Throughout the Gold Rush, mining companies experimented with different types of mining, including river mining, lode mining, and dredging, but no method had more profound 1 H.W. Brands, The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream (New York: Doubleday,
Finally, a court ruling brought an end to hydraulic mining in 1884, and agriculture took over as the principal force behind the California economy. Miners invented a tool to gather more gold, and it continued the development of the economy during the gold rush.
The Gold Rush, positive for California in so many ways, had a devastating effect on the state's environment. Many of these problems were directly related to gold-mining technology. The process of hydraulic mining, which became popular in the 1850s, caused irreparable environmental destruction.
During the Gold Rush era, the first Forty-Niners looked for surface gold in riverbeds using pans and improvised wooden devices called sluices or rocker boxes. This method, called placer mining, circulated water through dirt, rock and spent ore while the heavier gold dropped to the bottom.
The individual who discovered gold at Sutter's Sawmill in 1848 never benefited from the California gold rush, and died largely forgotten and in poverty in 1885. California's Gold Rush, S. Clamage, International California Mining Journal, Vol. 67, No. 8, pp. 5-10, (1998).
Gold mining evolved from hydraulic mining of unconsolidated placer deposits in the early days of the Gold Rush, to underground mining of hardrock deposits, and finally to large-scale dredging of low-grade gravel deposits, which in many areas included the tailings from upstream hydraulic mines.
A study of the mining techniques used during the California Gold Rush reveals more than just information of how to extract gold from the earth. The various types of mining techniques also show the cultural melting pot that was then and is now California and they reveal the myth behind the history of the Gold Rush.
Hydraulic Mining. Hydraulic mining, or hydraulicking, is a type of mining that uses water to displace rock material or move deposit. Formerly, the use of a huge volume of water had been urbanized by the Romans to take out overburden and then gold-bearing debris as in Las Médulas of Spain, and Dolaucothi in Britain.
The California Gold Rush turned the once-rural expanse of California into an area dotted with towns and cities. "The Gold Rush put San Francisco on the map," Rohrbough says. "It also was instrumental in the founding and growth of Stockton and Sacramento."
While remnants of old mining equipment still poke up in or near the river, the rush for gold has mostly been replaced by the rush for adrenaline. Each of the American's three forks serve up their own style of watery fun, and outfitters offer everything from family-friendly half-day floats to white-knuckle multi-day adventures.