current economic crash has once again sent gold prices sky rocketing and a new wave of prospectors are heading into the hills. The new prospectors are a little better equipped than the old time prospectors, and the spread of civilization combined with the advances of travel mean that the journey is not as harsh. Once, the wave of hopeful prospectors was enough to significantly change the local demographics. In these remote areas the influx of prospectors created make-shift cities over night. In fact, in New Zealand these gold mining communities that sprang up would become the largest city in the country. When rumors of gold rushes further afield spread around town the population would migrate to the new gold town - changing the location of the largest city in the country.

Gold rushes today tend not have quite the same impact because it is possible to travel hundreds of miles in a few hours to reach a prospecting area for the weekend. Most of the rich claims are bought up by large companies and big equipment needing fewer workers is used to harvest the gold.

However, in them thar hills there are still individual prospectors working away on small claims and chancing their luck in rivers to make a few extra dollars. And even today there are nuggets being found and lives are being changed by the windfall.

If you aren't prepared to work for your money then you are better of looking elsewhere. Even equipped with the latest technology, like metal detectors, many hours can be spent and many miles covered before any great rewards are found. But for those diligent few who persist it is possible to generate an income from their prospecting. Which in today's environment where jobs are scarce it is a viable alternative.

The other advantage of gold mining over a regular job is the fun factor. There is still something romantic about being out there in the wilds pitting yourself against nature to bring home the bacon. And just like those who line up to buy lottery each week, there is always that chance that the next nugget you find will be the big one. The once in a life time find that will set you and your family up for the rest of your life.

People who have never tried panning for gold will not understand, but those who have will still remember the thrill of the first time they discovered the yellow glint in their pan for the first time. Even prospectors who have been doing it for years will tell you they don't loose the excitement of seeing the gold slowly emerge from the sand in the bottom of their pan.

Gold Prospecting in the 21st Century

Gold, the 49ers got it all right? Actually, the miners during the Great Depression got more gold than the 49ers, tens of thousands of out of work men, and sometimes their wives and children took to the mountains, valleys, and deserts in search of gold. They were not looking to get rich quick like the 49ers, but to survive until the Depression was over. They became proficient gold prospectors because they had to so they could survive, no gold no food.

Today most prospectors are recreational, that is they do it for fun, not as a full time job. Not to say there are no full time prospectors, there are thousands of successful prospectors whose income comes mainly from the gold they find, and still others who get a goodly portion of their yearly income from gold.

From 1833 to 1932 gold stayed around $20.65 to $20.72 an ounce, in 1934 it went to $38.69 an ounce, almost doubling. Then by 1972 the price went up almost 50% to over $58. 1980 saw gold briefly pass $820 an ounce after the goernment legalized private ownership of gold again, by 1999 gold had slid back in price to around $255.00 ounce. After that low, gold has steadily climbed to $783.50 where it is today as I write this article.

Is gold really worth that much more than $255.00 in 1999 or $58.00 an ounce in 1972? No, as the government prints more and more money, and our money loses more and more of its value, gold goes up in value as our paper money gets worth less and less, plus the fact that like oil, most of the easy to find gold has been found and mined, so as demand for gold worldwide goes up, and supplies are going down, this also puts upward pressure on the price of gold. It has been predicted by international bankers that the price of gold may reach $2000 to $3000 an ounce within the next ten years. The Fed can print as much money as it wants but there is no way to create gold, it has to be mined, and every year we produce less and less gold.

Also the environmental (green) movements are playing havoc with gold miners and prospectors all over our country. This adds greatly to the production costs of gold, most gold today comes from underground hard rock mines, where gold ores ( rock containing gold and other metals ) are taken from deep underground and crushed so gold values can be retrieved from them. Most gold mined today contains less than 1/2 oz. of gold per ton of ore mined and processed.

Between the 49ers and the miners of the depression era most of the easy gold ore was found and mined. This was called lode gold. The recreational prospectors of today mostly look for placer gold, gold which has been freed from the rocks that held it for millions of years. This is a process called weathering, a process nature uses to tear down mountains and fill in valleys. In the fall cracks in the rocks fill with water and freeze during winter, freezing water expands and cracks the rock which breaks away and tumbles down the mountain when the snow melts. As it tumbles down the mountain it hits other rocks and breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces, releasing gold contained in it in the process. The gold and gold bearing rocks are then washed into rivers and streams, during periodic flooding of the river, massive amounts of rocks are washed downstream and are ground into smaller and smaller pieces releasing most of the rest of the gold in the rocks.

Now the free gold ( called placer gold ) works its way to the bottom of the stream. It does this because it is approximately eighteen times as heavy as water, and six times as heavy as rocks. Because it is so heavy, gold slowly works its way to the bottom of the stream, mostly during major floods, and when it hits bedrock (the solid rock under everything) it can go no farther down. Now it slowly slides along the bedrock during major floods, until it slides into a crack in the rock or a depression and gets caught and can go no farther downstream. This is where the modern prospector comes in, we look for the places in the bottom of the river or stream where gold has gotten trapped. Even though the oldtimers got a lot of gold ( it had thousands of years to get concentrated in the rivers and streams ) every year more gold washes down from the mountain sides and into streams and rivers. So although we will never find gold in the amounts the oldtimers did, gold is worth 38 times what is was then.

