BY CARL & ROBIN WHEAT
We expected an information-packed, tiring weekend. Even as we planned our trip and packed the car, however, my wife Robin and I never imagined how enjoyable it would be to attend a New 49’ers mining project. Each summer, Dave McCracken of the New 49’ers holds an assortment of weekend Group Mining Projects and group-participation operations covering different aspects of gold prospecting and gold mining. As weekend prospectors ourselves, we were nonetheless delighted to be able to visit Happy Camp, California this past summer.
While witnessing firsthand the exceptional benefits of becoming a member of the New 49’ers, we also experienced the enduring peace and beauty of the Klamath River. From its origins in Oregon, the Klamath runs some forty-odd miles south into California then turns west to meander its way to the Pacific Ocean. With the morning sun rising behind us, we entered the river valley. Tendrils of mist rose from the water as we followed the twists and turns of the Klamath past steelhead river resorts, picturesque flood plain meadows, and finally into Happy Camp itself.
Arriving in Happy Camp at 6:30 a.m. Friday morning, we ate breakfast in an antiquated coffee shop we discovered on Highway 96. The menu cover sported a picture of the 1964 floodwaters covering the streets and lapping at their front door. After 10 hours in the car, we really appreciated the substantial and hearty food and the friendly and talkative locals. Breakfast over, we still had time to spend. Since the New 49’ers main showroom would not open until 9:00 a.m., we took the opportunity to scout the town. Happy Camp itself is picturesque as only a historic mining and lumber town can be in the forested wilds of northern California’s coastal mountains. We found the small library tucked along a side street, a grammar school that looked to date back to the heydays of the local logging industry, and the shell of a long unused barn flanked by neatly kept newer homes. Besides the local population and tourists in town for steelhead fishing, we couldn’t miss seeing dozens of Club members camped in Club-managed primitive campsites right along the banks of the Klamath.
At 9:00 a.m. sharp we pulled up to the New 49’ers’ headquarters. The building was easy to locate, being immediately next to the post office. Kay Tabbert greeted us with a warm smile and was first to say hello as we entered a showroom filled with rows of mining equipment, (from full scale dredges to pans, and everything in-between). Glass cases held gold nuggets, nugget jewelry, and historic mining displays. Along one row we found a collection of historical Gold & Treasure Hunter magazines on display and for sale. The Club’s headquarters also include a small viewing room with a library of Dave McCracken’s and other prospecting videos that both educate and show the successes of others mining the Club’s claims along the Klamath and feeder creeks. Within minutes we found ourselves speaking with none other than Dave McCracken and Bill Stumpf themselves. We were quickly taken under wing by Bill and started on our New 49’ers weekend seminar adventure.
Bill’s tour of the campsites and gold claims took about an hour and a half. While Robin set up camp, Bill guided me to numerous sites along the river under Club claim. Several places in close proximity to the Club’s claims have chemical toilets and campsites worked into the rugged brush and rocks that form the river bank. More developed campsites, with tables and river rock barbecues, are provided by the U. S. Forest Service. If you have the advantage of a camper, camp trailer or motor home, you’ll probably prefer the convenience of camping on the claims themselves. We did do more driving back and forth during our stay because we chose a forest service camp ten miles upriver from Happy Camp.
As we toured the river’s course and mining claims held by the Club, Bill offered a historical perspective of local mining, showing me places where the old-timers used hydraulic mining methods. While this type of mining was stopped in the early 1900’s in the Sierra Nevada, it was allowed to continue along the Klamath until the 1930’s. The hydraulic mining sites appear to be a major source of “new” gold getting itself washed into the river. Gold in rich abundance has been and is presently being found. As much as 100 flakes of gold found in a single pan is being reported at the Club’s newest claim. The particular area of that find is difficult to reach and the claim opened only recently, but it makes a dramatic point. It is quite possible to find large amounts of gold in New 49’ers Club claims.
