Part II, Introduction: Mining the Environment by Catarina Marie Spiess and Irma Gonzalez

A. Overview:

Technology in the mines began with the pocketknife and Indian woven basket. These gave way to the gold pan, the pan to the rocker, and the rocker to the long tom and the sluice box. The rocker was more effective with two men, and the long tom and sluice box even more so, but required a team effort. By the end of 1850, the gold that remained was either under rivers or in prehistoric riverbeds far from existing water. This required major engineering efforts, including the construction of dams and flumes to get at the gold. As mining became a corporate enterprise requiring money and hired labor, the lone miner and his pan rapidly became a myth of the past. Gold production now came from hard-rock mining that involved miles of tunnels under the earth, or from hydraulic mining that washed away mountainsides. Hydraulic mining was the primary new technology that came out of the Gold Rush. Invented in 1853 by Antoine Chabot and Edward Matteson, it used water pressure to blast away at rock and soil to find gold-bearing quartz. The water from huge reservoirs in the mountains traveled through cast-iron pipes and was released through a giant nozzle. The water could not be turned off, requiring 24-hour-a-day operation. Because of the lack of electricity, bonfires had to be kept going throughout the night with timber cut from surrounding forests. Later, locomotive lanterns were used for light. 

Native American cultural resource consultant Brian Bibby states (in correspondence with the Oakland Museum): 

I believe a major detriment to the environment, as a result of mining activities and the large numbers of emigrant miners taking up residence in the Sierra foothills, was the degradation of creeks, streams and rivers, and subsequently the destruction of fisheries during that period. With a dramatic increase in silts making their way into stream systems, through sluice-box mining and later from hydraulic mining, and from rain runoff due to the deforestation that occurred in and around newly built mining camps, towns and mills, native fish such as trout and especially salmon were certainly affected. The repercussions of a serious decline in salmon runs during this time would have had a significant detrimental effect on the food economy of local Native American peoples. 

An 1860 article from Hutchings Magazine by C.A. Kirkpatrick provides some perspective on the effects of mining on the salmon: 

Many of the Pioneers of California, if they are not already aware of the fact, will be sorry to learn that the Salmon fish are fast disappearing from our watersthat is, upon all the streams upon which mining is carried on to any extent, and, in fact, we may say from all the streams of importance. This may be attributed to three causes. First, the mining operations, by which the water is carried by ditches and flumes for miles out of its channel, and, when it again finds its natural course, it would scarcely be true to call such a muddy mass, water. This being the case on all the tributaries, the fountain being impure the whole stream is polluted, and our beautiful and highly palatable fish, scorning to "live, move, and have their being" in such an impure element, are seeking other realms, where their native element is not made so unpleasant by man's search for gold. 

Bibby also adds that the silt deposited into the rivers quickly deprived the salmon of the clean gravel so critical to their spawning and reproduction. 

Part II, Introduction 
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