History of Oregon by Oregon Historical Society
homeSection 3Subtopic: GOLD!...
Subtopic : New Names on the Land: GOLD!

Themes: People and the Environment, Social Relations, Economics

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Placer Mine, Josephine County, 1899
OrHi 101827

Two years after Lindsay Applegate traveled through the Rogue River Valley, the 1848 California gold discovery brought Gold Rush-bound prospectors through southwest Oregon. In 1850 and 1851, miners found gold on Josephine Creek, the Illinois River, and on creeks near Jacksonville. Publicity about the find in the San Francisco Alta California brought miners to the region from California and the Willamette Valley and soon gold-seekers staked claims on the Applegate, Illinois, and Rogue rivers. Miners also worked placers on the coast near Pistol River and Port Orford and at present-day Gold Beach where black sand held gold and platinum deposits. Primarily young men in their twenties and thirties, the miners came from Belgium, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, England, and other countries, as well as from Massachusetts, New York, Missouri, Tennessee, and other states. Although no reliable census data exist for the early 1850s, the 1860 federal census counted several hundred miners in various mining precincts. Using rockers and sluice boxes to process the gravels, enterprising miners worked long hours. “I commenced to dig,” Herman Reinhart wrote while working in the Waldo area. “After getting down about two or three feet, I washed out a pan of dirt and got a good prospect of coarse gold….We kept bailing out the water and digging down to about three and a half feet. It was so good a prospect that I concluded to stake off our claims.”

At Althouse, Browntown, and Sterlingville canvas tents and log dwellings clustered near the diggings. The mining camps of Waldo and Ellensburg (Gold Beach) soon developed into service centers where frame and brick buildings replaced temporary structures. Jacksonville emerged as the first true community in the region, with churches and schools as well as boarding houses and saloons.

Although no precise date marks the end of the first period of gold placer mining in southwestern Oregon, the initial boom had ended by the late 1860s. With few exceptions, the mining camps faded from the landscape. As the miners moved on, merchants and farmers became the new leaders in the economy.

The miners left an altered landscape behind them: hillsides stripped of timber, vegetation hacked away to clear stream banks, and water diverted from streams for mining ditches. Only late-nineteenth-century hydraulic miners could exceed this destruction.

© Kay Atwood & Dennis J. Gray, 2003

Themes: People and the Environment,Social Relations,Economics

Regions: Cascades,Southwestern Oregon

Date: 1848-1869

Author: Kay Atwood & Dennis J. Gray

The discovery of gold in California in 1848 brought prospectors through southwest Oregon. In 1851 and 1852, miners found gold in the Rogue and Illinois River valleys and soon gold-seekers spread throughout the region. Mining communities such as Jacksonville and Waldo developed into population centers.


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