French Corral District

The French Corral District is a gold mine located in Nevada county, California at an elevation of 1,608 feet.

About the MRDS Data:

All mine locations were obtained from the USGS Mineral Resources Data System. The locations and other information in this database have not been verified for accuracy. It should be assumed that all mines are on private property.

Mine Info

Name: French Corral District  

State:  California

County:  Nevada

Elevation: 1,608 Feet (490 Meters)

Primary Mineral: Gold

Lat, Long: 39.304, -121.15120

Map: View on Google Maps


Satelite image of the French Corral District

French Corral District MRDS details

Site Name

Primary: French Corral District


Commodity

Primary: Gold
Secondary: Platinum
Secondary: Silver
Tertiary: Diamond


Location

State: California
County: Nevada
District: French Corral


Land Status

Land ownership: Private
Note: the land ownership field only identifies whether the area the mine is in is generally on public lands like Forest Service or BLM land or if it is in an area that is generally private property. It does not indicate a claim status and does not necessarily indicate an area is open to prospecting.
Administrative Organization: Nevada County Planning Department


Holdings

Not available


Workings

Not available


Ownership

Owner Name: Various private owners


Production

Not available


Deposit

Record Type: District
Operation Category: Past Producer
Deposit Type: Stream Placer
Operation Type: Surface
Discovery Year: 1850
Years of Production:
Organization:
Significant: Y


Physiography

Not available


Mineral Deposit Model

Model Name: Placer Au-PGE


Orebody

Form: Irregular


Structure

Type: L
Description: Big Bend-Wolf Creek Fault Zone

Type: R
Description: Big Bend-Wolf Creek Fault Zone


Alterations

Not available


Rocks

Name: Sand and Gravel
Role: Host
Age Type: Host Rock
Age Young: Tertiary


Analytical Data

Not available


Materials

Ore: Gold
Gangue: Chlorite
Gangue: Epidote
Gangue: Amphibole
Gangue: Pyrite
Gangue: Zircon
Gangue: Ilmenite
Gangue: Magnetite
Gangue: Garnet
Gangue: Quartz
Gangue: Siderite


Comments

Comment (Economic Factors): The total production of the district is unknown, but it has been estimated to be valued at between $3 and $4 million. In 1911, Lindgren estimated that 32.5 million cubic yards of gravel had been removed and that 20 million remained. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in 1891, estimated that the same amount had been removed, but that only 10 million yards remained.

Comment (Development): Exploration and Development history French Corral was the first historic mining camp to be established along San Juan Ridge. The camp was named for a mule corral built by the area's first settler in 1849. The principle period of mining occurred from 1850 to the mid-1880s with small-scale placer mining operations and extensive hydraulic mining operations, which were implemented in the mid-1850s. In 1884, the Sawyer Decision curtailed hydraulic mining throughout the northern Sierra Nevada. By that time approximately half of the gravel deposits present had been hydraulically mined. After the hydraulic mines shut down, only small-scale placer mining operations continued. Sometime before 1867, a 7.5-carat diamond, the largest ever discovered in California, was discovered in a sluice box in the district. During its heyday, French Corral became an important mining center, second only to North San Juan in size and importance. Because of the extensive hydraulic mining operations at French Corral, nearby North Bloomfield, and many other hydraulic mines along San Juan Ridge, the three leading mining companies (North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Co., Milton Mining and Water Co., and Eureka Lake and Yuba Canal Co.) spent over $5 million constructing an extensive 320-mile system of ditches, flumes, and reservoirs to bring water to the mines from Bowman Lake and other sources in the High Sierra. In order to manage the water deliveries, in 1878 the Edison Company built the world's first long distance telephone line at a cost of $6,000. French Corral was the end of the line, which ran 60 miles through the other important mining areas of Birchville, North San Juan, Cherokee, North Columbia, Lake City, North Bloomfield, Moore's Flat, Graniteville, and Milton to Bowman Lake. Minor work was conducted on the deposits between the 1960s and 1980s. In the early 1960s, several small lessors were known to have been conducing some operations. Generally these were small-scale open-pit operations involving a bulldozer, dragline, washing plant, trommel, and sluices. From the 1970s through mid 1980s, the Pantle Mining Company mined approximately 50 acres of the deposits under contract for the landowner. Little is known of these open-pit operations. In 1989, the same ground worked earlier by the Pantle Mining Company was reworked by the French Corral Corp. The company operated a 6-inch vibrating grizzly, rotating scrubber, vibrating screen and shaker table to process the gravels. Recovered gold consisted of small, flattened gold nuggets from 0.5 to 1.0 mm in diameter. Little remains of French Corral today. The Wells Fargo building, considered one of the premier gold-rush era structures still stands. The site of the Milton Mining and Water Company office in which the long distance telephone was installed is marked by a plaque.

