Monday, March 30, 2015

Calif. couple unearths Gold Rush coins worth $10M

For a lucky California couple, their $10 million pot of backyard gold came with a shadow, not a rainbow.

While walking the dog last February, the couple stumbled across a treasure of 1,427 gold coins from the mid- to late-19th century buried in eight cans in the shade of a tree on their property in the state's famous Gold Country, according to Kagin's, the numismatic firm representing the anonymous finders.

Dubbed the Saddle Ridge Hoard, it is believed to be "one of the greatest buried treasures ever unearthed in the United States," the trade journal Coin Update writes.

The $5-, $10- and $20-denomination coins — uncirculated and in mint condition — have a total face value of $27,000 and date from 1847 to 1894. The majority are $20-denomination Liberty Double Eagles struck at the San Francisco Mint between 1855 and 1894, though one $5 piece came from Georgia. Experts said some might sell at auction for about $1 million.

The Professional Coin Grading Service, which certified the little mother lode, rates more than a dozen as either the finest or tied for the finest known examples of the coins, said firm co-founder David Hall.

He called the discovery "a literal time capsule" of gold coins circulating in the late 19th century.

In an interview with Kagin's, the finders, identified only as John and Mary, described how they came across their Gold Rush fortune on what they call Saddle Ridge:
John: I saw an old can sticking out of the ground on a trail that we had walked almost every day for many, many years.
Mary: I was looking down in the right spot and saw the side of the can. I bent over to scrape some moss off and noticed that it had both ends on it!
John: Years ago, on our first hike, we noticed an old tree growing into the hill. It had an empty rusty can hanging from it that the tree had grown around — that was right at the site where we found the coins… At the time we thought the can might be a place for someone to put flowers in for a grave site — something which would have been typical at the time.
There was also an unusual angular rock up the hill from where the coins were buried — we'd wondered what in the heck it was.
Mary: It wasn't until we made the find that we realized it might have been a marker: starting at the rock, if you walk 10 paces towards the North Star, you wind up smack in the middle of the coins!

Who buried them remains a mystery.

"I don't like to say once-in-a-lifetime for anything, but you don't get an opportunity to handle this kind of material, a treasure like this, ever," numismatist Don Kagin told the Associated Press.

It's rare to find such coins older than 1870, because until then paper money was illegal in California.

"It wasn't really until the 1880s that you start seeing coins struck in California that were kept in real high grades of preservation," David McCarthy, Kagin's chief numismatist, told AP.

Some of the coins will be on display this weekend in Atlanta at the American Numismatic Association's National Money Show, which runs Thursday through Saturday.

The couple, who are in their 40s and had dabbled in panning for gold, plan to keep a few coins but intend to sell most on Amazon. Mary said they'll use the proceeds to retire debts and help "people in our community who are hungry and don't have enough to eat," along with the arts and "other overlooked causes." They don't plan to change their lifestyle and hope everyone will treat them the same as always.

Mary offered one priceless piece of wisdom.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Georgia Gold Rush

It is generally accepted that the first recorded discovery of gold by the white man occurred in 1799, in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. Conrad Reed, a boy at the time, found a 17-pound nugget in a creek on his father's farm. Incredibly, the family used the huge nugget as a doorstop until 1802, when it was sold to a jeweler for $3.50. Eventually word got out about the true worth of the gold doorstop, initiating the nation's first gold rush.

 The Georgia portion of the Appalachian gold belt went unappreciated until Benjamin Parks discovered gold in 1828, in the area near which the town of Dahlonega would be settled.

 Actually the first gold rush town in Georgia was called Nuckollsville, later becoming Auraria (from the Latin, meaning "gold"), which was located about six miles from present day Dahlonega. The gold discovery caused a near stampede of those seeking a quick fortune. The region near Auraria lay claim to one of the richest parts of the gold belt and many miners sought their fortune there. The area was named Lumpkin County in 1832 and Dahlonega was selected as the county seat in 1833, denying Auraria her claim to the title, and initiating the decline of the state's first gold rush town. This area had been home to the Cherokee for many generations. They were later forced by the government to leave their land for reservations in Oklahoma, a journey that became known as the "Trail of Tears."

 The gold rush was exacerbated by a state-sponsored lottery, which awarded forty acres of gold-bearing land, previously owned by the Cherokee, to those holding the winning draws.

