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Josephine Creek – Oregon Gold Location

Illinois River & Josephine Creek

Located in the western side of Josephine County, between latitude 42′13′ and 42′29′ N, longitude 123′38′ and 124′05′ W, the Illinois district had a total production in 1852-1953, between 5,000 and 10,000 ounces of Oregon placer gold along the Illinois River downstream from the mouth of Josephine Creek, and were very productive. The Illinois River and tributaries  were worked almost continuously from 1852 to 1942, and actively continues today by hobbyist gold prospectors and serious miners. The river flows west into Curry County.

Some of the tributaries such as Althouse Creek and Briggs Creek have already been described and Josephine Creek will be described here. The first discovery of was made in 1850 and was made at the mouth of Josephine Creek and not long later Josephine Creek and it’s tributaries. Canyon Creek, Days Creek, and Fiddler Gulches, were places where gold mining was quite productive. The bedrock is decomposed serpentine, and aside from gold and platinum group metals in the waterway, gold is also found in two partially cemented gravel benches. The highest of which is 150 above the current stream level. These gravels were worked by hydraulic methods as well as, by drifting . Up to 20,000 ounces of Oregon gold was recovered. Between 1886 and 1911, considerable gold was recovered using hydraulic methods from a broad gravel bench on both sides of the Illinois River below it’s junction with Josephine Creek.


Much of the gold and platinum group metals found in the Illinois River and it’s tributaries came from mineralized zones in the district where there were small lode gold mines. Near the headwaters of the Illinois River where you would find Waldo, the famed “”Sailors’ Diggings” can be found. The Sailors dug a 41 mile ditch to bring water for the huge hydraulic and sluicing operation that soon followed. The placer mining continued into 1942, with intermittent activity into the present. This area is noted for large nuggets.

On Jack Creek and nearby Horse Creek in the Josephine Creek area, placers were worked extensively before 1910. No official records were found by the author on the total production of these two creeks.

Southern Oregon Gold

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.

Esterly Mine

Esterly Mine

Josephine Creek running into the Illinois River

Josephine Creek running into the Illinois River

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.

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