Rich Gold Placers on the Klamath River

Rich Gold Placers on the Klamath River
The Klamath River enjoyed great significance during the California gold rush, and prospects of gold mining and discovery brought hundreds and thousands of miners to the region in 1948. By 150, each and every river in Northern California was swarmed with miners and prospectors, looking to make a fortune.

After gold was discovered in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, miners began undertaking excavations towards north, which led to the emergence of the Trinity, Shasta, and Siskiyou Counties. The Klamath River emerges as the richest region for gold discovery, and many of its tributaries rose to fame after the discovery of sizeable amounts of gold.

The earliest gold discoveries in this region were made by miners and prospectors who were carrying out prospecting activities in the Trinity Alps and the Klamath Mountains. In the mid-1850s, the main stem of the Klamath River was discovered to boost rich deposits of gold. This discovery started a long and rich history of mining in the region, and in 1851, richer gold deposits were found in the French Gulch and Yreka.


Klamath River & its Tributaries


Copper Creek is a major tributary of the Klamath River, and in 1851, an abundance of gold was discovered here. Miners gave it the name of Copper Creek due to the color of the cliffs that dominated the landscape.

In the early 1850s, mining activities were undertaken with basic sluice boxes, and by the mid-1850s, majority of the gold deposits on the river had begun to dry out. Now, the miners switched to hydraulic mining methods to extract the gold deposits lying deep within the valley and the hilly landscape surrounding the river.

In the 1850s, Copper Creek led to the discovery of thousands of ounces of gold, and even today, many gold miners and prospectors visit the creek in their quest for gold.

In 1851, miners established an important mining camp on the Klamath River, which was given the name of Happy Camp. It was erected by miners who laid claims to the site, which was brimming with rich deposits producing thousands of ounces of gold. Needless to say, Happy Camp was one of the richest gold mining towns in the area.

During the 1850s, miners began to discover more gold deposits in the area, which allowed Happy Camp to prosper and grow at a rapid pace. It enjoyed multiple amenities, businesses, stores and even a ferry. Even today, Happy Camp is open for gold panning and miners discover gold nuggets and flakes with the help of a gold pan.

The Scott River, a major tributary of the Klamath River, boosted incredibly rich deposits of gold in the gravels. Scott Bar, located downstream of the picturesque Scott Valley, was the section that boosted the richest deposits of gold. This river allowed miners to enjoy an abundance of gold deposits in the Siskiyou County.

The Salmon River was another mighty and rich tributary of the Klamath River that boosted extensive deposits of gold. Historically, the Salmon River has led to the discovery of some of the most superior quality gold deposits in the Klamath Mountains, which boosted both, place, and hard rock gold varieties.

During the Californian gold rush, the Trinity River was one of the richest and most productive tributaries of Klamath River that allowed prospectors to discover an abundance of gold deposits. In 1851, Trinity River emerged on the map of the Californian gold rush with discoveries of superior quality gold. As the news of the discovery spread, Trinity River attracted hundreds and thousands of miners to the region.


Hand Placering, Hydraulic Mining & Bucket Dredges


During the early days of the gold rush, miners would conduct small scale operations using basic and simple mining tools. However, as the gold deposits on the river beds begin to exhaust, miners started looking for more superior methods. They began digging up terraces and working bench channels by hydraulic mining in the surrounding mountains and hills.

Later, the regions of Weaverville and Junction City gave rise to the methods of dredging. In the late 1800s, suction dredging emerged as the most common method of gold mining across the river. Mining in the Trinity River continued to flourish until 1959, and the river produced over 1,750,000 ounces of high-purity gold.

The La Grange Mine emerged as the greatest hydraulic mine, tucked near Weaverville, while Junction City hosted the greatest dragline dredges. Even today, the Trinity River continues to attract miners and prospectors as there are still some gold remains from the early days of the gold rush.


Modern Mining on the Klamath River


Many prospectors have succeeded in discovering notably large nuggets of gold; however, the process is much harder and complex that it used to be in the early mining days.

The modern gold prospector has been severely hampered in recent years with the decision to ban suction dredging in the state of California. During the end of the 20th century, this was the primary way that miners found gold. A hard working man in a good location could make a nice living as a gold miner.

Without suction dredging, it is much harder to make a living as a placer miner. Even on a river as rich as the Klamath, it generally takes motorized equipment to recover economical quantities of gold.

There are still some options. If set up properly a person can still use a high banker, which works well if you locate a good bench deposit of gold-bearing gravel. It's not easy work... the prospector has to manually shovel gravel into the head of the box.

Most casual prospectors simply use pans and sluices. Even with its long history of mining, you can still recover some decent gold using even the most basic methods.

Some prospectors use metal detectors to discover gold nuggets. The Klamath has produced some amazing nuggets over the years. In fact, early literature from the early days on the Klamath have documented some nuggets weighing several hundred ounces! I have personally seen a 30-ounce nugget that a miner in a well-worked area not far from Happy Camp. There are still some big nuggets out there!

Next: 10 Free Gold Panning Areas in California