 Parks may have best described the chaotic scene, "The news got abroad, and such excitement you never saw.  It seemed within a few days as if the whole world must have heard of it, for men came from every state I had ever heard of. They came afoot, on horseback and in wagons, acting more like crazy men than anything else. All the way from where Dahlonega now stands to Nuckollsville there were men panning out of the branches and making holes in the hillsides ."

 Dahlonega was aptly named, being derived from the Cherokee language, meaning "yellow money." In her earlier days known as "Licklog," Dahlonega soon became a boomtown, supporting a surrounding population of about 15,000 miners at the height of the gold rush. Symptomatic of its rapid ascension, shortages of common necessities were widespread. As might be expected in such a "rough and ready" gold mining town, there were stores, hotels, brothels, saloons, and gambling houses.
 One contemporary account related, "I can hardly conceive of a more unmoral community than exists around these mines; drunkenness, gambling, fighting, lewdness, and every other vice exist here to an awful extent." "Sprawls Hotel," a tanyard in town, was an "establishment" where drunken miners were allowed to "ooze" until they were sober enough to "check out." On the other hand, one traveler thought that the Dahlonega hotels offered "comforts for the inner man...not excelled by any in the State."

 Gold production increased in the decade following the gold discovery. The problem that the gold miners faced was that there was not an easy way to convert their finds (gold dust and nuggets) to a spendable medium. Raw gold could be used for payment in the local establishments near Dahlonega, but usually at a steep discount. Part of the difficulty was that the fineness of the raw gold was not easily determined. A few private coiners, including Templeton Reid, attempted to alleviate this problem, with only minimal success. Reid was a German "metal worker, cotton gin manufacturer, jeweler, watchmaker, and gunsmith" who briefly issued $2, $5, and $10 gold pieces  dated 1830, initially from Milledgeville, then from Gainesville, Georgia. It was an arduous and risky task to attempt to have the raw gold coined at the Federal mint in Philadelphia,
 as the distance from the southern gold fields was long and uncertain. Nonetheless, the mint at Philadelphia did receive over $1.7 million in Georgia deposits from 1830-1837.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The United States’ First Gold Rush

The squeaking of the old windlass above the well slowly awakened me from my sleep. As I sat up in the bed, I remembered that greasing the windlass was one of the chores Papa had given me to do the day before and I had carelessly forgotten. Boy, was Papa going to be mad! I hurriedly dressed and ran downstairs to help bring in the water that was being drawn from the well. I greeted Mama with a good morning kiss, grabbed hold of the pail of water she was carrying, and followed her across the yard to the kitchen. I was a small boy, the age of twelve years, and by the time I reached the kitchen, which was about twenty feet behind the house, I had already splashed much of the water out of the pail onto the ground and myself. “Gosh it was cold!”

When I reached the kitchen door I remembered to put a few dippers full of clean water in the wash pan by the door so we could wash our hands before breakfast. After placing the pail of water on a small table in the corner of the kitchen, Mama told me to go to the house and wake my younger brother and sister. Within the next hour the whole family was seated at the table for breakfast. As Papa was saying grace, I remembered it was Sunday and I had a full day to play and do as I wished. Sunday at our home always meant a day of rest, for Papa did not believe in working on the Lord’s day. As we were eating, Papa reminded me that I had not greased the windlass as I was told to do the day before. He said it must be done in the morning or I would certainly be punished. I promised I would not forget this time.

After breakfast Papa went to the barn to hitch up the horses to the wagon so we could all make the half-hour trip to church for Sunday services. I begged Mama to let me stay home from church because I had something I wished to do. It took a lot of pleading, and she finally agreed to let me stay home, but only if my brother and sister stayed and I would agree to watch after them. What I had planned was an exciting day of bow and arrow fishing in the creek down behind the house. This was one of my favorite pastimes, and with all the chores around the farm, Sunday’s were the only free time I had.

After Mama and Papa left for church, I gathered up my bow and arrow, my brother and sister, and off to the creek we ran. Little Meadow Creek, as it was called, was not a very big creek. The deepest part of it was only about two feet deep, with most of it only six to eight inches deep. We quietly slipped along the creek bank searching for fish to shoot with my bow and arrow. With my little brother, it was almost impossible to sneak up on a fish that was lying still in the shallow water of the creek. Twice he slipped from the edge of the creek bank into the water, making enough noise to scare the fish a mile away.

