Nebraska born Merrill tells California born Rhoda, “Stick with me Baby and we’ll strike it rich!” More about this later.
The Sierra Nevada mountains stretching northward through the Siskiyous into Oregon were inundated by 49ers infected with “gold fever” which stirs succeeding generations to this day. Nuggets extracted from gleaming lode veins and placer gold panned out of roaring rivers were there for the arrivals who had “Seen the Elephant!”
Rhoda’s family members didn’t’t see any elephants when staking the CA 122 claim on the Klamath River in Northern California in 1960 fulfilling a long time desire to own a gold mine. Family members, including us, arrived each summer “expecting to make a strike.” Lode and placer mining in this area began with the 49ers and continues to this day on a reduced scale.
This beautiful forested mountain area is replete with deep canyons carved by numerous rivers and streams topped off with magnificent snow capped Mt. Shasta. CA 122 consists of a 10 acre lode and placer claim parcel with contiguous boundaries fronting on 1320 feet on the Klamath River. In adjoining Carson Gulch were tailings from an old time lode claim mine shaft. Wagons of gold ore were transported from the mine over a still visible road to the stamp mill located on family claim near the Klamath River.
Rhoda’s family members aged. We, Rhoda’s sister Midge and husband Max, along with a brother of Max, purchased CA 122 for $3,000. We were now proud owners of a cabin once used by Chinese miners from way back and floated down the Klamath to our claim location and then moved to higher ground. A separate bunkhouse attached to the old stamp mill concrete footings, a pump house by the river, and an outhouse competed structures on the claim. Oh, but wait, we had creature comforts of electricity, telephone, stove and bedroom in the cabin, plus a flushing toilet in the bunkhouse. CA 122 was accessed over the Anderson Grade dirt road built by convict labor in the 1860’s.
Okay, we’re not to our gold mining experience yet, but hang on, we’ll get there shortly. Placer mining gold in the river was used to locate its lode source away from the river in the old days by miners of that time. They would placer mine up the river until enough gold showed up in their pans. At that point miners clambered up the mountain sides flanking the river digging and chipping away until the lode gold source was found. Our CA 122 lode mine was located in this manner. By the way, we learned much of this type information from folks who had lived and mined in the area for a long time.
Up and over the steep Black Mountain path we hiked, burdened with a pick, shovel, and chisels, we found digging in hard rock CA 122 was difficult and tiring. So, our focus was turned to the placer claim on the Klamath River from that time on.
Over past years, using everything from shovels to large floating dredges, and hydraulic streams of water washing away gold bearing sediment material into the river bed was picked up from which to pan for gold. We relied on our Keene Dredge to suck up such material from the river bed.
We placed our dredge on a floating platform perched on top of large boulders in the river above water level. Pulling the starter rope on a small gasoline engine, the familiar “putt, putt, putt” powered a 10 foot suction hose and nozzle which we inserted into river sediments, around boulders, and large rocks. We vacuumed water and sediment material into an inclined sloping four foot long sluice box with crosswise riffle blocks to capture dredged material and hopefully, gold. The dredge operator, me, wearing a wet suit and old tennis shoes in waist deep river water sucking up water and sediment until the sluice box riffle blocks were filled with dredged material meant it was time for panning to begin.
Panners sat by the river’s edge so as to have a constant supply of water necessary in the panning process. Water and material were placed in a four inch deep round pan with a flat bottom nine inches wide and outward sloping sides to a 16 inch width. Pans vary in size. We “Old time” miners fired the pan interior with a blow torch to a blackened condition on which our eager eyes would spot color fragments.
Water and sediment were swirled around in a circular motion in the pan slowly eliminating water, sand, and dross until a fine black sand remained. Careful panning movements continued until enough black sand material was washed away revealing flecks of gold. It was called “tobacco leaf gold” by old time miners as it size and shape resembled the cut flakes of tobacco they smoked, I guess.
Anderson Grade road passed between the cabin and the river. Passer-bys would stop, call out, “Finding any gold today?” The answer always was, “We’ve panned a bucket full. Come on down and take home some for yourself” With a chuckle, they moved on.
