By Dave McCracken

“There were rice-sized pieces of gold lying everywhere! In three years of dredging on the Trinity River, I never saw a deposit that rich. In that very moment, I realized that the whole world had changed.”

Dave Mack
Middle Independence Gold Claim is the richest section of the entire Klamath River!

Middle Independence Gold Claim is the richest section of the entire Klamath River!

Two friends and I began dredging for gold on Josephine Creek in southern Oregon the day after Christmas in 1979.  We should have waited until the spring thaw, but we were young and full of motivation.  Conditions were miserable, and we paid a heavy price going out every day in 35-degree water. We didn’t have a clue about how to trace down high-grade gold deposits.  We were sleeping in a 5-man summer tent.  It was cold, cold, cold!  We had to thaw out our dry-suits in front of a campfire in the morning to keep the rubber from breaking and causing leaks.  Our camp got fully flooded by the river in the middle of the night because of heavy rain.  A lot of things went wrong. We only found a little gold. But none of that deterred us.

My two buddies and I immigrated over to the Trinity River in northern California in mid-February of 1980. This was because someone told us there was a major gold rush going on over there.  People supposedly were just picking big gold nuggets right off the stream banks.  But we didn’t find anybody doing any mining over there during the winter months. The river water was 34 degrees!  While our dry-suits more or less kept the cold water out, face exposure to the freezing water gave us headaches so bad that we wanted to vomit. Hand exposure made our fingers burn just as if we stuck them in the campfire! It was absolutely miserable. My partners gave it up before the spring thaw.  They believed there were much easier ways to make a living; and of course, they were totally right!

We had met other guys on the Trinity that were supporting themselves from the gold they dredged during the summer months.  They actually lived in houses!  They were talking about sampling for hard-packed streambeds. They were talking about lines of gold and pay-streaks.  This was music to my ears! Encouraged about their stories of recovering multiple ounces of gold per day in the river, I stuck it out in the forest, living by myself in a tent about a mile below the small community of Del Loma on the Trinity River.  It was pretty rough.

Lazy riches Mine

It was all about basic necessities in those days!

I had figured out enough by the spring of 1980 that I was just barely supporting myself with a 6-inch dredge.  I say just barely, because I had virtually no expenses except for the food I was eating (which was plenty), fuel for my dredge and motorcycle, and some minor upkeep.  It didn’t take much gold to keep me going.  My living space eventually evolved into a larger timberline tent made of canvas, including a wood stove for heat during the winter months.  That was a huge upgrade in my standard of living!

I dredged by myself through the summers and winters of 1980 and 1981.  There were times that the water in the Trinity dropped to 33 degrees.  It was absolutely miserable! But by then, I had figured out how to trace down the lower-grade gold deposits, and I was building up a savings in gold which I kept in a safety deposit box at Bank of America in the nearby town of Weaverville.

I didn’t allow myself the luxury of an automobile until the fall of 1981.  It was a pretty used up Jeep Wagoneer that had an oil leak which I never was able to repair, as many times as I tried.  Anytime I got the car going faster than 50 miles an hour, all at once, the oil would drain from the motor out the rear main seal.  So I drove slowly, and I brought plenty of extra oil along. The Wagoneer was better than the motorcycle during the winter months.

My older brother took an interest and came to dredge with me during the winter months of 1982.  That was just when I was getting pretty good at finding higher-grade gold deposits.  We found a lot of gold that winter, though conditions were absolutely miserable.  I have to give my brother credit for sticking it out.  Not many people would have done it! You can read about those days in my book, Extreme Prospector.  By then, Eric Bosch had showed up on the scene, and we were working together at times.  But even Eric, tougher than me, was not dredging the Trinity River during the winter months.

With my gold savings, along with contributions from Eric and my two brothers, we bought a beast of a Dodge Power Wagon and devoted the summer of 1982 to dredging for gold in British Columbia and Alaska.  This is a very exciting story that is also told in the most detail in my book, Extreme Prospector.  We struck it rich up there in Canada.  But the authorities ran us out of the country and basically invited us to never go back.  I decided the seasons in Canada and Alaska was too short to support my mining career, anyway.

I devoted the summer of 1983 back on the Trinity River dredging side-by-side with Eric Bosch.  He had a 5-inch dredge. I had a 5-incher and my 6-incher.  We were knocking out the ounces of gold.  But Canada had spoiled us.  We wanted to get back into pounds of gold!  While the Trinity was good, it was not delivering up the high-grade we were looking for.  There were also a lot of serious guys dredging on the Trinity during 1983; perhaps a hundred guys.  The place was crowded, and I was not seeing much of a future there.  I only owned a single mining claim.  Other places I wanted to dredge required me to make deals with the owners.  In 1981, the standard deal was 10% of the gross recovery to the owner.  By 1983, the owners wanted 20%.  I got knocked out of the best deposit I found on the Trinity by a competitor who came in and offered the owner 25% if he could take my place.  It was a pretty cut throat environment.  Ten percent to the owner is a fair deal when the dredger does all the work on the risk that he might not ever find anything worth mining. You have to be careful about the deals you make, or you can set the foundations to undermine your personal integrity.

One of the dredgers I got to know over there was a guy by the name of Alan Copp (Al). He was a nice guy and a hard worker. Al had more mining experience than me, having dredged on the Yuba, Salmon, Scott & Feather Rivers, and even did a mule-pack trip to Virgin creek up off the New River the year before I met him. He had been around. I, on the other hand, had more determination than anyone on the river. Nobody else was braving the winter months out there, but me!  Al and I both were looking ahead, trying to figure out something better than the Trinity.  We were looking for somewhere to carve out something valuable for ourselves. I had already ruled out Alaska because I didn’t want to get reduced to a two or three month season.

The image at the beginning of this story presents a pretty good profile of how determined I was in those days.

It was Al who was suggesting in that we go over and look at the Klamath River.  We made a few trips over there for a look.  My first impressions about the area were not good ones.  The river was huge compared to the Trinity.  It never appeared to run clear. There was not a single dredge that we could find operating on the entire 100-mile stretch of river we looked at during 1983. That was a bad sign.  You would think if there was any gold in the river, at least someone would be over there mining it!  And the place was absolutely wild in those days!  There were so many logging trucks racing up and down Highway 96, you took your life in your hands just driving down the road.  I’ll never forget this guy in a pickup truck weaving all over the road, going about ninety miles an hour, passing us just as Al and I pulled into Happy Camp the very first time (for me).  We pulled into the parking lot of the liquor store to buy something cool to drink.  There were a bunch of menacing-looking guys out front when we went in.  When we came back out, two of them were having a knife fight right in front of Al’s truck.  We didn’t hang around to see who won the fight.  The place was wild, man!

Al had spent time there during earlier years.  He was telling me the mining history of Siskiyou County was better than the Trinity.  We went around and looked. There were some very serious dredging programs happening on both the Scott and Salmon Rivers.  But those guys did not appear welcoming or friendly in any way, and those rivers were claimed solid at the time. No openings!

Al had history with several old-timers along the Klamath River.  One of them was a guy by the name of Bud Woodworth who had already passed away.  Before dying, he confided in Al about rich gold deposits in the Klamath below Horse Creek, and others in the Happy Camp area.  Al and I went around and looked at those places.  There was not a single dredger around.  But I believed what Al was telling me.  That is to say that I believed that Al believed the stories. It was a beginning.

Note:  We found out years later that all the places Bud Woodworth told Al about were rich, rich, rich!

So when we returned to the Trinity, I doubled my efforts at recovering gold from the lower-grade gold deposits I had already located there.  I was known in those days as “Ounce-a-Day Dave,” because I would invest as many hours that I needed to recover at least an ounce of gold every day, most days not returning to my tent until after dark.  Then I took a risk and hired another friend of mine by the name or Harlan Cockcroft, otherwise known as “Red,” to move over to Yreka and research for open mining property along the Klamath River.  Yreka is the county seat of Siskiyou County. I was paying Red $300 a week, plus $100 for every mining claim he could locate on my behalf.  This was going into the fall of 1983.

The problem was that nearly the entire Klamath River was unclaimed; and it did not take long for me to become indebted to Red from all the $100 bonuses I owed him.  I finally had to lay him off!  After all, how many mining claims does a guy need?  Besides, the fact that there was so much open river there cast a shadow over the gold potential.  If the river had gold, where was everybody?  Maybe they were all over on the Trinity River!  I found out later that there was a full-on gold rush happening on the Rogue River in southern Oregon.  But at the time, Al and I knew nothing about that.

I started my 1984 season on the Trinity, because I still had proven gold deposits to mine over there.  That was my first year using an 8-inch dredge.  I crewed it up with several motivated guys, including Eric Bosch.  By now, I had several books published and my first video on the market. It was the only video which showed newcomers how to dredge for gold, how to sample, and all the important stuff.  So I had already begun making a name for myself.  Around thirty people had signed up at $300 per week to dredge near me so I could give them some help and guidance on their own dredges.  I moved into a house that summer, along with my dredge crew, and allowed my students to camp in the yard. With the extra income from my students, I was pretty comfortable over there mining lower-grade deposits on the Trinity.

