In 1850, settlers to the Del Norte County region established Klamath City, an attempt that would fail to serve as the envisioned stop on a shipping and mining route. Explorers and miners arrived in the region and set up houses, gardens, and farms at the mouth of the river where the Yurok people had long lived.
Shifting sandbars would lead to strandings and shipwrecks that would block the city’s success, according to “A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California.” And a failure to quickly get federal money to improve the harbor would prompt its new residents to abandon the town, according to history information from the Redwood National and State Parks service.
The settlement was one of many along the coast as settlers arrived to seek gold and claim land. It’s not called “gold fever” for no reason.
Although the Gold Bluffs area south of the mouth of Klamath River didn’t yield much of anything during miners’ earlier attempts to get rich there, it took on the aspects of a myth that would not die. Captain Taylor – no first name recorded by early Del Norte County historian A.J. Bledsoe in his 1881 “History Del Norte County, California, with a Business Directory and Traveler’s Guide” – visited the area in 1872 to harvest the supposedly rich gold-bearing sands he heard were deposited there.
From New York, Taylor couldn’t use a diving bell he owned to assess the vaunted riches of the area. It had been damaged in an accident, forcing Taylor to use a different method.
Use it, he did, returning from his foray with “sufficient” gold-bearing sands to announce that they contained “a great quantity of gold.” Taylor proceeded to spin tales of black sand that assayed at $23,000 per ton in gold.
His boasts spurred the formation of a new company organized explicitly to exploit the Gold Bluffs area a year later. Called Gold Bluffs Submarine Mining Co., its officials chartered the steamer ‘Monterey,’ loaded her with mining machinery, and sailed north to Gold Bluffs.
“The existence of vast deposits of gold-bearing sands on the sea coast … has been a matter of notoriety for a quarter of a century,” Bledsoe wrote.
Even Bledsoe bought into the belief that the wealth of the deposits “is fabulous.”
“So great was the rush of miners to this new locality, that it was feared the placer mines … would become depopulated,” Bledsoe wrote.
Of the beach mines, Gold Bluff was “the most extensively worked,” he wrote as he traced the workings from 1852. One claim harvested $25,000 in gold in a year.
Miners theorized that gold was washed from the bluffs when the surf broke across the beach at their base at an angle, but not when it smacked them head-on. The gold was so light, that it floated on the water’s surface.
During the three weeks that the Gold Bluffs Submarine Mining Co. operated, it raised more than 100 tons of sand from an area one-half mile up to 40 yards from the bluffs, in depths of 24 to 48 feet. Of that quantity, hardly any gold was found by an assayer imported from San Francisco to examine the sands.
Gray sand, black sand, coarse gravel, and shells — but no gold after sucking sand from the ocean floor down to bedrock. Despite the high expense and disappointing results, more miners came to check the area for themselves.
As information posted by the National Park Service on its Web site puts it, “where gold was involved, such words of caution had little effect.”
Several months after the failed submarine company attempt, a party of Humboldt County residents led by Captain Buhme, Frank and Robert Duff, and Harry Rogers visited Gold Bluffs. They, too, returned with reports of “very rich” beach deposits of gold.
True to form, the Gold Bluffs Submarine Mining Co. began negotiating with the group for its exploitation — and the legend of gold laying of the beach perpetuated further.