Driving Time

Note: driving times are approximate
Driving time from the San Francisco Bay area is 7-1/2 hours
Driving time from Redding, California is 3 to 3-1/2 hours
Driving time from Medford, Oregon is 2 hours
Driving time from Eureka, California (on the coast) is 3 hours
Driving time from Yreka (east of us on Interstate 5) is 1-1/2 hours

Here are driving directions for Interstate 5 (I-5):

If you are driving south from Medford, Oregon, you will reach Hwy. 96, or the Klamath River Hwy. turnoff about 45 miles south of Medford. The turnoff will be to the west, or to your right. Happy camp is approximately 68 miles west on this highway. It is a beautiful drive, getting progressively more green and forested as you travel west. Take your time and enjoy it.

If you are driving north on Interstate 5 from Yreka: approximately 11 miles north of Yreka you will see the turnoff to Hwy. 96, or the Klamath River Hwy. Take this turnoff and drive west approx. 68 miles to Happy Camp; enjoy the scenery.

When you reach Happy Camp:

As you drive into town from the east (I-5), look for Davis Rd., turn to your right and The New 49’er Headquarters will be on the right just a few buildings down.

If you are driving from the coast, just look for Davis Rd and turn left.

The New 49'er Headquarters on Davis Rd. in Happy Camp


Nearest airports are in Redding, California and in Medford, Oregon. Only round trip rental cars are available at both airports. There is a paved runway in Happy Camp for those who wish to fly in using private aircraft.

Above: Happy Camp Post Office, next to The New 49'er Headquarters


Happy Camp has several motels, and reservations are recommended. Klamath Inn Motel, 530-493-2860; Forest Lodge Motel, 530-493-5425; Angler’s Motel, 530-493-2735; Bear Cove Cabins, 530-493-2677; Thompson Creek Lodge, 530-496-3657.

Private Campgrounds

Reservations recommended, and Elk Creek Campground has limited furnished trailers for rental during summer, also has approved sewer dump station for RVs. Klamath Inn RV Park 530-493-5377; Elk Creek Campground, 530-493-2208.


By George Anderson

Prospecting around and enjoying the New 49’er properties near Happy Camp in northern California!



Last winter my partner and I devoted our two-week-long vacation to gold prospecting. We enjoyed our time exploring some New 49’ers Mining Club claims, in the beautiful Mountains of Siskiyou County in northern California. We panned for gold, dug out crevices in rocks that “old-timers” missed, hunted for nuggets with metal detectors (“nugget-shooting,”) and surface-sluiced some virgin placer material!

The New 49’ers Mining Club has around 60 linear miles of mining claims on the famous gold-rich Klamath River and its tributaries, including the Scott River, Salmon River, Elk Creek, Indian Creek, and others.

Our objective on this trip was to locate promising stretches of river to gold dredge this next summer. We also “scouted” easy access points and comfortable, enjoyable campsites. The rivers and creeks were running fast and high, making it easy to identify the low pressure areas, like back eddies, that allow placer gold deposits to form. We quickly found more highly promising stretches of river to mine than we could ever hope to dredge in a hundred lifetimes!

The first couple of days we did some surface-sluicing behind a huge boulder on the west bank of the world famous Scott River. We found a few small nuggets (“pickers”) in our first small sample hole. We averaged about 10 to 15 gold flakes in each pan. That was pretty good, since we’d only mined a couple of yards of material and weren’t on bedrock! But, we wanted more gold!

Moving upriver, we located a large bedrock outcropping with a two-foot ledge that extended into the bank at least six feet. This bedrock was smooth; it was old river channel! A very good place for placer gold to deposit! So we set up our sluice there, and started following this bedrock across the surface of the streambed. My partner soon found a nice nugget in the header-box of our sluice. I cannot tell you how excited we got, because we hadn’t even dug three feet! Some nice little nuggets (“pickers”) were visible in front of the first riffle. Panning the material from the sluice box averaged around ten thick golden flakes to the pan. This gold was a little more coarse (i.e. “chunky,”) than the gold from the first sample hole. We worked on this ledge a couple more days, finding some really nice gold, before deciding to sample another area.

Nuggets weighing many pounds have been found on the New 49’er claims along the Scott River and in the immediate surrounding locations. That’s the reason we wanted to use our metal detectors!

However, even though we went to some old hydraulic mining tailings high above the Scott River, we were only able to find nails, foil, hot- rocks, an old shovel and a horseshoe; not quite the large nuggets that we know are “out-there” still waiting to be found! Don’t worry; we will be back!

It rained again the next day. So we decided to set up our sluice on a tributary of the South Fork of Indian Creek. We knew several members of the New 49’ers Mining Club had previously done very well on this creek.

After looking around a bit, we located their workplace a short distance from the road. Starting where they had left off, we soon encountered extremely hard-packed gravel. This made digging pretty slow and difficult. We used picks and six-foot steel bars to break up the gravel before running it through the sluice. We mined this site slightly more than a day, recovering a few nuggets and approximately five nice golden flakes to the pan while cleaning up.

Cleaning up the sluice every hour told us if we were on the right track. After a while, we felt we should move to better ground. During the rest of the second day, we drove up the South Fork of Indian Creek, looking for access roads. We encountered snow towards the top of the mountains. About four inches fell the night before. Driving down steep access roads in the snow did not seem wise, so we didn’t have the opportunity to prospect the New 49’er Indian Creek claims as much as we had hoped. We plan to get back up there this summer and really take a look!

Rain fell pretty steadily the next few days. We scouted out claims on the Klamath River, while crevicing and “nugget shooting,” One afternoon, in between rain showers, we stopped on K-21 just below the bridge over the Klamath River in Happy Camp. My partner pulled a clump of roots out of a crack in the bedrock. We couldn’t believe our eyes! It easily produced the richest pan of gold either of us have ever seen! I’ll bet that there were at least 50 gold “colors” in that one pan! I thought, after seeing that pan: How much more can we find with a dredge or motorized sluice? We definitely plan to mine this particular spot in the future!

Only one more day to play! We decided to check out the New 49’er claims on Elk Creek. The main road into the area was passable, “one-lane” in some spots. But it wasn’t too bad, considering the extent of the previous year’s flooding. We found a lot of good access roads and excellent camping locations along Elk Creek. A deep pool, just downstream from a high-pressure area, looked very good! Elk Creek has a very rich gold mining history, and I am looking forward to spending some quality time dredging here this summer.

Winter is a good time to go prospecting; it is a sure cure for cabin fever. You have the whole country to yourself at this time of year, because there is hardly anyone around. We did not see a single person on the river or creeks that we visited. Water is high enough that it is possible to prospect (pan or surface sluice) locations that are normally dry. Mosquitoes and flies are very “low-profile” during the winter. We did not see any! Perhaps most important of all, the high water allows you to see where the gold is being deposited, since you can actually see the water in flood conditions.

Go prepared! A good rain suit, hat, gloves, and rubber boots are essential, if you plan to work in the rain. I’ll bet that it rained 12 of the 14 winter-days we spent on the Klamath River in Northern California. When you have got gold fever” as much as my partner and I do, a little rain won’t stop you from doing what you enjoy most in life; prospecting and finding gold!

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This story first appeared in Gold & Treasure Hunter Magazine May/Jun, 1997 on Page 16.
This issue is still available! Click here..

By Marcie Stumpf/Foley

The Great flood of 1997 – “Larry Ogborn found himself in a situation where if he should leave his boat and dredge, he would surely lose them to the river!”

97 flood

“An, exhausted but relieved, Larry waves to Dave McCracken,
his boat ( right center of photo) and dredge safe, and the water on its way back down.”

Larry Ogborn was not born a gold miner, but a number of years ago he visited Happy Camp for the first time and fell in love with gold mining. He bought a 5-inch dredge; and during the summers while his son was visiting, they would dredge for gold together. Soon, however, Larry was extending his dredging time beyond the limits of his son’s visit. And, in time, the five-inch dredge just wasn’t large enough to satisfy Larry. So he bought a 6-inch dredge and invested a great deal of time into customizing it. Once Larry’s 6-inch dredge was completed, he was very proud of it. Larry joined The New 49’ers to gain access to more mining property than he could prospect in a lifetime, and soon became a lot more serious about mining gold.

By this time, Larry had moved to Happy Camp, bought a home, and had been living there for several years. He bought two dogs to keep him company, and all was right with his world.

Larry was finding one to two ounces of gold every single day. You just don’t walk away from that if you can help it.

Larry derived great satisfaction from his dredging; and in time he added to his equipment. Since many of dredging sites Larry preferred were in deep canyons along the Klamath River, he mounted a winch on a separate floating platform, and also purchased a jet boat so he could gain better access to the more remote locations.

In the fall of 1996, Larry was working on a rich claim in the canyon below Independence Creek, approximately 20 miles downriver from Happy Camp. He was just about to run out of one pay-streak when he discovered an even richer one just upstream. It was fall by this time, and almost all the other New 49’ers had quit dredging for the season. It was cold! But, Larry was finding one-to-two ounces of beautiful gold every single day. You just don’t walk away from that if you can help it! So Larry devoted another two weeks working the pay-streak with really good results. He was recovering a lot of gold! Thanksgiving came and went; and with it, the first heavy rain of the winter wet season in Northern California.