After hours of shooting at fish that always seemed to be moving and that I always missed, we finally came upon a big ole catfish lying real still on the bottom of the creek bed. This was one I was sure I would not miss. As I pulled back the arrow on my bow and took careful aim, my sister began hollering, “Shoot Conrad, Shoot!.” As she was shouting for me to shoot, she poked me in the back causing me to shoot before I was ready. As I watched, the arrow entered the water and slid across the back of the big ole catfish; he swam quickly away unharmed. I was so mad I felt like pushing her into the creek, but knew if I did she would tell Papa and he would give me the licking of my life.

I waded into the creek to get my arrow and as I reached down to get it I saw a large yellow rock laying to the side of where my arrow struck. I handed the arrow to my sister, reached back into the water, and grabbed hold of the strange looking rock. I was surprised that it was so heavy to be so small. It was about the size of one of my shoes, but it seemed to weigh as much as the pail of water I had carried earlier that morning.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mercury used to mine gold in California's Gold Rush days still making its way into valleys below the gold mines.

There really is gold in them thar hills, but there's something else in California's ridges, and in its valleys as well: mercury, a toxic legacy of the Gold Rush that will last for thousands of years.

Scientists have found high levels of mercury, which miners used to extract gold, in the foothills and valleys below former gold mines in California's Sierra Nevada range. Once in the valleys, the mercury can enter the food chain and could eventually make its way to San Francisco Bay. There's evidence that the poisonous chemical continues to ooze out of the Earth and travel to vulnerable ecosystems.

Other experts thought mercury-laced soils were staying put in the mountains, but "our research suggests that is not the case," says research leader Michael Singer, a geomorphologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and the University of California, Santa Barbara. "There are massive amounts of mercury-laden sediment making its way down to the lowlands."

Pollution prevention wasn't a high priority in the 1850s, when the thirst for gold drove prospectors to adopt an environmentally devastating technique called hydraulic mining. Hillsides were blasted with water cannons, yielding a muddy slurry that was channeled through trough-like sluices. To separate the gold from the sand and gravel, workers dumped hundreds of pounds of mercury, which can cause severe neurological damage, into the slurry.

The traditional view held that mercury-laden sediment from the mines had all worked its way down to the bay and the sea by the early 1900s, Singer says. But there have also been signs the mercury is still flowing. So Singer and his team went looking for the stuff. They started at the Yuba Fan, a gigantic buildup of mining debris in the valley of California's Yuba River, which runs out of the Sierra and down into the lowlands. Not far upstream from the fan lie several abandoned gold mines.

The team's survey of 105 sites along the Yuba and two rivers nearby found relatively fresh mercury deposits. So it's clear that mercury is still percolating out of the ground and fouling waterways. For instance, huge amounts of mercury washed downstream from the Yuba Fan during major floods in 1986, 1997 and 2006, according to estimates by Singer and his colleagues. The scientists think there's still enough mercury in the foothills to contaminate the valley below for more than 10,000 years, they report in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team didn't investigate whether the mercury that hits the lowlands goes all the way to the San Francisco Bay Delta, the network of bays and rivers that stretches from California's inland valley to the Pacific Ocean. But there's plenty of evidence that mercury from mining does reach the bay, says Duke University geochemist Gretchen Gehrke, who was not connected to the study. She says the new study is valuable for estimating how much mercury is reaching the lowlands, which is important for both humans and wildlife. The valley below the Sierra is a stopover for millions of migrating birds, and already several Bay-Delta fish species eaten by humans contain unsafe mercury levels.

And the amount of mercury washing into the lowlands could rise, Singer says, if climate change leads to longer floods as predicted.

There's a "romantic view of the Gold Rush, which is old guys roaming around with pans of gold. It was really an industrialized operation run by engineers," Singer says. More than a century later, the result is a "problem … much, much bigger than (many others) are suspecting it is."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

California Gold Rush (1848–1858)

The great California gold rush began on January 24, 1848, when James W. Marshall discovered a gold nugget in the American River while constructing a sawmill for John Sutter, a Sacramento agriculturalist. News of Marshall’s discovery brought thousands of immigrants to California from elsewhere in the United States and from other countries.