Comment (Workings): Hydraulic mining methods were first applied in 1852 to the Yankee Jims gravels in the Forest Hill District of central Placer County. Its use and methods quickly evolved to where it was applied to most exposed Tertiary gravel deposits. Hydraulic mining involved directing a powerful stream of high pressure water through large nozzles (called "monitors") at the base of a gravel bank, undercutting it and allowing it to collapse. The loosened gravels were then washed through sluice boxes. The remaining tailings were indiscriminately dumped in the nearest available stream or river. Large banks of low-yield gravel could be economically mined this way. In some cases, adits were driven into the exposed face and loaded with explosives to help break down the exposure. One of hydraulic mining's highest costs was in the ditches, flumes, and reservoirs needed to supply sufficient volumes of water at high pressure. A mine might have many miles of ditches as well as dams and reservoirs, flumes, and tunnels. Hydraulic mining flourished for about 30 years until the mid-1880s when the Sawyer Decision essentially brought it to a halt. More information is contained in the Exploration and Development History section.

Comment (Commodity): Commodity Info: Lower gravels averaged $0.70 per cubic yard ($35/oz). Upper gravels averaged $0.24 per cubic yard ($35/oz). Undifferentiated averaged $0.50 per cubic yard ($35/oz).

Comment (Commodity): Ore Materials: Native gold - Fine -coarse gold and nuggets (.900 fine)

Comment (Commodity): Gangue Materials: Quartz, volcanic, and metamorphic gravels; accessory minerals garnet, magnetite, ilmenite, zircon, pyrite, amphibole, epidote, chlorite, and siderite

Comment (Geology): While the deposits display both a lower coarse gravel unit and a finer upper unit, most of the gravels belong to the lower unit due to extensive erosion and thinning of the upper gravel unit. The basal gravels, or blue lead of the early miners, are the richest. They are generally more cemented than the upper gravels, immature, and composed of darker clasts stripped from the upstream bedrock lithologies including bluish slate, gabbroic rocks, and serpentinite. Accessory minerals include zircon, garnet, magnetite, pyrite, and diamonds. Extremely large boulders were also encountered in the bedrock channel. Descriptions from later operations described these boulders as the size of a pickup truck. Lower gravels averaged $0.70 per cubic yard ($35 gold). The upper gravels are much finer, with clasts seldom larger than pebble size and characterized by an abundance of quartz sand and clay and silt beds. Large-scale cross-bedding and cut-and-fill features are common. Upper gravels carried significantly lower values than the deeper gravels. Upper gravels yielded an average $0.24 per yard ($35 gold).

Comment (Identification): The French Corral District is in northwest Nevada County about 9 miles northwest of Nevada City. The district includes those workings extending about 3 miles northeast along French Corral Creek from the town of French Corral to Birchville. The mining camp of French Corral was the first of many to be established in the rich placer deposits flanking San Juan Ridge. In the 1860s, a 7.5-carat diamond, the largest ever discovered in California was taken from a sluice box in this district.