Al and Doug setting up the dredge

Al and Doug getting started on the Klamath River

Al decided to give the Klamath River a try during the season of 1984.  He teamed up with one of his longtime friends, Doug Gunning.  Those guys were airline mechanics.  They had a sweet deal where they could contract their services whenever they wanted to.  They were able to make good money during the winter months. But their real passion was dredging for gold.  In all, they dredged together for more than 14 years. This speaks strongly about the character and integrity of the two guys that made the original dredging discovery on the Klamath.  This is because volumes of pure wealth would  tear any normal relationship to shreds!

I can tell you this is the case with anyone whoever has dredged up high-grade gold deposits.  There is something about finding and recovering pure wealth that gets in your blood.  Uncovering raw gold on the bottom of a river, which is yours to keep, sparks deep passions similar perhaps to winning big in a poker game and raking in all those hundred dollar chips.  It produces feelings of exhilaration that few other life experiences can generate.  Finding high-grade gold deposits is about as good as it gets.  Once you have done it, I don’t think you can ever get completely out of your system your deep desire for the next high-grade gold deposit.

The days of 1984 were before mobile phones and the Internet.  We didn’t even have a phone in the house where we were staying.  So there was no way to keep in touch with Al and Doug when they went over to the Klamath.  I figured they would return to the Trinity if they didn’t find any gold – and I admit that I expected them to return.  Even though I had invested so much money on mining property over there, the claims came so easy, it was hard for me to believe any high-grade was going to be there.  That would have been too good to be true.

My own dredging program, and looking after a bunch of students, kept me more than busy along the Trinity during the first half of the 1984 season.  We had not heard a single word out of Doug and Al.  My best guess was that they called the season quits and went back to aircraft work.  Finally, on just a notion, I made a day-trip over to the Klamath to see if I could find them.  I spotted their dredge on the river about thirteen miles downstream from Happy Camp.  Their dredge was running when I got there.

Independence claim 001

Their dredge was running when I arrived on the scene.

Doug and Al operated their dredge differently than Eric and I on that particular day. They were mostly taking shifts with one guy down at a time and the other on deck knocking out plug-ups and keeping an eye on some change they had made on their recovery system. Those were the early days where we had already worked out standard underwater teamwork procedures for two or more guys working underwater together to get more work done.  We could really tear it up!

Doug was on the deck of their dredge when I arrived.  Wearing just my shorts, I swam out to their platform.  It was anchored to something out in the river.  Doug was happy to see me. He said they were doing pretty good.  I asked if I could borrow the second set of diving gear and go down for a look.  Doug helped me gear up, and I went down the ladder.  That’s when it really hit me how warm the water was.  We were wearing full wet-suits on the Trinity.  The water temperature in the Klamath reaches the high-70’s by mid summer. You don’t even need a wet-suit to dredge there!  Not wearing a wet-suit jacket is like being liberated from a straightjacket!

Those guys clearly had invested a lot of hard work in this dredge hole.  There was a large tailing pile behind the dredge.  I found Al in about seven feet of water taking a top cut off the front of his dredge hole.  He recognized me when I got down there and gave me a big thumbs up.  I started moving cobbles out of his way as he continued sucking off the top-front portion of his hole.  The top material was kind of a semi-packed brown color.  It was not very impressive.  There was about five feet of it.  Then Al showed me where this brown layer made contact with a very hard-packed layer of gray material; something I never once saw on the Trinity.  This was original, ancient streambed that had never been mined before.  I saw a beautiful rice-sized piece of gold sitting right on top of it, and pointed it out to Al, thinking I was showing him something special.  Al waved that off and signaled for me to be patient.  Then he uncovered a larger swath off the top of the gray layer and the whole thing looked better than the best Christmas morning I ever experienced.  There were rice-sized pieces of gold lying everywhere!  In three years of dredging on the Trinity, I never saw a deposit that rich.  There had to be more than an ounce of gold just in the small swath that Al uncovered for me!  In that very moment, I realized that the whole world had changed.

8 oz day 001 (2)The feeling was like being late to the party!  Even though that was just the beginning of the bigger party.

After sucking up that gold, we went up on the dredge to have a talk.  When they shut down the dredge, I could see their sluice was piled up with gold; maybe five ounces, maybe more.  They didn’t have to tell me the deposit was rich, rich, rich.   It was a sharing kind of experience.  Gold mining is kind of like fishing or hunting.  You really do want to share your successes with your friends.  I’m not talking about sharing the gold.  I’m talking about sharing the enthusiasm and appreciation for a super rich discovery.  The only thing better than that would have been if the discovery was mine!

 

3 oz independence nugget

They recovered this 3-ounce nugget about the time I arrived on the river!

Al and Doug had long-since filed a mining claim on their discovery, taking up a little more than a mile of the Klamath River, starting just downstream of the confluence of Independence Creek.  They figured that was more than they could dredge in a lifetime. They were more than right about that, and actually mined just a fraction of the claim before they retired from dredging four or five years later.

Al and Doug expressed no reservations about me moving over to the Klamath with my crew and students. I wasted no time getting back over to the trinity that afternoon!  Then I contacted all the students who had signed on to spend time with me that summer, offering their money back if they did not want to go with me to the Klamath.  Everyone wanted to go!  It took us a day to get all our existing gear together and move out of the house.  The guy I was leasing from was nice about our sudden departure, and has actually stayed in touch over the years.

About a dozen guys and I arrived on the Klamath just two days after I found out that Al and Doug had struck it rich over there. It took us a few weeks to make it happen, but we all ended up in a rich deposit about fifty miles upriver.  Our best day on my 8-inch dredge that season was twenty-four ounces.  The largest nugget we found weighed more than a pound! After all my students and crew departed for the season, Eric and I located a second deposit further downriver just upstream from Savage Rapids, a place we later named the “Mega Hole,” and we recovered one hundred ounces of gold in just two weeks of hard work.  When you get into high-grade on the Klamath River, the gold adds up very fast!

Al Copp was totally correct in his early predictions.  The Klamath River provided much better high-grade dredging opportunity than the Trinity.  We were very fortunate to be the first ones over there!  So I hired Red back on to finish up his research and pick up more mining property along the Klamath River and its tributaries; enough to start a mining club!  That turned out to be a move that would forever change my life, and alter the paths of thousands of others.

240 oz 001 (3)

Here is an image Al shared with me of just some of the gold they stacked up dredging in that one area. There are around 250 ounces in this picture.

As many places as we discovered high-grade over the years, we never found any mining property as rich as the original mile that Doug and Al claimed.  In fact, I have never seen any place in my whole career that was so consistently rich.  Doug and Al, for the most part, remained in that single high-grade deposit during their entire time on the claim.  The area they mined is just a drop in the bucket compared to the overall size of the property.  They did not mine the faster water areas, and they did not even sample the shallower areas further up the property, much closer to the sources of all that gold.  They did little or no high-banking or crevicing on the exposed and shallow bedrock areas that extend the full length of the property.  And they did not allow others to mine on their gold claim.  They were the first there, and they kept that property to themselves as they watched with some level of amusement as I started The New 49’ers a few years later and flooded the river with a new generation of miners.

Al Copp and I remain in touch these days.  He is a dear old friend that was present just as I was getting my life in gear.  We made the important transitions together. You never forget friends like that. These days, Al reminds me of how good it was during those early years.  He is right, too; it was great!

But the best days are still ahead!  I have been waiting 28 years to put my own suction nozzle into the section of river just below Independence Creek where nobody has gone, yet!  We just acquired that property after all this time.  Full circle; we are now back to the place where it all began! I’ll be in there with an underwater gravel transfer system this summer.  I can’t wait!

Al Copp  Doug Gunning

Al Copp and Doug Gunning

I generated a gold rush over to the Klamath River when I founded The New 49’ers in 1986.  But it was Al Copp and Doug Gunning who went over there ahead of me and made the first rich discovery of our generation.  If they had not done that, there is no telling where you and I would be today.  But it is certain that you would not be reading this bit of history!

 
Dave Mack

By Dave McCracken General Manager

 

 

 

 

 

Thumbs up!Gold -n pan

Cleaning Updrege in river

 

Within days after the temporary moratorium on suction dredging in California went into effect, we were already in planning to launch a week-long group dredging sampling program onto the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. This was going to be a vitally important mission for The New 49″ers. So I invited several very experienced dredge miners to participate.

our groupLaunching dredge

The New 49’ers has a responsibility to provide mining opportunities for our members. Some of our members prefer suction dredging over other types of mining. Therefore, as soon as it became possible that we might lose dredging in California for a while, we immediately started looking for suction dredging opportunities outside of California.

