From: The Centennial History of Oregon Vol. I
by Joseph Gaston

R. Gess Smith

The Discovery of Gold in Oregon

As the continued discoveries of gold spread northward in California and finally to Siskiyou county in that State it became necessary for the miners to get a new base of supplies this side of the Sacramento Valley. To meet this state of affairs pack trains of mules were put on the route, first between Scottsburgh on the Umpqua river, and the mines, and then between the Willamette valley and the mines. One of these pack trains owned by James Cluggage and James R. Poole, camped for the night on the ground now covered by the town of Jacksonville; and after staking out their animals went in search of water up the little gulch south of the present town known as Rich gulch. And here after scraping out a hole to fill with water they saw a lot of placer gold. From this find they extended their examination of the gulch, and finally to the nearby channel of Jackson creek, and found plenty of gold wherever they examined these streams. This discovery was made in 1851, and was the first discovery of paying gold mines in Oregon. Prior to this date [1849] some Oregonians going down to the California mines did find colors of gold at the old fort of Rogue River down below the point where the town of Gold Hill is now located. But as it was not worth working it was never reported as a discovery. After this discovery of gold, Cluggage and Poole filed on land claims adjoining the gold discovery and laid out the town of Jacksonville, and both became wealthy and influential citizens. From this discovery on Jackson Creek, the discoveries rapidly extended east and west until all the mountain regions of Jackson, Josephine and Curry Counties had been thoroughly explored, and many millions of dollars taken out. Gold was discovered first in Josephine County by a party of sailors who deserted their ship at Crescent City on hearing of the discovery in the Rogue River valley, and made their way across the mountains to the head waters of the Illinois river, and commenced prospecting in the vicinity of the old mining camp of Waldo. Here they struck "pay dirt," and so rich as to attract many others to the place, which from that date on went by the name of "Sailor Diggins." And here in Josephine County was organized the first mining district in Oregon; and of which the following is a copy of their rules and regulations:

"Oregon's First Mining Code"

"Know all men by these Presents: That we, the miners of Waldo and Althouse in Oregon Territory, being in convention assembled for the purpose of making rules to regulate our rights as miners, do hereby on the first day of April, 1852, ordain and adopt the following rules and regulations to govern this camp.

"Resolved, 1st. That 50 cubic yards shall constitute a claim on the bed of the creek extending to high water on each side.

"Resolved, 2nd. That forty feet shall constitute a bank or bar claim on the face extending back to the hill or mountain.

"Resolved, 3rd. That all claims not worked when workable, after five days, be forfeited or jumpable.

"Resolved, 4th. That all disputes arising from mining claims shall be settled by arbitration, and the decision shall be final.

"E.J. Northcutt, Chairman."

Following the discoveries of gold in Jackson and Josephine Counties came the discovery of the gold dust in the sea beach sands in Coos and Curry Counties. In 1853 there were more than a thousand men washing gold out of the black sand along the sea shore south of Coos Bay. This gold is supposed to have been washed down into the ocean by the coast rivers; and every big storm carried back in a fresh lot of gold dust within the reach of the miner who has patience enough to work the sands over often enough to get the gold dust out of them.

The first discovery of this sea beach gold was claimed to have been made by some half-breeds in 1852 at the mouth of a creek a few miles north of Coquille near where Randolph appears on the map. The gold was so very fine that the use of a microscope was often necessary to detect it; but notwithstanding that, with the use of quicksilver it could be recovered in apying quantities. Hundreds of machines have been invented and patented to save that sea beach gold; and yet none of them seems to have much advantage over the original methods of the first miners using the quicksilver. The sand in which this sea beach gold is found exists not only on the present day sea shore but is also found on the ancient sea shore line forty miles back in the interior on the upper Coquille river. A very large deposit of this gold bearing sand was found on an ancient sea shore line one and a half miles back of, and 180 feet above the level of the present sea beach. Here the depth of the gold bearing sand varies from one to twelve feet in a depoit that is from three to five hundred feet wide and covered with a deposit of white sand showing not a particle of gold dust. The surface of this deposit is covered with a dense forest; and the gold bearing black sand contains trunks of trees of great size in a good state of preservation.

The Discovery in Eastern Oregon

Ten years after the discovery in Jackson County came the discovery on Burnt river in Eastern Oregon. It came about in this wise. Undoubtedly the first discovery of gold in Eastern Oregon was that which has passed into history as the "Blue Bucket Mines." Of this discovery two versions are given. A small party of immigrants were on their way from the Missouri river to the Willamette valley, and was camped at some point which the first discoverer [W.J. Herren] supposed to be on the upper branches of the Malheur river in what is now Malheur county, in the year 1852. And while at this camp and herding his cattle Herren picked up a piece of shining metal on the rocky bed of the nearby creek, and carried it into camp as a curiosity. Another specimen was found and brought to another wagon in the party. No one in the party could tell what the metal was, and no one thought of it being gold, although the pieces were hammered and flattended on a wagon tire. It was said these nuggets were thrown into a tool chest and lost and forgotten. The other story is as follows: That a train of immigrants after great trials and perils from Indians and hard travel came to a creek in that Malheur region where the learder of the party died, and the party halted for a half day to give the man decent burial. And while here a woman of the party took advantage of the stop, and the water in the creek, to do some washing; and with her clothes and her buckets she went down the little stream below the camp to do her work, taking her children along with her. And while so engaged the children played and paddled in the creek and picked up the pretty pebbles and threw them in a bucket - a blue bucket - in which they were carried to the camp and examined by all the party, hammered on a wagon tire, flattened out, and no one could tell what the shining metal pebbles were; but years afterwards, and after the discovery of gold in California, a sailor seeing one of the nuggets declared it to be gold. These are the Blue Bucket stories. Now for their work on real gold miners.

