Oregon has produced almost six million ounces of gold. A lot of gold that was produced by Oregon was claimed by the State of California because of a lack of boundaries at the time of the original gold rush.
In 1849, the vast country lying between the Siskiyou and the Calappoia hills was comparatively unknown to white men. Along the solitary trail that led to the interior of Oregon from California a lonely traveling train now and then made its way, or a solitary hunter or trapper journeyed to or from Vancouver in search of furs.
Southern Oregon Gold
The Gold Rush that began in the Sierra foothills of California in 1848, soon spread to other sites in northern California and southern Oregon. Extensive gold mines were worked in southern Oregon in 1849. The placer mines of the Rogue river had yielded tens of millions of dollars of the precious metals, and many of them were profitably worked.
Gold was first discovered in Josephine County May 2nd of 1851 on Josephine Creek. Gold was found next on the Canyon Creek the same year. Both of these streams are tributaries of the Illinois River. Sailors crossing overland from the coast found gold at what we now known as Waldo (no sign of a town exists today), which was along the Illinois River. These discoveries soon brought gold seekers by the hundreds establishing such well known camps as “Sailors Diggings” and “Browntown.”
Some of Josephine’s pockets were very rich indeed. The best known pocket digging was the Briggs Mine near the California line, where masses of gold totaling 2,000 ounces were taken out in 1904 alone. Slabs of gold up to three feet in length were reportedly recovered.
A number of gold nuggets the size of chicken eggs have been found in placer gravels and pocket deposits. The largest nugget was found in 1859 on the East Fork of Althouse Creek, below the Brigg’s pocket. It weighed 17 pounds. Another nugget weighing 15 pounds was found in the gravels near the Esterly hydraulic Mine cut in the early 1860’s.
Records of the United States Mint show production in dollars of $16,816,275.39 for the entire State of Oregon during the years 1848 to 1882. It is estimated that nearly half of that amount was mined in Southern Oregon. The correct true value can never be accurately ascertained as many miners hoarded their gold and much of the gold that was mined by the Chinese was shipped back to China.
From 1906 to 1934 there was a steady decline in gold production in Southwestern Oregon, except for a small increase right after World War I.
In January of 1934 the price of gold was raised from $29 per ounce to $35. This was a definite boon to the mining fortunes of Josephine County. With improved quartz mining methods and more efficient dredges plus a higher price for gold, southwestern Oregon’s gold production steadily increased until reaching a final peak of $1,053,395 for a single year in 1940.
The War Production Board Order L-208
World War II created a major setback for gold mining. During 1942, the War Production Board passed an order titled L-208 which stopped all non-essential mining; gold mining was included as none essential. This order was not revoked until July 1, 1945. This order caused the shutdown of the Benton Mine on Whiskey Creek, Josephine Counties largest mining operation at the time with over 26 miners employed.
The gold production from 1852 to 1966 was approximately $134,000,000. In 1959, Oregon produced only $15,000 in gold. During the 1970’s and 1980’s when gold reached it maximum peek, there was a brief upswing in prospecting. Many prospectors purchased small dredges and took to the hills and streams once more hoping to cash in on the Yellow metal. Some have done very well.