One nice thing about the Rogue is that the section of river we chose is not any further away than Happy Camp for members traveling north on Interstate 5. Gold Hill (one of several places where the Rogue crosses Interstate 5) is only around 9 miles to the north of Medford (Oregon). We were looking for a place which is not too distant from our main headquarters in Happy Camp.

River View 2River road

We have also been looking at the mining history of the Rogue River in the area around Gold Hill and Grants Pass. This history is good! Still, even though we have been hearing good reports for years, before encouraging our members to go over there, I personally wanted to see high-grade gold being recovered out of the river.

In gold mining, seeing is believing!

Oregon courts have recently confirmed the validity of a law which declared the Rogue River as “navigable.” This is a legal term which places the entire river and its bed under the ownership of the State of Oregon. This means that there is no private property, and there are no mining claims, between the normal high water marks of the river. Oregon has placed the entire 37 mile section of river between the Gold Ray Dam and the Applegate River in a “recreational” status. This means the river is open to rafting, boating, fishing, swimming; and yes, suction dredging.

Rogue river access map

Click on the map to see the full size version with links to points of interest and river access.

As the stretch of river between the Gold Ray Dam (about 8 miles from Medford) and the Applegate River (downstream from Grants Pass) is a very long one, all of which is gold-bearing, and our time for this project was limited to about a week, we decided to begin within a few miles downstream of the Gold Ray Dam. This is an area where several of our project-participants had previous experience in dredging high-grade gold. We still have a lot to learn about this Rogue River. Our immediate mission was mainly to prove conclusively that high-grade is present there now! So we started in an area where others had found it before.

Tuning in to the Wavelength of Success!

Here follows a video segment put together to give you an idea what the surrounding area looks like along the Rogue River in the area we were sampling:

 

This was not one of those types of projects where we needed to provide any teaching or guidance for the members who participated. Everyone present already knew what to do. Mainly, we coordinated our sampling program amongst ourselves to make our progress more effective.

I brought a boat along so I could help participants get their gear across the river and sometimes up and down the river.

River viewSample results 2

We had seven dredges participating in the project. All or most of them were recovering gold on the first dive. Within the first two days, it became clear that the Rogue River is producing gold from one bank to the other! Several participants were into high-grade gold within the first few days. Interestingly, at least in the sections where we sampled, we found that much more of the river has yet to be dredged, than what has been dredged before. This is true even in some of the most accessible areas.

Here follows a video segment which captured the excitement and satisfaction Craig and Mike were experiencing just as they started uncovering high-grade gold in one section of the river:

Craig & AlanWe discovered to our amazement that even though the Rogue is a wide river like the Klamath, you generally do not have to dredge very deep to reach the bedrock, or a false bedrock which is made up of cemented gravel. The average depth of gravel we were dredging to the pay-dirt was less than two feet. Our samples were turning up gold results weighing in the pennyweights in places where several local dredgers told us that they ruled out as “not good enough to dredge.” I am certain we will find even higher-grade gold deposits! Mainly, for starters, we wanted to make sure the gold is there.

The gold is definitely there!

Craig & MikeJames

Small gold Nuggets

Since this is a whole new mining opportunity for us, I will follow with some initial observations:

bullet While the Rogue River is big and wide (in places), we found that there is an abundance of slow, shallow water where you do not have to dredge very deep to reach bedrock or the cemented gravel layer (false bedrock). We were finding good gold in the hard-packed layer right on top. Fine gold, and some nuggets, seem to be spread all across the river. There is a lot of slow, easy water where beginners can learn without getting in over your heads. It looks to me like beginner-dredgers will have an easier time getting into gold on the Rogue, than along the Klamath River.

Here follows a video segment which we captured of James & Denise talking about how nice the area is, showing off some of the gold they were finding, and talking about their plans of returning to the Rogue River next year:

Slow waterShallow dredging

Sample results 1

bullet There also seems to be a ripe opportunity for more-serious dredgers. We only saw a few dredgers working the river while we were over there. So we took the opportunity to meet them. Besides being hospitable and friendly, they were also very helpful with historical information about the area. They passed along some very encouraging stories of fantastic gold recoveries which have been made by a few more-experienced suction dredgers along the Rogue River. Based upon their information, it only took us a few hours before we were recovering beautiful gold nuggets just by busting open cracks along exposed bedrock in a slow, shallow section of the river! With time, I am sure we can tap into the really rich sections of this long river.

Still, for the time we made available for this project, we all owe our heart-felt gratitude to each of the members listed above who helped us prove the existence of excellent dredging opportunity for all of us on the Rogue River. This was a very important mission! All of us were very satisfied with what we discovered. Here follows a video segment that captured the enthusiasm we were feeling when Alan started bringing up gold from a relatively shallow and easy area to dredge, while Mike and Craig were tapping into a higher-grade gold deposit which we located further out into the faster water:

 

Here is a video segment which was shows about half-mile of the river from my boat. This is just a short distance along the river. The video provides some valuable perception of how much room there is for us on the Rogue River:

DredgingSample results 3

bullet While the river is designated as “recreational” by Oregon, a lot of it is land-locked by private property on both sides. This means that we must gain access to the river through the public access points. As a starting point on this, we have established the first 25 public access points to the Rogue River (between the Gold Ray Dam and Applegate River). We will likely add more with time. These access points are all numbered on our map. The numbered links on our map will take you to our “Rogue River Access Guide” that includes images, important details and GPS coordinates for each place where you can gain access to the river. There is also a Google Earth link so that you can fly to each access point and actually look over the river from a bird”s eye view. We have also created a preliminary Lodging Guide that lists most of the private lodging facilities along this 37 mile stretch of the Rogue River.

River view 1River access 2

bullet Because of the limited access, I encourage you to think about bringing along a small rubber or aluminum boat with portable outboard motor. A prop-guard is a good idea to help protect your propeller in shallow water. If you use a motorized boat on the Rogue, Oregon requires you to have a boat registration from the state where you reside (if required by your state). They also want you to pass a boating safety course which can be accomplished (free) over the Internet. A small boat will allow you to more-easily access both sides of the river upstream and downstream of the public access points in most places. This will provide you with substantially more dredging options.

bullet Oregon dredging regulations open this particular stretch of the Rogue River to suction dredging from 15 June through the end of August. Suction dredging on the Rogue River requires you to obtain two permits. One of them is free. You can obtain that one from the Oregon Department of State Lands with an application over the Internet. To make it simpler for you to fill out your own application, we have placed a copy of my own approved permit for 2009 on our web site.

The second dredging permit is available for $25 (same fee for residents and nonresidents) by sending in your application to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). You can print out the application by going their web site. You can find a copy of my own 2010 permit application here.

Noelle

bullet Overall, during the week we spent there sampling, we found the local residents and other visitors to be very friendly and hospitable. Nearly all of the home owners we encountered along the sides of the river were friendly. I am speculating that because Oregon law creates a firm boundary at the high water mark, and the river is seen as a place for recreation, most local residents generally do not seem to be resisting the activity.

We spent quite a lot of time in the small community of Gold Hill during the week. People are outgoingly friendly there. Everyone we talked to about what we were doing thought it was “cool!” The local dredgers we talked to (we only found a few dredgers over there) expressed sympathy about our situation in California. They were not surprised to see us working our way up into Oregon. Nearly all of the people in the rafts and fishing boats, along with the swimmers and picnickers alongside the river, were very friendly to us. There is a definite feeling of group outdoor recreational activity in the air over there.

Jim Yerby

bullet While suction dredging in the active waterway is looked upon as just another recreational activity, I gather that digging holes up on the bank is frowned upon under the rules in Oregon. Private property begins at the normal high water line, not far from the river in most areas. It is not a great idea to start digging up someone”s front yard! My impression is that the Rogue River is not the place to bring your high-banking gear. So I strongly suggest you members who like to mine for gold out of the water plan to spend time along our very extensive properties just over the border in California. The Rogue River is mainly going to be an excellent suction dredging option.

ParkRiver access 1

bullet There is a lot more modern structure along the Rogue than we are used to along the Klamath River. Cell phone coverage seems to extend nearly everywhere. There are roads mostly along each side of the river. There are lots of nice RV parks and different kinds of lodging facilities and sweet-looking restaurants along the river. The area is much more developed to support recreational activity.

bullet There is very little in the way of federal public lands in the area. So the free 2-week (and longer in some places) camping we are used to along the Klamath River does not appear to be available along the Rogue River. For the most part, the area seems entirely structured for visitors to plug into local private facilities. I suggest you do not wait until the last minute to line something up.

 

By John Robertson

Although Wesley, my 6-year-old son, had scouted areas in the past with me this was his first overnight trip. Before, I’d spent most of my time just watching him and making sure that he didn’t try to catch a snake or swim in the pools of a creek.

Like most children, my son loves the outdoors. And, like most fathers, I believe growing children should get plenty of exercise and fresh air. With present day video games and movies, children tend to stay indoors and miss experiences that will make up their childhood. Computers are in the present and air and muscles need to be built–through play and activities the outdoors provides. My first mistake was in telling him of the upcoming trip on a Monday, instead of waiting until the day before we left. All week I heard of how much gold we would find and how rich we would be.

