|I have collected
several singular and beautiful specimens of gold.
One resembles a pendulous ear-drop. Another (is
set in) a clear crystal of quartz. Nature never
indulged in fancies more elegant and whimsical.
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are nature's golden treasures, formed deep with
the earth millions of years ago. Gold rose in
liquid forms from the fiery depths of the earth
to the cooler surface layers of the earth's
crust. As they cooled, crystals of gold formed in
the crevices of the rocks. Delicate leaves of
gold formed a filigree in the tiny cracks. Larger
crystalline masses grew slowly in pockets in the
rocks. Formless masses of "sponge" gold
also emerged. The rarest form of native gold was
wire gold. The crystallized gold specimens in
this case are all from California. Miners called
these rare and beautiful forms of gold
"jewelry gold" and prized them highly.
was still plenty of gold in California in the
1850s. It was simply a matter of getting to it.
More and more earth had to be moved in order to
retrieve less and less gold. Yankee ingenuity
took over, accompanied by an attitude of
man-versus-nature . . . and nature didn't stand a
chance. Giant machines and massive operations
took mining to a new level. Individual
gold-seekers striking it rich became almost
extinct. Now they were working for wages.
in the Gold Rush, miners used shovels and other
simple tools to scoop up river gravels. The easy
gold was soon picked clean. The challenge took on
new proportions: millions of tons of earth had to
be dug up and sifted.
floating gold dredge was one answer. Early
dredges had a single scoop; later ones had a
whole chain of buckets, like the one in the
photomural. 24 hours a day those buckets dropped
deep below the surface, where they gouged cubic
yard after cubic yard of gravel, rocks and
mud--and a tiny bit of gold-- from the riverbed.
The iron bucket displayed here is only
medium-sized, and it weighs two-and-a-half
gold was separated on the barge. The waste,
called tailings, was tossed out along the bank.
Mountains of tailings piled up, sometimes as tall
as a seven-story building. Today, you can still
see these immense, barren mountains of waste rock
as you drive through parts of the Sacramento
ancient Northern California river once laid down
an immense bed of gold-bearing gravels. There had
to be an easy way of getting down to the ancient
stream beds now buried in the mountains. There
was: hydraulic mining.
was diverted into ditches and wooden flumes at
high elevations, and gravity did the rest.
Channeled through heavy iron pipes, the water
exploded from a nozzle far below with a force of
5000 pounds. When that awesome stream of water
was focused and directed, the mountains were
literally blasted away.
at the photo mural. One visitor to a massive
hydraulic mining pit observed: Nature here
reminds one of a princess fallen into the hands
of robbers who cut off her fingers for the jewels
large nozzle displayed here is called a hydraulic
monitor. Giant monitors like this blasted through
clay, rocks and gravels, and ripped through brush
and trees, leaving huge craters. The gravels were
washed through sluices, and the heavy gold
settled behind riffle boards. The rest of the
mountainside slid into the streams and rivers,
which were deeply buried under rocks, sand, and
mud. Fish and other animal life were killed.
Mountain and river habitats were entombed. The
mining debris soon reached the Central Valley,
destroying tens of thousands of acres of valuable
farmland. Hydraulicking may indeed have been an
efficient mining method, but at what cost to the
of the Sierra Nevada's gold is encased in quartz
veins deep within the mountains. To reach these
veins of gold-bearing quartz, hard rock miners
tunneled and sank shafts deep into mountainsides.
Imagine what it was like to work thousands of
feet below the surface. Thousands of miles of
tunnels were dug beneath the mountains and shored
up with Sierran timber.
rock miners had to excavate and mill, or crush
the quartz ore. They worked stamp mills, like
this five-stamp mill, to pulverize the ore to a
powder. Early stamp mills had two to five stamps.
Later, banks of forty or more were used. Gold was
then separated from this fine powder by the use
of mercury, or quicksilver as it was called. Tons
of mercury were being washed down from the
mountains, all the way to San Francisco Bay, and
into food chain, where even today it remains a
toxic legacy of the mining era.
of the miners' entertainment and a Wells Fargo
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