The information on this page is from the 1972 publication Placer Gold Deposits of Arizona – Geological Survey Bulletin 1355. The book describes 87 districts in Arizona where historical placer mining of gold has occurred.
Some of the minor districts are not located, however we were able to plot the general locations of 83 districts based on the descriptions given in the book.
Supporting members are able to download the full book in PDF format and reference each district with the interactive Google map referenced above.
Note regarding map locations: the points on this map do not correspond to exact locations on the ground where gold may be found. The districts in the book often cover areas that are several square miles or more, or linear features like rivers or creeks that may be miles or tens of miles in length.
These locations correspond to the Township, Range, and occasionally Section of the district as described in the book. The purpose of the map is to plot the general location of these districts, and to aid in the research of placer mining locations.
It is important to determine whether potential placer mining locations are on private property, or are on active mining claims, before proceeding with mining operations.
The following excerpts from the book describe the history of gold placer mining in Arizona.
Arizona Gold Production From Placer Deposits
Arizona ranks tenth in the United States (eighth in the western continental States) in placer gold production. The U.S. Bureau of Mines cites 500,000 troy ounces of placer gold produced in Arizona from 1792 to 1964.
Districts of largest placer production were the Lynx Creek, Big Bug, and Weaver (Rich Hill) districts (Yavapai County), the Gila City (Dome), and La Paz district (Yuma County), and the Greaterville district (Pima County), all with estimated placer production of more than 25,000 ounces.
Most of the placer gold produced in the State of Arizona was recovered by tedious work on a small scale by individuals who used rockers, pans, sluices, and dry concentrators. In only a few districts have large-scale placer-mining operations been successful, although many attempts were made to use large dry-concentrating machines.
The most successful large-scale operations have been in the Lynx Creek and the Big Bug districts, Yavapai County, where the presence of adequate supplies of water enabled large dredges to mine the gold-bearing gravels. Among the largest and most profitable large-scale dry-concentrating operations were those in the San Domingo Wash district, Maricopa County, in the Plomosa district, and at La Cholla placers, Yuma County; at Copper Basin, Yavapai County, the gravel was hauled to a central washing plant where wet methods of recovery were used.
History of Placer Mining in Arizona
Arizona’s placer-mining industry began in 1774, when Padre Manuel Lopez reportedly directed Papago Indians in mining the gold-bearing gravels along the flanks of the Quijotoa Mountains, Pima County. Placer mining was active in that region from 1774 to 1849, when the discovery of gold in California apparently attracted many of the Mexican miners who worked the gravels.
Arizona was then part of Mexico, and little is known of the placer mining that probably was carried on in various parts of southern Arizona. Placers were probably worked in the Oro Blanco district, Santa Cruz County, and the Arivaca district, Pima County.
The part of Arizona north of the Gila River was ceded to the United States in 1848, and the part of Arizona south of the Gila River, where most of the early placer mining occurred, was purchased in 1853.
Placers were discovered in the 1850’s in the Bagdad area, Yavapai County, and Chemuehuevis Mountains, Mohave County; but it was not until 1858, when placers were discovered by Colonel Jacob Snively at the north end of the Gila Mountains, Yuma County, that the first placer-mining rush in Arizona was precipitated.
The early years of the 1860’s saw the discovery of the famous placers at La Paz, Yuma County, and Rich Hill and Lynx Creek, Yavapai County; many smaller and less famous placer fields were discovered at that time.
In the 1860’s, Arizona was a relatively isolated and under populated territory, fraught with communication and travel difficulties, and beset by Indian problems. Placer mining was actively pursued throughout the territory, and some rich lode-gold mines were discovered and worked; but real news of Arizona mining was slow to filter out from the territory to the more populated areas in California and the East.
The period from 1860 to 1880 is reported as the most active and productive period in placer mining, but because of poor communications, there is very little reliable information or production record.
By 1900 most placer areas had been discovered, and many were nearly worked out. Placer mining continued intermittently during the early years of the 1900’s. Many attempts were made in various parts of the State to mine placer gravels by drywashing machines, but it was not until the economic impetus of the depression that placer mining became active again in Arizona.
During the years 1930–38, 95 different districts were credited with placer gold production, but many of these districts produced only a few ounces.
After the boom of the 1930’s, the war years of the 1940’s were a setback to gold mining activity. War Production Board Order L-208 greatly restricted the development of gold mines; prospecting for and mining metals essential to the war effort was deemed more important than mining gold. Even more important, however, the economy of the 1940’s encouraged work in offices, factories, and war industries for those not in military service, and as a result, many miners and prospectors left the gold fields and never returned.
After 1942, placer production never again reached the heights of the 1930’s or the peak production of the 1860’s to 1880’s.