The dreams grew as the weekend drew near. At last, Friday night arrived, and he was bouncing off the walls of the house! After his bath, I allowed him to stay up for a few hours, in hopes that this would slow him down enough to sleep that night.

Long since forgotten was my first trip, but the excitement showing in his young face, and knowing that this trip would be a very special one, I began getting just as excited as he.

It was Saturday morning and I began loading the truck with tent, sleeping bags, the cooler with our food; but being a grown-up, there were a few items that I had overlooked. Items such as crayons and a coloring book for the boring times. And then there were the creature comforts that I had learned to do without, such as a portable toilet. (This was brought to my attention by my wife.)

With the truck finally loaded and a final trip taken to the bathroom, we began our adventure. After about 15 minutes the ride was already getting boring, and unable to settle down, the questions started. “Dad, are we there yet?” “No, but soon.” Would be my reply. “Are we going to Alaska?” “Not this time, but we are going to the mountains.” I said. “Will there be bears and snakes in the mountains?” “No, I don’t think so.” “Dad.” “What, Son?” “I’m hungry.” “OK, Son, we’ll be there soon.”

An hour and a half later, we arrived at our chosen area. We began unloading the equipment, but I knew that the best plan would be to set up camp first. There were threatening thunderstorms off in the distance. It was the logical thing to do. So, with the help of a six year old, the pitching of the tent started.

“No, Son, you can’t get in the tent until I have all the poles in it. And don’t take that turtle inside.” “Are we going to sleep in here tonight?” “Yes, but not with that turtle.”

Alternately taking photographs and trying to dig is not a job for one father. I soon found that this man who had no better sense than to take a small boy prospecting could not watch the child, focus the camera, and watch for snakes all at the same time. How many times had I answered the hundreds of questions about snakes, and would there be any where we’d be? Well, I found out that two minutes after arriving the whole idea of snakes was forgotten completely.

Suddenly noticing that something was missing, I began searching for my son. I found him with his mouth stuffed with cookies. That’s when I found out that any time there was peace and quiet, something was wrong. After telling him that it was not time to eat, and retrieving the “soon to be extinct” cookies, I found him a military trenching tool and started him on his first dig. I decided that would be a good time to find a safe hiding place to stow the food.

When the food was safely stored, I turned my thoughts to setting up the camp. I unrolled the sleeping bags and built the traditional campfire ring. I decided that helping me gather firewood would take his mind off food and maybe give him something to do for awhile. Using a length of rope, I pulled dead limbs from a nearby tree and started breaking them up for the fire. Wesley helped as much as he could and for a change he began to really pick up an interest in what was going on around him. Showing him about building a fire and how to stack the wood, he was all for starting the fire right then. I explained to him that we would light the fire, but only when the sun went down, because of a lack of abundant firewood.

I knew that the only way that we were going to get any prospecting done would be to calm him down a little. I thought of letting him play in the creek, so we removed his clothes, and replaced them with his swimming trunks. He ran and jumped in a pool about six inches deep. He ran back out just about as fast as he’d run in, complaining about the temperature of the water. “Dad, that water is cold.” “I know, but we have to get used to it so we can work”, was my reply. Satisfied somwhat with my answer, but not with the cold water, he would play in the water until his lips turned blue and then run around camp until his blood started circulating again.

After an hour or so of splashing through clear Georgia mountain water, my energetic son had had enough. Rinsing off the mud and sand, I dried him and he dressed. Once in his “camping clothes,” we started our digging. Have you ever watched your son imitating the things you do? I watched Wesley as he dug into a sandbar and then later as we classified the material. Panning was a different story…After a frustrating hour and dozens of attempts, “By George, I think he’s got it!” I could feel pride in my son. We worked side by side on the sandbar. Of course all the panning was done over a tub. Although we didn’t find any gold, we were determined to find it the next day. Our plan was to work harder and not to play as much.

Evening was coming and we stopped our prospecting to light the fire and eat. I sharpened a couple of green sticks and we began roasting franks over the fire. When it came time to eat, however, there was an objection raised by my son, about the fact that ashes had landed on the franks. So, Wesley ate uncooked franks and chips. Well, so much for roughing it. I watched the fire, as men have done for millions of years, with their sons, and thought of how good it made me feel to have this time with him. As the pile of wood grew smaller and the darkness drew nearer, Wesley changed for bed. Crawling into his sleeping bag, he told me goodnight, and asked me to turn the lantern off, it bothered him. This from a boy that the night before, had insisted on having a nightlight at home. I smiled as I turned the lantern down. My son was throwing off some of his childhood fears and had grown some.

As I lay in my sleeping bag, I watched as the last flames of the campfire died, and I thought of how much my son had learned and the satisfaction of being the one to teach him. I drifted off to sleep.

About midnight I woke to thunder and lightning, with rain leaking in through the screen. I got up and zipped the fabric door. Returning to bed, I returned to the land of dreams. I was again wakened by yet another storm, and sat up for awhile, realizing that this was a series of storms. I decided, after feeling the runoff flowing under the tent floor, to check for leaks. There were no leaks, but the lightning was striking so close that I decided it was time to pack and leave. Waiting for the rain to slow, I grabbed my son, still wrapped in his sleeping bag and put him into the cab of the truck. I broke camp and started the trip home.

As we drove, I realized the decision I’d made was the right one. We passed through storms all the way, and it rained all the next day.

We had found no gold, but next time…we would bring our dredge and…well, that’s another story. My son and I hope to see you and your family sharing an outing together soon.

 

By Dave McCracken
Getting pinned solidly to the bottom by a huge hunk of bedrock that
Crumbled off the Side of the River!
Dave Mack
It was a judgement call. Obviously I made it wrong because it almost killed me. But it was the first time I had ever run into this sort of situation before. I was not sure what to do about the fractures in the bedrock wall that was hanging over me. Should I have put the chisel edge of my five-foot pry bar into it to see if it’s loose? I finally decided that might loosen it up even further and make it more unstable if I was not able to break it loose using the bar. This was a guessing game. I knew it, and I guessed that the bedrock wall would hold together if I left it alone. I simply guessed wrong this time, that’s all.goldIn dredging for gold, there are a lot of things you are not sure of, so you have to use your best judgment to make a guess.It all started several years earlier when we discovered a very rich pay-streak on the Klamath River in northern California near the confluence of Thompson Creek, about 10 miles upstream from the town of Happy Camp. We were performing a sampling contract for a company out of Salt Lake City. They were looking for a special type of gold deposit, mainly very consistently high-grade for long term production. This particular deposit did not qualify because it did not produce at least a pound of gold every day. It did produce a pound on some days though, sometimes as much as two pounds. But there were also quite a few two and three ounce days which disqualified the deposit as far as the principals were concerned. So we moved on to sample in other locations for the remainder of that season, and we located several other semi-rich deposits which we left behind in our hunt for the real motherlode.

Several years then quickly passed by while the deposits we found during the sampling program could not be touched, in case the company which paid for the sampling decided to exploit the deposits according to their option. They were waiting for the gold prices to skyrocket as we all have been waiting. But instead, the price just slowly kept edging downward. The company finally dropped its lease. So several seasons ago, my partner and I went to work at the head of the deposit where the amount of gold is more inconsistent, but pays quite handsomely in the pockets. Because of other commitments we both had, my partner and I were only able to dredge on a part-time basis, but the deposit did appear to be getting better as we dredged forward. We were getting more excited, and trying to squeeze more and more time in as the season went on.

The biggest problem we had was the huge boulders! We were working in an average of ten feet of tightly packed virgin hard-packed streambed material. The bottom had a layer of boulders most which we were able to shift around to dredge the gold off the bedrock. But there were occasional huge boulders up in the material, sometimes sitting right on top, just waiting to fall into the hole on top of us. It was a very dangerous hole!

The gold was coming from the bottom two or three feet of virgin hard-pack, and on bedrock if it was rough and irregular. To make the gold really add up in our recovery system, all we had to do was move the volume through and uncover a bunch of the bottom layer. When the bedrock was right for it, we would get a handsome bonus. Sometimes the pockets contained so much gold, we could stir our fingers in it! The bonuses were getting more often as we moved on, and we were really synchronizing our effort to move the material. We were also working really hard!

Since we were not using a winch at the time, it was a constant challenge to move the boulders out of the way safely. The two of us together could roll many of them out of the hole. This would allow us room on bedrock to roll the really big ones. When a big one was uncovered in the top layer, which we knew we would not be able to move once it was dropped into our hole, we would try and safely make room for it on the bedrock so we could undercut the boulder and drop it on a spot where the gold had already been dredged. This is a very dangerous method of dredging which I do not generally recommend. It requires you to be constantly on guard; and even so, your life is on the line all the time!

