Earn Good Wages in New Gold Rush (Jul, 1931)

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Earn Good Wages in New Gold Rush

by John Edwin Hogg

THERE’S a new gold rush on—one in which you can participate as well as the reasoned prospector, with the reasonable assurance of panning out a fair day’s wages, and with the ever-present possibility of striking a nugget which may vary anywhere from $50 to $5,000 in value. Hundreds of men, thrown out of work by the business depression, are today panning out gold in the thousands of places where it is known to exist in small quantities. They are making fair wages in a healthful, outdoor occupation, and they’re assured a job as long as they are willing to shake a gold pan.

If you are wondering what chance you would have to become a gold panner, let me present the facts and permit you to draw your own conclusions.

Pan gold or placer is usually found in the beds of streams. It occurs in innumerable mountain streams in nearly all of our western states. The big mining syndicates are not interested in this kind of gold unless it is found in what they consider commercial quantities. A location where a single miner working with a gold pan would be able to pan out good wages for an indefinite period wouldn’t be of the slightest interest to the big dredging outfits. The big dredging concerns would have to have millions of tons of such gold bearing sands before they could be sure of paying for their costly machinery, and paying dividends to their stockholders over a period of years. So, they have left all the small gold-bearing streams for the “little man” with low overhead expense and primitive methods of removing the pay dirt from the sand.

The prospector who goes along such streams examining the sands will usually have his attention attracted to what he thinks is gold by seeing it sparkle. The yellow sparkle may be gold, or it may be mica, iron or copper pyrites, or numerous other substances having much the appearance of gold. Having found what looks like gold in a stream, the prospector usually makes what is known as “the toothpick test”. With the point of a toothpick he reaches under the water and endeavors to pick up one of the yellow flakes. If it is mica or iron it will float right away when it is touched with the toothpick. If it is gold it will come right up on the toothpick or work down into the sand.

Another test by which gold dust may be instantly distinguished from iron is to use a magnet. Iron will stick to the magnet. Gold will not. The next test for the yellow particle thought to be gold is the test for malleability. Place the yellow flake on the tongue, then get it between the front teeth, and bite down hard. Gold is malleable, and when you bite it it’s exactly like biting down on a flake of lead. It can almost be chewed like chewing gum without going to pieces. Mica, pyrites, or other substances are gritty when bitten. The yellow flake that responds to these tests, is almost certain to be gold. Now examine it with a miner’s magnifying glass. If it is gold, the tiniest flake of it will look exactly like a nugget. The final test, however, is reaction to acids and mercury. Gold is immune from the corrosion of nitric and sulphuric acids. Gold will not float in mercury. Anything else will.

Having located gold-bearing sand, the isolation of it in the gold pan is a fairly simple process. The amount of gold in the sand and the willingness of the gold panner to work determines the financial returns. A quart or more of sand is placed in the pan and covered with water. The pan is then rocked gently to and fro. The particles of gold are heavier than anything else in the pan, and will gradually work down out of sight in the sand. When all the yellow particles have disappeared the water and sand on top are carefully brushed out of the pan with the hand. More water is added, and the panning process is continued. Eventually all the sand will be eliminated, and the fruits of the effort will be a streak of color in the bottom of the pan. A magnet is often useful for removing iron sand, which always remains in the pan longer than the lighter particles. The little streak of color that remains in the gold pan is then ready to be laid out and dried. When dry it goes to the treasure bottle as gold dust worth $20.67 per ounce.

It may take half an hour or more to work the gold out of a single pan of gold-bearing sand, but if the panning yields only a small pinch of pay dust, the effort is well worth while. With gold worth $20.67 an ounce, it takes only one eightieth of an ounce to be 25c worth, and one eightieth of an ounce of gold dust wouldn’t begin to fill the eraser socket of an ordinary lead pencil. A location that will yield 25c worth of gold for an hour’s work means $2.50 for a ten hour day, and with living expenses reduced to about $5 a week, is far better than being out of a job and stony broke in a city.

By moving about a bit, however, and finding the highest grade of gold-bearing sands one’s earnings may be vastly increased. A lot of gold panners in California streams are earning as high as $8 and $9 for an eight-hour day—and they’re out in the sunshine and air leading a life that many would regard as a vacation. Moreover, nuggets of gold are by no means a thing of the past in gold-bearing streams. Nuggets have been found worth all the way from 10c up to hundreds of dollars, and it may be any gold panner’s good fortune to shake out a nugget.

In Central California near where the original gold strike was made in 1849, a lot of jobless gold panners are working the moss in the bottom of the streams, and are making the equivalent of good wages. Someone discovered that the moss has virtually converted the streams into placer sluice boxes. So, these fellows are harvesting the moss, shaking the goldbearing sand out of it, and panning the sand. In various other parts of the west where gold bearing sands occur in running water amateur prospectors have set up home-made sluices, hoppers, and small scale placer operations. By developing such low cost methods for extracting the gold from larger quantities of sand than could be handled in a gold pan they have increased their earnings until they can now thumb their noses at the wolf of unemployment.

