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California’s Gold Rush Lives On At Temecula Valley Museum

Credit: Courtesy of Matthew R. Isenburg

Above: "Mining Scene on the American River, c. 1852" by George Johnson, one of the historic photos included in the exhibit "Gold Fever! Untold Stories of the California Gold Rush" at the Temecula Valley Museum.

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There was a time in California when fortunes were made with a chisel, a pan and lots of good luck. The Gold Rush brought fortune-seekers, hard workers and dreamers to California in the 19th century, and transformed the state's image into the Golden State.

A new traveling exhibit at the Temecula Valley Museum remembers the "49ers" who headed West in search of fortunes more than 150 years ago. Through photo displays, historic artifacts and personal items used by the miners, "Gold Fever!" explores the untold stories of our state's Gold Rush.

Paul Price, an author and collector of Gold Rush artifacts, has been fascinated with the Gold Rush since he was a young child. He grew up on his family's ranch near what was once known as the Pinacate Mining District, home of Southern California's largest gold mine, the Good Hope Mine (located southwest of Perris, Calif.). As a child in the '50s, Price would encounter aging neighbors who would tell him "old yarns" about their days mining for gold as well as give him random items and trinkets from their time in the mines. He was hooked, and has since amassed quite the collection of artifacts (150 items in his personal collection are on view in the exhibit).

Though the exhibit is historical, it's not completely about the past. Those dreams of gold continue for some right up to the present day.

Jim Jeffrey is one of many local gold prospectors in San Diego County. For more than 30 years, Jeffrey has been exploring mines and collecting Gold Rush artifacts, and about four years ago, he got into prospecting. "It's an adventure. It’s a lot like fishing — you never know what you’re going to catch," he says, adding that gold prospecting is one of the fasting growing hobbies in the U.S.

Jeffrey and his wife own the American Prospector Treasure Seeker store in Temecula, where they sell gold prospecting supplies and equipment, as well as lead fellow treasure seekers on hands-on outings to learn the art themselves.

For those looking to try their hand at gold prospecting, Jeffrey has some advice. "First thing: get a little bit educated on where to go and how to do it. A lot of people want the equipment and they think they can leave our store and come back in an hour and expect to have a pocket full of gold, but it doesn't work that way." He adds, "Learn the geology of how gold deposits. Your odds will increase tremendously." Jeffrey also recommends that newbies join a local gold prospecting club to meet other enthusiasts and learn from them.

And for those who prefer to not get their hands dirty, visiting the exhibit is a good way to get a taste of what life was like during the Gold Rush.

"Gold Fever! Untold Stories of the California Gold Rush" is on view now through February 24 at the Temecula Valley Museum in Temecula.


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