Still, underwater mining can be a dangerous business. Sometimes where you find the richest gold deposits prompts you to take personal risks. You find yourself in situations where every decision you make can directly affect the final outcome.

Dredging under a five-ton boulder (underwater estimated weight) and trying to calculate just how much you can take out to loosen it up enough to roll, without taking so much that it rolls in on top of you, is also a dangerous game. We call these boulders “Loomers.” It is a very high-risk job, because it is difficult to tell what material is holding up the boulder, or what affect the current is having on the boulder or the face of your excavation. You can never take your eyes or some part of your body off the boulder even for a split second. You have to be poised to jump out of the way at any given instant; because sometimes, the boulder will come crashing down with no warning whatsoever!

But the worst part of this type of dredging is cleaning the bedrock when there is a loomer hanging over you way up in the material. It is another judgement point (guessing game) as to how much of your “working face” (side of the hole that you are dredging) that you can dredge without undercutting the boulder too much. Most of the time, my partner and I were managing this with me running the nozzle deeper in the hole, and my partner watching the boulder while holding onto my shoulder, ready to pull me out of the hole quickly if the boulder started to move. Needless to say, this was very high-stress for both of us, and confirms the sensibility of a winch.

With a winch, you simply hook onto a boulder before it becomes a “loomer” and you pull it down and out of your hole.

Needless to say, we went home feeling queasy at the end of nearly every day we were working this pay-streak without a winch. I was having nightmares about not being able to move out of the way fast enough, or taking my eyes off a loomer at the wrong moment…

It was becoming apparent that my partner thought I was crazy to take such chances! Actually, I was being very careful; we did not have any near misses. But I knew it was just a matter of time. The odds were against us.(me)

We could have moved to any number of other mining properties if we wanted to. But the gold was so rich on this property, I decided to assume the calculated risks that were involved.

So I did not have my full attention on the state of the bedrock wall that was hanging over me. I noticed that it was fractured and the cracks were big. The problem was that we were dredging under a cave-like overhang of bedrock on the side of the river. We just had our best production days right behind us. I was watching out for big rocks on the working face, and I was paying a lot of attention to the gold I was seeing on the bedrock!

There had never been any time in the past where a bedrock wall had collapsed into one of our dredge holes!

It was time to take another cut off the top-front of our working face; and as I took material off the top six or seven feet, I noticed (again) that I was removing support from the hanging bedrock wall. The thought crossed me that I should do something about it, but what? Perhaps try prying on it to see if the bedrock was loose? It was hanging menacingly right over where I was dredging. I also was keeping my eye on a good sized boulder up in the material that I was going to have to do something about pretty soon.

After we moved the loomer, we were down in the hole underneath the cracked bedrock overhang watching the gold go up the nozzle. Then we uncovered a “two-roller” sitting on the bedrock. A two-roller is a rock that takes two persons to roll. Just as we finished rolling the rock to the back of the hole, with no warning, the bedrock slab came down on top of me in two pieces! The first hit me on the back and shoved me forward, ending up on my right leg. The second piece landed on top of the first and drove my foot hard against the bedrock.

The pain was almost unbearable, but was quickly replaced by panic as I realized that I was pinned solidly to the bottom. The hunks of broken bedrock on top of me had me pinned face down on my cobble pile, and I was not able to turn around to see how big they were; this was terrifying! And it hurt real bad which added to my severe discomfort. My first impulse was to try and pull myself free; and there was no way. This just sharpened the pain as the movement caused the heavy weight to settle more firmly on my foot.

My partner was not hit by the falling bedrock, but was obviously very upset about my situation. He told me later that he thought my leg must have been crushed into pulp by the sheer impact of the slabs when they came down. Both our heads had been in the same position as my leg only seconds before. If the slabs had come down on our heads or backs, we would have been killed instantly. We were both stunned by this reality.

I gave my partner the sign that I was O.K. and signaled for him to try and lift up on the slabs so I could pull my foot out. I still had no idea of how large the slabs were, but was getting a better idea when my partner was not able to even budge them when he put his full weight into it. This added to my panic. I knew we were towards the end of a three hour dive and there was not much gas left in the dredge. The pain in my foot was killing me! I was not prepared to wait while he went up to gas the dredge; I wanted out from under the slabs now!

There is also some risk to gassing up a dredge while it is running. We have caught a few dredges on fire that way! Shutting down a running engine creates a situation where you might not be able to get it started, again. There was only a minute or so of air reserve for me once the dredge shut down. So gassing it up while I was pinned to the bottom was very risky! But what if the dredge ran out of gas while I was pinned?

I signaled to my partner to go get the 5-foot pry bar. Neither of us knew exactly where it was. We had been allowing two other New 49’er Members to dredge in the outside of our hole, but they had taken the day off. They had used our 5-foot pry bar the day before and we had not seen it all day. My partner went off to look for it. As my partner went off to look for it, I really started feeling trapped like I was close to the very uncomfortable end of my life, and it was out of my hands. Very few times in my life have I been in a position where I certainly was going to die within a very few minutes if someone else did not perform exceptionally well! I still had no idea if the slabs were so big that even the 5-foot pry bar would not budge them. The full weight of the slabs were slowly crushing my foot flatter and flatter to the bedrock.

My partner’s airline was tangled in mine. So, as he reached the outside of our dredge hole, his line pulled against mine. He spotted the bar outside of our hole, on the very outside edge. He felt his airline go tight against something; but in his panic to get to the bar, he lunged forward against the tug on the line. When he lunged, it yanked the regulator right out of my mouth! This really panicked me. With all my might, I pulled him back by our airlines. I had no idea he had even located the bar, much less gotten that close to it. When he came back, he did not have the bar; my foot felt like it was being crushed off; and he thought I was certainly dying by the violence with which I had reeled him in. In desperation, I had him try and lift the rock off me again even though I knew it wasn’t going to work! I guess I was starting to get a little delirious in my pain and panic. This time, I tried pulling my leg out with all my strength. The resulting pain was excruciating! Man, was I pinned solid!

There was no alternative. I gave my buddy the signals to first untangle our airlines, and then continue to look for the bar. You don’t know what patience is until you have had to wait for someone under this condition! All I could do was wait and hope. It did not take long before he was back with the bar. I set the point of the bar, myself, to make sure in his own panic, my partner did not get my foot between the bar and the slabs. My whole beingness was in a state of hope that the pry bar would give the necessary leverage to move the slab enough that I could pull my foot free. There was one sincere voice from somewhere telling me that the slabs were too big and heavy even for the pry bar.

Once the bar was set, I positioned myself to pull with everything I had, to break free and gave the signal. He pried; I pulled; and my leg came smoothly free. What a wonderful relief! Then I grabbed my foot to get an assessment of the damage. Possibly a bad bruise, maybe a mild break, I was thinking. My partner misread the action, grabbed me around the waist, and was going to help me get to the surface. I signaled him that I was okay, and then gave him the signal to please go gas up the dredge. I was going to remain down to dredge for awhile longer.

I sincerely believe that if it is at all possible, it is best to stay in the immediate vicinity of a location in which you have suffered severe injury or fear until the immediate shock wears off. I feel the body and mind will heal itself faster, and I also don’t like to leave right away because it leaves me feeling like I am running away. I could see by the look in my partner’s eyes that he did not approve, but I insisted.

So we dredged for a few more hours directly in front of the slabs. They were too big to move, so we dredged around them. I made it a point to make sure they were left well behind in our cobble pile before knocking off for the day, even though my foot hurt and I was not able to put very much weight on it. As it turned out, nothing was broken except my boot. The steel tip was crushed so tight that I could barely squeeze my toes out! This was further confirmation of the value of steel tipped boots! Without the steel tip, I surely would have lost some toes or perhaps my whole foot!

And now? I have dropped back on the pay-streak and have incorporated a floating winch into my dredging program.

My partner of that time quit shortly thereafter. The experience, I believe, was harder on him than it was on me. When I told him to go gas the dredge after the accident, I could see that he knew in his own mind that he was not going to dredge along side me, no matter how good the gold was.

And now? I watch out for the bedrock! What am I going to do next time I find a fractured overhang like that? I’m not sure. But one thing I won’t do is turn my back to it!

Here is where you can buy a sample of natural gold.

Here is where you can buy Gold Prospecting Equipment & Supplies.

 

by Marcie Stumpf-Foley

When our three boys were small, we camped in a tent. Later, when we were able to purchase a truck and small camper, we put our tent camping days behind us, and I assumed we would continue to get bigger and better R.V.’s and camp with more comfort.

Not too long after that, we became interested in mining. What followed was an infinite variety of mining camps that included getting into places with our camper, and later with our small motorhome, which seemed impossible and which eventually included a return to tent camping.

Most of these camps were remote in varying degrees and involved “making do” without many of the conveniences we enjoyed at home. Sometimes trips to stores required a long ride with our 4-wheel drive truck. But even if they were not that bad, time taken away from our dredging was measured in small doses, especially in the early years when our dredging time was so limited.