Comment (Location): Location selected for latitude and longitude is the approximate center of the French Corral placer workings on the USGS 7 1/2-minute French Corral quadrangle.

Comment (Deposit): The French Corral deposits comprise a sinuous band of auriferous gravels preserved in the valley of French Corral Creek. The deposits extend approximately 2.5 miles along the creek from the community of French Corral to Birchville on the north. The deposits are generally narrow and thin by comparison with many other Tertiary gravel mining districts, being generally no wider than 1,500 feet and between 150 and 250 feet thick. The gravels were deposited by a southwesterly flowing main branch of the ancestral Yuba River. This branch flowed southwestward from the North San Juan District (2-3 miles north), through the French Corral District and continued its southwesterly course to the Smartsville District 10 miles to the southwest. While the deposits display both a lower coarse gravel unit and a finer upper unit, most of the gravels belong to the lower unit due to extensive erosion and thinning of the upper gravel unit. The basal gravels, or blue lead of the early miners, are the richest. They are generally more cemented than the upper gravels, immature, and composed of darker clasts stripped from the upstream bedrock lithologies including bluish slate, gabbroic rocks, and serpentinite. Accessory minerals include zircon, garnet, magnetite, pyrite, and diamonds. Extremely large boulders were also encountered in the bedrock channel.

Comment (Geology): Bedrock erosion degraded the rich gold-bearing veins and auriferous schists and slates as the rivers crossed the metamorphic belts of the Sierra Nevada. Upstream of the gold belts on the granitic Sierra Nevada batholith, channels are largely barren, but become progressively richer as they cross the metamorphic belt and the Mother Lode trend. They become especially enriched after crossing the gold-bearing "serpentine belt" (Feather River Peridotite Belt) upstream of many Tertiary placer districts. While the most gold is contained in the lower sand and gravel, the majority of rich material is within only a few feet of bedrock. Generally, in drift mines only these lower gravels were exploited; however, in hydraulic mines the whole gravel bed was washed. Lindgren (1911) estimated that on average, the hydraulic washing of thick gravel banks up to 300 feet, including both basal and upper gravels, yielded approximately $0.10 to $0.40/yard. Upper gravels alone might average $0.02 to $0.10/yard and lower gavels from $0.50 to $15/yard or more. The bulk of the gold in the deposits was derived from gold-bearing quartz veins within the low-grade metamorphic rocks of the Sierra Nevada. Gravels that have the highest gold values contain abundant white quartz vein detritus and clasts of blue-gray siliceous phyllite and slate common to the gold-quartz vein-bearing bedrock of the region. Unusually high gold concentrations have also been documented immediately downstream of eroded qold quartz veins exposed in the scoured bedrock. Most of the gold found in the gravels of the North Bloomfield and Moore's Flat districts is thought to have originated from the famous lode veins of the Alleghany Mining District. The veins in the Nevada City and Grass Valley districts have been proposed as possible sources for the gold in the gravels of the Sailor Flat and Blue Tent diggings. Gold particles tend to be flat or rounded, shiny and rough, and range from fine and coarse gold to nuggets of 100 or more ounces. Large nuggets were especially prevalent in the Alleghany, North Columbia, Downieville, and Sierra City Districts. The gold particles are almost everywhere associated with black sands composed of magnetite, ilmenite, chromite, zircon, garnet, pyrite, and in some places platinum. Fine flour gold is not abundant in any of the Tertiary gravels. Lindgren (1911) and others have suggested that most of the flour gold was swept westward to be deposited in the thick sediments of the Great Valley. Valley Springs Formation After deposition of the Eocene channel gravels, Oligocene-Miocene volcanic activity in the upper Sierra Nevada radically changed drainage patterns and sedimentation. The first of many eruptive rhyolite flows filled the depressions of most river courses covering the Eocene gravels and diverting the rivers. Many tributaries were dammed, but they eventually breached the barriers and carved their own channels within the rhyolite fill. Ensuing intermittent volcanism caused recurrent rhyolite flows to fill and refill the younger channels resulting in a thick sequence of intercalated intervolcanic channel gravels and volcanic flows. In the Scotts Flat District, very little of the Valley Springs Formation remains, having been lost to erosion. Mehrten Formation Volcanism continued through the Oligocene to the Pliocene, with a change from rhyolitic to andesitic composition and a successively greater number of flows. During the Miocene and Pliocene, volcanism was so extensive that thick beds of andesitic tuffs and mudflows of the Mehrten Formation blanketed the Valley Springs. Thicknesses ranged from a few hundred to a few thousand feet. Pleistocene erosion removed much of these deposits, but remnants cap the axes of many existing ridges at mid-elevations.

