© Anne T. Kent Rm. Jenkins
19th Century Bolinas. From 1860-1918 gold mining occurred on the west side of Bolinas Ridge near Dogtown.
James Marshall’s discovery of gold in John Sutter’s Coloma mill-race in January 1848 is widely regarded as the first such finding of gold in California. This is not the case. The first documented discovery of gold in California occurred in 1842 when Francisco Lopez found placer deposits in Placerita Canyon, an area about 35 miles northeast of Los Angeles. There is fairly strong evidence, however, that the Lopez find was not the first such discovery in that area. Several unverified sources indicate that the presence of gold was known in the Placerita area several years before the Lopez discovery.
Not unlike in Southern California, tales of a gold bonanza in Marin County have been told since the earliest times. The first of these accounts was attributed to the first Europeans to step on Marin territory. According to historian Richard Hakluyt, the 1579 expedition lead by Sir Francis Drake reported: “There is no part of earth here to be taken up wherein there is not some likelihood of gold or silver”.
Gold speculation continued as the county developed in the 19th century. In 1850 several nuggets of pure copper, frequently associated with gold, were picked up near Bolinas. Copper nuggets were also found on Bolinas Ridge near Dogtown. In 1856 it was reported that gold abounds but in small quantities on the west shore of Tomales Bay, about one mile south of the Point. The State Register and Year Book of Facts: For the Year 1859 reported an extensive vein of gold bearing quartz was discovered in July 1857 near San Rafael.
There was a virtual frenzy of Marin County gold mine claims in mid-1863. In May and June of that year, the Marin Journal reported on the “gold fever.” During those months, 31 gold mining claims were processed by the County Recorder. The Sausalito/Tamalpais area included 20 claims with 11 more near Novato. The Journal reported that it is “….well established that the hills about San Rafael, Tamalpais and Novato, are rich, and abound with the precious metals. Gold, silver and copper indications are found everywhere….”
Nevertheless, by November 1863, the Journal presented a different understanding of the claim frenzy. The newspaper concluded: “The whole matter, in our opinion, was the scheme of sharpers, which has resulted in a ‘grand fizzle’. That mineral does exist in our county, there is no question, but not in sufficient quantities to pay the expense of obtaining it.”
It is true that most Marin gold mine claims -despite some with positive assay results- amounted to very little. However, of the dozens of gold discoveries reported, the mine claims and/or diggings listed below appear to have generated the most excitement. They are the ones which were worked a bit and seemed the most likely to prosper.
1860s-1918 – Union Gulch (Bolinas) Mine on the west side of Bolinas Ridge near Dogtown. Primarily copper with gold and silver as secondary commodities. Small shipments made in 1863. In 1918 an ore shipment was made of 22,500 pounds of copper plus gold and silver.
1865-68 – Gold Gulch Placer Mine at Tomales Point where there was an extensive beach placer operation. Mining abandoned due to the lack of an adequate water supply.
1876-80 – Mt. Tamalpais Mine on the southwest spur of Mt. Tamalpais. Specimen was kept at the Division of Mines Museum. Abandoned due to low yield.
1878-81 – San Geronimo Mine 0.3 mile northwest of the intersection of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Nicasio Valley Road. The January 12, 1880 San Francisco Daily Alta reported the San Geronimo mine had tapped “….an immense fissure vein, rich in gold and silver....”
1879-81 – San Rafael Mine about four miles west of San Rafael near White’s Hill. Despite the initial enthusiasm, both the San Rafael and San Geronimo Mines were abandoned in 1881.
1880-86? – Morrissey Mine 2 miles south of Tomales. On January 7, 1881 Supervisor Morrissey wrote “….three hundred tons of ore in sight.… it is a real bonanza.…” It cost Morrissey all he had to work the mine for several years without success.
In March 1880 the Journal, in an opinion piece entitled “A Mining Anomaly”, lamented the lack of a gold fever in Marin. The editorial noted that there was “mineral development….. within a few miles of San Rafael which ….. had sufficient promise not only to enthuse the sanguine, but to challenge and interest the most skeptical…..The results so far have been replete with promise. In any old mining district they would have made a noise sufficient to attract immigration from all over the coast.…”
By February 1881, the Journal noted the futility of the various mining claims: “So many discoveries of this kind have been made in Marin county and proved worthless that people have come to think no really valuable mines exist in this part of California.”
Despite skepticism in many quarters, gold fever continued in Marin. As late as April 1900 the San Francisco Call headlined: “Gold Mine Found in Marin County”. The article describes two young men finding an abandoned mine north of San Rafael where the tailings “….are exceedingly rich for this region, and the mine if developed may yield a small fortune for its lucky discoverers.” There was no further report on the development of this mine.
The Journal’s 1863 take on Marin gold mine claims proved in the end to be an accurate assessment of gold mining in the county. The pursuit of a massive gold discovery in Marin was indeed a “grand fizzle”.