Soon, the water was so swift, that Larry was unable to dredge in his pay-streak. So he moved his prized dredge downriver to calmer waters and did some sampling in that area to see if he could pick up an extension of the same pay-streak. It was something productive to do just until the rains let up enough so he could get back into that original pay-streak in the swifter water further upstream.

Larry continued sampling in areas that he could get to without endangering his dredge, but rising water levels in the river due to persistent rains were making it increasingly difficult to find a place to dredge. The rains grew heavier, and the water became muddy and extremely fast. Soon, Larry was spending a lot of time making trips downriver to check on the condition of his dredge and boat in the increasingly-bad weather.

Up until the week before Christmas, Larry was still able to negotiate his boat over to the dredge, which was tied off on the far bank of the river. But that week, the river grew too dangerous for any further boat trips. He had the dredge riding in a very good spot, it was tied well, and there should have been no further problems with it. For years, Larry and many other dredgers in this area have left dredges in the river (including the canyons) during the winter months, and there had never been problems before. Leaving dredges in over the winter, mining could be done when weather allowed, giving a break to cabin fever. In this canyon, the only way to get any dredge out was to float it over to the highway side and hire a crane to winch it up the mountainside and out of the canyon. This would be an expensive exercise, if not necessary. Once the river becomes so treacherous, it is impossible to safely cross it with a dredge.

Larry’s jet boat was tied off on the roadside bank where there were many large rocks. It took a pretty constant watch of the river and its level to keep the boat off the rocks. Rising water meant Larry had to keep adjusting ropes and using different tie-offs along the side of the river.

Larry had attached tires to the side of the boat that was against the rocks, to help keep the aluminum sides from getting all banged up. But it was a treacherous bank for a boat. As the rains increased, water had to be bailed out of the boat to keep it from being swamped and overwhelmed by the river.

As rains steadily grew longer and harder, Larry spent most of his time every day of the last week of the year running upriver and down, checking on the boat at least four times a day. It was continuously necessary to shorten the ropes as the water climbed, and adjust them to keep the boat off the rocks.

Soon, bailing water from the boat several times a day was not enough. On Monday, December 29th, as the rains increased in intensity, the river grew wilder than Larry had ever seen it. Tremendous waves roared through the canyon, churning masses of water, mud and violent whirlpools which were washing right past the boat. It made Larry dizzy to watch down on the river. Entire trees were washing by! He knew then that the situation had become critical, and the only way he would be able to save the dredge and boat would be to camp down there in his truck so he could do whatever was necessary as river conditions continued to worsen.

So Larry made a quick trip back up the canyon to town, picked up his two dogs, some food for them, sandwich-makings, coffee and some snacks. He took enough for a couple of days, worried that the river could take some time to drop back down to normal winter flows. Then he rushed back downriver. The rain was still coming down in sheets, and he was concerned about the two hours that he had been gone. Larry invested the remainder of that day making the journey down the bank every hour and a half, bailing out the rainwater that was rapidly filling his boat. He had to adjust the tie-off lines every time to compensate for rapidly rising water.

Larry found it necessary to use seven different tie-off lines to keep turbid river currents from smashing his boat on the rocks.

As it grew dark, he parked his truck so that the headlights were shining on the trail that led down to the boat. Larry continued his vigil all throughout the night. He would turn on the lights every hour and a half, lock the dogs in the truck and follow the trail down to the river. As the truck was parked some distance away, Larry used a small flashlight to guide himself down the treacherous, slippery mountainside in the dark.

Down on the river, the boat was pitching two feet or more with each wave. With only the small flashlight to help him see, Larry had to negotiate his way onto the boat from the slippery bank, bailout the water as rapidly as possible, adjust all of the ropes, check to make sure his tires were still in place along the side to buffer against the rocks, and then fight his way to the shore and back up the mountainside in the driving rain. There wasn’t anything Larry could do about his dredge which was tied off on the far side of the river.

Larry had had no sleep when Tuesday morning dawned, but his dredge was still riding the water well, and the boat was still floating. He kept to his schedule. At in mid-morning, another miner arrived on the scene who also had a large dredge on the opposite bank of the river. This other dredge was in trouble.

When Larry first saw the other miner, the guy was already launching a raft into the turbulent canyon and was preparing to attempt a crossing to the other side. Larry was stunned that anyone would attempt to cross the incredibly turbulent river in anything! But even before Larry could go talk to the guy, the other miner climbed into the raft on his belly, pushed out into the river and started using his hands to try and paddle himself across. This had worked for the man in calmer water, but Larry was convinced that nobody could paddle a raft across the Klamath River under those conditions.

This particular miner had not been dredging very often during the winter. He had a firewood business in town. The late fall and early winter months found him busy cutting, splitting and delivering wood to the residents of Happy Camp. That work, strengthening his arms, probably saved his life this day; because the raft, when it reached the tremendous waves out in the swift current away from the bank, immediately capsized and the man was tossed out into the raging river. And the guy wasn’t even wearing a life preserver!

As Larry watched, stunned that anyone would attempt to cross the river, the miner launched the raft into the raging river. Using his hands to paddle, he headed for his dredge across the river…

Even though the miner was a large man in good physical condition, he still had a formidable task to ford that river in a narrow canyon, with raging 40-degree water roaring through at breakneck speed. As Larry watched, with tremendous power born out of fear for his life, the man swam for the opposite bank. Even in the violent storm-tossed river, the man actually made it to the other side, pulling himself up onto the rocks to rest near his dredge. There, the man quickly secured his dredge where it would be safer. Then he hiked up over the mountain and followed Independence Creek down the other side, so he could cross the Klamath River over the Independence Bridge. One swim across that river was enough!

A passerby immediately called 911when the man first capsized into the river. As is the way with small towns, not only did the local sheriff’s deputies and ambulance respond, but a goodly number of others in the mining community also showed up to help wherever needed. Many residents in Happy Camp keep a scanner on at all times to remain informed, and to be able to provide assistance to others when needed. So it was only a matter of minutes from the 911 call before a bunch of New 49’er members and others were on their way down there to provide assistance.

Dave McCracken interviewed the man who swam across the river on camera just after the ordeal:

Then Dave captured the river conditions which the man actually swam across. Isn’t it a miracle that that the guy actually survived it?

Late Tuesday afternoon, Connie and Dave Rasmussen, residents of the only nearby home, stopped by to tell Larry that a big slide had closed Highway 96 between there and town. Larry did not say much. He was feeling pretty depressed by this time. His large floating winch platform had been dragged away by the storm that morning. Now with the news of being cut off from town, it looked like he was going to go hungry, too. Larry was just about out of the food he had brought down there with him. His dogs were also hungry. He had not planned on being there for so long. But the rain was increasing in intensity; it was not letting up! He had had no sleep, little food, and things were not going well at all.

Larry thanked the Rasmussens for the information and got back into the truck to rest. At least he had the dogs for company. Larry was worried about friends in town who lived along the river and creeks. He was wondering just how bad it was back there. What he was seeing here was unbelievable!

Just as Larry was sinking into a pit of depression, a truck appeared. It was the Rasmussens again, and he couldn’t believe his eyes! They had a tray that held a big bowl of steaming hot, home-made stew, fresh-hot homemade biscuits, a soda, and some candy for dessert. They even brought dog food for his dogs! He just couldn’t believe it. They were so supportive, it really cheered him up. After he ate a hot meal, Larry’s faith was restored that things might work out all right after all.

Larry maintained his vigil throughout the night again, going down every hour and a half as the water continued to rise and grow evermore turbulent. It was becoming very difficult to get onto the boat. When Wednesday (New Year’s Day) came, the river was the worst he had ever seen it. Down in the boat, Larry found that he could not look out onto the raging river without becoming so disoriented that he could no longer keep his balance as he tried to board the boat.

Larry spent New Year’s Day watching all the trees and people’s belongings pass by on their headlong rush for the sea. He saw several dredges pass by, along with many bits and pieces of other manmade things. Larry could not imagine what things looked like upriver, given the tremendous amount of personal belongings that were washing past him downriver.

That night, as it grew dark again, and the waters became even more turbulent, Larry watched the boat rising and falling violently on the waves, and he decided that he simply could not attempt the trip in the dark again that night. He had less than three hours sleep since Sunday night, he was numb to the bone with cold, and he was totally exhausted.

So Larry climbed into the truck with his dogs and quickly fell asleep. Six hours later, Larry woke up to the early hours of the 2nd of January. With dread in his heart, he shined a flood beam down where the boat was supposed to be, and it was actually still there! The seven lines that he had tied to the boat were not in the best of shape, but the boat was still there and in one piece. Larry tried to see if his dredge was still across the river, and thought he could see the blue of the canopy, but decided it was just his own wishful thinking.

When Larry woke up, it took him 20 minutes to get up the nerve to get out of the truck and look to see if his dredge and boat were still there.

Overnight, the boat had risen to within 10 feet from the final mooring spot where he had left it on the previous day. There was nowhere higher up that the boat could be tied off to a firm anchor. What would he do if the water continued to rise? Larry felt numb by this worry, and he just couldn’t think anymore. Finally, he climbed back into the truck and slept for several more hours. There was nothing more he could do.

It was just beginning to get light when Larry awoke again. It took him 20 minutes or more to get up the nerve to go over to check on the boat and dredge. He was so afraid they would be gone that he could hardly look. What a great surprise when he found that the water had already dropped quite a bit, and both the dredge and boat still there!