Comment (Geology): Tertiary Channel Gravels It has been estimated that 40 percent of California's gold production has come from placer deposits along the western Sierra Nevada (Clark, 1966). These placer deposits are divisible into Tertiary deposits preserved on the interstream ridges, and Quaternary deposits associated with present streams. Lindgren (1911) estimated that approximately $507 million (at $35.00/oz.) was produced from the Tertiary gravels. Almost all Tertiary gravel deposits can be divided into coarse basal Eocene gravels resting on basement, and overlying upper or "intervolcanic" gravels. While the gravels differ texturally, compositionally, and in gold values, no distinct contact exists between the two. The boundary is usually placed where pebble and cobble beds are succeeded by overlying pebble, sand, and clay beds. Lower gravels contain most of the gold and rest on eroded bedrock that is usually smooth, grooved, and polished. Where bedrock is granitic, it is characterized by a smooth and polished surface. Where bedrock is slate, phyllite, or similar metamorphic rock, rock cleavage, joints, and fractures acted as natural riffles to trap fine to coarse gold. In many cases, miners would excavate several feet into bedrock to recover the trapped gold. The lower gravels, or "blue lead," of the early miners are well-cemented and characterized by cobbles to boulders of bluish gray - black slates and phyllites, weathered igneous rocks and quartz. Boulders may range upwards of 10 feet in diameter. In many deposits, disseminated pyrite and pyritic pebble coatings are common in the lower blue lead gravels. Adjacent to the bedrock channels, broad gently sloping benches received shallow but extensive accumulations of auriferous overbank gravels sometimes 1-2 miles wide. The lower unit is also compositionally immature relative to the upper gravel unit as evidenced by their heavy mineral suites. Chlorite, amphibole, and epidote are common constituents in the basal gravels, but are conspicuously absent in upper gravels. The upper gravels compose the bulk of most deposits, with a maximum measured thickness of 400 feet in the North Columbia District. These gravels carry much lower gold values (rarely more than a few cents per cubic yard) than the deeper sands and are often barren. Upper gravels are finer grained, with clasts seldom larger than cobble size, and contain abundant silt and clay interbeds. Cross-bedding and cut-and-fill sedimentary structures are abundant as well as pronounced bedding and relatively fair to good sorting. Compositionally they are much more mature, with quartz prevailing, and more stable heavy mineral components consisting almost exclusively of zircon, illmenite, and magnetite. Oxidation is common and often imparts a reddish hue to the gravels. During the Cretaceous, the Sierra Nevada was eroded and its sediments transported westward by river systems to a Cretaceous marine basin. By the Eocene, low gradients and a high sediment load allowed the valleys to accumulate thick gravel deposits as the drainages meandered over flood plains up to several miles wide developed on the bedrock surface. The major rivers were similar in location, direction of flow, and drainage area to the modern Yuba, American, Mokelumne, Calaveras, Stanislaus, and Tuolumne Rivers. Their auriferous gravels deposits are scattered throughout a belt 40 - 50 miles wide and 150 miles long from Plumas County to Tuolumne County. In the northern counties, continuous lengths of the channels can be traced for as much as 10 miles with interpolated lengths of over 30 miles. The ancient Yuba River was the largest and trended southwest from headwaters in Plumas County. Its gravels are responsible for the placer deposits in the North Bloomfield, San Juan Ridge/North Columbia, Moore's Flat, and French Corral districts. Tributaries to the ancestral Yuba River were responsible for most of the other auriferous gravels in Nevada County.

