By Chris Ralph
The intelligent men who worked the gulches and rivers in the early days, soon sought the sources of the gold they found in the gravels. Sometimes gold was found with quartz adhering to it, or occasionally a quartz pebble riveted through and through with gold. The veins of quartz seaming the hills in the vicinity of the richest placers, also served to point to that rock as the original source of the gold. At Carson Hill, in what was then Mariposa county, quartz had been found immensely rich; but the expense of blasting the rock out and crushing it was such, that no serious attempts were made, until 1851. The whole California gold country abounded with quartz; in some places there were mountains of it, which had filled the ravines with broken quartz, but not all the quartz had gold in it - most did not. The miners found that the search for auriferous quartz was a tedious affair until some more experienced men were put upon the scent.
The first discovery of gold in quartz seems to have been made by a man by the name of Davidson, a Baptist preacher, in February, 1851, on the south side of Amador creek near the spring then used by the miners. Boulders of considerable size were lying on the top of the ground, supposed to have been detached from the vein. Gold was found in some of these, and subsequently, in the vein from which these came. Associated with Davidson were Glover, Herbert, and P. Y. Cool, all ministers; hence the claim was known as the "ministers' claim." Samuel Hill, afterward a resident of Buckeye, was taken in as a capitalist, and the company organized as the Spring Hill Company. About the same time, Thomas Eickey, and his son James, afterward residents of lone, located the vein on the north side of the creek, since known as the Original Amador. Gold could also be seen in this rock. None of these men had ever seen or done any quartz mining; in fact, there was none in the world to compare with what may be seen now at any mining town. Hill, of the Spring Hill Company, went to Sacramento and bought a steam engine, aged and ancient in style, which proved a mine of trouble to them, as it took an enormous quantity of wood to make steam. The main shaft was wood with bearings of round bar iron, two inches in diameter, which were driven in with a hammer, the end of the log being banded with iron. The cams were large spikes of bar iron driven into the shaft and afterward bent. The stamps had wooden stems, and spikes driven into the stems for tappets or projections, against which the cams should play to raise the stamps. The gold was saved, or rather lost, by means of a rocker about eight feet long, worked by the same power as the stamps.
The machinery proving a failure, the gold mill was soon rebuilt with improvements suggested by experience. The mill on the north side was started about the same time, September 5, 1851, with somewhat better machinery. The shaft was of wood, but had axe-bar iron four inches wide and half an inch thick for cams, the bars being bent after they were put in the shaft. The stamps also had wooden stems with slots in the middle to receive the cams. Dan Fiddler was the master mechanic, and J. T. Berke the superintendent of this mine. It made dividends as well as wages for its owners, who were all workers.
Quicksilver was tried, but from some cause failed to give satisfactory results. It was also discovered that much of the gold was lost, being too fine to settle into the ordinary riffles. While experiments were being made to remedy the matter, a German who had had experience in mining in Peru, proposed to crush and amalgamate with arastras. With his assistance the company took out about seventy-five ounces a week, the German receiving one-thirteenth part for his share. This was some of the first successful gold-quartz mining in California.
For more tales of the life, hopes and the humor of California's Gold Rush, see California Gold Rush
Basic information on Prospecting for gold, including how to get started, can be found at: Gold Prospecting
Chris Ralph writes on small scale mining and prospecting for the ICMJ Mining Journal. He has a degree in Mining Engineering from the Mackay School of Mines in Reno, and has worked for precious metal mining companies conducting both surface and underground operations. After working in the mining industry, he has continued his interest in mining as an individual prospector. His information page on prospecting for gold can be viewed at the website noted above.
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