Placer Gold Deposits of Nevada

Publication Info:
Nevada Mining Districts (Compiled Reports)
The Districts Described in This Section are from the following publications:

Mining Districts of Nevada - Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology Report 47 (updated 1998); Placer Gold Deposits of Nevada - USGS Bulletin 1356 (1973)

Table of Contents

The text on this page is from the book Placer Gold Deposits of Nevada - USGS Bulletin 1356 (1973)


One hundred and fifteen placer districts in Nevada are estimated to have produced a minimum of 1,700,000 ounces of placer gold from 1849 to 1968. The location, areal extent, past production, mining history, and probable lode source for each district are summarized on the basis of information obtained from a wide variety of published reports relating to placer deposits. Annotated references to all reports give information about individual deposits for each district.

Most of the placer gold found in Nevada has been derived from veins and replacement deposits that have been successfully worked for the gold and silver content of the ores. In the few districts for which the source of the gold is unknown, it is presumed to be small scattered veins in the adjacent bedrock. In most of the very productive lode mining districts, only small amounts of placer gold have been recovered, whereas in the very productive placer districts, lode-gold production is close to, and sometimes less than, placer gold production.

Most of the placer mining was done before 1900 by small-scale methods utilizing portable equipment, such as rockers, sluices, and drywashers, to work small deposits; most of the placer gold produced in the State since 1900 was mined by a few very large dredge operations between 1920 and 1959.

History of Placer Mining in Arizona

The first authenticated discovery of placer gold in Nevada was made in 1849 by Abner Blackburn, a member of an emigrant train to California, at the junction of Gold Canyon and the Carson River at the present site of Dayton, Lyon County (De Quille, 1891; Vanderburg, 1936a). Parties of men worked the gravels in Gold Canyon and nearby Six Mile Canyon, Storey County, for 8 years before the source of the placers, the Ophir silver lode, was discovered by Peter O'Reiley and Patrick McLaughlin in 1857 while digging a small water hole for placer mining in Six Mile Canyon (De Quille, 1891).

Other lode discoveries in the immediate area followed, and soon the whole world knew of the Comstock lode in Nevada. Although placer mining continued on a small scale in Gold Canyon and Six Mile Canyon, and other placers were discovered elsewhere in the State, the richness and fame of the Comstock lode far overshadowed the importance of placer production and new placer discoveries.

Following the discovery of placers at Gold Canyon, placer discoveries in Nevada were broadly in three periods: the 1860's to 1880's, when many small deposits throughout the State were discovered and sporadically worked and several large placers were discovered and extensively worked; the short period between 1906 and 1910, when very rich placers were discovered at Lynn, Battle Mountain, Manhattan, and Round Mountain; the early 1930's, when economic conditions created by the depression caused a renewed interest in placer mining, and many individuals sought, and a few discovered, new placer areas throughout the State.

Very little factual information can be found about the early periods of placer mining in Nevada. For many placers, the only reports available are hearsay estimates of production and speculations about the extent of the placer ground based on remnants of placer pits, shafts, and other workings. Many of the placers said to have had a high production between 1860 and 1890 were worked by Chinese miners who came to Nevada during the building of the railroads and stayed on to work at mining and other activities.

The Chinese were reputed to be secretive with their earnings from the placers and did not ship the gold to the mint by Wells Fargo or other shippers. They worked the gravels very thoroughly in areas where American miners did not wish to expend great labor to win the gold. The placers in the Sierra and Spring Valley districts, Pershing County, were worked by Chinese miners; they have a very high estimated production before 1900 and a comparatively low known production since that time.

One reason for the lack of information about early placer-mining activity in Nevada was the great attention given to the rich silver-lode districts such as the Comstock, Eureka, and Reese River districts. Whereas in many other States, the discovery of gold placers stimulated the search for lode-gold deposits and other gold placers, in Nevada early attention was devoted to searching for rich silver lodes not necessarily associated with derived placers.

The comparatively late discovery of some of the richest placers in the State has afforded a very clear picture of the development of placer mining during the 1900's. The discovery of rich silver ores at Tonopah in 1900 and rich gold ores at Goldfield in 1902 stimulated great activity in mining exploration throughout Nevada. Many placers discovered during the 1906-10 period were found by men looking for ores similar to ores at Tonopah and Goldfield.

Placer mining at Manhattan and Round Mountain districts, Nye County, and Battle Mountain district, Lander County, began with numerous small drywash operations in the gravels, then expanded as water supplies were developed for sluicing and hydraulic methods of mining. Late in the history of these districts, but long after many other placer districts were inactive, large-scale dredging operations began. The success of the dredge operations in these semiarid districts is unique in the history of placer mining in the Southwestern States.

Placer-mining history in the other districts is typical of desert placer mining throughout the southwest. Most production resulted from the relatively intense period of prospecting immediately following discovery; a decline in placer-mining activity followed, then a small revival during the early 1930's. The economic depression of the early 1930's stimulated investigations of many Nevada placer districts for the purpose of developing large-scale placer-mining operations. By the late 1930's, many mining companies had investigated many placer areas and had formulated plans to develop certain areas.

The placer activity of the 1930's was abruptly halted by the beginning of World War II and the passage of War Board Order L-208, which restricted gold mining throughout the country. The dredge operation at Manhattan was given special permission to continue operations, although on a reduced scale, and, as a result, placer gold production after 1942 did not decline as markedly in Nevada as in other States.

Most of the placer mining was done by the basic methods of dry-washing, sluicing, and rarely, small-scale hydraulic mining. In addition to the large dredge operations at Manhattan, Round Mountain, and Battle Mountain, other dredges operated in different districts, notably Silver City, Lyon County; Spring Valley, Pershing County; Van Duzer, Elko County; and Bullion, Lander County. Since the completion of the Round Mountain dredge operation in 1959, placer mining in Nevada has progressively diminished in importance.

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