Comment (Geology): REGIONAL SETTING The northern Sierra Nevada is home to numerous important gold deposits. These include the famous lode districts of Johnsville, Alleghany, Sierra City, Grass Valley, and Nevada City as well as the famous placer districts of North Bloomfield, North Columbia, Cherokee, Foresthill, Michigan Bluff, Gold Run, and Dutch Flat. The geological and historical diversity of most of these deposits and specific mine operations are covered in numerous publications produced over the years by the U.S. Bureau of Mines, U.S. Geological Survey, California Division of Mines and Geology (now California Geological Survey), and others. The most recent geologic mapping covering the area is the 1:250,000-scale Chico Quadrangle compiled by Saucedo and Wagner (1992). Stratigraphy The northern Sierra Nevada basement complex has a history of both oceanic and continental margin tectonics recorded in sequences of oceanic, near continental, and continental volcanism. The complex has been divided into four lithotectonic belts: the Western Belt, Central Belt, Feather River Peridotite Belt, and Eastern Belt. The Western Belt is composed of the Smartville Complex, an Upper Jurassic volcanic-arc complex, which consists of basaltic to intermediate pillow flows overlain by pyroclastic and volcanoclastic rock units with diabase, metagabbro, and gabbro-diorite intrusives. The Cretaceous Great Valley sequence overlies the belt to the west. To the east it is bounded by the Big Bend-Wolf Creek Fault Zone. East of the Big Bend-Wolf Creek Fault Zone is the Central Belt, which is in turn bounded to the east by the Goodyears Creek Fault. This belt is structurally and stratigraphically complex and consists of Permian-Triassic argillite, slate, chert, ophiolite, and greenstone of marine origin. The Feather River Peridotite Belt is also fault-bounded, separating the Central Belt from the rocks of the Eastern Belt for almost 95 miles along the northern Sierra Nevada. It consists largely of Devonian-to-Triassic serpentinized peridotite. The Eastern Belt, or Northern Sierra Terrane, is separated from the Feather River Peridotite Belt by the Melones Fault Zone. The Northern Sierra Terrane is primarily composed of siliciclastic marine metasedimentary rocks of the Lower Paleozoic Shoo Fly Complex overlain by Devonian-to-Jurassic metavolcanic rocks. Farther east are Mesozoic granitic rocks of the Sierra Nevada Batholith. The northern Sierra Nevada experienced a long period of Cretaceous to early Tertiary erosion followed by extensive late Oligocene to Pliocene volcanism. The oldest Tertiary deposits are Eocene auriferous gravels deposited by the predecessors of the modern Yuba and American rivers and preserved in paleochannels eroded into basement and on adjacent benches. In contrast to earlier volcanism, Tertiary volcanism was continental, with deposits placed on top of the eroded basement rocks, channel deposits, and Mesozoic intrusives. Two regionally important units are the Valley Springs and Mehrten Formations. The Oligocene-Miocene Valley Springs Formation is a widespread unit of intercalated rhyolite tuffs and intervolcanic channel gravels that blanketed and preserved the basal gravels in the valley bottoms. The younger Miocene-Pliocene Mehrten Formation consists largely of andesitic mudflows, which regionally blanketed all but the highest peaks and marked the end of Tertiary volcanism. Pliocene-Pleistocene uplift of the Sierra Nevada caused the modern drainages to erode through the volcanic Valley Springs-Mehrten sequences and carve deep river gorges into the underlying basement rocks. During this process, the modern rivers became charged with placer-gold deposits from both newly eroded basement rocks and from the reconcentration of the eroded Tertiary placers. The discovery of these modern Quaternary placers in the American River at Sutter's Mill sparked the California Gold Rush.