The large influx of "'49ers," as the gold prospectors were known, caused California's population to increase dramatically. In San Francisco, for example, the population grew from 1,000 in 1848 to over 20,000 by 1850. California's overall population growth was so swift that it was incorporated into the Union as the 31st state in 1850—just two years after the United States had acquired it from Mexico under the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War.

One of the migrations stimulated by the discovery of gold was the internal westward movement of Americans from the eastern states who hoped to make fortunes in California. At first, there were only two routes. The first entailed a six-month sea voyage from New York around the tip of South America to San Diego or San Francisco. Rampant seasickness, bug-infested food, boredom, and high expense made this route unattractive for many would-be prospectors. The second route brought travelers over the Oregon-California Trail in covered wagons—over rugged terrain and hostile territory. This journey also averaged six months' duration. By 1850, the length and difficulty of both routes had inspired the construction of the Panama Railway, the world's first transcontinental railroad. Built across the isthmus of Panama by private American companies to speed travel to California, the railroad helped to shave months off of the long voyage around South America.

In addition to massive emigration from the eastern US, the California gold rush triggered a global emigration of ambitious fortune-seekers from China, Germany, Chile, Mexico, Ireland, Turkey, and France. The number of Chinese gold-seekers was particularly large, though many Chinese did not intend to settle in the United States, which they called "the Gold Mountain." Instead, they wanted to acquire as much gold as possible before returning to China—hopefully much richer than when they left. Because bandits often preyed on foreigners and tried to steal their gold, the Chinese adopted the unique practice of melting down gold to make household goods, such as pots and other utensils, to disguise their wealth. Upon arrival home, they would re-melt their seemingly ordinary-looking items—usually covered in black soot to obscure their true nature—and recover their gold.

The influx of Chinese and other foreign laborers led to ethnic tensions in California, especially as gold grew scarce. In 1850, the California legislature enacted the Foreign Miners Tax, which levied a monthly $20 tax on each foreign miner. The tax compelled many Chinese to stop prospecting for gold. The Foreign Miners Tax was the opening act in a campaign by native-born white Americans to restrict the entry of Chinese laborers into California to compete with them for jobs and wages. In 1882, the campaign to restrict immigration to California reached its first climax with the federal Chinese Exclusion Act, which effectively halted Chinese immigration for ten years and prohibited Chinese from becoming US citizens.

Despite the ethnic tensions it engendered, the Gold Rush forever changed the demographic face of California by making it one of the most ethnically diverse states in the Union by the middle of the 19th century.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Gold Rush of 1849

The discovery of gold nuggets in the Sacramento Valley in early 1848 sparked the Gold Rush, arguably one of the most significant events to shape American history during the first half of the 19th century. As news spread of the discovery, thousands of prospective gold miners traveled by sea or over land to San Francisco and the surrounding area; by the end of 1849, the non-native population of the California territory was some 100,000 (compared with the pre-1848 figure of less than 1,000). A total of $2 billion worth of precious metal was extracted from the area during the Gold Rush, which peaked in 1852.

Discovery at Sutter’s Mill

On January 24, 1848, James Wilson Marshall, a carpenter originally from New Jersey, found flakes of gold in the American River at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Coloma, California. At the time, Marshall was working to build a water-powered sawmill owned by John Sutter, a German-born Swiss citizen and founder of a colony of Nueva Helvetia (New Switzerland). (The colony would later become the city of Sacramento.) As Marshall later recalled of his historic discovery: “It made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold.”
Did You Know?

Miners extracted more than 750,000 pounds of gold during the California Gold Rush.

Just days after Marshall’s discovery at Sutter’s Mill, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, ending the Mexican-American War and leaving California in the hands of the United States. At the time, the population of the territory consisted of 6,500 Californios (people of Spanish or Mexican decent); 700 foreigners (primarily Americans); and 150,000 Native Americans (barely half the number that had been there when Spanish settlers arrived in 1769).
News Spreads

Though Marshall and Sutter tried to keep news of the discovery under wraps, word got out, and by mid-March at least one newspaper was reporting that large quantities of gold were being turned up at Sutter’s Mill. Though the initial reaction in San Francisco was disbelief, storekeeper Sam Brannan set off a frenzy when he paraded through town displaying a vial of gold obtained from Sutter’s Creek. By mid-June, some three-quarters of the male population of San Francisco had left town for the gold mines, and the number of miners in the area reached 4,000 by August.

