We returned to William Heise County Park, located near Julian, California, which started as a gold mining camp in 1870 at the northern end of the Cuyamaca Mountains and the southern slope of Volcan Mountain. At an elevation of 4,500 feet, the town is about 50 miles northeast of San Diego. We brought our Airstream trailer and REI tent (which will be featured in my next article) here, just as Julian was about to celebrate its annual Gold Rush Days.
Native American Indians lived in the area 7000 years ago. 19,000 were estimated to be here at the time of the Spanish conquest starting in 1769. They lived in 85-90 seasonal campsites, following the seasonal temperature variations (as we do), and the ripening of major plants and availability of other food sources, they moved from the coast to the mountains and back. Less than 100 years later, the 1860 census lists only 2,807 Native Americans still living in San Diego County.
In 1869 A. E. (Fred) Coleman, a former slave, was living with his Native American wife and eleven children near Volcan Mountain when he watered his horse and noticed gold glittering in the creek. The trick is to follow the presence of gold particles upstream in hopes of finding the source of the gold. This is a form of placer mining.
The following year, Confederates from Georgia, Drury Bailey, his brothers James and Frank, and his cousins, Mike and Web Julian, made the first gold quartz discovery. Drury D. Bailey then laid out the town and named it Julian City after his cousin Mike Julian. The gold rush was on, bringing a divergent mass of humanity, including Blacks and Chinese. Chinese workers, who had recently built the Central Pacific Railroad, came into the area in search of work. Some of the other miners resented their presence and killed them in fights.
Two of the gold quartz mines registered in 1870 were the Eagle and High Peak Mines, which are currently open to the public. A trip to the mines is like going back in time. Here gold was found in quartz veins that formed over millions of years as sedimentary deposits were pushed upward forming our mountains, while immense pressures forced molten gold-bearing material up into tiny fissures as the earth’s crust cooled.
As our tour guide took us in, he warned us to be careful not to bump our heads on the occasional low ceiling areas. We noticed that it quickly became darker, cooler and more silent. He pointed out the miners’ tools, maps, candle headlamps, and other gear along the way. Midway through the mine, he invited us to sit down on a bench as he turned off all of the lights to show us how dark it really was in there! After a pause, he seemed to be fumbling for his light and as I was about to reach for my Petzl LED Headlamp from my vest pocket, he turned on a pencil-thin beam of light from his laser penlight and directed it up to the ceiling as he pointed out the tiny specks of minerals that were floating in the air. He then told us how holes were drilled for dynamite charges that blasted out sections of rock at a time. Just before the fuse was lit, the miners would hear the shout of “Fire in the hole“, and would run down and jump in a side hole in the mine and wait for the blast to occur, which was sometimes unpredictable if reed fuses were used.
The blast broke off gold-bearing quartz rocks…
That were hauled out of the mine in carts on rails.
The quartz rocks were then taken to the stamp mill, where heavy steel weights (stamps) pounded day and night, pulverizing them into fine particles which were washed through screens and bathed in mercury and then cyanide to extract the gold.
When gold was first found in California, some shouted “Eureka“, and it is now our state motto.