Our mining trips were so important to us that much of our free time during the rest of the year was spent with friends planning our trips and looking for ways to improve them.

They did improve through trial and error. What follows are tips and information from many mining camps, ours and others we encountered along the way. They can be adapted to fit many situations, and I hope they will encourage some of you to “take the plunge,” and join those of us who love our outdoor life.

R.V. living today is limitless, and those of you who have a large R.V. and stay in campgrounds with full hookups do not need many tips. You already have all the comforts of home. If you should dry camp, however, some of these tips will come in handy. Many small R.V. owners will also be able to make use of them.

Tents come in many sizes and shapes, but we found that most were not suitable for heavy or long term use. Many were not suitable for mining claims!

Camping areas on mining claims vary greatly in size and shape and are often sandy. We found that an umbrella tent for sleeping and a canopied area for day use provided the best solution for our mining camps. Tents collect and hold heat, and it’s much easier to find a shaded area for a small one. Umbrella tents do not require heavy ground staking. They are usable in sand, and sand makes a softer bed if you are not using cots.

A large canopied area is inexpensive to build. It provides shade and large areas for cooking and visiting while letting cool breezes through. It’s also easily enclosed to keep out cold and insects.

Vinyl tarps for a canopy come in many sizes and are readily available. A framework of conduit and corner fittings from the hardware store (also available at most swap meets) are easily transported and set up. If you do not already have tables, frames for them can also be made from conduit and tops cut from plywood to fit.

Hung from the top canopy frame, S-shaped hooks can hold your skillets, pots and pans, spatulas and other cooking utensils handy to the stove. Paper towel holders are easily made by opening a metal coat hanger, inserting the roll, re-closing, and hanging from the frame. Be sure to clothespin the end of the roll to the hanger so a stray breeze will not unroll it. This could create a fire hazard. Dishcloths and towels can be thrown over the frame, and a clothespin holding the ends together will keep them there.

A portable propane stove connected by high-pressure hose to a 5-gallon propane bottle holds enough propane to last for weeks. Coleman makes a collapsible oven with thermostat which will rest on top of one stove burner. With a little practice, this oven easily serves most baking needs and is compact. With a setup such as this and a small propane barbecue, most dishes fixed at home can easily be prepared in camp.

Storing food and utensils is a little more work, as it is necessary that they be kept in mouseproof containers. With the variety of plastic containers in most households, most of us already have much of our food in containers that are sufficient. Mice will make nightly visits. You may never see one, but you may hear them, and you will see where they have been each morning! For this reason, it is also important to cover your tables with vinyl, which is easy to clean. We found it easiest to store large food items in footlockers, boxes with tight lids, or 5-gallon buckets with lids. Buckets should be new or should only have contained food prior to using them.

You should plan on two other buckets. One for dishwater and hand cleaning, and one for washing light clothing. If you heat water for dishes while eating breakfast, and heat wash water while doing dishes, your clothes can soak while you are doing the day’s dredging or mining. After soaking all day, they are easy to clean when you return and can be hung to dry.

My children, who are used to having a washer and dryer at their disposal, at first objected to using a towel more than once! When they found that I saved pants, whites and towels for the laundromat and were faced with washing their own, they picked one towel and got used to it real fast!

For very short trips, an ice chest or icebox is sufficient for most refrigeration needs, but they do have drawbacks. We found that ice only lasted flve days at the most. Food does not keep as well because it is not as cool. Frequent draining and cleaning along with numerous trips for ice and food make a refrigerator more economical both in time and money for longer

stays. A small used propane refrigerator taken from an R.V. is ideal, but you need really shop around for one because prices vary greatly.

Planning for your food can be your single largest time and money saver. Before you even leave home, it will be helpful to make a list of the foods you normally cook and eat. Next make a visit to your grocer’s shelves to check new things, and find substitutes for fresh meats and perishables. Forget the frozen section and concentrate on things that are stored and fixed easily. You might even experiment a little. My family will not eat canned beef “straight,” but in a sauce such as for barbecued beef, sloppy joes, or even in tacos or burritos, seasoned, it is perfectly acceptable. Canned beef, chicken, turkey, tuna, and others can be used in many ways. Canned ham that needs no refrigeration is available, as is canned bacon.

When choosing meat to freeze in a tiny freezer, choose deboned and lean cuts and ground beef, which molds to fit available space. When choosing fresh meats for storage in an ice chest or refrigerator, use ground beef within 1-2 days, pork the next day, then steak cuts, and roasts last. In warm weather, use ground beef immediately, and move the use of everything up a day if using an ice chest.

It is helpful to take a small ice chest shopping with you. Have them bag the refrigerated food together, and keep it on ice on the way back to camp. This is especially important if using an ice chest for keeping your food cold. Cooling down food that has grown even a little warm will seriously deplete your supply of ice and lower the quality of your food.

Even under ideal conditions, breads do not keep very long, but tortillas (easily refrigerated), cornbread, crackers, and biscuits all make good substitutes.

Bisquick biscuits are fast and easy to make: Add 1/2 C. water to 2 C. Bisquick. Mix until dough cleans sides of bowl and forms a ball. Place on waxed paper (or plastic wrap, etc.) with a little Bisquick sprinkled on it, and knead five times. Roll or pat out to 1/2 inch thick, cut with cutter (or glass) and bake at 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

Breakfast doughnuts can be made by patting the biscuit dough a little thinner, cutting a center hole (use the lid from a 4 oz. gold vial if you haven’t a cutter), brown in hot oil a few seconds on each side, and shake in a bag filled with a cup or so of granulated sugar.

A trash barrel with a tight fitting lid is important to keep critters and flies away. Full trash bags should be removed quickly and kept in a closed vehicle until removed to a dump. It is essential to keep a clean, trash-free camp to avoid unwanted visits by animals, small and large.

Showers can be easy and very comfortable (actually a joy), even if you do not have facilities. Solar shower bags are readily found at camping supply stores, and the 5-gallon size bags hold enough water for two good showers. When placed in the sun in the morning, only about four hours of sunlight is needed to heat the water. Suspended overhead from a pulley, they are very efficient and provide nice, hot showers. Once again, vinyl tarps serve well to enclose the shower area, attached to existing trees or to a horizontal frame of PVC pipe suspended from a limb. A rope with clothespins, hung inside, will hold towels and clothes. An upended bucket provides a seat and place for soap and shampoo. Large metal clamps from the swap meet will keep the door flap closed for prlvacy. Smooth river stones make a comfortable floor, and if you can bury your tarp walls in sand, you will keep stray breezes out.

Toilets can sometimes seem an insurmountable or worrisome problem, to say the least. We havc found two ways to make them as painless as possible. If individual permission can be obtained from the local Forest Service Mining Officer, and it is convenient, a deep pit can be dug 200 ft. or more above high water line. A seat and platform can be built to cover it, and a bag of lime should be kept handy. Two cups of lime should be placed into the pit after each use. The area can then be enclosed for privacy. Where accessibility permits, chemical toilets can be rented, with the local pumping service coming around and servicing them as often as necessary.

One popular alternative is the portapotti. They have larger capacities than they used to and are clean and sanitary enough to be kept in a sleeping tent, if desired. Portapotties are easily emptied into a “sewer tote,” which is a portable, hard plastic holding tank with a larger capacity–up to that of an average R.V. The sewer tote can then be taken to a dump station when full. These are also convenient when dry camping in an R.V.

We have found that one full day, or even half of the second day, with everyone pitching in to set up camp was well worth it. An organized camp always makes our trips easier and more enjoyable for everyone. A comfortable, efficient camp provides many of the comforts of home, improves the efficiency of your mining operation, and can turn a possible disaster into a great trip. Some of those disasters have kept us in stitches when sitting around campfires at a day’s end.

There is no way to describe the warm, wonderful feelings we have all shared on those nights. The songfests that drew strangers to us, wanting to share and join in. The tales of adventures shared and the kinship felt with the first miners who came west to find gold and settle the country.

These were the real rewards of our mining trips and were what lured us back each year. New experiences and adventures, new friends… and, of course, there was always the chance that this year we’d find that BIG nugget.

 

BY “CRICKET” KOONS

How many of you gals out there are “miner’s widows” ?

We’ve all heard of football widows, golf widows and fishing widows. Now we have mining widows. Well, I’m here to tell you to rise and revolt! Don’t let your husband or boyfriend go off and leave you behind to watch the kids and wash the dog. Join in!

Let him know that, by gosh, you’re a miner too, and good at it. If you really haven’t tried it yet, come on up to the river and one of us gals will show you how.

I haven’t had this much fun in years, and gals, mining is not just for the young, although we will let them in on the fun too. I’m on the waning side of 50, run my own full-time business, have a couple of part-time money makers on the side, still keep house, help my children (all grown up), and take care of my grandchildren. BUT, I make the time to get to the river or at least the outback on weekends. Now if I can do it, so can you. I know what we gals can do if we just put our minds to it. Let’s rise up, young and not too young, and show these men a thing or two.

