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Explanation of Hydraulic Mining

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By far the most efficient system of mining yet known, for hill diggings, is the hydraulic; for the discovery of which California is indebted to Mr. Edward E. Matteson….Mr. M. first commenced the use of this method at American Hill, Nevada, in February, 1852, and such was the success attending its operation that others around him immediately began to adopt it; and it is now in general use throughout the mining districts of the State….Water being conveyed….by canals and ditches, around and among the hills and mountains sides where mining is carried on, it is distributed from the main canal by smaller ditches to mining claims requiring it. Here it is run from the small ditch into a trough fixed upon tressel work, which is often technically termed the “Hydraulic Telegraph;” or, run in heavy duck hose upon the ground, to the edge and down the almost perpendicular bank to the bed rock, or bottom of the claim, where it lies coiled about on the rock and the dirt like a huge serpent. As the upper end of the hose is much larger than the lower end, the water running in, keeps it full to the very top; and the weight of this water escaping through a pipe attached to the lower end of the hose, in a similar manner to a fire engine, plays upon the bank with great effect, washing it rapidly away….The most efficient manner of washing down these banks is by undermining them near the bed rock, when large masses – frequently many tons in weight – “cave down” and not only break themselves to pieces by the fall, but unfortunately often bury the too venturesome miner beneath them. It is in the is kind of mining so many accidents have occurred….Sometimes when a man has been covered up by a bank falling upon him, not only the stream generally used in the claim, but often the entire contents of the ditch are thus turned on, and with the assistance of every miner who knows of the accident, it is used for sluicing him out, and which is far the speediest and best means for his deliverance. One becomes surprised when looking at the bold and defiant strength of a miner’s will and purpose, and the risk he so often runs, that comparatively so few accidents of this kind occur. By care however, this branch of mining can be conducted with the same safety as any other. The “hydraulic process” removes and washes masses of earth that would otherwise be useless and its working unprofitable, thus making it not only one of the most useful and effectual, but almost an indispensable method of mining for gold in California. (Hutchings California Magazine, September, 1860)

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