Sunday, October 22, 2017

P. Boffer - a gold rush era mystery


Gold Rush, in the strictest terms is defined as, "a rapid movement of people to a newly discovered goldfield".

The first major gold rush, to California, occurred in 1848–49. It was followed by others in the US, Australia (1851–53), South Africa (1884), and Canada (Klondike, 1897–98). Successive gold rushes occurred in western North America: Fraser Canyon, the Cariboo (sic) district and other parts of British Columbia, in Nevada, in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, eastern Oregon, and western New Mexico Territory and along the lower Colorado River. Resurrection Creek, near Hope, Alaska was the site of Alaska's first gold rush in the mid–1890s. Other notable Alaska Gold Rushes were Nome and the Fortymile River.

South Western Oregon's day in the limelight started during the winter of 1851 - 1852 when frustrated miners fanned north from Thompsons Dry Diggin's, in what is now Yreka. Table Rock City, (now Jacksonville) became the hub, since the first gold discovery had occurred on Daisy Creek, just a couple of blocks from what ultimately became "downtown". Alas, as was so often the case, the surfaces placers were shallow and quickly exhausted. But numerous other rich placer finds occurred in the Applegate area (south of J'ville) during the 1850's through the late 60's. Many of those finds lead to the discovery of veins of gold high on the ridges above the placer workings, and the hard rock mining industry came into its own shortly thereafter.

One of those hard rock mining areas came to be known as "Steamboat". It was located on the California border, above Brush Creek. Brush Creek paid well in the 1860's, for those patient enough to move rocks and boulders by hand, while standing knee to hip deep in the ice cold waters that flowed from west to east in this deep canyon.

According to historical records I obtained dating to the teens;

"The Steamboat Pocket was discovered in 1860 near the headwaters of the Applegate River. Over several year’s time, it produced over $350,000."

"The Steamboat lode was perhaps the most productive of these quartz ledges. During 1860 and 1861 it yielded $280,000. These two years included the early quartz mining history of Southern Oregon. No great successes were gained after that period. The gold was too scattered in pockets, and methods were too primitive then to give lasting success to quartz mining, and it was abandoned for a number of years.

"The Fowler lode, at Steamboat City, twenty miles from Jacksonville, is also at present lying idle. This ledge was very rich near the surface, where the rock was considerably disintegrated. The contents of a rich chimney or pocket were extracted, and crushed in arrastras run with horse-power. Major J. T. Glenn, one of the owners, says $350,000 were taken out. Arrastras were erected at a ledge on Thompson’s Creek, a tributary of Applegate, to work the ore extracted, but the rock did not pay, and it was finally abandoned."

Fast forward to the 1970's, and not a trace of the once bustling Steamboat City remained. It was located on a high divide at an elevation of roughly 2700 feet. A few open mine shafts and tunnels remained, which appeared to have been worked sporadically during the depression era (as evidenced by the abundance of machine made round nails found holding the mine timbers together). What had once been the Steamboat Pocket had been opened up by some type of heavy equipment, probably also during the 1930's. An ash layer several inches thick indicated that the area had burned. However, metal detecting revealed that mixed in with the round nails scattered down the steep hillside, an equal quantity of square nails existed below this ash layer. Bingo!

A few pockets of pre-TOC trash were detected. As is typical, everything found was broken, no doubt due to a combination of over a century of freeze / thaw, and the efforts of depression era miners. It had been a typical high country bottle dig. Lots of work, and nothing to show for it.

As we headed back to the truck I noticed an incredibly steep ravine just east of the town site which, at first, had escaped notice. Not wanting to leave any stone un-turned, we slipped and slid down the embankment. Imagine my surprise when I spotted a bottle lodged against the trunk of a piece of brush. Well, I'll be, an aqua acid bottle, over a foot tall, crude as can be, half buried - laying on the surface - waiting to be plucked. And pluck I did~ With the exception of a couple of rock nicks, and 100+ years of crud inside, it looked to be in good shape.
(I've still got it!)

It was then that my rookie digging partner said, "Heh, I found a bottle too". I made my way over to him and sure enough, he had. Only his was amber... And it was round, and it had a glop whiskey top! Being a novice digger, I took over for him at that point. Slowly, I whisked away the dirt. Embossing! Slow, and steady, with the hands of a surgeon, I scraped away the dirt, and slowly cradled the find in both hands; a sixth embossed Jockey Club Whiskey / G. W. Chesley & Co. / S.F..
Elation though, was short lived. When I picked it up by the neck to hand it to him, the base, around the bottom mold seam stayed in my left hand. Uggh, Freeze break!

Enough was enough, for that day...

(to be continued)


  1. You have me hooked - can't wait for part 2

  2. Yeah looking forward to the second part maybe the gold rush of the 70s the 1970s when gold hit 800 bucks we headed to the Applegate River didn't do real well found a little tributary barely enough water to run out 4 inch Keene gold everywhere gold great times