The Great Depression sparked an increase in gold mining in what later became the Mojave National Preserve. The Depression caused an increase in the price of gold, and labor expenses were low. These factors, combined with another key ingredient, described by one author as "men not having much else to do," caused a surge of gold mining activity in the area. The Colosseum Mine, discovered as early as 1880 but never mined comprehensively, began substantial production in 1929, and the Telegraph Mine, first located in 1930, produced $100,000 in gold between 1932 and 1938. Mining in the river and streams wasn’t the only method used for gold extraction - in the desert, the miners would use a Drywasher to separate the gold from the gravel as there is not much water in the desert. These machines work only when the dirt is dry.

The East Fork San Gabriel River also saw a boom during the Great Depression. Eldoradoville became, “Hooverville,” a town of cardboard shacks populated by jobless men trying to make some money by gold panning. The town was washed away in a flood during 1938. Along with the town, all of the road was washed away except for a bridge that arches 250 feet above the East Fork Narrows. It’s called “The Bridge to Nowhere.”

Profitable lode mining was done on the rugged mountains above the East Fork, as well. The largest mine was the Big Horn. The spectacular mill remains in good shape.

More Info.

During the 'Great Depression' the Federal Government actually conducted classes on 'gold panning' to help the 'out-of-work' public get any kind of income. I was reading of a fellow miner’s wife’s Father and brother who did just that, they survived the depression by small scale mining!

Many cities in California actually thrived with business during the Depression because of gold. Cities like Grass Valley who had an increase in production from it’s Empire-Star Mines. Gold is attributed to feeding many families during this extremely tough period.

In San Bernardino County, the advent of Great Depression of the 1930's and an increase in the price of gold by nearly $15 an ounce, many small operators reactivated old mines. The region around Barstow, Vanderbilt, Stedman and Dale were the principal centers of mining activity until World War II.   

Mystery in Arizona - The Lost Dutchman Gold mine

A skull discovered on December 10th, 1931 sparked unsurpassed controversy during the great depression. That skull was of none other than Adolph Ruth. Ruth had entered the Superstition Mountain range in Arizona, camping at Willow Springs, on June 14th, 1931, his quest being that of hidden treasure. He carried with him a map and directions to the mine, cave, or cache. He never left those mountains. A search for his body commenced when he failed to return two weeks after having been escorted to his camp site. In December of that year, an expedition headed by the Arizona Republic newspaper discovered Ruth’s skull some 6 miles from his camp site. Tex Barkley, a local rancher whose cattle grazed the range, stated that Ruth had not been in his camp for more than 24 hours. The rest of his remains were found three quarters of a mile away from his skull in January of 1932. Adolph Ruth’s map was not found on his person, but his pistol was still fully loaded. The map would be found at a later date.

Oregon Trails: Jacksonville mining during the Great Depression

JACKSONVILLE, Ore. - When the Great Depression hit, even people who did not at first lose their savings often lost their jobs.

To put food on the table, many people in Southern Oregon turned to mining to provide some income from the bits of gold they could recover from old mines, creeks and rivers. However, some Jacksonville residents took it a step further and started digging up their backyards and tunneling under streets and buildings.

"Most of them took out quite a tunnel, and drove in quite a tunnel. And they they would, if the ground was loose, they timbered it up. Down there where Rasmussen's filling station is, that's all on timbers. There's just a few pillars, a few dirt pillars in there, and the rest of it's on 'stoves', they called it. If it was a wide pay streak, it got taken out, regardless of how much ground it was," said Harold Reed in a 1980 interview.

"I wrote to the state of Oregon to find out if anybody could keep them from mining underneath the streets. They wrote back and said that there's no way to enjoin them at all. Said the old mining laws was still on the books and you couldn't change it. So they could mine under the street as long as they didn't come up to the surface," Former Jacksonville Mayor Wesley Hartman said in a 1980 interview.

Many of the mines went under neighbors' homes and streets, even hitting an old flooded Chinese mine that forced the miners to flee for their lives. Reed says there was one miner, Blackie Wilson, who worked alone and earned the nickname "gopher".

"He never dug a hole any bigger than what he could just crawl into. And he just followed the paystreak. And if it turned, the pay streak turned off, he did too. And some of his holes was about three feet high, just high enough for you to crawl in and drag the dirt out. But they called him the 'gopher'," Reed said.

Most of the mines were one or two man operations. But some employed a few other miners, and paid about $2.50 a day. That was enough to buy beans, bacon, potatoes and other staple food products.

"Nobody got very rich. They just about had to, every time they had a cleanup, they'd go up and pay up the grocery bill. That's just about exactly what it amounted to," Hartman said.

"Well, it helped them to live. It was the difference between bacon and beans, and not having any. And those who made a dollar a day, I'm quite sure that they had bacon with their beans, and if they made less sometimes, they didn't have the bacon," said Aaron Rhoten, in a 1980 interview.

"We did help one another. We knew who was in need, and we gathered around," said Lois Reinking in a 1980 interview.

"If a family was a needy family, why people would pitch in and take them in some spuds or beans or something to eat. But nobody really went hungry," Reed said.

It's been 75 or 80 years since the Great Depression, when most of the under street mining was done around Jacksonville. City fathers have since enacted ordinances to prohibit that kind of activity, but every once in a while something falls down in a hole that has long been forgotten since the days of the Depression.

This is what happens when people trust government rather than God. Could it happen again? You better believe it! And worse!