Over the 17 years we worked the claim, we always found “tobacco leaf gold” and once a small nugget the size of a large grain of rice. We estimate maybe three ounces of gold overall were found and divided evenly among the three partners.
What does owning and working our CA 122 mining claim on a federal Bureau of Land Management 1912 power site require of us? Think government ways of doing things. Post an obvious claim notice in container, we used a tree, for anyone to read. Submit a $100 check as an annual proof of labor notice to the BLM plus property taxes. The four corners of the 10 acre parcel were marked and visible. The CA 122 claim notice must be visible on the site. By now the reader must realize “CA” stands for California. State law allows placer mining in all rivers only during summer months. On September 1st., it is stopped due the salmon spawning run. This is one government edict that makes sense.
The time period we owned CA 122 all of us lived in San Diego. A local gravedigger was hired to watch over the property year round. A deputy sheriff’s beat included CA 122. We could rely on hearing from him quite often. “Hello. This is the sheriff’s office in Siskiyou County. Your property has been broken into. The door is broken in and things inside likely taken.” “Thanks Tom” we replied. We had gotten on to a first name basis with him.
“Ring, ring, ring” to the gravedigger. “Yeah, I saw the door was smashed in. Looks like all the bedding was stolen. The tool shed lost some items too, I’m not sure what. I’ll nail a plywood sheet over the smashed front door.” “Thanks. We’ll be up when we can to put the place back into order” You know, it seemed odd to us these thieves never broke any windows to get in. We thought a broken window to release the lock and raise the window seemed easier than smashing down the front door of the cabin. It was time to start putting replacement items together to take upon the next visit.
An aside: Some CA 122 gold was made into jewelry for Rhoda. Our San Diego home was burglarized including most of Rhoda’s jewelry. You know, there are thieves in California from bottom to top. We do keep a small vial of “tobacco leaf gold” for boasting purposes and showing disbelievers of our once owning a gold mine.
We’re down to the final part of our gold mining CA 122 episode. BLM and U.S. Forest Service personnel check with mining claim owners to ascertain if enough mineralization exists to meet a set monetary value. Also, were we using the mining claim for recreational purposes such as fishing, swimming, tubing, camping, vacations, and inviting friends for a visit. Well, “duh”, of course we did all of them.
An official BLM notification was pushed through our San Diego mail slot. “Oh boy,” we thought. “Maybe CA 122 is ours to use forever”
“Would you please call by telephone to make an appointment with two BLM mining engineers to proof out CA 122.”
We chose an early summer date to travel 800 miles to the claim and do the BLM’s bidding.
We’re there. So are two BLM mining engineers. A question always lurked in the back of our minds. We asked, “What will happen to our claim property if we don’t meet BLM mineralization standards?”
“We Will bulldoze the buildings and burn them.”
“What will you do with the mining claim?
“We’ll open it up for anyone wishing to file a claim.”
“Could we do this?” we asked.
Dealing with the U.S. Government Go figure.
We set up the Keene Dredge and into the river water I went watched by two BLM mining engineers. Do you think they might think I would somehow “salt” the sluice box material with “tobacco leaf gold? The sluice box filled and the two engineers removed all material for inspection wherever they do such things. Up the mountain to the lode claim watched over by the two engineers.
“You choose whatever ore you’d like us to test for mineralization.” Again I remembered an old movie where gold was shot from a shotgun into a mine. Wouldn’t’t that have been something to “salt” the lode claim with our precious “tobacco leaf gold”? I didn’t. I gave them ore samples.
Didn’t hear anything from the BLM for two years. We continued our summer visits and panned for the gold we always knew to be found there. A BLM notice arrived saying CA 122 didn’t’t meet BLM specifications for operating our gold claim. We appealed. A third year passed. We lost the appeal. It was time to face reality. We sold the claim to a local man for $3,000 who had to deal with the BLM findings. The cabin was bulldozed and burned, hut the bunkhouse was left for a tool shed.
Yreaka, CA — This northern California city is located on I-5. If you pass through this area, visit the Siskiyou County Courthouse where a spectacular display of both lode and placer gold mined in the area since the 49ers is exhibited.