Quite a bit of amateur placer mining is being profitably done by men who have been able to procure some lengths of old pipe. Mountain streams are usually short and swift, and by placing a pipe in the stream at a higher level they develop a head of water for placering gold-bearing sands into their sluice boxes. A number of others have obtained financial rewards for their ingenuity by rigging up old automobile engines and centrifugal pumps with which they are operating what are virtually inexpensive, small scale i gold dredging operations.

Several years ago the Saint Francis Dam, in San Francisquito Canyon, a part of the 286-mile, Los Angeles Aqueduct System, collapsed. A flood of water tore through the Santa Clara Valley to the sea scattering death and destruction before it. It was one of the major tragedies of the past decade, but a tragedy that has since been a blessing to many jobless men. The flood gouged out the canyon walls and brought down vast quantities of free gold, or “float”, that is now providing work and the equivalent of wages for hundreds of jobless men. Many of these men were destitute. Now they have a source of income that will last as long as they need it, or until such time as returning prosperity gives them work with wages.

San Francisquito Canyon, however, is by no means the only location where free gold occurs in quantity sufficient to be of interest to jobless men. There are literally thousands of other locations where men who are willing to work can earn from 25 to 50 cents an hour for every hour spent shaking the gold pan. As a result, much of the west, and particularly the states of California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and Nevada, are experiencing something of a gold rush. The maps reproduced with this article show you the areas in which the prospector is reasonably sure to find gold.

The identification of gold as it occurs in various forms of gold-bearing ore is something that cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs, unless the ore is sufficiently rich to permit the flaking out of actual metal samples. Detailed descriptions of this subject, however, are obtainable in numerous mineralogical books available in every public library. Moreover, the amateur prospector, or the jobless man who takes up gold panning as a source of livelihood during times when wages are lacking, is probably more interested in finding gold to be panned and converted into cash.

Why is it that prospecting, and practically every phase of mining for precious metal, has been at a low ebb for more than a decade? Gold, being the monetary standard of the nation, retains a fixed value. During the World war, and for some years after the war, the country was prosperous. Jobs were plentiful and wages were high. The value of gold remained the same while the price of labor, machinery, transportation, and everything entering into the cost of bringing gold out of the ground rose to unprecedented levels. Only the richest gold mines could be operated at a profit. Most mines shut down, and there was little or no incentive for prospectors to seek new discoveries of minerals incapable of profitable development.

Most of us, however, are well aware that this condition changed abruptly immediately following the stock market crash of November, 1929. We’ve since had idle factories, business depression, falling prices, and jobless men. Gold still remains the monetary standard with the price fixed by the United States mints at $20 an ounce. Mines operating with low grade ore have recently found it possible to resume operations, and during the past few months there has been a revival in mineral prospecting such as the nation has not witnessed for more than a decade. There can be no over-production of gold as long as Uncle Sam continues its free coinage for anyone who delivers it to the mints.

Prospecting has long been a poor man’s game, as well as one from which many a poor prospector has become rich. Any man, young or old, who is not actually physically incapacitated, and who is really in earnest about it, can usually find someone of financial means who will help him to a grubstake and outfit. The usual arrangement is that the prospector who operates on a stake goes fifty-fifty with his financial backer on any mineral claims discovered. The prospector or gold panner who goes out upon his own resources doesn’t need much capital. A camping outfit, a few simple tools, and groceries sufficient for the length of time one expects to spend in the mineralized regions, are about all that’s needed. Transportation, of course, is essential. Many good gold-panning streams can be reached with a cheap, second-hand automobile; but serious prospecting, with the possibilities for making a worth-while strike are largely a matter of travel afoot or with pack animals. Burros are by far the best animals for this work, and a pair of burros can be picked up almost anywhere in the west for five or ten dollars. They can go for two or three days without water, and can usually find enough to eat in country where a horse or a camel would starve to death.

4 comments
  1. Toronto says: April 6, 20092:47 pm

    I once spent a day panning for gold in northern British Columbia. Glacier fed streams do not a vacation day make, but it was somewhat fun.

  2. Randy says: April 6, 20098:24 pm

    “Earn Good Wages in New Gold Rush” says the title. But I see nothing about wages (an hourly or yearly amount paid for time worked) in the article, just a lot of talk about shooting craps with nature…

  3. Eli says: April 7, 20094:27 pm

    Hmmm… With the economy getting back to the state of affairs at the time the article was written, perhaps it’s time to revisit those old streams and rivers?

  4. Repack Rider says: April 7, 200910:16 pm

    Mark Twain remarked on the fact that young men who had left the farm to make easy money in the gold fields were now finding a few flakes a day, and standing knee deep in freezing water and shoveling gravel for ten hours a day to made a less than a dollar.

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