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California's Gold Rush Lives On At Temecula Valley Museum

"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.
Courtesy of Matthew R. Isenburg
"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.
California's Gold Rush Lives On At Temecula Valley Museum
GUESTSJim Jeffrey, owner, American Prospector Treasure Seeker. Paul Price, author and collector.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. 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 in the 19th century and transformed the state's image into the golden state. Now an exhibit in Temecula remembers the 49ers and reminds us that those dreams of gold continue for some right up to the present day. Jim Jeffrey is owner of the American Prospector Treasure Seeker, and welcome to the program. JEFFREY: Hi, how you are you doing? CAVANAUGH: And Paul Price is an author and collector. Welcome. PRICE: Hello. CAVANAUGH: Now, Jim, if you you believe what you see on TV these days, looking for that lucky strike has grabbed hold of a lot of Americans again. What do you make out of these TV shows like Gold Rush and Bearing Sea gold and things like that? JEFFREY: Well, they're very true, and they are actually finding gold, and they're doing quite well at it. I personally wish there was a little more down to earth prospecting versus the arguing and -- CAVANAUGH: Right! [ LAUGHTER ] JEFFREY: And the breaking down of their equipment. But other than that, it's a great show. CAVANAUGH: Now, how popular is gold prospecting these days? JEFFREY: It's a hobby that's growing fast. It's a great opportunity for families and friends to go out and enjoy the outdoor environment and you can sluice in a stream, dredge in a stream. Well, you can't dredge in California, it's illegal right now. But sluicing and dry washing, and metal detecting, and using circulators out in the desert where you're in a cleaner environment, it's a good opportunity for families to get out and enjoy life. CAVANAUGH: And Paul, what's your take on the continuing allure of gold prospecting? Even up till today. PRICE: I think gold has always fascinated man for some reason. I believe that we as a civilization, and the migration pre-Columbian, we were searching for gold 200 years ago, are way before the 49ers came about. CAVANAUGH: El Dorado. PRICE: And we exploited the Incas, are the Mayans, the Aztecs all for gold. And deSoto coming up, and Anza, and all these fellows looking for gold. CAVANAUGH: Remind us about the California gold rush. When and where did it start? PRICE: The more popular one is Sutters Sport, and Marshall who ran the lumber yard up in the foothills of the Sierra east of the actually Sutters Fort, discovering a nugget that he picked up in the wash or a stream bed. And it went from there, examining it and finding out that it is gold. And Sutter really wanted to get it out to the public. But Marshall wanted to keep it for himself to really find out how large it was and do as much exportation for it before the public. But fortunately or unfortunately it got out. [ LAUGHTER ] PRICE: And here came the gold rush, or the migration into California. CAVANAUGH: And we're talking around 1849; is that right? PRICE: Around 1849, but in Southern California, the Spanish had already been working in small deposits. In Los Angeles alone, going up toward the Santa Barbara area, they had found gold and had processed it and mined it. And some of that gold went into the mission system and into building altar pieces and things like that, both at San Juan Capistrano, and the San Diego mission. CAVANAUGH: Around 1849, 1850s, we think of it as the Northern California gold rush. But there were some prospecting down here in Southern California as well. PRICE: That's correct, that's correct. CAVANAUGH: And what about our region here in San Diego and Temecula? PRICE: Well, as you know, San Diego and San Bernardino used to butt up against each other. And Riverside was cut out of the territory about 90 years ago. But let's just say the early San Diegans, did have gold in it. Julian is a town founded by the discovery of gold. If you put everything in proper chronological order, you'll order the immigration trail came up from Anza Borrego, went into Warner Springs, traversed the train into Pujo. Pujo was the first name for Temecula. And then it went north. And they had already done a lot of walking. And they experimented with various streams as they travelled north. And part of the trail when they got into Perris, they discovered gold there. CAVANAUGH: Wow. Let me stop you there. I want to talk about the exhibit that is in Temecula valley museum, and you've loaned 150 objects I hear to that exhibit. Can you give us an idea of what kinds of objects? PRICE: I think anything dealing with the material culture of that period of California history. There's some form of representation there. CAVANAUGH: Are we talking about pans and actual objects that were used to search for gold? PRICE: Right. And process gold. Remember there's two distinct items that we're discussing, one is the prospecting, which panning for gold is very much prevalent. The other is mining, actually tunnelling into a hill or embankment, and the other is the actual process like with stamp mills. And of course the men would establish their own communities, and they had their own forms of recreation. We've tried at the museum with this particular exhibit to show cultural artifacts that dealt with the Spartan existence of the minors, including like you mentioned gold pans, we don't have a sluice box, but we have several sticking Tommies, which was our form of imilluminating the tunnels, which was nothing more