By Marc Rogers

Chuck and Chris Carfrae have a rich and varied background in gold prospecting and treasure hunting. Their interest began in 1974 when they took a vacation up through the Mother Lode area of California. While there, they decided to try their hand at gold panning.

They didn’t have much luck until they saw a sign offering panning lessons for $2. Their teacher was an old miner who “didn’t hesitate to tell you if you weren’t doing it right,’ and after taking the lessons they fared much better. They finished up that vacation with a week spent on the Feather River where they found 1/4 ounce of gold, panning! They decided that if they could do that well panning, they should get some equipment, so Chris bought Chuck a 2 1/2-inch dredge for Christmas.

The following season they found almost an ounce with Chuck’s little dredge, so Chuck bought Chris a 3-inch dredge with air the next Christmas. They bought a motorhome so they could be comfortable while they dredged, and at home they joined a local club, the PCSC (Prospector’s Club of Southern California), and have continued to be active in the club for many years. Through club outings they gained knowledge and interest in metal detecting and drywashing, bought equipment to participate, and by this time were planning all their vacations around dredging. They spent a number of years visiting different areas of the Mother Lode, eventually dredging every major river from the Merced to the Yuba.

One year they wanted to do something different, so they flew back to Georgia on vacation, taking their smallest dredge, and rented a car. They went first to the Dahlonega area where they spent time dredging and finding gold, and visiting local mines and miners. Then they moved on to Franklin, North Carolina, and other nearby areas, where they dug in the gem fields.

They then visited nearby relatives who told them of a Civil War battlefield where they thought they might detect. After receiving permission from the owner, they recovered numerous minie balls, one of which was unusual. They found that it was a special one shot intermittently to clean the gun. They then moved on to Norfolk, Virginia, where they detected some of the old canals, and made several good finds, the best find being a very old ruby ring which Chris found.

The next year they decided to try detecting in Hawaii. They found most people detected in the mornings. Since there were a lot of nighttime shows on the beach, and all the lights from the hotels provided plenty of light, they did their detecting about 11 p.m., after seeing one of the shows. They had very good luck, and came home with a nice bunch of jewelry and coins.

Both Chuck and Chris have a very mischievous twinkle to the eye, and you know that whatever they do, it will be interesting. So when you hear about the unusual finds they’ve made while dredging, it doesn’t surprise you too much. Most people consider themselves lucky if they find one good cache in their lifetime. Chuck and Chris have found two, and they weren’t even looking for them. They found them dredging and panning!

The first was on some property they own in the Mother Lode area, which has a small creek. They were vacationing and panning in and around some rocks, since there was not enough water to dredge. The material was very hardpacked, and Chuck was having a hard time breaking it loose. He finally got a pan full, and was swirling it around as he worked at loosening it all up when he found a hard rectangular object in the pan. After cleaning it up they could see that it was a hard leather case.

Taking a screwdriver, Chuck worked the case open to find it was full of dirt. He was using the screwdriver to scoop the dirt out when a coin popped into view! They hurriedly got another pan and carefully scooped the contents of the case into it, then carefully panned off the dirt. What they were left with was 19 coins and two gold nuggets. The nuggets were 3 dwt. and 2 dwt. in size; the coins consisted of 3 silver dollars, one $5 gold piece, and 14 half dollars. All were from before the turn of the century. They later learned that the case was an 1870 Spencer rifle bullet case.

When they found this cache, Chuck and Chris didn’t even know what the gold coin was. They thought perhaps it was a token of some kind. They took it to a coin shop in a nearby town, and asked if they could identify it. The store owner told Chuck it was “just an old coin,” and he would give him $25 for it. Chuck almost took it, but finally decided to keep the coin. He later found that the gold coin was worth $350.

The second cache was found on the Klamath River, on New 49’er claims. They had just joined The New 49’ers, and came up to spend a vacation dredging club claims on the Klamath River. Chris was dredging in a shallow spot that bordered an area that had already been dredged by someone else. While she was working a large rock fell on her leg. A trip to the local doctor showed nothing broken, but the doctor told her to stay off the leg for a few days.

At the end of that time Chuck thought Chris should dredge first so she wouldn’t build up a fear after being hurt. While she dredged, Chuck sat on a rock nearby, panning concentrates left from the day Chris hurt her leg. Just as he was picking out the nice pieces of gold to put in the bottle, the pan tipped, and all the gold fell back into the water. The bedrock was clean and smooth there, so he had Chris stop dredging and he maneuvered the dredge so he could pick the gold back up with the nozzle.

When he started picking up the gold it didn’t all come. Some of it had fallen into a crevice, and was scattered along the bottom of it. He worked the crevice as far as he could, but it went under a large boulder. He felt around underneath as far as he could, and it felt like smooth bedrock but, thinking that some of it could still be in the crevice underneath, he got the pry bar and worked until he moved the boulder over. When he went back down, he could see there was some hardpacked streambed there. It was packed so hard, in fact, that the nozzle couldn’t even budge it! He used the bar to loosen it up, and then worked the nozzle in a back and forth motion to try to clean the area down to the crevice. All of a sudden he saw something shiny and large. He laid the nozzle down and waited for the water to clear. Chuck says, “All I could see was a pile of shiny coins.”

At this point he stopped dredging and worked with the pry bar until he’d completely moved the large boulder out of the way. Then he began working the material very carefully. At one point he came across a piece of wood, so he carefully removed all the material around it, but as soon as he touched it, it disintegrated in his hand, turning the water almost purple.

When he finished cleaning out the spot he had a hole about 3 feet in diameter, and 12 to 18 inches deep. Their cache consisted of 35 silver dollars and 3-five dollar gold coins! They have them in safekeeping with their other finds. They decided they didn’t want to even clean them. The newest of the coins was a 1927 silver dollar. The boulder that covered the cache was about the size of an office desk, so they think the cache was lost possibly in a flood, and the boulder came to rest on it some time later. Last year Chuck and Chris went to Alaska and carried their dredge on the truck for 72 days before they found a place they could dredge. They report that there were a lot of places where you could pan, but not many where you could dredge. As always, however, they enjoyed their trip.

They finished their vacation in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada, at the World Goldpanning Championships, where Chuck and Chris entered the competition. Chris was the only American woman entered, and she won the beginner’s competition!

They spent an entire week there, joining in parties every evening with German, English, French, Swedish, and other competitors, and in making friends from all 17 countries represented. Chris says “We didn’t even have trouble communicating with the people who spoke no English. We enjoyed visiting with all of them! We traded pins and sweatshirts, and had a great time. We were even loaned Klondike pans from the group from Great Britain, to use in the competition.”

Whatever else they do next summer, you can bet that there will be a lot of fun involved. Chuck and Chris are great people to be around. They are eager to pitch in and help anyone with almost anything. One thing for sure, if there are any organized activities going on, and Chuck and Chris are around, they will be in the forefront of the activity. Speaking for both of them, Chuck has said it this way: “The most fun is being directly involved; to be helping the people who are getting things accomplished.”

This article was first published in Gold & Treasure Hunter magazine.