Fifteen years ago I ran a series of articles on the mines of El Dorado County in the Placerville “Mountain Democrat.” Since then a number of people requested that the series be updated and rerun, often to find a name for their new street or to get more historical information on their property. About three years ago the list was substantially updated and rerun.
As you will see, this information is an early and important part of the history of our county and mining in California.
For the first few years following the discovery of gold at Coloma in 1848, mining was nearly everyone’s occupation. When a prospector found something promising in or near a creek or river, a claim would be staked out on a small parcel of land according to the “Miner’s Rules” for that Mining Region, there being no real government regulation at that time. Later a formal process evolved where the miner could file a claim with the government on larger parcels of land, which occurred mostly along the Mother Lode system, a large, north-south region of steeply dipping gold-bearing quartz veins within fine grained slate.
Thousands of mineral claims were filed for gold and later, for chromite, copper, lead, manganese, mercury and tungsten, along the badly needed building materials such as limestone, slate, soapstone and various kinds of gravel.
For identification purposes, each mining claim was named by the miner or miners who discovered or worked it. Like the towns they created, some reflected their personal name, the place they had left from on their trip west, loved ones left behind, a nearby physical landmark or often, something now totally obscure.
In time some of these claims grew into large mining operations operated by a cooperative “company” or large crews of hired miners. However, most were simply abandoned once any value was removed and soon became just a forgotten entry in the record books. Like the early towns and roads, these mines, and often their names, have become simply a part of our history.
Several mining terms are used that may be unfamiliar to the reader. These are: Adit: a horizontal or nearly horizontal entrance to a mine; Crosscut: a cutting that intersects the main lode or workings; Drift: a horizontal or nearly horizontal passage, usually following the deposit or ore body; Shaft: a vertical or inclined excavation often used for ventilation or to haul out material; Stope: an excavation from which the ore is removed either above or below a level in a series of steps; Winze: a small, inclined shaft from one level of a mine to another and Working Level: the vertical depth at which mining occurs.
Placer mining is the mining of existing or ancient river and streambeds for material washed from its source and usually done from the surface, by hand or machine (often a small or large dredge). If it is an ancient riverbed with later deposits above it, mining may be by tunneling, drifting or by high pressure water (hydraulic mining) which was outlawed in the late 1800s. Lode and seam deposits are in-place material which is mined either underground or by open pit depending upon its depth
I am often asked about some of the mines about which I have written and whether or not there is anything left worth viewing. By now most of them are on private property and you will need the owner’s permission to see them. How you find out the name of the owner is a matter of research at the El Dorado County Recorder’s Office and government mining documents such as “Mines and Mineral Resources of El Dorado County”, which can be found in the rare book collection at our main library.
You must always remember that a mine, working or abandoned, open pit or underground, is a potentially dangerous place. When following an adit into a mine you may come across a winze or an air shaft, several hundred feet deep. If you fall in, they will never find you and your cell phone will probably not work! It is best to not go alone.
They are also nice locations to find rattlesnakes and other animals you may not want to meet.
Mine timbers were put there for a purpose when they were new, and now they are rotten and will not support anything. It may not take much to collapse the tunnel.
The best rule is: If you really want to see an old gold mine, go to Gold Bug Park in Placerville or a similar lit and ventilated mine and take the tour.
If you have information on a mine that is not listed, additional information on a mine that is listed or even have conflicting information on a mine, please leave a reply.
When I updated the original list I found a lot more mines that I had overlooked the first time, so I know that there are still more.
I am always looking for updates, photos, etc. and would appreciate receiving them.
Alphabetical List of Links to Mine Information:
Sources for this information includes: “Atlas of California,” by Donley, Allan, Caro and Patton (1979); “A Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals,” by Frederick Pough (1953); “California Gold Camps,” by Erwin Gudde (1975); “California Place Names,” by Erwin Gudde, 3rd Edition (1974); “History of El Dorado County,” by Paolo Sioli (1883), reprinted and indexed by the El Dorado Friends of the Library (1998); “Natural History of the Sierra Nevada,” by Storer and Usinger (1963); “Hand-Book of Mining Law,” by Henry N. Copp (1881); “California Mines and Minerals,” California Miners’ Association (1899); “The Mother Lode Region of California,” by W. H. Storms for A. S. Cooper, California State Mineralogist (1900); “Mother Lode Gold Belt of California,” by C. A. Logan (1934); “California Journal of Mines and Geology,” Walter W. Bradley, State Mineralogist (1938)”; “Mines and Mineral Resources of El Dorado County, California,” reprinted from the California Journal of Mine and Geology – California Department of Natural Resources, Division of Mines (1956); Map entitled “The Mines of El Dorado County, California,” Clifton Wildman (1932);“Map of Western Portion El Dorado County Showing Mining Claims,” C. A. Logan, District Mining Engineer (1938);Newspapers: “Mountain Democrat,” 1854-present; the “Empire County Argus” (Coloma), 1853-1856; the “Californian” (Monterey), 1846-47; the “Alta California” (San Francisco), 1849-1850 and the “Placerville Republican and Nugget” and “El Dorado Republican,” various issues.