Eastern Oregon’s Blue Mountains are the source of over 2/3 of the gold production in the state.
The sources of gold come from numerous mining districts. Some of the richest gold deposits have come from within the Blue Mountains, primarily in Baker and Grant Counties.
Let’s take a look at some of these areas, including a few of the most important mining towns that sprung up when gold was found here in the 1860’s.
Sumpter is currently the largest of the mining town in Eastern Oregon, located in the Powder River drainage. and get a decent amount of tourism during the summers. It is home to one of the most well-preserved bucket line dredges in the world.
Mining was active here for many years, and the entire Powder River drainage was worked with the dredges. Miles of tailing piles can now be seen from the main road through town. Sumpter was also a supply hub for many of the surrounding mines in nearby gold districts during the height of the mining activity here.
Granite is located at the confluence of Granite Creek and Bull Run Creek. Although a narrower valley than at Sumpter, dredges were still used all throughout the creeks around Granite, wherever they were economically feasible. Gold can still be found in all the creeks around Granite to the east as far as the John Day Wilderness.
The town was also where many of the miners lived who worked at the Red Boy Mine, one of Oregon’s largest producers, located in Congo Gulch.
Bourne is found north of Sumpter on Cracker Creek. Although many of the creeks here were placer mined, this was primarily a lode mining district, where both silver and gold were extracted from the rocks. Some of the richest mines were located high on the Elkhorn Ridge.
There was a time when Greenhorn was a bustling mining community. Located on the border of Baker and Grant Counties, this was another rich district that was actively mined for many decades. Most of the gold here required processing to extract the gold from ores, although some sources produced free-milling gold.
Interestingly, it was one of the only towns that did not allow any Chinese miners, whom were active in nearly all other parts of Eastern Oregon.
Only a few small shacks remain at Susanville, which is one of the eastern-most mining towns in this part of Oregon. The town was located on Elk Creek a few miles above its confluence with the Middle Fork of the John Day River.
Susanville’s “claim to fame” is definitely the Armstrong Nugget, which is the largest gold nugget that was ever found in the Blue Mountains.
Dredge tailings can be seen around Galena for a few miles along the John Day River here.
The gold strike at Canyon City, just south of John Day was the richest gold discovery in the state of Oregon. At Whiskey Gulch, it was said that some of the ground was valued as high as $500 per ton, at a time when gold was less than $20 per ounce!
The Humboldt Mine was the largest in the area. Dredging was done on Canyon Creek as far upstream as the dredges could go. More dredging took place on the John Day River above and below the confluence as far east as Mount Vernon.
Canyon City is a sizable town today, and there are homes on top of some of the richest ground.
There was a decent-sized gold strike on Dixie Creek a few miles north of Prairie City. There was also a good amount of dredging on the John Day River for a few miles east of Prairie City.
Malheur City is located just north of Malheur Reservoir. This was one gold discovery that did not live up to expectations. It was located in a very dry area, and to work the ground properly, the El Dorado ditch was constructed that ran for over 100 miles.
Once completed, the water flowed down many of the gulches around Malheur City and El Dorado to work the placers. Although considerable amounts of gold were found, it did not live up to expectations and the workings were eventually abandoned.
Some of the largest hydraulic mining operations took place at Rye Valley. The scars from the hydraulic workings are clearly evident when you drive through the valley.
Gold can be found all throughout the Burnt River drainage. One of the more popular areas to prospect is in the canyon area from the Bridgeport Valley to Durkee. Further down the canyon along I-84 there is plenty of gold to find as well.
Some of the best gold along the Burnt River is not in the river itself, but in elevated bench deposits that are above the current water line. There have been some very nice-sized gold nugget that have been mined from the Burnt River over the years.
Sparta is located toward the eastern side of the gold belt. Many placers were mined around Sparta Butte, but this was another district that was plagued with a lack of good water. A ditch was eventually constructed that helped the early miners process the gravels in many of these gulches.
On the southern flanks of the Wallowa Mountains is Cornucopia. This mining town was primarily a lode gold producer, with some placers found below in Pine Creek. There are some exceptionally rich mines in this district, but most of the good ground is on private lands or claimed up.
Others gold-bearing Areas in Eastern Oregon
These are some of the main gold districts and towns that produced much of the gold in Eastern Oregon, but there were other small discoveries that were still significant. The Auburn strikes just south of Baker City were the first discoveries in Eastern Oregon that brought miners to the region. Other less significant finds were made on Wolf Creek, Medical Springs, Sanger, Conner Creek, and along the Snake River on the Oregon side of the river.
This is a huge gold area, with the primary gold belt spans from John Day across to the Snake River at the Idaho border, north to include parts of Union County, and south including some parts of Malheur County. Just about any creek or river that is adjacent to some of these old mining towns in the Blue Mountains is worth prospecting for gold.