My work in progress takes place in the remnants of a once thriving gold mining camp. I’ve been doing mountains of research, trying to find a likely location in the right time frame. I’ve rummaged through any number of books on mining towns in the west.  And I have all kinds of tidbits to share.

It seems backward that the gold rush began in California and moved eastward rather than the reverse. But California was where the first gold was found, and it seemed the world was bound to follow.

The many thousands who headed for California at the first cry of gold in 1848 swelled the population from 14,000 to a census of 112,856 in 1852. “The whole country,” wrote one San Francisco newspaper editor, “resounds with the sordid cry of ‘gold, GOLD! GOLD! while the field is left half planted, the house half built, and everything neglected but the manufacture of shovels and pick axes.”

The gold rush spread from Sutter’s Mill both north and south, from southwestern Oregon toward Mount Shasta and along the eastern side of California’s central valleys. Towns sprung up at every find, and rewards were sometimes extraordinary. One lump of gold unearthed at Sonora weighed twenty-eight pounds. A small group from Monterey took two hundred and seventy three pounds from the Feather River in seven weeks.

For lack of a functioning government, the Forty Niners turned to themselves for governance. As soon as any considerable number of them reached a new strike, they gathered at a central point amidst their tents and shanties, elected officers and selected a committee to draw up law governing their ‘district.”

From the beginning, one feature was common: every one was to have equal opportunity to dig and not be thrust aside by hogs. The exception was the the discoverer who sometimes was awarded two claims.   No one individual could hold more than a single plot, though contiguous claim holders might operate their ground in common. Boundaries were carefully defined in a book kept by the camp recorder. An owner held title only so long as he actively worked the ground. Wherever he failed to meet requirements concerning the amount of labor to be expended during a given period, the claim reverted to the public domain and could be reappropriated.

Because the first camps were often very rich, the area allotted was small, sometimes as little as ten feet square per claim. In later days, after the best ground had been picked over, claim sizes increased but remained smaller than in other mineral sections of the West,

Jails did not exist, and justice tended to be summary. Trials were held promptly and a jury arranged. Punishment consisted of flogging, banishment, the cutting off of ears or immediate hanging.

But by 1852, most of the easy-to- handle placer gold had been skimmed away, and new sources had to be found. The individual miner was replaced by companies that damned rivers and used high pressure nozzles to wash mountains of gravel into batteries of sluice boxes and by sheer volume wrung a profit from the light dusting of gold the material contained. By 1858 the annual yield of gold dropped from eighty one million to forty six million, and the individual miner had little hope of earning a living. Thousands of restless miners milled about waiting impatiently for the “next California.”

The mining camps, often situated in heavily wooded mountain areas, were abandoned or destroyed by wildfires. Their inhabitants moved on in search of the next big strike. Miners were, if nothing else, optimistic.

Traces of gold was found in Colorado in 1848 but there was not enough to divert the migration to California. It wasn’t until 1858 that a modest strike was found up the Platt River. So many previous finds had been dismissed as rumors or hoaxes, that new claims were disbelieved.   But in 1958, the New York Times declared this gold rush real, and thousands headed for the rugged Colorado mountains. Dozens of camps and towns popped up only to meet the same fate as those in California. Most had a life expectancy of no more than pthree years.

In Colorado, the same governmental structure existed. Miners organized the area into a mining district and laid down some rough rules. These rules usually decided that no one except the man who first discovered a particular gold field could hold by right of discovery more than one creek (placer) one gulch (patch) and one mountain (lode) claim. The dimension of a placer claim was larger than those in California, usually one hundred feet square.

Many of these towns had colorful names: Fairplay, Fiddletown, Drytown, Hell’s hollow, Jackass Hill, Pokerville, Poverty Gulch, Tin Cup and Buckskin Joe. Fairplay was a typical tent city and in the manner of boom camps everywhere it had a handful of rough-hewn log cabins, a hotel, three newspapers and twelve whorehouses.

Finding gold in either California foothills or the Colorado mountains depended a great deal on luck. Getting the gold out of the ground depended on hard back- breaking work. Panning was the simplest way to separate placer gold from dirt and rocks, but it was slow, back-breaking work in icy streams.

Not fun. Most of the miners who eagerly raveled to the gold fields expecting to pick up nuggets turned away disillusioned when they realized the amount of hard labor required for a day’s wages. Thus, most mining camps became ghost towns.

For time reasons, my little ghost town has to be located in Colorado rather than California.   I know where it is, but I’m haven’t yet found a great name for it.  Suggestions are welcome, and the best one will earn two of my westerns.


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22 thoughts on “THE CALL OF GOLD”

  1. A name for your town?
    Well, I’ll be thinking.

    Either something with Eureka (or some euphamism for that)
    First Strike
    Gold Hollow
    Richman’s Flat
    Glory Be

    or a name that rings of dispair.
    Hard Luck
    Dead Beat
    Lead Belly
    Dumb Luck

  2. Hi Pat! What a great post! I always learn something here. I have a wip set in the gold country of Southern California in the Holcomb Valley of the San Bernardino mountains. Where there’s a lovely ski area today was in the 1860’s called Starvation Flats.

