The only significant gold rush to take place in Washington State occurred when gold was found in Swauk Creek in the central part of the state in 1873. Although prior reports of gold in the region existed as early as 1860, it was the rich deposits of gold on Swauk Creek that caused interest in gold mining in Central Washington.
The first prospectors to rush into the area were the local farmers of nearby Kittitas Valley, but as word of the discovery spread, people from all around the surrounding area came to the area to search for gold.
Miners continued searching for gold deposits in the nearby area, and soon found that Williams Creek also held rich gravels that produced significant amounts of gold. Rich pockets of gold were found up and down both drainages, and mining camps in the early days of the discovery were routinely moved to accommodate miners. Named for one of the early miners to the area, the mining town of Meagherville was established at Williams Creek.
Extensive explorations into the surrounding mountains did not yield overwhelming results for prospectors seeking new gold deposits. Unlike many of the larger gold districts across the west, it was quickly realized that although there was gold to be found throughout the Cascade Mountains, by far the richest gold deposits were in Swauk and Williams Creeks, with lesser discoveries found at Boulder, Negro, and Baker Creeks.
Placer mining continued strong for many years, as rich pockets of gold were uncovered. Many lode mines were also staked in the area, which sustained the region long after the placer ground began to be worked out. One notable characteristic of the area was the beautiful crystalline and wire gold specimens
that came from the district. Consisting of very rough shapes and textures, specimens from this mining district are highly sought out by mineral collectors. During the heyday of the gold rush, little interest was given to these amazing specimens, and most were melted down for their gold content. These specimens ranged from small gold crystals to huge coarse nuggets, including reports of a huge nugget that weighed over 22 ounces. Sadly, nearly all of them were sent off to be smelted.
By the early 1880’s the placer deposits were beginning to be depleted, and interest from the white miners was focused instead on lode production. During this time many Chinese miners moved into the region to work the ground that the white miners considered to be “worked out”. Due to the harsh conditions in China at the time, even less productive ground was attractive to the Chinese miners. With the introduction of hydraulic mining
, there were renewed interests in the placers for a short time, but most placer mining petered out by the end of the decade.
Lode production continued on for many years. In 1892, a post office was established in the area and the town name was officially changed to Liberty. Unlike the vast majority of boom-and-bust mining towns that occurred across the west, Liberty sustained itself as a stable community for considerable time. Some families continued mining for many generations. The area had very desirable living conditions, and the unruly behavior commonly associated with mining camps was not tolerated in Liberty, Washington.Read more about prospecting in Washington State
The Liberty Mining District was unique in that it was really the only significant gold rush to occur in the state of Washington. Although gold can be found in every county throughout the state of Washington, including along the beaches of the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean, most deposits are limited in quantity and never provided the richness needed to attract long term mining activity. Large amounts of gold have also been recovered as a byproduct of lode mining for copper, zinc, lead and a variety of other base minerals throughout Washington, but these required significant investment and development, limiting their appeal to the average gold prospector.
Mining has continued in the Liberty area for many years, and still exists on a smaller scale even today. Extensive mining over the past century has depleted the richness of much of the area, but occasionally nice wire gold specimens are still recovered from time to time.