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Placer gold, or surface gold, was relatively abundant in California's waterways when the Gold Rush first began in 1848. Early prospectors initially used primitive tools such as picks, pans, and shovels to break up and wash riverbed gravel in their quest for riches.

However, hoards of gold seekers quickly exhausted surface supplies of the precious metal. Miners then turned to more invasive and technologically advanced mining techniques. Diverting waterways, blasting, and forms of hydraulic mining quickly replaced placer mining methods.

By 1857, California’s gold production stabilized at roughly $45 million annually. President Lincoln later speculated that gold from California's mines would significantly ease the heavy burden of national debt that had skyrocketed due to the immense costs of the Civil War.

"Tell the miners from me, that I shall promote their interests to the utmost of my ability; because their prosperity is the prosperity of the nation, and we shall prove in a very few years that we are indeed the treasury of the world."

President Abraham Lincoln's message to Californias miners, spoken to a friend about to depart for California, April 13, 1865. As quoted in Milton Henry Shutes, Lincoln and California (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1943).


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Kern County Agua Caliente Mining District. Department of Natural Resources – Division of Mines and Geology Records, California State Archives.

Kern County Agua Caliente Mining District.

Department of Natural Resources – Division of Mines and Geology Records, California State Archives


Fashioned from bent wires or iron rods, "Sticking Tommy" candleholders lit the way for miners working underground in dark hard-rock mine shafts.  The sharp point kept the tool in position in a rock wall or timber, while the hook provided a place for the miner to hang a jacket.  Artifact Collection, California State Archives.

Fashioned from bent wires or iron rods, "Sticking Tommy" candleholders lit the way for miners working underground in dark hard-rock mine shafts. The sharp point kept the tool in position in a rock wall or timber, while the hook provided a place for the miner to hang a jacket.

Artifact Collection, California State Archives.


Crouching on the riverbanks, placer miners swirled water and gravel in shallow pans like this one, loosening heavy gold flakes from river bottom soil.  Miners often blackened their pans over campfires in order to make gold flakes more visible.  Joe Samora Collection, California State Archives.

Crouching on the riverbanks, placer miners swirled water and gravel in shallow pans like this one, loosening heavy gold flakes from river bottom soil. Miners often blackened their pans over campfires in order to make gold flakes more visible.

Joe Samora Collection, California State Archives



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