As news spread of the fortunes being made in California, the first migrants to arrive were those from lands accessible by boat, such as Oregon, the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii), Mexico, Chile, Peru and even China. Only later would the news reach the East Coast, where press reports were initially skeptical. Gold fever kicked off there in earnest, however, after December 1848, when President James K. Polk announced the positive results of a report made by Colonel Richard Mason, California’s military governor, in his inaugural address. As Polk wrote, “The accounts of abundance of gold are of such an extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by the authentic reports of officers in the public service.”
The ’49ers Come to California

Throughout 1849, people around the United States (mostly men) borrowed money, mortgaged their property or spent their life savings to make the arduous journey to California. In pursuit of the kind of wealth they had never dreamed of, they left their families and hometowns; in turn, women left behind took on new responsibilities such as running farms or businesses and caring for their children alone. Thousands of would-be gold miners, known as ’49ers, traveled overland across the mountains or by sea, sailing to Panama or even around Cape Horn, the southernmost point of South America.

By the end of the year, the non-native population of California was estimated at 100,000, (as compared with 20,000 at the end of 1848 and around 800 in March 1848). To accommodate the needs of the ’49ers, gold mining towns had sprung up all over the region, complete with shops, saloons, brothels and other businesses seeking to make their own Gold Rush fortune. The overcrowded chaos of the mining camps and towns grew ever more lawless, including rampant banditry, gambling, prostitution and violence. San Francisco, for its part, developed a bustling economy and became the central metropolis of the new frontier.

The Gold Rush undoubtedly sped up California’s admission to the Union as the 31st state. In late 1849, California applied to enter the Union with a constitution preventing slavery, provoking a crisis in Congress between proponents of slavery and abolitionists. According to the Compromise of 1850, proposed by Kentucky’s Senator Henry Clay, California was allowed to enter as a free state, while the territories of Utah and New Mexico were left open to decide the question for themselves.
Lasting Impact of the Gold Rush

After 1850, the surface gold in California largely disappeared, even as miners continued to arrive. Mining had always been difficult and dangerous labor, and striking it rich required good luck as much as skill and hard work. Moreover, the average daily take for an independent miner working with his pick and shovel had by then sharply decreased from what it had been in 1848. As gold became more and more difficult to reach, the growing industrialization of mining drove more and more miners from independence into wage labor. The new technique of hydraulic mining, developed in 1853, brought enormous profits but destroyed much of the region’s landscape.

Though gold mining continued throughout the 1850s, it had reached its peak by 1852, when some $81 million was pulled from the ground. After that year, the total take declined gradually, leveling off to around $45 million per year by 1857. Settlement in California continued, however, and by the end of the decade the state’s population was 380,000.

Monday, March 23, 2015

America's First Gold Rush

News of the discovery of gold in north Georgia spread as quickly as a lightening strike and prospectors poured in just as fast. The boomtown of Auraria sprung up to accommodate miners, but later mining activities centered in Dahlonega. Frank Moon, a fifth generation gold prospector describes how gold fever gets in one’s system as he demonstrates panning for the shiny ore. The last real effort to mine gold in north Georgia was in the 1930s. Mining efforts have included dynamiting the mountains, crushing the rock, and even blasting the hillsides with water cannons. Local Dahlonega bookstore owner Bill Kinsland describes Benjamin Parks, the man who started it all twenty years before the more well-known California gold rush. Dr. Ray Rensi at Dahlonega’s North Georgia College describes how 10,000 people rushed to the area seeking gold. However, it was the merchants and innkeepers “mining the miners” who got rich. Cecil Summerour’s great, great grandfather was a merchant in Auraria and the records show he did well until the miners left for California. As Bill Kinsland muses, the people who were miners wanted to get rich quick without doing hard work. The lure of gold being easy to find in California was too much for them to stay in Georgia.

Teacher tip: Many simultaneous events occurred around the period of the discovery of gold in Georgia. Have students create a timeline using dates and events in the video and from other resources, listing as many events as possible in order to get a written picture of the time.