Finding Gold in California
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Finding Gold in California

Finding gold in California is easy because it is found the whole length of the state. You can find placer gold in all the rivers flowing into the Pacific Ocean, or lode gold on both sides of the Sierra Nevada.

Finding gold in California

California was the big one where gold was discovered in 1848 and caused the gold rush of 1849. The California Gold Rush was one of the biggest mass migrations in history. So many gold prospectors flocked to the gold in California that the population exploded. By 1850 California was a state. Gold miners came from the United States, Europe, South America, Australia and Asia. There were over 300,000 that came rushing to California.

Gold was first discovered on January 24, 1848 by John Marshall working as a foreman for John Sutter. Marshall was building a sawmill in Columa on the American River. Marshall found flakes of gold in the tail race of Sutter's Mill. Word spread, and the Gold Rush of 1849 was on.

In the beginning mining was done by individual miners. Most of them were panning for gold with metal pans that were invented in the goldfields of California. It wasn't too long before mining operations became more sophisticated. Shortly after the initial discoveries outside capital flooded in to operate the mines. A few miners became fabulously wealthy. Most of them returned home little better off than they were when they came.

There were two major goldfields where gold was found by the 49ers. The first was in central California in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada east of Sacramento. The other goldfield was in Northern California. It was in a similar geological setting. Most of this area was heavily forested and presented some real efforts to mine. To Californians this area was known as the mother lode country.

If you take Interstate 80 from Sacramento you drive through the countryside where the Gold Rush of 1849 happened. Most early gold-mining occurred in the so-called Shoo Fly Complex that is in an area over 90 km long that is thrust faulted over older basement rocks. This complex is against the Sierra Nevada batholiths. The Shoo Fly complex is intruded with granite intrusions. According to geologists the deformation of the Shoo Fly complex occurred in the pre-middle Jurassic, and predated the later Nevada orogeny.

This is the area where most prospectors found gold during the gold rush. You can still pan for gold with success anywhere in the region. This applies gold bearing regions in Northern California. The pickens are not as good as they were during the gold rush but it is still possible to find gold There. Most of today's gold seekers are just there for the fun of doing finding gold. With the downturn in the economy there are some who are actually there trying to keep a roof over their heads.

One lucky miner reported that his partners and himself had reclaimed several pounds of gold from the San Gabriel Mountains working over the sandstones found there. Gold can be found throughout the length of California in any of the rivers that drain westward to the Pacific Ocean. There is also gold to be found on the east side of the Sierra Nevada's in the Death Valley.

No matter where you go in California you are apt to strike gold, not much of it, but enough so you can see what it looks like. There are several active prospectors clubs throughout the state that can help you with information as to where to find gold. It is the authors understanding that many people in California are already prospecting for gold when they are still quite young.

If you have ever had gold fever this is the place they can give it to you, and it's a pretty hard to get rid of once it strikes you.


California Gold Rush, Wikipedia,

Merguerian, Charles M. 1983, Structural geology of the Calaveras Shoo Fly thrust Tuolumne and Mariposa counties, California,

Americans still seeking gold in California, voice of America,

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