Larry rushed down to bail the boat and give slack on the tie-off lines. Two of the ropes had been secured to the windshield frame, and the frame had been ripped out completely by the heavy pulling of the storm. Luckily, he had also secured the ends of both lines to the side rails of the boat. If not for just that little extra security, Larry would certainly have lost the boat. From then on, it was just a matter of adjusting the ropes to keep it off the rocks as the water rapidly receded.

On Thursday, Dave McCracken braved it through the two feet of water across the road at Oak Flat, and then carefully crossed over the slide-area to check on Larry and anyone else who might be stranded downriver. Here follows a video segment that Dave captured where the river was crossing Highway 96:

After that, others also cautiously crossed the submerged road when they saw the tracks which Dave had left behind. The mountainside above had slid down from the top to block one side of the road, and the outer 17-feet of the roadway had slid away into the canyon to be washed away by the river. First one on the scene from the outside world, Dave took the opportunity to interview Larry on camera:

Friday, the Rasmussens had arranged with friends to meet them at Rattlesnake Rapids, and walked across the slide-area where they were picked up. They then rode into town to pick up supplies for themselves and for Larry.

Leroy Hardenburger arrived with more food and supplies for Larry on Friday, as did other New 49’er members, Gary Wright and Bill Seifert. The river had receded from the road by this time. They brought news of everyone in town, and Larry was happy to learn that everyone was okay, although some had sustained heavy property damage from the flood.

How great it was to have good friends. And the Rasmussens; they were not gold miners and he had hardly even known them before the storm. They provided continual moral support for Larry and all his necessities.

Even though he went through an ordeal he hopes never to have to repeat, Larry still feels life is really good. “If you can live in a place like Happy Camp with friends and neighbors like this, life just couldn’t be better!”



Gold Dredging for Fortune and Adventure


It was a beautiful June morning in Austin, Texas when my son Evan and I got up to leave for our trip to California. After killing some time getting some last minute things together and calling my Friend Truman to be sure he was ready to go, we finally set out. It was good to know that after months of careful planning and hard work, this trip started off only an hour behind schedule. No sudden problems cropped up–not a bad start at all.

I have learned that if things start to slow you down and nothing falls in place easily, then it’s time to stop and take a good look to see what might be wrong. Usually I find the problem, or the potential problem, and stop it from getting out of hand. This works every time without fail for me, and sure makes things easier all around.

On this trip out to Happy Camp, California, we decided to take a different route to see some more of the country, so we took Interstate 10 through west Texas and southern New Mexico. This is some beautiful country–very nice mountains, rolling prairies, mesas–and it continued that way on into Arizona and southern California. “Man!” It was hot out there. We stopped in Quartzsite about 10 o’clock on Sunday morning, and it was already 115 degrees. “Whew!”

After spending the night camped out with the rabbits at a KOA campground near Bakersfield, we grabbed a quick shower, a bite to eat, and rolled on up Interstate 5. We encountered very little traffic and no problems. Traveling was smooth all the way to Redding, where we got off the interstate to stop in at the Fish and Game Department to get my dredging permit. After a brief bit of being lost in town, we finally got the permit and were back northward-bound toward Happy Camp. (That name has a ring to it, doesn’t it?) I just love this little town–the laid back attitude, the friendly people, and no one rushing around in a hurry. It’s wonderful! It’s great! Just like a little fishing town I lived in on the Texas coast.

Evan and I finally arrived in Happy Camp about 6:30 Monday evening. We had arrived just in time for one of the nightly activities that is put on by the New 49’ers Prospecting Club during the summer months. These things are always a lot of fun and a person can meet some very good people in addition to picking up some good information.

Now, getting up on Tuesday morning wasn’t a problem at all, as we were both keyed up and ready to go. Evan and I started off by getting needed parts and other things at the Pro-Mack shop. The people who work and run this store are the most helpful folks you have ever seen. They will patiently listen to your questions and answer them if they can. If not, they will direct you to someone who can. While I was there, I left a note for our friends, Truman and Ruth, so they could find us without any trouble.

On we went out Highway 96 to a claim that I wanted to try. Two years before, two other friends and I tested parts of this claim and were not too impressed; but I always felt that we didn’t sample the right area.

In looking over this claim, I had spotted an area just past a set of mean-looking rapids that had a large chunk of stone missing from a sheer rock wall which formed an eddy pool about 15 feet by 20 feet. This was right on the inside bend of the river–right when the water started to slow down after the rapids. It looked real good. Sure enough, the water level in the river was low, and it looked like we should be able to work the spot. “Oh Boy,” time to set up the dredge. We drove down to the river about a quarter of a mile above the rapids where there was better access, and put together my five-inch dredge. This went very smoothly which surprised me; because I had extensively-overhauled this Keene five-inch dredge so that it didn’t look like its normal self at all.

The next step was floating it down to the rapids. After looking things over, I decided not to float it through, but to winch it around and over the rocks. About half way across the rocks, we stumbled onto a come-along-winch that someone had lost, possibly the previous year. It had some rust on it; but after a minor application of oil, it worked very well. Moving the dredge took almost two hours to get over about 200 feet of rocks (next time I will float it through and not be so chicken). After resting for a few minutes, we went back to get a load of things we floated to just-above the rapids on an innertube. On the way, I found a seven-pound lead dive weight and thought I sure was getting lucky finding things. Then, getting back to the dredge, I discovered that it was one of my own weights that had fallen off while we were moving the dredge. Oh well!

Evan and I finally got the dredge to a gravel bar on the opposite bank from where I was going to work, and parked it there. I ran a line across the river, got it firmly attached to a boulder on one side and a big tree on the other, then tested it by coming back across hand over hand. Well, OK, I didn’t get all the way back across, but it was fun trying. My son didn’t know what to think of his father acting so silly hanging from a rope going across the water.

I discovered that all this time, while I was stringing the rope and tying it off to the tree, I had been as close as three feet to a wild bee hive. Well, they didn’t bother me, so I didn’t bother them, and that’s the way it stood between us for the rest of our stay in the area. By the way, the hive was about the size of a basketball.

The next part was the most difficult so far because I had to put everything on the dredge and pull it across the rapids without turning over or losing it. So I sat down and studied the current and the flows and calculated how much rope to use, where to tie it and what angle to tie it on the dredge. It helps to understand about this kind of stuff in order to let the river help as much as it can and not fight you.

Well, we launched the dredge. It floated out a little way and then got caught in a reverse current. It floated upstream quite a bit, then shifted into the main current and started across a little faster than planned. About halfway to this side it reached the end of the rope and tried to play like a submarine. Finally the poor thing came up and smoothly settled into the notch in the cliff where I wanted it. Lucky!

Meanwhile, Evan was waving to get my attention and pointing down stream. When I looked, I saw the last few inches of the suction hose dive under water. Good thing the river was making plenty of noise, because what I said about that hose didn’t need to be heard. Oh well, the only thing to do was get my mask on and dive in. It took about ten minutes to locate the hose, then another five or ten to get it back on the bank. The water was about 12 to 15 feet deep where it stopped, and it took four dives in the swift current to even put my hands on it.

The rest of the afternoon was spent getting the dredge ready to go. When it was all done, Evan and I went back to camp, rested for a while and ate supper. We then returned to Happy Camp for the night’s activities with the New 49’ers.

Now I’ll tell you the whole trip is worth making just to attend the activities that are put on by The New 49’ers. I met some of the best people I have seen anywhere at these get-togethers. This night, I met a family from Georgia, and I really liked them from the moment we met. It turned out we were camping in the same campground and they were just around the bend down-stream from my son and me. They also had children the same age as my son, so that worked out great.

Wednesday morning dawned; and, by nine, we headed for the dredge and got it fired up and operating by 10. The water temperature was just right for dredging, very comfortable. Visibility was around 15 feet, and I considered that good. This area had looked great when I scouted it out. Being on the bottom with a suction hose made it look even better.

Working the gravel, I could tell it had not been dredged. When I uncovered an old car frame, mostly rusted away, I knew it hadn’t been touched at least as far back as the 1964 flood. This looked good!

An hour and a half later, when the first tank of gas ran out, I checked the sluice box and saw good color at the head of the riffles. I have a small one-foot square area at the top of the riffles that I can remove the sample carpet from, and so I panned this out. Wow! What came out of that section was the most gold I have ever seen come out of any of my dredging experiences! I have seen some pictures of gold in a pan like this, but it was a thrill to do it myself. I finished panning this down and set it aside to weigh it separately. (It came out to two penny-weight.) The next tank-full of gas that I ran through the dredge produced about the same results. As I cut deeper into the streambed, the amount of gold kept increasing for the next four days.

While I was on the bottom dredging, Evan was busy on the bank classifying some gravel he was digging at a spot I found for him. After he got about half a bucket full, he sat and panned it out. He did very well at this and always had some colors in the pan–sometimes he had a lot of them. Anyway, he stayed dedicated to panning for a longer period of time than I had thought he would. Also, when I would gas-up the motor, I cleaned the top of the sluice. Then I would separate out some of the concentrates to give to Evan to pan out. He really enjoyed this, because there was so much gold coming from the dredge.