Early in 1861, wonderful stories reached California miners of a great gold discovery at Oro Fino, in Washington Territory. As a matter of fact there was no such a place in that Territory at that time, but it served to attract attention to new and wonderful "diggins," and to bring four men up to Portland, Oregon in search of the wonderful mines. These four men were David Littlefield, Henry Griffin, William Stafford, and G.W. Scriver - Mr. Littlefield is still active in Baker county, and his likeness appears on another page. On reaching Portland these men found the Oro Fino story to be a romance without any foundation. But while walking the streets of Portland to find out the facts of the case and take a new start they fell in with a man who had heard the story of the "Blue Bucket Mines", and was so full of it that he was confident he could lead a party right to the spot where the gold could be picked up in buckets full. This enthusiast, whose name was Adams, declared he had been with the party of immigrants and knew just how to go to the "Blue Bucket" find, and he produced three other men who vouched for him and corroborated his story, declaring they had been with Adams when the Blue Bucket gold was discovered. There were some valiant liars about Portland in those days. All that Adams wanted was men, arms, and supplies enough to make the trip and stand off the Indians. A party of fifty-three men in addition to the eight already mentioned was soon formed, well armed and equipped, and on the way to the Blue Mountains, to find the long lost "Blue Bucket." Leaving The Dalles the party proceeded southeast crossing Des Chutes river at the old Emigrant crossing, then up that stream to Crooked River, then up Crooked River to its headwaters near Wagon Tire mountain, then out on to the desert where the water gave out, and Adams showed signs of being lost. To make a long and disagreeable story short, it is enough to say, that the party wandered around for weeks among the headwaters of Silvie's river, John Day river and finally reached Malheur river and run up against the Strawberry Ranch. During all this disappointment the curses against Adams and his three friends were both loud and deep. Threats to kill him unless he found the mines within three days were made; then one day only was given him; and then he was tried by a jury and expelled from the camp under penalty of death if he returned. Littlefield and his three friends saved the poor man's life from day to day because he worked harder than any other man in the party. Littlefield secretly carried food to the man after he had been expelled from the camp, and saved him from starvation. Finally the party broke up, the great majority returning to the Willamette valley. The four Californians and a few others then started on an independent prospecting expedition, and wandering through the mountains panning the sand in every little stream, they finally crossed over the divide between Burnt and Powder rivers, just above the old town of Auburn and coming down Elk Creek they camped on the night of October 23, 1861, in a ravine which they afterwards named Griffin gulch. Here Henry Griffin sunk a prospect hole three feet deep to bed rock and struck the first gold found in Eastern Oregon - not counting the Blue Bucket myth. From this discovery on Griffin gulch gold discoveries were extended all over the Blue Mountains region. The question may be asked, if there ever was such a discovery as the Blue Bucket find why was it not found again. Hundreds of men have for many years searched for those mines. There can be no doubt but what the Blue Bucket discovery has been found and worked out long ago. The Blue Bucket find was probably in Grant county in the Canyon City region, and the original finders of that gold were simply lost on the trail west, hurrying through the country in fear of the Indians, and for that reason could never go back and find the place again.

How The Gold Poured Into Portland

The columns of the Oregonian of the years 1861 and 62 are the best record of the great gold hunting stampede to and successful hunt for gold in Eastern Oregon that exists; and the columns of that paper are now freely used to furnish the record of mining experiences and successes for this work. The following extracts are taken without alteration or abbreviation and credited to the Oregonian of 50 years ago. In estimating amounts of gold found the reader will bear in mind that an ounce of miner's gold was worth sixteen dollars.

From the Oregonian, July 23, 1861: There are now arriving in this city by steamer, stage and private conveyance hundreds of miners on their way to the mines. The Julia on Monday was crowded. We learn from persons from Yreka that the exodus from Northern California is immense. Parties are constantly going to the mines by way of Klamath Lake. The Red Bluffs Independent says there is a perfect stampede from that section. Many from the Upper Willamette go by the different roads across the Cascades. By the Julia last evening $28,000 came down from the Nez Perces mines.

April, 1862: The Mountaineer tells the story that a miner, while on his way to Salmon river, struck rich diggings and that having no bag for his gathered gold, he filled one of his India rubber boots with it and at the last date was filling the other.

The steamers from San Francisco bring large numbers bound for the mines and the overland stage comes every day loaded with miners. Besides, we have reason to believe, that numbers of miners from California take the route east of the mountains to Walla Walla. There will probably be nearly or about 5,000 persons at the mines by October. Tracy & Company brought down last night, per steamer Julia, $12,000 in gold dust.

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