Saturday, July 17, 2010
Along Deer Creek, about a half mile from its confluence with the Yuba River, a waterfall drops fifteen feet into a cold, clear pool. For salmon migrating up Deer Creek, this pool will be the end of their journey – that clear pool will be as far up the creek as they can travel. A faint, time worn trail leads up from the pool to a hill on the north side of the river, and from there follows Deer Creek upstream through the oaks, and countless bedrock mortars pock the boulder outcrops along the way.
A little up from the creek are traces of the old stagecoach road which ran from Parks Bar, through Sucker Flat and Excelsior, then up Deer Creek to Mooney Flat Road, and from there to the diggings at French Corral. Numerous stone foundations, overgrown with oak and buckeye, jut out unexpectedly from the undergrowth and are some of the only traces of the community that once spread across this hillside. And now those miners have followed the Maidu into history, leaving little trace except for bedrock mortars and these stacked stone walls.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
The gold was finer than sand, having been eroded from the upper Sierra by the ancient Yuba River, and was bound up in cemented river gravels so hard they had to be dynamited before they could be washed into tunnels by the hydraulic cannons. For every ounce of gold recovered, the miners had to blast away, on the average, more than ten tons of material. Given the vast quantities of gold-bearing gravel that lay in the valley, hydraulic mining at Blue Point was certainly a very profitable endeavor, but once the miners could no longer flush thousands of tons of waste rock per day through the tunnels and into the Yuba River there was no way they could process the quantities required for profitable mining. And so most of the gold still remains intact, cemented in the ancient river gravels beneath the valley floor.
Though a lot of questions remain to be answered, one thing is certain – the call of the gold beneath the Blue Point bowl is as clear and as compelling as ever.
Farmers, environmentalists and fishermen praised the Sawyer decision of 1884, among the first federal court rulings on environmental protection. The court banned the dumping of silt, sand and gravel into the Sacramento River or its tributaries, effectively ending hydraulic mining. It was a crushing blow to the operators and investors who had sunk millions of dollars into mines from Sucker Flat up to the Malakoff Diggings.
At Blue Point, after years of blasting and washing the northern half of Meade Hill through tunnels and across sluices and into the river, they were just starting to get down into the "gut" of the Blue Point diggings, where layers of heavy, gold-rich gravel rested close to the top of the basalt bedrock, a scant twenty to forty feet beneath the surface. So near and yet so far! And yet it was not possible to extract the gold without washing tons of gravel (about three tons of gravel per ounce of gold) in the process, and thanks to the Sawyer decision there was no way of legally disposing of the tons of gravel, and the thousands of gallons of silt-laden water that accompanied them.
He brought in water through the Tarr ditch to drive the project – though the Excelsior Water Company claimed the right to all the water in the Yuba system, a court battle had established that the Tarr ditch, which had its headwaters on Wolf Creek, was outside of Excelsior’s monopoly since its source was in the Bear River watershed.
His plan was nothing if not grandoise: to use the tramway to dump the thousands of tons of waste gravel and cobble into the draw that crossed the Blue Point property, and place a “brush” dam at the mouth of the tunnel that drained the valley to capture the finer material and filter the water before it entered the Yuba River. In addition to the tramway, Tarr installed a stationary dredger in one of the detention basins and a steam-engine powered conveyor belt to take the waste rock up to the tram base. It was a mammoth, costly, and, it turned out, short-lived operation. After years of construction the mine was in operation less than a week before heavy rains washed out the brush dam and flooded the Yuba with debris. The Debris Commission (the precursor of the Army Corps of Engineers who was charged with enforcing the Sawyer decision) stated that the operation must cease and desist until an approved dam, a solid dam built to bedrock, could be constructed. With the technology and equipment available at the time, and given the low price of gold, this simply was not feasible. The Tarr Mine closed, E.H. Tarr went back to Boston, and his investors counted up their losses.
(Note: Much of the information in this blog came from He Made a Saddle and Wrote a Book, written by third-generation Smartsville native George Rigby and published in 1984 by the VILLAGER. Though currently out of print I’ve heard that a new edition, with more stories, may be in the works.)
