Gold Mining Lore
At one time, 75 percent of Grass Valley residents were of Cornish heritage. Today, there are four and five generations of Cornish families living here. Cornish miners followed mining opportunities from Cornwall, England to Grass Valley. The biggest influx was from 1860- 1895.
Cousin Jack/Cousin Jenny
Introduced by Cornish miners, these terms have become part of the local vocabulary. Helping others find jobs, Cornish miners introduced them as “my Cousin Jack.” The female “Cousin Jenny” soon became part of the tradition.
This term was used to describe the illegal taking of gold for personal use by hardrock miners. Highgrading was difficult because miners showered after taking off their “diggers” and putting on their street clothes. Personal belongings and lunch buckets were frequently searched by mine watchmen.
This traditional Cornish food item is still a luncheon favorite at several specialty shops in the Grass Valley-Nevada City area. Original Cornish pasties were made of beef and potatoes. Today’s pies include a broad range of ingredients.
According to the lore and superstitions of Cornish miners, Tommyknockers are little characters who live deep in the mines. They have been said to make funny noises as a way to protect miners from impending dangers.
Gold Mining Methods
California gold is generally found in two kinds of deposits, lode and placer. The lode deposit is usually deeply buried quartz gold that is mined with hardrock techniques. Placer deposits originated in lodes but have been moved over the centuries by erosion and weathering. They are mined by panning, sluicing or dredging.
This is the simplest mining method and one that conjures images of the Gold Rush. Prospectors dig into stream beds and swirl sand and gravel from their pans. The heavier gold stays at the bottom of the pan. More information about Gold Panning in Nevada County.
Wet, ore-bearing gravels are shoveled into these long boxes. Sieves and riffles separate gold from the other materials. The Long Tom and Rocking the Cradle were variations of the sluice.
Gas-powered dredges are still seen along the rivers of the Gold Country. Miners vacuum sand and gravels from pockets along the river bottom. Gold is separated by screening, jiggling and washing.
Outlawed since 1884, this was a destructive mining method in which entire hillsides were washed away with highly-pressurized water.
Gold-bearing quartz is mined in vertical or inclined shafts deep beneath the earth’s surface. This was Nevada County’s most profitable and longest-lasting method of mining.
Good as Gold
The following are the top 12 gold-producing counties in California since the Gold Rush. Each of those listed produced more than $100,000,000 in gold from 1848-1965.
Butte ……………… $150,000,000
El Dorado……….. $110,000,000
Source: The California Division of Mines and Geology
Download the Gold Mining History of Nevada County brochure