It wasn’t all fun and games. I had to move some big rocks out of the way and that was no problem, but the one I waited too long to move was the one that almost got me. Yep, “The Loomer,” that one I just didn’t want to move yet–the one I would get to in a minute–the one that wasn’t really dangerous. Yeah; that one! Sure enough, I took my attention off it and turned to do something else. Well, when it started to move, I actually sensed it and instinctively jumped and pulled my legs up at the same time. It’s a good thing I did, because when the rock rolled, it missed my legs, but nicked me in the arm hard enough to throw me a few feet out of the way. It didn’t hurt, but it stunned my arm for a minute or two. After the silt cleared and I could see the real size of the rock, I set to work moving it out of the way. This rock was about 600 pounds, so it took a while to move by myself. All the while I was moving this thing I was wondering what I was doing this for anyway. But the longer I worked, the less I worried about it. You know that saying about getting back on the horse that threw you? That really does work! I felt better about the whole situation after I worked around that rock and finally moved it out of the way.

On Thursday, when we stopped for the day, we discovered that Truman and Ruth had finally arrived in camp and wanted to know how we were doing. We had split up at Bakersfield so they could go to visit some places around San Francisco; then they went up the coast to Eureka and finally across to Happy Camp. It was nice to have them in camp, so the next morning I took them down to the river to show where we were working. I showed Truman where Evan was digging and panning, so the two of them did that while I went back dredging. (I also showed them where the bees were.) These two people are the best people I know, and I think a lot of them. Truman and Ruth stayed with us for a few more days, and then they had to head back home. But in that time, we sure had a lot of fun and they both learned how to walk on river rocks without slipping too much.

Saturday was a big day back at Happy Camp. The New 49’ers were sponsoring a coin and prize hunt and the big Saturday barbecue. This is an event you don’t want to miss. More people were there than you could find the time to talk to. It was a grand event–lots of prizes and coins, not to mention the real nice folks. The potluck and barbecue-lunch was marvelous and that barely describes it.

Enough of the fun and games, and it was back to dredging the next day for us.

I continued to work that area, and when the hole reached a layer of packed and rotten branches mixed with tree stumps and logs, I spread it out further until I ran out of room to work. After this, I cleaned up the sluice completely, then got back in the water and began to break up the mass of wood to get underneath it. This was the first time I had run into anything of this nature. The stuff would mostly turn to a reddish powder when I touched it and cloud-out the area.

The layer under it turned out to be loose-packed and made of fine crushed stone but had almost no gold. I was expecting to find some big nuggets or a lot of small ones, but it really turned out to be a disappointment; because after getting through it, I found nothing on the bedrock. So, I quit and checked the sluice–sure enough, after panning out the sample carpet I only found 12 to 15 colors, so I pulled the dredge back to the other side to sample there. After sampling several places, I didn’t find any amount of gold to make me stay and work. Sad to say, but if I had tried a sample hole another 100 feet from where I stopped, I would have found another good pocket that produced as much as the one I worked. (It turned out that I was able to return to this area a month later, but that is another story.) I usually keep good records of the time I spend every day actually dredging, so I checked to see what the statistics were on this spot. It turned out that I was only dredging this hole for close to 12 1/2 hours total work-time under water. This produced close to 35 pennyweight of gold. Figure that out and it comes to over 2 1/2 pennyweight an hour. That’s not bad for a five-inch dredge and an semi-beginner who has only two years part-time gold dredging experience.

On Saturday of the next week, my wife Mary flew into Medford, Oregon, where Evan and I picked her up and brought her back to Happy Camp. We had been gone so long, she sure was glad to see that her long-lost husband and son were safe. She also loves Happy Camp and looks forward to going back next year.

All three of us spent the next week going around the area sampling here and there, just having a real good time. I showed Mary how to pan gold and that kept her busy for quite a while. She gets excited when she finds some color in the pan and calls me over to look at it. If there is a more beautiful part of this country than this area of northern California, I don’t know where it would be. The beauty of the countryside as we drive through is a wonder to behold. We really enjoy our trips out there and discover something new every time we visit.

After all this, you might think I would wait until the next summer to come back. But as we were leaving, I was thinking that it sure would be nice if I could return to California sooner than that… Well, it turned out that things arranged themselves in such a way that I came back at the end of August–but that is another story. See you on the Klamath!

Other Adventures with Ernie:




I sat on a ledge of bedrock above two deep, green pools and took in the warm sunshine. My skin was cold from the chilly June water of the South Fork of Indian Creek. Cool spray swirled up from the little falls at the head of the nearby pool. The surrounding mountains, green with timber, have snow-pack which lasts until early summer. While sitting in the sun, I took out my pocketknife and began digging gravel out of several foot-long crevices in the bedrock. Within twenty or thirty minutes I was thoroughly warmed up, and had enough gravel to almost fill a fourteen-inch gold pan. So, I went back up to the car, got my gold pan and a couple spoons, to dig the sand and gravel out of the crevices.

After a few minutes of panning, I had a thin streak of fine gold in the curl of the pan, and one nugget that was as big as the nail of my little finger and a quarter inch thick! This prospecting incident took place in 1965, on a creek in the Siskiyou Mountains, near the town of Happy Camp. Gold is Happy Camp’s claim to fame!

The old 49’er miners expanded California’s gold hunt to areas outside the famous “Mother Lode.” Between 1850 and 1855, thousands of prospectors packed their horses and mules over age-old indian trails that wound through these rugged mountain canyons. For nearly a hundred years afterward, gold was the resource that fed and supplied the white pioneers of the Klamath Mountains. Montezuma, Bunker Hill, Classic Hill, King Bill, Blue Bar, Wingate, Know-Nothing, Hotelling, Ti Bar, and other mines, including Gray Eagle and Quartz Hill, drew men and women to this mining country year after year.

Gold is in the Klamath River! Nuggets are in the creeks! There is gold throughout these Siskiyou Mountains!

For example; let’s consider Indian Creek. The Indian Creek drainage flows south into the Klamath River at the little town of Happy Camp, California. Major gold discoveries were made there in the 1850’s. This watershed is comprised of 86,000 acres, and ranges in elevation from 1,100 feet to over 7,300 feet above sea level. Four major creek-drainage systems are in the watershed, in addition to the main stem of Indian Creek. This portion of the Klamath Mountain Province has a diversity of plants, animals, trees, and geological features that is perhaps greater and more varied than in any other region in the United States.

I’ve tallied the varieties of conifer tree species at twenty-three within the Indian Creek watershed. Besides conifers, there are alders, oaks, willows, chinquapin, dogwood, and maples. In addition there’s a long list of brushes, bushes, and shrubs; plus there is another list of grasses, forbes, and mushrooms. Deer, bears, foxes, mountain lions, skunks, raccoons, owls, eagles, ospreys, fishers, mink, salamanders, frogs, and rattlesnakes are just some of the wildlife species found here.

Geologically, there are places with as many as eleven different soil and rock-types within just this single drainage! There are areas of hard peridotite bedrock ( the host-rock for platinum and diamond) that have shallow soils; often on steep mountain slopes. There are nanny and clallam families of soil-types that have deep, gravelly soils; plowed and tilled by glaciers, thousands of years ago. There are areas of skalan family soils that are fractured metamorphic rock and gravels. There are downstream areas of clallam river-wash and holland-aiken family-types of soils that are in alluvial fans and terraces. Gold settled to the bottom of these deep, mixed alluvial river-wash gravels!

Get to the bedrock, and you will get to the gold!

Gold is prevalent throughout this entire mountainous region. You can search for quartz ledges, gold laden rock outcroppings, and gravel beds of ancient streams and glacier moraines. It seems much easier to allow gravity, and the downstream movement of loosened sediment to place the gold on the bottom of the streams. Like a giant sluice box; the movement of water and the constant geological shifting of the earth collects and concentrates the heavy sediment in the crevices of bedrock. Go to the creek’s bottom. If the watershed has gold in its soils upstream, there will be gold on the bedrock. You will find gold there!

You can’t find gold there!” “That was all mined out a hundred and fifty years ago,” said one misguided man, referring to a portion of Indian Creek.

Let’s stop and consider this man’s statement. A little research into climatic history tells us that heavy rains and flooding waters recruited and redistributed gravel and large volumes of sediment during the years of 1890, 1955, 1964, 1974, and 1997; to say nothing of the flood-events of thousands of years past.

Following the heavy mining operations of the mid-eighteen hundreds, there were periods of wet conditions such as 1870-1910, and 1938-1975; with annual rainfall ranging from 60 inches to 105 inches per year. Each and every time a major storm event occurs, including torrential summer thunderstorms, causes landslides, mudflows and sediments get transported downstream. All soil-types are involved. Gold is on the move! New gold is brought down from the mountains in this manner.

Mining took place in many areas along each of the major streams of the Siskiyou Mountains. The idea that gold is “all-mined-out!” is totally wrong! It ignores the fact that sediment, carrying gold, is constantly being shifted, moved, and concentrated. Also, not all areas of gravel beds were mined in the past.

“I’ll tell you about a little rib of rock that saves gold for me,” said my friend, Rex Lampet, one day. Rex came to this “Happy Camp Country” in 1955, specifically to prospect for gold. He was a veteran of World War II in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Hitler sank his ship in one ocean; Tojo sank his ship in the other! Rex said that after leaving the Navy he wanted to live on dry land and dig for gold. He studied geological land features, gold mining history, and mining methods. Happy Camp in the Siskiyou Mountains is where Rex came to find gold. I listened to Rex with interest and respect. He had been my friend and neighbor nearly all my life. I had seen some of the gold he had found over the years. He lived on its value. Here is what Rex told me: “Mother Earth causes its mountains to shed the gravel (and gold) with earthquakes, downpours, and landslides. Water from rains, storms, and melting snow bombard the hillsides, sluicing the mixed gravels downstream,”

Rex continued, with a glitter in his eye. He loved telling stories of his own experiences.

