The Malakoff Diggins were the largest hydraulic mine in California.
The California gold rush of 1849 brought thousands of miners to the Yuba River
and pretty much every other river or creek in the state.
With the extensive mining that followed the gold rush, it didnít take very long for the easiest placer deposits to become exhausted. This forced miners to start prospecting mountain sides and old ancient river bed in search for the elusive gold.
This is what gave birth to the Malakoff Diggins.
In 1851 a miner ventured into the mountains to the Northeast of the Nevada City and came back with gold nuggets. This caused excitement among local miners who followed the miner into the hills but failed to get any gold from the field. The miners named the site Humbug.
Hydrauling Mining in California
In 1853 miners started using the hydraulic mining method
for washing away mountain sides by plastering and washing mountainside dirt using the force of water from a dam built and prepared high in the mountains.
When the Humburg town was renamed New Bloomfield in 1857, the miners in town incorporated the North Bloomfield Mining company and established the Malakoff Mine. The mine used the hydraulic mining method to wash way large chunks of the mountain side gravels at the Malakoff area to extract gold.
The mining was at its peak from 1866 to 1884 where about 41 million cubic yards of mountain side gravel was washed off to produce gold worth millions.
Environmental Damage from the Mine
The mountain erosion that resulted from the mining activities was huge and came with devastating damages. For starters, debris from the mountains were carried of the Yuba River. The silt from the mining clogged rivers downstream in the central valley and this resulted in frequent floods in the valley which destroyed crops, killed livestock and made navigating the Yuba River
, Sacramento River, and other rivers in the region quite difficult.
At its peak, the Malakoff Mine became the world largest hydraulic mine. To increase productivity the mining company had to dig a drainage tunnel eight thousand feet long through the bedrock to provide better drainage for the mining. This was one of the largest engineering projects to be carried out in gold mining in the world.
Upon the completion of the tunnel in 1874, the company expanded its mining using seven giant monitors to process over 50,000 tons of gravel every day. The wastes from the mining were dumped directly into the Yuba River. This resulted in the creation of the spectacular canyon-like Malakoff mine pit that is 7,000 feet long, 3,000 feet wide and over 600 feet high.
The finer silt from the mining operations reached the San Francisco Bay creating devastating effects on the bay. One of the first effects of the hydraulic mining were felt at Marysville where the debris from the hydraulic mining at Malakoff had filled the Yuba river causing serious floods that damaged structures in the settlement and all the surrounding agricultural lands. The same thing happened on the Sacramento as the rising river bed resulted in severe floods that destroyed crops, structures and resulted in huge losses for the local farmers.
The farmers, tired of having to incur huge losses as a result of the mining activities upstream, came together in support of a property owner in Marysville named Woodruff who filed a lawsuit against the North Bloomfield Mining and Gravel Company in 1883. The case was decided in January 1884 with Judge Lorenzo Sawyer declaring that hydraulic mining is illegal.
This was the first environmental related judgment in the United States. This Judgment was responsible for putting an end to the use of hydraulic mining in the Californian gold fields. This effectively ended the gold mining at the Malakoff Mine.
Visiting the Malakoff Diggins
Today, the site of the Malakoff Mine is a California State Park. It is a popular destination for gold panners and people interested in learning about the gold mining history of the state. It has a visitor information center where you can learn about the early days of mining at the site and the life in the North Bloomfield Mining town.
A block of historical structures from the gold rush days have also been restored at the park making it possible for you to view life in the early days of the Californian gold rush. In addition, there is a picnic area, a hiking trail and a scenic river for fishing and other outdoor activities.
Next: 5 Historic Gold Dredges You Can Visit