    They say during its heydey, the ground shook constantly with the stamp mills pounding quartz rock 24 hours a day! I’d be a nervous wreck.

  3. Hi Pat! What a great post! I always learn something here. I have a wip set in the gold country of Southern California in the Holcomb Valley of the San Bernardino mountains. Where there’s a lovely ski area today was in the 1860’s called Starvation Flats.

    They say during its heydey, the ground shook constantly with the stamp mills pounding quartz rock 24 hours a day! I’d be a nervous wreck.

  4. Wonderful, informative post, Pat. Your research amazes me. A long ago Harlequin Historical of mine, LYDIA, was set in gold rush Colorado. The place was called Miner’s Gulch but it was near the real town of Central City. After the placer deposits gave out, the mining companies hired a lot of hardrock miners from Cornwall. They lent a unique flavor to the history of mining–but you probably know all this.

  5. Elizabeth. .. I think one of the most interesting items — one of which I omitted because of space — was the number of foreigners who came here because of the gold rush. Among the most plentiful were Asians and Australians, but there were substantial numbers from the British Isles as well as central Europe. When the gold ran out, the miners were often replaced by Chinese miners who had not been allowed a claim while gold was plentiful. They were more than willing to work the claims that no longer interested Americans.

  6. Hi Pat,
    Wonderful stories of the gold rush. I live in CA so I’ve visited many of the places you’ve named and enjoy the research and history there.

    I’ve panned for Gold on the American River. What fun! And visited Sutters Mill.

    I’m so bad with titles and names. Wish I could help you. Maybe Mary will come thru … Mary do you have those names?

  7. Suggestions: Colorado Falls, Devil’s Creek,
    Spirit Junction, Lone Pine, Lodge Pine, Angel’s
    Rest, Peaceful Bridge.

    Gotta stop, I need to run out for a while!

    Pat Cochran

  8. How about…
    Pine Ridge, Loveland Lost, Evergreen Springs,
    Fools Fountain, Dead End, Potters Place, Rocky Ridge, Windsor Way…

    Well, I tried!

  9. Hi Pat,
    Don’t you just love Highway 49? So many wonderful towns that are still there. My son’s father in law lives in Fiddletown at one of the stage stops. He has a Wells Fargo Safe in his hallway. My son lived in Fairplay for awhile before he moved to Eastern California. The Gold fever is still a fascinating subject. Thanks for all the info.

  10. Hello,
    I just found this website a few days ago and I am so hooked! I have spent hours reading all of the past postings and comments!

    Anyway, I thought I’d share my two-cents-worth. I just lived the last 10 years in Colorado. 6 in Colorado Springs and 4 in Denver. If you ever get the chance to drive Gold Camp road from downtown Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek it is awesome! The road was built on top of the old railroad tracks and if you can get the Gold Camp Road travel book it tells you about all of the lost cities and abandoned sites along the way. I’ve done this several times and always felt so “close” to the past (if that makes any sense).

    My thoughts on mining towns. I have noticed that a lot of old mining towns were named after the guy…or the guy’s lost love. So, something like Laclede, August, Whitney, Alice, etc…I like them all. In my family history their is even a woman named Sara-sara.

    I also liked: Lostwood, Logan Center, Temple, Cascade, and Cash.

    I’ve even heard of one in Wyoming called “Miner’s Delight.” It’s hard to imagine crusty miners naming their little township something so cute.

    My last one would be something with two names,like “Heaven-or-Hell, Colorado.”

    Hmm…I had fun thinking these up if nothing else!

  11. Hi Pat! What a fascinating post! Thanks for all the info on the gold rush! Some suggestions: Thunder Gulch, Mustang Mountain, Calico Creek, Hot Springs, Twilight Ridge, Wild Horse Canyon, Timber Creek, Silver Bullet, Comanche Pass, Apache Canyon, Red Rocks, Paiute Flats, Miner’s Mark, Prospectors Gamble, Mineshaft…

  12. I also love all the tales of family ties to the gold rush. I had a great, great, great (maybe several more greats) relative, a woman who was a doctor who went to the Klondike gold rush. I had a copy of a letter she wrote before I let it go to a family member who never returned it. But one of the observations was that since it was never daylight, no one knew whether it was day or night and you might have visitors in the middle of the night because they didn’t know. It was very disconcerting.

  13. Okay, I’m thinking either triumph of tragedy.

    Busted Flats

    Or Eureka (I know, taken)
    Glory Road
    Golden Flats
    Maybe name it Golden Flats, the later, when it’s dying, draw a line through the town sign and change the name to Busted Flats.
    Or call it Fat City then later, draw and L in, to change it to Flat City.

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