We can all watch Dave McCracken’s mining tapes and read his books, or read any of the other mining books available. Now, we know we learn faster than the men folks, and we are more flexible and willing to make a change for a better idea. You know how stubborn and set in their ways some of our old coots can be!

I’m here to tell you, mining is a great way to melt those hips, increase your lung power, and join in the conversation.

Let me throw out a few mining terms for you to think about. How about overburden? No, I’m not referring to what’s on my hips or maybe yours. Overburden is worthless junk, sand, rocks and anything else that covers bedrock.

We all know what material is, right? Wrong, it’s not the fabric we all have sitting on our sewing machines; I think mine is about six months old now…well, maybe someday. Material in mining lingo is rocks, sand, gravel, mud, clay and silt that sits on top of bedrock, junk we have to work through to get to the bottom.

Bedrock…no, it’s not that old faithful thing you’ve been sleeping on for twenty years, or even something inherited from Great Aunt Fannie. It’s the solid rock surface of the earth’s crust which lies under, where else, the material.

Out of all of this, we end up with the concentrates. We all know how to concentrate. We do it with a good book or our knitting and lots of other things. Ahhhhh, but Mother Nature,when she concentrates, she takes this sand, makes it heavy, turns it black, and hopefully throws in a little gold. Then we come along, work real hard, get out all the other junk, and bingo…Mother Nature’s concentrates give us her gold.

This should tickle your fancy and get the old gray matter moving We, the members of the “Female Mining Sorority”, salute you and respectfully request the honor of your presence at our next meeting.

Place: Happy Camp, California

Time: This summer

Object: Get the gold

So get out the oil can and get your bones moving, grab the kids, that dog and , of course, old hubby, and get moving.

See you on the river.

 

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!

 

By Dave McCracken

“When lots of gold starts coming into play, everyone gets excited and in a hurry!”

Dave Mack

At the beginning of a recent season, my partners and I were sampling a promising section of our properties along the Klamath River for new pay-streaks. We had dredged several holes and were onto a deposit. Since we did not know if it was high-grade enough for us to work, we were dredging more holes up and down the deposit to get a better idea. On the fourth or fifth test hole, we uncovered a section of bedrock which had gold lying all over it; it was truly rich!

Something always happens in the dredge hole when dredgers start uncovering lots of gold! It does not matter how professional or experienced the operators are. When lots of gold starts coming into play, everyone gets excited and in a hurry. And it was no different on this occasion.

There was a pretty good sized boulder in front of us, slightly up in the streambed material. It was too large for one of us to move. But we thought both of us, working together, could probably roll it to the rear of our hole. Hurriedly, because we were anxious to see more gold on the bedrock, we made room behind us for the boulder by throwing a bunch of smaller rocks and cobbles further behind. Then we climbed upstream of that big rock and gave it a shove. The rock moved more-easily than we thought and slammed into the hole—right on top of my airline!

divers under waterWe use extra heavy-duty airline, the kind that does not kink under normal working conditions. I have tossed cobbles onto it hundreds or thousands of times; I have rolled boulders over it; and I have never had an instance where the airline was damaged in any visible way. That is, until this time.

As soon as the boulder stopped moving, I lost all my air supply. That is when I realized the boulder had pinned my airline underneath. I was already winded from the exertion of shoving on the boulder. So quickly, my partner Rob and I put our shoulders against the boulder, propped it up, and I pulled my airline out just far enough to see that it was split almost in half. We set the boulder down to deal with this new problem, but the boulder still had my airline trapped from behind.

These kinds of emergencies unfold very quickly when they happen underwater. One moment everything is fine. And the next moment, your life is hanging in the balance of what you do! I had a similar event once where I got pinned to the bottom by a slab of bedrock that fell on top of me from the side of the river.

First I thought I might be able to get air by holding the airline together and compressing it in my hand. This did not work and I was really starting to hurt for air; the second stage of panic was just starting in. What is the second stage of panic? It’s when you are on the verge of a psychotic break!

I looked to Rob and signaled him to cut my weight belts loose. We were working in fast water and I was using a second 25-pound belt to keep me in the hole. Instead, Rob handed me his regulator. Good idea, I had not even thought of that! So I took five long, deep breaths from Rob’s regulator. I would have taken more, but he had that “growing worried” look in his eye. The air was a big help, but far from satisfying; my body was demanding more.

However, the air did reduce my emotional state down to first stage panic—which is non-careful, frantic action. I signaled for Rob to release my belts again. The reason I was asking Rob to remove them is that a face mask prevents a diver from being able to see his or her own belt, so it is much easier for a second diver to release them.

I had one heavy belt which carried about 60-pounds of lead. And my second belt, with about 25-pounds, was connected to my airline. Rob released my heavy belt, not seeing that the airline was still connected to me.

This was all happening very fast. Rob was having panic problems of his own, because he was desperate for air while I was breathing off his regulator. When I handed him his regulator back, he was having trouble removing the water from it. So Rob cut his own weights loose and was gone with his own airline. With my heavy belt gone, I floated up into the current and reached the end of my airline (which was still stuck under the boulder), stuck about six feet from the surface. I immediately reached second stage panic; I was dying for air!

We use a boom on the front of our production dredges to help support the suction hose. A cable extends from the boom down to the suction hose. Looking up from my suspended position, I realized I was in reach of the boom cable. I had already frantically tried to find the quick-release buckle on my weight belt. But the belt had shifted around somehow; and with my heavy rubber gloves on, and in my panicked state of hurriedness, I could not find the buckle. I snapped into third stage panic, grabbed onto the cable and started pulling myself to the surface with everything I had. It was an inch at a time.

Finally, when my face was about one foot from the surface, the airline would no longer give. So close, but so far! In a last ditch adrenaline pull, I managed to get my mouth just above the water’s surface; I got a breath of air and water. I did it a few more times. Then I pulled my glove off the right hand, stuck it under my left armpit (no use in throwing away a good right-handed glove), and reached around to release the weight belt. It fell away and I was quickly on top of the dredge. Rob was up there hoping I was going to make it.

That one was close!

While I was catching my breath on the surface, without any delay, I asked Rob to go down and recover our belts and my air line. We repaired the line with some parts in our tool box, fueled up the dredge, and went right back down to finish the sample hole. I immediately went back down to finish the dive because I believe it is important to get back on the horse that throws you without delay, especially when you are feeling emotional trauma from a harrowing experience.

The pay-streak turned out to be a good, rich one!

I learned a few valuable safety lessons that day—the primary one being to not roll heavy rocks across my airline. This means knowing exactly where my airline is, along with everyone else’s in the hole, at the time when boulders are being moved.

fast waterHere are a few other pointers we have learned about airlines from our experience: Stay aware of where your airline is. Do not allow it to get wrapped and tangled around objects, the suction hose, tangled with other divers’ airlines. Immediately untangle your airline if it does get caught up in any way that might prevent you from getting quickly to the surface or the stream bank in an emergency.

I am a true believer in extra heavy-duty, non-kinking airline. Not only is it non-kinking, but it is also a safety line. We run several wraps around the frame of our dredge before plugging our airlines into the air system. This way, if we need to pull ourselves up the airline in an emergency, we are not pulling directly against brass fittings.

Airlines generally float when being used under normal circumstances. This means you have to watch out that yours does not get tangled around the underside of your dredge. Airlines usually sink to the bottom when they are being used in conjunction with a hot water system, which pumps hot water down to the dredger through a second line that is fastened to the airline. In this case, you have to watch what the airline might get tangled around on the bottom of the river. And, spoken from hard-won experience, you have to be careful not to roll boulders on top of it. You also have to watch that you do not bury your air line with cobbles being thrown behind your dredge hole.

Avoid using longer airlines than are necessary. Ten or twenty feet longer than the suction hose is just fine. Longer airlines tend to get caught on more objects and set up more drag in the current.

When we are working in fast current, and the heavy drag on the airline is a problem, we pull our airlines up onto the back-side of the dredge hole and put a cobble on top to hold it there against the fast water. The cobble must be large enough to hold the airline down, but not so large that you cannot jerk it free in an emergency rush for the surface or stream bank.

We always untangle and unwrap our airlines on our way to the surface at the end of every dive. This gives us a free airline to coil up on deck at the end of the day, or to use again at the beginning of the next dive.

two guys dredgingAnd we always replace or repair a damaged or defective airline without delay. Murphy (as in Murphy’s Law) lurks behind every corner! There are so many details to get right in a dredging operation of any size. There are many things which can possibly go wrong. We try to do everything right to avoid problems. But one thing we should never get lazy about is maintenance action on our air systems. If it even looks like it could be a problem, fix it now! And use quality repairs! Clamping copper tubing between two pieces of airline is not the way to do it!

