While avid anglers would argue that the fish found in Oregonís rivers are a wealth in themselves, there are glimmers beneath the water that attract an entirely different kind of outdoorsman. Miners have been drawn to the Coquille River for 175 years. Letís dive deep into the rivers history and discover the golden opportunity within.
The Coquille River watershed covers 1,059 square miles, proudly holding the title of the third largest river system in Oregon's Coast Range. It spans across Coos County, with a small portion in Douglas and Curry County. This watershed is divided into three tributaries, namely the North, Middle and South Forks, and flows into the Pacific Ocean at Bandon.
Placers were first unearthed from the ocean beach black sand deposits of Southern Oregon
as far back as the 1850s. In the spring of 1853, a storm uncovered placers in the sand, and sparked much activity that led to a small boom in Coos County.
The initial discovery was made at the mouth of a creek some miles north of the Coquille, near present-day Randolph. The gold discovery was very fine, but resulted in a fair amount when amalgamated with mercury. Within the same year, a fairly rich deposit of auriferous sands was found by John and Peter Groslius.
Their discovery at the mouth of Whiskey Run Creek led to an influx of hundreds of miners, although they eventually moved on after storms in the area created challenging working conditions.
Though Whiskey Runís sands were buried after the winter storm had passed, activity continued in bursts. The initial discoveries led to further exploration at Johnson Diggings on upper Coquille around 40 miles in the interior. Similar finds of fine gold within the black sand took place here.
Within the same year, other gold deposits were discovered up to a depth of 6 feet in the sands. Gold was found along with native platinum and iridium alloys, but operations had not yet focused on refining these other minerals at the time. Those mining by themselves continued to focus on the deposits near the water, while large scale operations began to concentrate on gathering gold from the black sands at higher elevations along the coast.
Several gold mines were established during this time, such as the Coarse Gold Mine along the South Fork of the Coquille
. The Salmon Mountain Mine, located north of Poverty Gulch and named for the plentiful fish found in this stretch, is another example.
As with all boom-town stories, the activity birthed the mining towns of Randolph, located 7 miles north of the Coquille, and Elizabeth, located 30 miles south of Port Orford. Gold Beach, Ophir, and Pistol River were other recorded sites of rich digging activity throughout the region.
However, when World War II commenced, all mining activities for gold were halted. The government at the time issued orders to focus on collecting minerals that were needed for the war. As a result, many of the mining operations ceased and never reopened in the late 20th century. Many enthusiastic prospectors now work these same sand deposits in the hopes of unearthing the golden flakes left undisturbed for many years.
Some popular areas are the Rook, Johnson and Salmon creeks of the South Fork of the Coquille.
Apart from gold, rockhounds can also delight in a visit as there are agates and jasper littered all over the beach by the Coquille Lighthouse. Located at the mouth of the river at Bullardís Beach State Park
, itís fairly easy to find. North of Bandon, simply drive south until you reach the river crossing and find the turn towards Bullardís Beach. A campground is nearby, offering visitors amazing views and a crisp sea breeze to invigorate even the most tired adventurer.