“Me and another fella hiked around in the creek and side-streams on the east side of Preston Peak and El Capitan. Someday, I’ll tell you or your dad what we found and where it is.” Rex told of doing most of his prospecting with simple tools and a lot of hiking. He found enough gold in the creeks closer to home, but he always liked the adventure of searching the mountains. He made his own metal detector, and was the first person I knew of who had such a device. He swore that it worked, and he warned that its weird sounds could attract unwanted animals, like bears and mountain lions.

“I have, or can get, all the gold I want,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about it!”

“Well, are you going to tell me just what gold-secret is that you’re talkin’ about?” I asked, jokingly prodding him.

“We were looking around in South Fork of Indian Creek back in the middle of the ‘60s when we came across a rib of bedrock that was situated in such a manner that it caused the heavy gravels to collect just behind it. In times of high water, most of the gold goes right to the bottom. That was the greatest pocket of nuggets that I’ve ever found in my life,” Rex exclaimed! He then paused and leaned forward to take a drink from a full glass of whiskey and water.

I began to run through my memory the various creeks and side-streams in the South Fork of Indian Creek. Rex could see that my mind was racing. He knew that I had hunted and hiked this country many times in my life. My first trip into the area of upper South Fork was by horseback in 1959. He knew I was trying to remember places that I had been to that fit his description, based on his storytelling

In 1969, while I was hunting along the ridges of Copper Mountain and Cedar Crest, I found some very old mining tools. I told my dad and one of my uncles about this find. They said that they knew of an old prospector that mined in that area years ago. They said that he was very secretive. He bought a scant amount of supplies in Happy Camp each summer and then lived off the land. He came out of the mountains in the late fall each year and just left town. After many years of “city-living” off his rich findings, he came back to Happy Camp to tell someone else about his secret diggings. Being in his seventies by then, he felt it to be important to let somebody else have some of his find. So, he chose to tell my uncle.

When this old-timer went to the mountains to show my uncle the diggings, he couldn’t find the right location! Too many years had passed. He couldn’t remember the right place! The site where I found the old mining tools seemed to fit the description that the old man had given to my uncle. His find was a ledge of jade that had gold and titanium in it. I checked this out with an assayer. He said that this was a genuine geological possibility. I have not yet found that outcropping of jade, only the mining tools with bone-white handles.

It might seem like this is the telling of more than one story, but you have to remember that gold runs downhill! Where gold accumulates in the streambeds, it has to come from sources in the mountains above. Jade with gold in it has been found by me and other members of my family in this watershed. The gold in Rex’s nugget-pocket probably had come from more than one exposed site with gold. More sites that have to be upstream of Rex’s bedrock pocket. The fact that he never mentioned jade with gold in it only seems to confirm that South Fork gold comes from more than one source!

“I returned to the rib of bedrock every four or five years; especially after heavy rains and high water. Each time I came back, the bedrock had more gold nuggets and smaller-sized gold for me,” Rex remarked as he finished his tale. He ended his story by saying that one of these days he would tell us where this nugget pocket was, but he never did. Rex died of heart problems a little while later, taking his golden secrets with him.

If you want to find gold in your lifetime, start now! There is gold here! With every storm, gold is shifted from one place to another in the gravels. Placer gold is not hard to find! Be ambitious, be selective about your mining location; and when you get to bedrock, work it thoroughly! Get every little bit of sand and gravel out of those crevices!

One time in the 1950’s, my grandmother was helping my grandfather mine an exposed piece of bedrock upstream of the old Muc-a-Muc Mine. She worked on and cussed at a rock that was hardbound in a narrow crevice. After working most of the gravel out from around the wedged rock, she used a steel bar to finally pop the rock out. It turned out to be a gold nugget that would cover the palm of your hand and was one inch thick! And that is a true story!




It is common knowledge that if one is both wealthy and strange, he or she is called eccentric. Most miners I have run across are not wealthy, but the word eccentric suits them very well.

There is a miner living in the Klamath National Forest who has four gnomes near his home. They are comfortably arranged in the fallen leaves under a majestic madrone tree. When it rains, it is difficult to distinguish the brightly colored ceramic gnomes from the brilliant orange bark of the tree. There is a legend that gnomes protect gold; and in this case, the array of possessions outside, too. Last winter, their bright red hats peeked out of the snow. Very close to them, next to the manzanita bush, was a life-size miner snowman kneeling with his gold pan and pick. What else would one expect at a miner’s home near Happy Camp?

This is only one example of the magical things I have seen since learning to view the world through miners’ eyes. The miners seem to blend right into the woods and rivers and are accepted by the creatures who live there. Could it be that the “eccentric” miners are better understood by the creatures of the woods than by their fellow “civilized” men?

Last summer, while dredging on the Klamath River, I met miner-Bob (miners rarely have last names). Bob was a great hulk of a man. He would always chat a bit when passing by on the trail on his way down river. When asked when he would be coming back after work, he would say, “That depends on when the black bears want their dinner — nothing should keep a man or bear from his food.”

It seems this man would work until dusk when he saw the black bears coming from across the river to eat their evening meal. Because the forest was so dense on the opposite side, few berries and apple trees grew there. But on our side, the wild blackberry bushes were everywhere with berries as big as your thumb. It was touching to think this man, wearing a custom-made wet suit, size XXXLarge, would respect a bear’s dinner-time.

One evening in the same area, the bears came across the river and tore up the campsite of another miner while looking for their dinner. They ate all the fresh fruit, eggs and meat (except for the bologna) and other packaged sandwich meat. They also left the white bread. Perhaps we can learn something from these bears!

As one drives west along the beautiful, wild and scenic Klamath River road, Highway 96, one eventually comes to the Dillon Creek area. Near this area is an old highway no longer maintained. This road, with weeds growing in the middle of it, wraps around the mountains. It ends abruptly at a bridge abutment left useless by the 1964 flood.

The area is much loved by the osprey, who build their nests on the broken off tops of dead trees, called snags. An old grizzled miner friend of mine went up that road on Sunday. He said, “It’s better than going to church for me, I can talk to God and his creatures up there.”

He told me as he was walking along the road in an unhurried fashion, an osprey suddenly flew from his nest and began calling to him. As the miner looked up, he thought, “What a magnificent creature you are and what beautiful feathers you have.” He was trying to imagine the view the bird would have 300 feet above the river. The miner’s view was almost overwhelming in its beauty, and he was only 100 feet or so above the river. With that, the bird continued to call the miner, flapped its wings with great force and seemed to stop in midair. From the bird, a perfect feather fell landing near where the miner stood. The feather is carefully and lovingly displayed in the miner’s home as a memento. He says it is a gift from “one of God’s creatures.”

A novice lady-miner friend of mine wanted a nugget for her husband’s birthday present. He had never dredged one up. Not having a great deal of extra money available, she decided the best way to get one was for her husband to dredge it up. When she and her husband set out that day toward their dredge on the river, she commented she just knew he would find something special that day. As the lady stood in the river tending the dredge, a Monarch butterfly flew near her head and landed on her wide brimmed straw hat. It made no attempt to flyaway.

She remembered a local Karuk Indian saying that butterflies are the communicators for the animals, and they will bring good luck. A short while later, she walked around the triple sluice box of the dredge and there in the second riffle from the bottom in the center box lay an exquisite 22-grain nugget. She thought immediately about what a third generation old miner, Allan Copp, said in his book, “The native nugget you find in a river is unique; it is one of its kind in all of creation, and no other human hand has ever touched it…don’t sell it.”

If you want to know where someone has “punched a hole” in the river, just follow the schools of happy little fish. They fill the Klamath River, especially during the summer months. As the dredgers displace rocks in different areas along the river-bottom, word quickly spreads in the fish community. No sooner has a rock been shifted than the little fish are there to gobble up the algae and other food growing on the rocks.

Another creature who loves the dredges is the lamprey eel. They hang out in a dredger’s hole during the evening. Because of the lack of current in the hole, this is an ideal spot for them to rest. Most dredgers, when they go to work in the morning, are surprised to see the long slender snake-like body in their “office”, as one miner refers to his hole.

Steelhead and salmon prefer spending time in dredge holes because the water is much cooler and deeper, and they can rest for a while before continuing their swim upriver to their spawning grounds where they were born. Cobbles and boulders piled up in the rear of a dredge hole create hiding spots where trout and salmon can rest in comfort from predators. These holes are quickly filled in by the first fall storm, and the tailing piles are leveled out. The soft pack remaining is a nice home for the Crayfish.

If one were to ask a miner about an Entosphenus tridentatus or an Ocorhynhus Kisutch or a Salmo Gairdneri, he would probably not be able to tell you these are a Pacific Lamprey, a Silver Salmon or a Steelhead Rainbow Trout in that order. Nevertheless, there is a working arrangement between the miner and the creatures of the river.

Perhaps the least welcomed by lady miners are the water snakes. They, too, tend to gather near the miners working near the bank, looking for food. I noticed the numbers grew during the summer months — again the word was out — food! Miners are not the type of people who make a big deal out of what they do — except when they find a good pay-streak. If they notice something that needs to be attended to, they do so — usually quietly.