than a candle. But that and carbon lights, mule light, and a complete range of other heavier prospecting tools for tunnelling and dynamiting. And then entertainment where they would actually make a French mop heart out of wood, and several examples of poke bagses, and in and out tags and stuff like this, all of it associated with mining and prospecting. CAVANAUGH: Now, Jim, even I know what a sluice box is. I've seen them on TV. It's where you kind of shake the water to see if there's anything that settles on the bottom; is that right? JEFFREY: Well, a sluice box is a piece of equipment you set up in the stream, and the water flows through it, and you add your material at the top of it and let the water wash it out. CAVANAUGH: So I guess my question, in any of the objects that you see at the exhibit, are prospectors still using that kind of equipment? JEFFREY: Yes, they are. But it's more modernized today than it was back then. Basically a lot of the same equipment is used. It's just upgraded and more modern. CAVANAUGH: Now, what appeals to you about prospecting? JEFFREY: Well, No. 1, it's a great adventure. Every trip is a new trip. It's an adventure. And you never know what you're going to find. It's kind of like fishing. You never know what you're going to catch. CAVANAUGH: How much money do you make at that? JEFFREY: I haven't made a lot of money. But it's more the adventure and the fun of being in the outdoors, and the finding of the gold is an extra bonus. And there are people that do make a good living at it, and there are people that do strike it rich but it's a smaller percentage of people. It's more for the recreation to get out with family and friends. CAVANAUGH: I hear that you spend a lot of time exploring mines, and most of our listeners haven't spent that much time. What is it like? Is it a dangerous occupation? JEFFREY: It really is, and honestly you should not be doing it. You need to be very cautious when you go into a mine. There could be cave-ins, this could be critters, rattlesnakes, rats, owls, and I have encountered them. And I actually encountered them all in one day. [ LAUGHTER ] CAVANAUGH: That was a day! JEFFREY: Yeah, it was. But it's a kick, it's an adventure, but I just don't recommend that people do it. CAVANAUGH: Is there a lot of gold to uncover in San Diego County? JEFFREY: I would say yes. The easy gold has been found. Of the gold is a little harder to find compared to back in the day. You don't walk around and pick up 2-ounce nuggets like they did back in the day. But they are there, and harder to find. San Diego County, especially from the fallbrook area to Julian is a big Jim belt area. CAVANAUGH: I wonder, Paul, when you were donating all this stuff, and you wanted to give a really good overall idea of what gold miners in 1849 had to deal with, what kind of a Spartan life they had, are you also including pictures? Do you have photographs of this? PRICE: Yes, we do have pictures. It's pretty well documented. Minors and prospectors doing this, applications of actually prospecting. And there's a great deal of material that's in libraries and in various books on early mining days. CAVANAUGH: You must have been very involved in the whole mystery of gold mining for a long time to have amassed this collection. Did you grow up with stories of gold mining? PRICE: Yes, back -- let's see, our family purchased a small ranch in 1948, north of lake Elsinore. And it's circumvented by mines, including the gold mine which is actually the largest gold mine in Southern California, and the richest. Which most people aren't even aware of that. Underneath the highway between Perris and Elsinore, Highway 74, at the location of the mine, there's actually four mouths of tunnels stacked in tiers that are I think at least six tiers. It's quite an operation. And it ran for well over 120 years. CAVANAUGH: Wow. Getting back to these reality TV shows that a lot of people are seeing about gold mining. Apparently it can cost an awful lot of money to go on one of these big -- I don't know what you would call it, stakes to try to uncover. They put a lot of their hard-earned cash in it. Usually for people, if they want to take this up as a hobby, do they have to put in a lot of money? JEFFREY: Oh, no. You can get set up for sluicing for $300 or less, and it's a real good basic way to get set up. It's relatively inexpensive. CAVANAUGH: And we have to close now because I'm out of time. But I wonder if you could both leave us with some lasting words about the legacy of the gold rush in California. What kind of history, what kind of -- what did it leave our state? What kind of image did it leave our state? PRICE: Geez, I think it changed the demographics. It mixed -- we game a stew pot, like New York City that was receiving European, and all of a sudden California was receiving everybody and all headed to look for gold. Chinese and Germans, and we already had the Mexican populous here, and they just kind of muddled them all in. And I think that and as minors would refer to it, searching for the elephant or seeking the elephant was a big part of California's history. CAVANAUGH: And it remains so. JEFFREY: I totally agree. I think today there's a lot more private property than there used to be. And learning areas and where to go, but the legacy still lives on, and hopefully it will continue, and hopefully people will get educated on where to go. CAVANAUGH: And here's one way that can, gold fever, untold stories of the California gold rush is on display now at the Temecula valley museum in Temecula. Thank you both very much. PRICE: Thank you, JEFFREY: Thank you.

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.