All in all, I believe safety is a personal matter. This is all about having the right approach in the first place. Different people have different levels of ability doing different things. While one person may have trouble walking across the street without encountering grave personal danger, another person can stay out of personal danger while pursuing hang-gliding or sky-diving activities.

Still, it is true that the more adventuresome the activity, the less margin there is for error. And in adventuresome activities, when things do go wrong, it often turns into a life-threatening emergency. So it is very important to cross all your “T’s” and dot all your “I’s” when it comes to your air system.

 

By George Anderson

Prospecting around and enjoying the New 49’er properties near Happy Camp in northern California!

 

 

Last winter my partner and I devoted our two-week-long vacation to gold prospecting. We enjoyed our time exploring some New 49’ers Mining Club claims, in the beautiful Mountains of Siskiyou County in northern California. We panned for gold, dug out crevices in rocks that “old-timers” missed, hunted for nuggets with metal detectors (“nugget-shooting,”) and surface-sluiced some virgin placer material!

The New 49’ers Mining Club has around 60 linear miles of mining claims on the famous gold-rich Klamath River and its tributaries, including the Scott River, Salmon River, Elk Creek, Indian Creek, and others.

Our objective on this trip was to locate promising stretches of river to gold dredge this next summer. We also “scouted” easy access points and comfortable, enjoyable campsites. The rivers and creeks were running fast and high, making it easy to identify the low pressure areas, like back eddies, that allow placer gold deposits to form. We quickly found more highly promising stretches of river to mine than we could ever hope to dredge in a hundred lifetimes!

The first couple of days we did some surface-sluicing behind a huge boulder on the west bank of the world famous Scott River. We found a few small nuggets (“pickers”) in our first small sample hole. We averaged about 10 to 15 gold flakes in each pan. That was pretty good, since we’d only mined a couple of yards of material and weren’t on bedrock! But, we wanted more gold!

Moving upriver, we located a large bedrock outcropping with a two-foot ledge that extended into the bank at least six feet. This bedrock was smooth; it was old river channel! A very good place for placer gold to deposit! So we set up our sluice there, and started following this bedrock across the surface of the streambed. My partner soon found a nice nugget in the header-box of our sluice. I cannot tell you how excited we got, because we hadn’t even dug three feet! Some nice little nuggets (“pickers”) were visible in front of the first riffle. Panning the material from the sluice box averaged around ten thick golden flakes to the pan. This gold was a little more coarse (i.e. “chunky,”) than the gold from the first sample hole. We worked on this ledge a couple more days, finding some really nice gold, before deciding to sample another area.

Nuggets weighing many pounds have been found on the New 49’er claims along the Scott River and in the immediate surrounding locations. That’s the reason we wanted to use our metal detectors!

However, even though we went to some old hydraulic mining tailings high above the Scott River, we were only able to find nails, foil, hot- rocks, an old shovel and a horseshoe; not quite the large nuggets that we know are “out-there” still waiting to be found! Don’t worry; we will be back!

It rained again the next day. So we decided to set up our sluice on a tributary of the South Fork of Indian Creek. We knew several members of the New 49’ers Mining Club had previously done very well on this creek.

After looking around a bit, we located their workplace a short distance from the road. Starting where they had left off, we soon encountered extremely hard-packed gravel. This made digging pretty slow and difficult. We used picks and six-foot steel bars to break up the gravel before running it through the sluice. We mined this site slightly more than a day, recovering a few nuggets and approximately five nice golden flakes to the pan while cleaning up.

Cleaning up the sluice every hour told us if we were on the right track. After a while, we felt we should move to better ground. During the rest of the second day, we drove up the South Fork of Indian Creek, looking for access roads. We encountered snow towards the top of the mountains. About four inches fell the night before. Driving down steep access roads in the snow did not seem wise, so we didn’t have the opportunity to prospect the New 49’er Indian Creek claims as much as we had hoped. We plan to get back up there this summer and really take a look!

Rain fell pretty steadily the next few days. We scouted out claims on the Klamath River, while crevicing and “nugget shooting,” One afternoon, in between rain showers, we stopped on K-21 just below the bridge over the Klamath River in Happy Camp. My partner pulled a clump of roots out of a crack in the bedrock. We couldn’t believe our eyes! It easily produced the richest pan of gold either of us have ever seen! I’ll bet that there were at least 50 gold “colors” in that one pan! I thought, after seeing that pan: How much more can we find with a dredge or motorized sluice? We definitely plan to mine this particular spot in the future!

Only one more day to play! We decided to check out the New 49’er claims on Elk Creek. The main road into the area was passable, “one-lane” in some spots. But it wasn’t too bad, considering the extent of the previous year’s flooding. We found a lot of good access roads and excellent camping locations along Elk Creek. A deep pool, just downstream from a high-pressure area, looked very good! Elk Creek has a very rich gold mining history, and I am looking forward to spending some quality time dredging here this summer.

Winter is a good time to go prospecting; it is a sure cure for cabin fever. You have the whole country to yourself at this time of year, because there is hardly anyone around. We did not see a single person on the river or creeks that we visited. Water is high enough that it is possible to prospect (pan or surface sluice) locations that are normally dry. Mosquitoes and flies are very “low-profile” during the winter. We did not see any! Perhaps most important of all, the high water allows you to see where the gold is being deposited, since you can actually see the water in flood conditions.

Go prepared! A good rain suit, hat, gloves, and rubber boots are essential, if you plan to work in the rain. I’ll bet that it rained 12 of the 14 winter-days we spent on the Klamath River in Northern California. When you have got gold fever” as much as my partner and I do, a little rain won’t stop you from doing what you enjoy most in life; prospecting and finding gold!

 

BY SCOTT S. WARNER

Family Finds Gold — And Fun While On Vacation

 

There I was seven feet deep in the Merced River, staring at a human skull. Was this a watery grave for some murdered miner from the 1800’s or an early native Indian from the Miwok tribe of the Sierra Nevada foothills?

As I wondered about the origin of my latest find, I remembered what happened to me the year before on a similar trip with my father, brother, and sister. We were finding gold crowns on the bedrock, and I found one in the sluice box that had a partial tooth in it. My dredging partners and I believed we had a body or skull minus a few teeth close by. It wasn’t until the end of the weekend that my family had a good laugh and admitted they had planted the gold teeth in my hole. For the complete story read “The Toothless Miner” in the October, 1992 issue of Gold and Treasure Hunter Magazine.

On this particular trip, I was dredging with my father, my Uncle John Bard, and his son Michael. My Uncle John was an experienced diver who also had some experience at gold prospecting. It wasn’t until I had started dredging on the Merced River that I found out about John’s prospecting experiences. During the 1960’s, John had dredged the American River and had done some prospecting in Alaska.

After talking to John about his gold prospecting experiences, I found that we shared a special bond. It was the love of hunting and finding gold, and sharing your experiences with other prospectors. My Uncle John had it, I could see it in his face and hear it in the excitement of his voice. It didn’t take much for me to talk my uncle into joining me on a dredging trip to the Merced River.

I pulled into East Bagby on the Merced River on a Wednesday in mid-August. I was working a hole upriver and had uncovered a few crevices with nuggets showing. I cleaned the bedrock and left the gold so that my relatives who were arriving later in the week could enjoy crevicing the gold. They arrived Friday and had a great time picking the gold nuggets out of the bedrock. Unfortunately, the gold played out in that location and we decided to move downriver and try a new location. We opened up our new hole and attempted to locate bedrock. We were about seven feet down, which is a little deeper than I like to work with my 4″ dredge. We were working two-man crews. My father and I were in the dredge hole working through about six feet of overburden without hitting bottom. I was getting a little discouraged because of the possible depth of the bedrock and lack of gold in the overburden.

I was working the nozzle when my father tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at something in the bottom of the hole. As I took a closer look at the object, I saw a white cap peering through the overburden. I began to fan the sand and gravel away from the object when suddenly, two eye sockets looked out at me. Well, I almost had a heart attack right there on the spot, and I think I went into a slight state of shock. I jumped out of the hole and started screaming about a dead man. My Uncle John and Michael looked at me in a funny way when I explained that I was moving my dredge because there was no gold, and there were dead people in our hole.

About a half hour later, the shock began to wear off. I decided that I just had to have some pictures of my new discovery, so I went back down into the hole and uncovered the skull. When I lifted it out, I realized something was wrong– it was very heavy. Once I took a closer look, I found out why; it wasn’t bone, but a fake plaster, skull. My relatives from hell had struck again!

I went crazy and popped out of the water screaming obscenities, that would offend most Christian people. They all stood around laughing and enjoying themselves because they had put one over on me again. They had all done a good job setting me up for it. The night before, we had been discussing the history of the Merced River–it was very interesting how they kept talking about all the dead miners who had lost their lives on the river. Needless to say, I was totally embarrassed. To this day, I can’t believe I fell for the old “Hide a skull in the dredge hole” trick. I can hardly wait to see what they have in store for me next year. Maybe I’ll find an arm, a leg, or possibly a full cadaver.