Mines of El Dorado County

image of Happy PannerFor the first few years following the discovery of gold at Coloma, 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.

Published courtesy of the El Dorado County Main Library 
by Doug Noble

For the first few years following the discovery of gold at Coloma, 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 with 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 a part of our history.

Definitions of Mining Terms

For the convenience of readers I am including the general definitions of several mining terms that may be unfamiliar. 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 in a specified direction The Mother Lode is a large, north-south region of steeply dipping gold-bearing quartz veins within fine grained slate that was heavily mined, usually by underground means
  • Raise: an upward vertical shaft started from within a mine
  • Shaft: a vertical or inclined excavation
  • 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
  • Working Level, or Level: the vertical depth at which mining occurs

Epilogue

I am often asked about some of the mines I have written about and whether or not there is anything left worth looking at. Well, 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 County Recorder's Office and government mining documents like "Mines and Mineral Resources of El Dorado County", which can be found in the rare book collection at our main library. You must remember that a mine, working or abandoned, open pit or underground, is a potentially dangerous place. When following an adit into a deposit, you may come across a winze, raise or an air shaft, several hundred feet deep. If you fall in, they will never find you! Mine timbers were put there for a purpose when they were new and now they are rotten and will not support anything. The best rule is: If you really want to see an old gold mine, go to Gold Bug Park in Placerville and take the tour. Besides, they also have a stamp mill to look at.
--Doug Noble 2002

Sources Include:
"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 Friends of the Library of El Dorado County (1998)
"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)
"Natural History of the Sierra Nevada", by Storer and Usinger (1963)
"The Reader's Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary, Reader's Digest Association, Inc. (1975)
The Mountain Democrat, 1854-present
The Empire County Argus (Coloma), 1853-1856
The Californian (Monterey), 1846-47
The Alta California (San Francisco), 1849-1850