Comment (Geology): Continued uplift during the Pliocene-early Pleistocene increased gradients allowing the modern drainages to cut through the volcanic mantle and auriferous gravel deposits and deeply into basement. The once-buried Tertiary river gravels were left exposed in outcrops high on the flanks of the modern drainage divides. Structure Most Upper Jurassic and younger basement rocks of the northern Sierra Nevada were metamorphosed and deformed during the Jurassic-Cretaceous Nevadan Orogeny. The dominant northwest-trending structural grain is a result of this period of compressive deformation, which produced thrust faults, major northwest-trending folds, and regional greenschist facies metamorphism. This episode also resulted in intrusions of granitic plutons that formed the Sierra Nevada. Nevadan deformation structures within and between the northern Sierra Nevada lithotectonic blocks are steeply dipping northwesterly trending faults and northwesterly trending folds. These features are best developed in the Eastern, Central, and Feather River Peridotite Belts, where the faults have been collectively described as the "Foothills Fault System" (Clark, 1960). Where the attitude can be determined, most of the bounding faults dip steeply east and display reverse displacement. The regional northwest-trending structural grain is also at approximately right angles to the prevailing direction of stream flow of both the ancient and modern channels. This grain, expressed in the form of foliation and cleavage in the metamorphic bedrock, served as a good trapping mechanism for the gold particles. GEOLOGY OF THE FRENCH CORRAL DISTRICT In the French Corral District, basement rocks consist of metavolcanic rocks, quartz diorite, granodiorite, greenstone, and gabbroic rocks of the Jurassic Smartville Complex, with granodiorite and greenstone prevailing. The district lies along the eastern edge of the Western Belt of the Sierra Nevada basement complex. The Big Bend-Wolf Creek fault zone marks the eastern edge of the district and separates the Smartville Complex bedrock from granites and gabbroic rocks of the Central Belt. The district is one of the westernmost of the Tertiary gravel mining districts in the northern Sierra Nevada. Unlike many of its counterparts farther east, rocks of the Oligocene to Pliocene Valley Springs and Mehrten formations have been completely eroded away and the auriferous gravels are directly exposed resting on bedrock. Basal Eocene Auriferous Gravels The French Corral deposits comprise a sinuous band of auriferous gravels preserved in the valley of French Corral Creek. The deposits extend approximately 2.5 miles along the creek from the community of French Corral to Birchville on the north. The deposits are generally narrow and thin by comparison with many other Tertiary gravel mining districts, being generally no wider than 1,500 feet and between 150 and 250 feet thick. The gravels were deposited by a southwesterly flowing main branch of the ancestral Yuba River. This branch flowed southwestward from the North San Juan District (2-3 miles north), through the French Corral District and continued its southwesterly course to the Smartsville District 10 miles to the southwest.


References

Reference (Deposit): Lindgren, W., 1895, Smartsville Folio, California: U.S. Geological Survey Atlas of the U.S., Folio 18, 6 p.

Reference (Deposit): Clark, W.B., 1970, Gold districts of California: California Division of Mines and Geology Bulletin 193, p. 50.

Reference (Deposit): Lindgren, W., 1911, Tertiary gravels of the Sierra Nevada: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 73, p. 123-125.

Reference (Deposit): MacBoyle, E., 1919, Nevada County, French Corral mining district: California State Mining Bureau Report 16, p. 7-11.

Reference (Deposit): Saucedo, G. J. and Wagner, D. L., 1992, Geologic map of the Chico Quadrangle: California Division of Mines and Geology Regional Map Series Map No. 7A, scale 1:250,000.

Reference (Deposit): Yeend, W.E., 1974, Gold-bearing gravel of the ancestral Yuba River, Sierra Nevada, California: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 772, 44 p.

Reference (Deposit): Additional information on the French Corral District is contained in File Nos. 331-9402 and 330-6679 (CGS Mineral Resources Files, Sacramanto).