Saturday morning found Robin and me attending Dave McCracken’s seminar on gold mining. Dave opened with a brief glimpse of his personal history, when and why he began the Club and some of the difficulties he encountered and had to overcome to make the New 49’ers the success it is today. After the background information, he got into the true pay dirt of the seminar. Dave is an engaging speaker. We listened closely as he went into great detail about how to determine likely locations for finding gold in a streambed based on past and present water flow (important information for the beginning miner). Robin was particularly taken with Dave McCracken’s extensive knowledge. We live in the Sierra Nevada gold country ourselves and speak to other miners every chance we get. Where Dave’s information differed from that of our own local miners on the Fresno River, his simply made more common sense to my wife. We couldn’t help listening intently as this man of many years experience explained the basics of gold mining in a most informative and enjoyable way.
With an abundance of new knowledge crammed into our heads, the seminar attendees separated for lunch and then regrouped at the New 49’ers office in Happy Camp. We traveled in caravan to a Club claim on the Klamath known as Savage Rapids. Many pounds (yes pounds) of gold have been taken from Savage Rapids over the years. While at one time it was said to have been worked out, I personally talked to one miner who had an impressive show of gold for only seven hours of dredging. Once again the point was driven home: The Klamath and its feeder creeks still have undiscovered pay dirt waiting to be found.
As a group, the seminar’s participants clambered into Dave’s boat and crossed the rushing waters of the river. First Dave pointed out earlier prospecting sites. Then he scooped up a pan full of exposed riverbed, demonstrating his own panning techniques. After that we scattered out along a couple hundred feet of river bank, each of us prospecting for the best location to do some motorized sluicing the next day. We labored under a hot sun, dripping with effort until late afternoon. Dave watched over our shoulders and gave pointers. By the end of the day a spot was located where as many as five flakes of gold were found in each of several pans.
After we all got a chance to sample the site, we broke for the afternoon and rowed back across the river. The next morning we would set up surface sluicing equipment to work the day’s find. Saturday evening is New 49’ers potluck night. With Club members spread out along miles and miles of river, we were surprised at how many gathered for the evening’s social event. The company of so many gold prospecting couples and families was rousing. People had traveled from all corners of the country. Robin was so impressed that she slipped out to the parking lot with a pad of paper and pen in hand. The license plates of the vehicles parked in front of the hall told the story; Rhode Island, Nevada, Minnesota, Florida, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, Washington, Ohio. Once again we were struck by the friendliness of the New 49’ers. However long a drive had brought them to Happy Camp, California, each person I talked to showed as much interest in my finding gold as they had excitement in their own success. To top off the enjoyable evening, the Club raffled off mining videos, T-shirts and books, the proceeds to be donated to the local community as a gesture of goodwill.
At about 9:00 o’clock Sunday morning we reassembled at the river crossing and worked diligently for roughly six hours, pouring bucket after bucket of gold-producing material through the surface sluicing equipment. With expectations high, we watched as Dave used a concentrator to separate black sand from the gold. In that relatively short period of time we retrieved nearly half an ounce of gold from the Klamath River bank.Back at the showroom again, Dave showed us how to clean the gold of impurities. After weighing out the gold and splitting it equally among those of us who had worked under a hot summer sun to mine it, each of us was given our portion of the gold in a glass vial to show off our share. Robin and I couldn’t stay nearly as long as we wished. If not for the call of responsibilities at home, we could have easily agreed to spend the remainder of our lives in this idyllic setting among friendly New 49’ers.
The drive out of the Klamath River Valley in full daylight did show us much of the extent of the Club’s holdings. All along the riverside were claim signs tacked to trees designating the upper and lower ends of Club-held claims. All of the Club claims are open to Club members. My wife and I can’t help thinking what a boon these claims represent. At a time when many previously gold-bearing sites around California and the rest of the country have been “panned out,” the New 49’ers Club has claims still producing gold. In some of the locations there have been large parties of miners working for some time. Other areas along the Klamath and its feeder creeks have only been touched, just enough to know that gold does exist there. New strikes and new claims are constantly being opened. There is no doubt that New 49’er claims have many years of productive gold mining left in them.
At our next opportunity, Robin and I will be joining other excited New 49’ers searching for the only known remedy for gold fever. Hope we meet you there!