Woodruff v. North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Co. et. al. (the Sawyer Decision)
In the valley between Smartsville and the Yuba River lies the ancient bed of the Yuba River, where it ran for millions of years, laying beds of rich, gold-bearing gravel and cobble hundreds of feet thick before volcanic uplifts and basaltic lava flows forced the river north into its present course. It was these rich gravel deposits that captured the attention of the early miners, who realized there was more gold to be found dredging the cemented gravel hillsides south of the river than in the river itself. But the gold was not as concentrated as it was in the riffles and pools of the river itself – the gold in the hillsides was fine as talcum powder and locked into the rock-hard gravel cliffs. The miners soon found that to find gold, they’d need to move great quantities of earth; they’d need to form companies and blast the hardened hillsides with dynamite, and then wash the slurry with cannons of water piped down from miner’s ditches on the surrounding ridges across huge sluices where the fine gold, trapped by mercury, might finally be captured and the miners, two or three times a year, might finally be paid. And so the great industry of hydraulic mining was born, and perhaps the greatest mine of them all was the Blue Gravel Mine, located at the great dog-leg bend of the ancient river bed, where the greatest quantities of gold were deposited and buried beneath over 300feet of cemented gravel rising up to form Meade Hill.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
When we acquired the 500 acre Blue Point Mine property, the first decision we made was to close down the open pit gold-and-gravel mine which had been operating on and off on the site for about 150 years. Although the gold mine operation was both historic and at least potentially profitable – the bulk of the rich gold-bearing gravel on the site remains untouched – the environmental and aesthetic costs of open-pit mining were simply too great a price to pay.
So we knew that we couldn’t restore the site to its “natural” pre-mining condition, nor did we want to. On the other hand, doing the minimal required of us by state law - restoring the site to its 1972 condition, when the quarry was in full operation and the site was scraped bare of topsoil and pocked with excavations and drainages - seemed not worth the effort, and would do little to resolve some of the erosion and other environmental and aesthetic problems that afflicted the site.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
This well known bar has the honor of being the first point on Yuba river, where gold was discovered. Jonas Spect, of Colusa, found gold at this point, June 2, 1848, but not in paying quantities, and went further down the stream. The next man we hear of at Rose Bar, was a Mr. Inman, later in June; Claude Chana, of Wheatland, came there a few days after. He says: - "I met a man named Inman, who came overland with me in 1846, just before I got to the bar. He said he had been working there a few days, but could only make five dollars per day and so left to find a better place." Chana, however, went on to the bar and commenced to work, and with five Indians, made one hundred and fifty dollars each the first day, at the same spot Inman had deserted. They simply dug a little deeper. This was the first actual working of the bar. In July, 1848, John Rose came to the bar with about a dozen men, from the American river. Accompanying the party was John Ray, with his wife and several children. This was the first family at the bar.
That fall John Rose and his partner, William J. Reynolds, started a store at the bar. Rose did the buying at Sacramento, and in that way the locality became known as Rose Bar. Jonas Spect had a store here, kept by Mr. McIlvain. Most of the company abandoned the place that fall, but others arriving, increased the number to twenty-five by the first of January, 1849. There had been heretofore room enough, and to spare. The miners were not confined to any particular location, but worked at any point that suited their fancy. When the miners began to arrive from the East, it became a little crowded, and in the spring of 1849 a meeting was held, at which it was decided that a claim should be one hundred feet square, and that the miner should be confined to his claim. Rose, Reynolds and Kinloch, a young man they had taken into partnership, furnished beef from their ranch in Linda township.
In September, 1849, a company of fifty men, among whom was William H. Parks, commenced to dam the river, so as to mine the bed. They completed the dam, and commenced work early in October. The rain set in on the eighth, and in two days the water overflowed the dam and washed it away. In the few days' work they had taken out one thousand dollars each. A few days before the destruction of the dam, Mr. Parks sold out, and with an experienced baker started a store, bakery, and boarding house. During the year the bar became very populous, and in 1850, there were two thousand men working here. At that time there were three stores, one of which was kept by Baker & States, three boarding houses, two saloons, bakeries, blacksmith shops, etc. The course of the river was turned seven consecutive years, the last time in 1857. But little work was done here after that, and now the bar is covered by tailings from the mines, many feet in depth. When the high water came during the winter of 1849, the miners moved back into the ravines, where they found very rich surface diggings. Squaw creek was a very rich locality.
from Thompson & West's "History of Yuba County" - 1879.