Legacy of hydraulic mining leaves last imprint on Illinois Valley
By ROGER BRANDT
Special to IVN
When Illinois Valley’s gold rush started in 1851, it wasn’t long before claims lined every gold-bearing stream in the valley.
Nevertheless, there were fortunes to be found higher on the slopes above the rivers in ancient deposits of river gravel. These gravel beds had been deposited long ago by rivers that, over time, eroded their way down, making the valley deeper and leaving their old gravel deposits high above the present river beds.
To get the gold in these gravel beds, prospectors needed water. To accomplish this, ditches were excavated to bring water from a river to a point high above the prospective mining operation. The water was then diverted into large pipes that carried the water down to the mining operation.
The drop in elevation built considerable pressure in the pipe, and this pressurized water was funneled through a nozzle that sent water arcing through the air for more than a hundred feet. The force of the water broke apart the old gravel beds and washed the debris through sluice boxes where the gold was collected. This type of operation was called hydraulic mining.
A tremendous amount of material was washed through sluice boxes as miners searched for concentrations of gold called “pockets.” These accumulations of gold may have been deposited where ancient rivers went around an old log or along a bank in a bend of the river.
If conditions were right, gold might be deposited in one place, possibly accumulating during a span of decades or centuries. These concentrations of gold eventually were covered by river deposits that left no clue to their location.
True fortunes were made in a matter of hours if one of these pockets could be found.
No one knew where these concentrated gold deposits might be hidden, so just about every gravel deposit in the hills around Illinois Valley was mined on the gamble that “pocket” gold might be found.
Eventually, even the former town of Waldo, which had been constructed on a gravel deposit, met its demise when rock-splattering streams of water from the nozzles of hydraulic mining operations washed the town and its history through a sluice box. This explains why there is nothing left of the town.
There are places in Illinois Valley where you remnants of the mining operations from the 1800s can be seen.
Drive south out of Cave Junction on Hwy. 199 for about six miles and look for Waldo Road on your left. Follow this road for about three miles and look on the left for a large rock monument. The monument used to have a brass sign that told you about Waldo which was located on the other side of the road.
A little farther down the road near Takilma, the Osgood Ditch Trail provides a path along a ditch that provided water for mining operations near Waldo. It is one of the more level hiking experiences in the valley.