A miner I met last year noticed the highway was littered with pop cans and trash. He mentioned this to a few buddies, and one bright sunny day 40 miners quietly picked up 20 miles of trash, loaded it into their pickup trucks, and took it to the dump. They were not paid by anyone. They did it because they wanted to and “it needed to be done,” said the miner who arranged it.

A mining couple who are friends with friendly smiles and shiny eyes volunteered a story to me. They returned to their campsite one cold evening a little discouraged from their day of sluice-mining. There on the top of their tent sat a fluffy owl peering through the darkness. They considered this a gift and positive omen of abundance. It was!

There are thousands of miners who flock to the river and creeks to enjoy, not destroy. They come to see their trees and to breathe the fresh air and to sleep under the stars. They come to see the wild mallards and the black-tail deer and the otter play. They come to share a mining experience with people they never met, and end up being partners before the season is over.

As one small-scale miner said, “I never knew how proud I was to be an American until I saw an American bald eagle fly up the river at dusk. I stood there and cried at its great strength and beauty and realized these freedoms are slowly being taken away from the miner and the American people.”



“Finding new friends and gold on the Klamath River”


It was the end of a real good gold prospecting trip and a nice July morning when my family and I finished packing and headed East on Highway 96 away from Happy Camp. I was very pleased at the outcome of this trip I had dredged up over 35 pennyweight of gold. As we traveled home I thought “It sure would be nice if I could come back before the weather turned cold………”

Well, let me tell you about the power of positive thinking or making a wish come true. We arrived in Austin to find an unusual set of circumstances that allowed me to take the time off, put enough money in the bank for Mary to pay bills for September, and with the rest I started packing and thinking of Happy Camp….

August 26th rolled around and I was headed for California. Yes!! After a good trip I arrived in Happy Camp at 10:30 p.m. on the 28th (Monday).

Tuesday morning I gathered up supplies for my much modified 5-inch dredge, then went to Morgan Point to set up camp. Putting the dredge in the water and getting it set up was interesting, to say the least. I had extended the frame for more stability and added another motor, (an eight horsepower and a five) so it took some time to get things balanced and the sluice set.

The next two days I sampled and fine tuned the dredge so I was getting very good recovery and losing very little gold. I then had to change to another jet tube—I felt I was not getting the suction I should. The replacement jet tube had more power with only one motor (the 8hp B&S) than the first with both going! The dredge could really move some gravel after that. I found out quickly that I wasn’t getting much gold here so I decided to move to another claim.

I decided to go back to the claim I’d worked in July to try a little further downriver from the place I stopped working. Dave McCracken had told me back in July that I might drop back downriver from the pocket I was in and work the top couple of feet of gravel to see how much gold was in it. I didn’t have the time then but felt it was something that should be done. Now, Dave knows what he is doing in the gold dredging business and knows the rivers around the area, so he can be relied on to be correct if he suggests something you could do.

On the way to the claim I stopped at the Savage Rapids claim to help handle some maintenance a group of New 49er’s was taking care of. With the large group that was there it didn’t take very long to get the work done. While doing this I met a very nice fellow from Arizona, Philip, and we formed a partnership to work the claim on up the river.

I really love to camp out in the woods, out away from almost everyone, where you can listen to the insects, the birds and other wildlife. When Philip arrived we got his gear set up, then floated down through the claim to see where to put the dredge, using face masks and snorkles to watch the bottom. I noticed the inside bend of that part of the claim had a lot of large boulders, the current was much slower, and the spaces between were hard packed with gravel. The area looked like the typical gold trap to me! This definitely looked like the place to try a sample.

Going back to the truck we decided it was too late in the afternoon to set up the dredge but we made ready so we wouldn’t lose time in the morning.

Next morning we setup the dredge and got it ready to float downstream. Did I mention to take it through a nasty set of rapids? Well, we floated it near the bad part, then stopped to assess the situation. I showed Philip where I needed him to be to help catch me and the dredge after we came through the rapids. He agreed to do that with no reservations after I explained how I was going to guide it from behind all the way through them. He said he doubted my sanity but figured I knew what I was doing (little did he know).

After he was in position I eased the dredge out into the current (where it promptly turned and went the wrong direction around a large rock). This got interesting real fast when it went in between two large boulders, then got hung up on a third that was just underwater. Here I was, trying to hang on so I would not be swept away from the dredge and to get this thing off the rocks before it flipped over (you can think fast when you need to). In a few seconds I figured where to push or pull, then it was sliding on over that rock and a wild ride was beginning. Whoa, Nellie!!! I got through there and Philip pulled the dredge and me onto the gravel bar. Whew! This sure was a lot more fun and exciting than winching around and over this area.

I figured we’d have to make a few sample holes before finding the pay-streak, so the first place we tried was where the large boulders stopped and mostly smaller ones started. This, it turned out, was the right place the first time. After dredging for just over an hour we checked the sluice. Man, did our eyes bug out… Wow!! We had hit a good pay-streak on the first try. I could see gold all under the screen and in the mat. Oh boy! Screening this down quickly I could see we had a lot of gold so I set this aside to weigh separately. Later we found out it was about 2.5 pennyweight. A real good start. Feeling good, we went back in and dredged until the gas was gone. As we were dredging, we noticed flakes of gold as they were uncovered and went up the hose.

We developed a system of working. this area when we discovered that the gold was indeed in the top two or three feet of gravel. We’d go down till we hit a hard packed layer, work an area about ten feet wide from midstream at an angle up to the bank, then go back midstream and do it again, throwing the cobbles into the area we’d dredged.

I noticed the gold was still coming out of the gravel and off the hard-pack. It sure looked good underwater. When I saw it I showed Philip, and that got us encouraged and going again.

We had some very, very nice gold on this cleanup and added it to the rest. The next day we needed supplies, so into town we went to sell the gold. What we had for approximately seven hours of dredging was eighteen pennyweight of gold. (I measure dredging in hours underwater rather than days). Not bad at all.

On one dive we were dredging around a large rock (about 200 lbs) when we noticed that a lot of gold was in the area around it. We dredged a hole about three feet deep in front of the rock, spread it out some, then realized it was time to refuel the dredge. After taking care of that, back down we went to clean out that area. I forgot about the rock and was standing in the hole about thigh deep leaning on another large rock embedded in the side of this hole, dredging more of the hole out when I felt a grating vibration… I jumped straight up and pushed away from the suction hose which, thankfully stayed in the hole. As it was, the rock still hit my ankle very hard when it slid into the hole and into the other large rock. The suction hose kept them from pinning my foot in the hole. It took another three minutes to move the rock off the hose.

After the close call Philip signaled for us to go to the surface, but I wouldn’t go. What we did was stay down and keep working.

My ankle was hurting badly and I couldn’t put much pressure on it, but I kept right on going. I just placed my ankle against the rock where it hurt, then kept right on dredging until the pain quit. When the gas was getting low we went up for the day. Later at camp we looked at my ankle and it had a very dark bruise about the size of a half dollar, but I could walk very well on it.

A couple of days went by and the gold kept coming up real nice and stayed about the same amount or better so we kept going straight upstream. One day I tried to get a little further out in the middle of the river. This produced less gold so we continued to work the slope of the riverbed where the big rocks were.

Now on Saturday afternoons the New 49er’s put on a potluck dinner and all are invited. This is a real neat affair where everyone gets to sit around, eat, and tell their stories — you know, just really have a lot of fun. Philip and I really looked forward to Saturday night potlucks in Happy Camp even if we did have to drive thirty miles to get there.

Then one morning Philip bent over to tie his shoe laces and when he raised up he pulled his back out. For the next day or so he tried to recover, but when his back didn’t get better he decided to head back home. I enjoyed his company while he was there and missed him after he left.

I got my hands on a wetsuit heater that fits on the exhaust of a dredge engine and installed it. This heats water fed through a hose that fits inside the wetsuit. Oh, wow, it sure felt good to have warm water flowing while I was in that cold water every day. This sure helped to be able to stay in the water longer each day as I could barely stay in for one tank of gas before.

I now was working alone and had to really hustle to move a lot of gravel per day but I just did it and was soon to the point where I was moving an area about fifteen feet wide, about ten feet long, and two to three feet deep every four to five hours. That was moving a lot of material! This was also paying off very well. I was averaging half an ounce of gold every four or five working hours. For the next eight or ten days the area stayed productive and when I worked I found gold. The water was turning colder and I wouldn’t work every day. Two days later at the Saturday night pot luck dinner my nose started to bleed (I never get nosebleeds, ever). I realized I had a bad sinus infection. I took it easy Sunday, but on Monday I was still getting nose bleeds so I decided that it was time to head for Austin.

As this trip came to a close I started to look forward to next summer. I traded some of my gold for the pieces to put together a six -inch dredge. In a few hours I had most of what I needed, so I left Happy Camp with something to keep me busy over the winter.

I reflected that I had indeed had a good adventure. I met and got to know some very good, trustworthy people. I’d accomplished what I started out to do — find more gold and have a better time. The total gold for this trip came to just under five ounces. This was three times what I’d done on the last trip. Not bad at all. So, the target for next summer…..you guessed it, no less than three times what I recovered on this trip. Can I do it? You bet I can! I’ll see you on the Klamath.



In the summer of 1850 the “Klamath River Indian Tribes” witnessed first-hand the ferocity of early American “Gold Fever.” White men soon came into the mountain forests of this winding river. At least three groups of prospectors ventured through Yurok and Hupa Indian lands into the territory of the Karuk people. Stories of hundreds of gold diggers coming into other valleys of California had come to the Klamath River Indians from Indian tribes like the Pomo, Wintun, and the Wiyot. Gold hungry men were coming into their territories. “White men like the rivers! White men dig up rocks,” said these peaceful Indians, bewildered by such behavior.

One group of early miners, approximately eighteen men, traveled the millennia-old foot-trails of the Karuk people, up to a place of broad gravel bars and exposed bedrock two miles upstream from Clear Creek. For thousands of years the Karuk Indians lived along the river on similar “flat” campgrounds, ancient gold-bearing deposits of river gravel!

The Karuk were a peaceful people. They believed that a great and peaceful race of white people lived here before the Karuk Tribe came to the Klamath River. They were uncertain of what they should do with regard to these white men. Were they the peaceful white people returning? Unfortunately, they would soon learn otherwise.

Some white prospectors took advantage of the Karuks. They used them for trail guides and as teachers of survival skills. Prospectors had a rough time living on only the meat that they hunted or the food they’d packed with them. The Karuk Indians utilized salmon, deer, and elk as their primary meat sources. They also gathered and used more than two hundred species of plants. Nutritious acorns of the tan oak and other oak species formed a large part of their diet. The Karuks used nearly as many plants and herbs for medicinal and spiritual purposes.

At times of peace and acquaintance, the two cultures learned many new things from each other. During times of conflict, powerful guns of the white men won most battles. Arrows and flint-knives had little chance against the power of guns. Revolvers like the .44 caliber Walker Colt and the .36 caliber Texas Colt gave the miners firepower. “Long-rifles,” like the .50 caliber Hawken, gave the owner the capability of killing a human, or a deer, at a range of 200 yards. The original 49’ers carried rifles, 5 and 6 shot revolvers, Derringers, pepperboxes, knives; or some such assortment. Outlaw miners in boomtowns were actually more of a danger than the so-called “wretched” Indians.

Good amounts of gold were first found at a campsite now known as Wingate bar. Digging produced much gold! Trouble came quickly. Two miners were killed by the Karuks at Wingate Bar, just north of the large Karuk village of Inaam, (Clear Creek). To avenge the killings, the white men formed a battle group. In a raid at first morning light, they killed all the Karuks present. Only a few got away. All the Karuk wood-plank homes were burned. Sporadic fighting went on for perhaps several weeks, with repeated attacks on the white men. These attacks finally caused the prospectors to pack their animals and head back down-river. They forded the river and climbed out of the river canyon, crossed the rugged terrain of the south Marble Mountains. It is believed that they took this route to avoid the large Karuk villages at the mouths of Ti Creek, Salmon River, and Camp Creek. There were seven villages at the mouth of the Salmon River. It was the “Center of the World” for the Karuk Tribe. They ended up in the Salmon River canyon, making winters’ camp at Brazill Flat (named after the great-great grandparents of the author.) This was at Forks of Salmon; land of the Konimihu Shasta Indians.

The second party of prospectors braving the wild country and tough Indians kept to the west and north sides of the Klamath River. Their travels took them along steep ridges and into scores of forested tributary watersheds of the Klamath River. (It must be understood that the forest was much more open then than now. White people began the suppressing of wildfires in the early decades of this century. The Karuk people allowed forest fires to burn, even setting fire to areas that were getting too brushy. This burning allowed new sprouts of grasses and shrubs to grow, made travel better, made hunting easier, and made spotting an enemy before he got too close more probable.)

This second party was headed for the Scott River. However, they must have traveled either through Seiad Low Gap into Horse Creek, or went up Johnny O’Neil Ridge and down Hamburg Gulch. They missed the mouth of the Scott River. They traveled up the Klamath River as far as the mouth of the Shasta River, in Shasta Indian territory. It’s believed that they wintered in the area soon to be called Thompson’s Dry Diggin’s; now known as Yreka. Gold was found there, but the land was dry; a high desert land. Gold was found in the ancient mixed soils of the valley bottom, including the roots of the bunch grass.

The third party searching for gold in these mountains in 1850 included the man now known to have made the biggest gold discovery in the Klamath Mountain Province, John Scott. It is still uncertain exactly what route they took before finally ending up at Scott’s discovery site of nuggets at Scott Bar. (The largest nugget found in later years, found by Wade & Lindsey, was “five inches long, three inches wide, and weighed 16 pounds!) It has been reported that this band of miners came inland from the port town of Trinidad in California. In the next several years, we know that supplies were brought to Scott’s Bar by way of Trinidad, Blackburn’s Ferry (Cappell Creek,) and the wind-swept summits of the Marble Mountains. Later supplies were brought by pack trail (named the Kelsey Trail after one of the mule packers) from Crescent City over the mountains of the South Fork of the Smith River, Bear Peak, and the northern Marble Mountains.

In 1851, the prospectors who had wintered near the Forks of Salmon, at Brazill Flat, lived through the winter pretty well. However, in the early months of spring they were surprised to see other eager and gold-hungry miners scurry into the Salmon River country. The new group crossed the Salmon Mountains before winter was really over. Spring snowstorms made life miserable for these hasty prospectors! As they waited for warm weather, they ended up eating all the stores of the miners already there. This was called “Starvation Times” in the Salmon River!

By July of 1851, the group of prospectors that retreated from Wingate Bar, led by Captains McDermitt and Thompkins, (owners of Blackburn’s Ferry), moved from the Salmon River back up the Klamath River. They found very large amounts of gold in the gravel at the mouth of Indian Creek. They’d survived the mountainous trails, the river fording, battles with the Karuk Indians, and “Starvation Times.” Now they had good food, warm weather, and lots of gold nuggets! This gold-rich location, and easy living circumstance, was named a “Happy Camp!


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This story first appeared in Gold & Treasure Hunter Magazine May/Jun, 1997 on Page 8.
This issue is still available! Click here.

By Marcie Stumpf/Foley

“Boulders and huge logs slammed into homes, filling the insides and building up against walls until they caved in. Windows were blown out with the force…”

At the crest of flooding the Klamath River cut a wide swath along its banks, taking away scores of trees and anything else in its path. Flooding was especially devastating from Horse Creek to Happy Camp, a distance of 35 miles.

Many new creeks fed the rampant river as rainwater sluiced off the thoroughly saturated ground of every mountainside, raising the river up to even greater heights. As the runoff increased, hillsides along Highway 96 began giving way, as did mountainsides across the river. Rich red soil prevalent to the area was swept along with the river, creating a huge, churning mass of “chocolate milk.”

As the rains became heavier during the last few days of 1996, the situation became even more serious. A forecast of heavy rain for two more days, along with a large, forced release from Iron Gate Dam on December 31st, finished setting the stage for a disaster.

For the residents who live up Indian Creek and along the Klamath River, the last few days and nights of the year were so different, that many had a feeling of impending disaster and began to prepare for it. Leroy Hardenburger, a resident living along Indian Creek, reported that he could not even sleep for several nights before the flood, because the sound of huge boulders thundering down the creek became increasingly louder.

For residents living along the Klamath River, the roar of the river could not be quieted even by closed windows and doors. The rain kept coming in greater and greater amounts.

When warm rain melts snow, and rainwater exceeds predicted levels, the operators of Iron Gate Dam reach a point where they must release a great deal of water or risk losing the dam altogether, which would create a disaster of greater proportions. As in many cases in the west, there is no forewarning of dam releases in this area.

In Happy Camp, our first indication that the situation was becoming critical is when a report came over the scanner early in the evening of December 3lst that a motor home was stranded in 2-1/2 feet of water on the highway near Granite Point. This is a low area along the highway several miles upriver from Seiad Valley (about 25 miles upriver from Happy Camp).

Shortly thereafter, homes near the mouth of Indian Creek began flooding, and water and debris from a falls about 4- 1/2 miles up Indian Creek swept over the road.

Further news was spotty as it became impossible for Sheriff’s deputies to travel upriver further than Fort Goff. Slides along Highway 96 downriver from Happy Camp and on Indian Creek Road cut the town off by road from the outside world.

The river continued a steady rise through the nighttime hours. As light came with the first day of 1997, the rapid rise of water from an emergency release from the dam arrived along the mid-river area where Happy Camp is located. Many local residents did not sleep on that night of December 3lst. Every few minutes, cars were seen pulling into the nearest close view of the river (at my home) to check its level. Then, with the coming of daylight; the people of Happy Camp began showing up at homes which were located alongside the river. Uncalled and unasked, they brought trailers and trucks and pitched in to help, leading farm animals to higher land, removing furniture and belongings in the driving rain and rapidly rising waters.

It was all over within a few short hours, because the water quickly rose too high to proceed further with salvage from homes or property alongside of the river. Residents could only watch as the river swept away bits and pieces of their lives to join what looked like several forests full of trees that filled the middle of the river, racing with the swiftest current at the speed of a runaway freight train.

One of our members, Larry Ogborn, got stranded down by Independence for several days while successfully keeping his jet boat from being washed away by the storm. His is a very interesting story. Dave McCracken captured the following video segment during the early part of this storm, just before Larry got stranded down there. The video shows how much force Mother Nature can muster when she decides to:

All of the debris cleared under the local bridges near Happy Camp, however, and the rain began tapering off as New Year’s Day came to a close. The river reached its crest at approximately 1 a.m. on the morning of January 2nd, and residents were pleasantly surprised to find that the river and creeks had already subsided a great deal by daylight. While the river was not yet back into its channel, it had receded from most of the homes.

With Happy Camp completely cut off and the community’s water supply shut down because the pumps had been submerged, residents continued to help one another get through the first difficult days of the aftermath. Those on high ground with springs and good water supplied water for the many residents who were without. Other residents again began showing up at damaged homes with food, drink, crowbars and hammers, and helped remove ruined carpet and flooring as tons upon tons of wet mud was removed from homes. A local Americorps crew offered help in a great number of areas.

Many residents with riverfront property began the very substantial job of clearing the huge mounds of uprooted trees, logs and debris left behind by the rampaging river. California-Transit crews began work in more than a dozen critical areas along Highway 96, working long hours and bringing in extra equipment and trained personnel to repair the highway and access to it so that normal traffic could be restored.

Roads into Happy Camp were not open at all for almost a week, but the one remaining market and the restaurants continued to operate during that time, having food and other supplies flown in as necessary. The Community Services District set up a temporary system to provide water for Happy Camp, and samples were flown out for testing to make sure the water was safe for consumption.

It was several days before the community was even aware of the devastation to the Klamath River canyon and to homes further upriver. Because the highway was still closed on January 3rd, Jay Clark, Happy Camp’s postmaster, adventured a hair-raising four-wheel drive ride on primitive roads over the mountain crests to pick up and bring in around 5,000 pounds of mail. This was to help deliver much-needed income to local-area residents. That was the first mail the community had received since December 30th!

During the storm, one of the bridges across the Klamath River at Horse Creek was completely washed out. Further downriver, every small creek (O’Neil, Portuguese, Fort Goff, and Tim’s Creeks, just to name a few) became a torrent, carrying huge trees (sometimes as many as 20 or more) crashing down through the raging water, driving boulders and mud across Highway 96 along with them. At Portuguese Creek (as just one example), the drain pipe beneath the highway quickly filled and was blocked by trees and boulders. Buildup of material then began across the top of the highway. Soon, the roadbed was covered with 2-to-3 feet of mud, rocks, boulders and trees, and then covered with another 2 feet of water, for a distance of more than 300 feet of roadway.

In low areas such as Granite Point, the river eventually rose 10-to-15 feet above the Highway 96 roadway, peeling up the guardrail that bordered the highway around the curve and rolling it into an upward curl for more than 30 feet. One lane of the highway there was completely undermined.

Small creeks crossed the highway in many places where none had been before.

One of the homes bordering Walker Creek just upstream from Seiad Valley attests to the force of the creek at flood stage, which completely filled this home with debris and mud.

The most severe destruction to homes occurred in Seiad Valley where homes bordered Walker Creek. This creek roared through the canyon, sweeping aside all that came before it until it reached the homes along its banks and near the Klamath River. Boulders and huge logs slammed into the homes, filling the insides, and building up against walls until they caved in. Windows were blown out with the force of the deluge, and big logs were thrust through the sides of some homes.

The houses on the river-side of the highway were flooded at Fort Goff. The highway there was covered with a buildup of material from both the creek and the river, and the campground there was heavily damaged.

At savage Rapids, the corkscrew curves of the river forced the water to come up onto Highway 96, allowing water force to veer into the mountainside. It then swooped back around the curve and returned to the riverbed. An entirely new bed for the river was formed on the river-side of the road at the head of savage rapids, where the New 49’ers have a campground. There is now a forested island in the center of the river there

The access road is completely gone at the Seattle Creek River Access! You can make part of the first turn of the road that led down to the river, and then the access road ends in a huge mass of silt and sand.

Huge piles of jumbled trees at the mouth of Thompson Creek attest to the force that came down the creek. California-Transit crews have, been working for weeks to level off the piles of boulders and debris at its confluence with the Klamath River.

Anderson Campground has massive piles of trees which piled up against the few trees that remained standing in the campground. One camper that was left in the campground during the storm was tossed and battered around like a Tonka Toy. It finally came to rest wedged between trees near the lower-end of the campground. The camping area there was heavily damaged.

After crossing Cade Mountain and descending into the valley where Happy Camp is located, you find that the former New 49’ers headquarters building was under several inches of water. The mobile home located on the property had four feet of water inside. Our property (mine and my ex-husband Bill’s) had more than three feet of water and mud in the family room, and just over two feet of muddy water throughout the rest of the house.

Most houses located along Indian Creek near its confluence with the Klamath River were all flooded. More damage was done to other homes further upstream, because Indian Creek raised high enough to cross the road in a number of places. There was also damage done to homes on the far bank of the Klamath River below the mouth of Elk Creek.

Dave McCracken captured the following video sequence at the mouth of Indian Creek during the storm. Isn’t it hard to believe that is the very same quiet creek that we swim in during the summer months?

The river flowed up and through Curly Jack Campground (just downstream from Happy Camp) and damaged it.

The Klamath Inn Motel just downstream from Happy Camp was also flooded.

As the waters receded, I saw people rowing around in boats trying to salvage their firewood before it floated away. Many of us lost almost all of our firewood.

Residents who lived more than 6-1/2 miles up Elk Creek Road were “marooned” in their homes for 4 or 5 days, because the road was extensively undermined up there. A temporary detour has since been constructed, but there are a number of other areas of this road that have been damaged. The Club’s mining claim just above the Five-Mile Bridge has changed greatly. The camping area has been replaced by sand, mud and debris right up to the level of the road!

Elk Creek Road is in such unstable condition, that the USFS has installed a locked gate just above the Five-Mile Bridge until further repairs can be made. This is because they are concerned for the safety of the public.

The Club’s Chambers Flat camping area was completely underwater during the storm. Several feet of water also crossed Highway 96 there, causing the road to be closed at that point until just a few days ago. Further downriver in the canyon, slides and sinkholes are being worked on by California Transit. Although the road is passable, pilot cars are escorting traffic in several places.

Entire gravel bars along the Klamath River have been moved, leaving only boulders in their wake. Large deposits of sand and silt have been deposited in other areas where none existed before the storm. Bedrock is now visible in many locations where it was not present before. Some of the large bucket line dredge tailing piles located upriver have been either washed away or partially moved by the flooding. The river has been completely changed!

Several large gold nuggets have already been located in the Happy Camp area since the flooding. They vary widely in appearance, from rough and jagged, to one very smooth heart-shaped nugget that a local prospector showed me that was 8 pennyweights in size.

Members are reporting that it is a joy to prospect the banks of the river, because nearly all the blackberry bushes have been washed away. They are now able to get into bedrock crevices for sniping (and doing well) that they previously were unaware even existed. I saw one bottle almost full of nuggets and large chunks which one member found sniping along the banks of the river and creeks.

Jim Swinney, a local area nugget prospector, reports that it should be a great year. He usually finds about 20 ounces in gold nuggets each year on his time off from work. But he has already found more than 50 ounces this year with his metal detector!

Although this flood did not exceed the water levels of December 22, 1964, it came very close. It exceeded all other floods along the Klamath River since 1927, which was the earliest year that records were kept.

Since the flood waters receded in that first 24 hours, the river has been dropping a small amount each day. We have had a lot of calm and clear weather since the flood. There has been some rain and a few inches of snow the rest of the month; but as of mid-February, it has not caused additional problems.

There is no way to predict what the rest of this season has in store for this area; but even if no other rain should fall, the events that ushered in the new year have already made it a year that will go into the history books.

Note: Although our California-Transit crews have accomplished a great deal in a short time, there are still several areas along Highway 96 where some problems remain. We expect our efficient California-Transit crews will have those under control before long.

We are now looking forward to a great summer, with lots of fresh gold to be found!



By Marcy Foley


Big foot track casting.Lars Larson holding a plaster casting which he poured to preserve one of the Bigfoot footprints near Indian Creek, Happy Camp, California.

Footprints of a size and shape consistent with those of the legendary Bigfoot were recently discovered on a mining claim belonging to The New 49’ers, on Indian Creek, near Happy Camp, California.

Lars Larson, a New 49’er member who was mining on the claim, discovered several of the footprints which measured a whopping 17 inches long, and 11 inches wide! Three of the prints were in gravel and were not distinct; but one was on solid ground. Lars was able to make a plaster casting of the print.

Happy Camp is well known as “Bigfoot Country”. The first sighting of one of these elusive creatures was made on Thompson Creek, a nearby tributary of the Klamath River, during the 1860’s. A group of Chinese workers, who were building a ditch to carry water to a hydraulic mine, sighted one. They were so frightened, they refused to return to the job.

Today, a very large metal rendering of Bigfoot created by local artists stands on the edge of Highway 96, and is the first thing you see when arriving in Happy Camp from the east. A carved wooden statue of Bigfoot stands in front of the Happy Camp Post Office. Local markets sell tee-shirts featuring these creatures. The annual celebration in Happy Camp is known as “Bigfoot Days,” and features “Bigfoot” in a cage, tossing candy to the local children during the parade.

Lars reported that he searched the surrounding area thoroughly, but was unable to find any further evidence, such as broken branches, tufts of hair or any additional footprints.

If Bigfoot remains out there somewhere, he clearly desires not to be seen, and he has many miles of forest where he can remain secluded. Some of us prefer it that way also.

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