1850 was a momentous year in the history of Nevada. The first major discovery of gold in the territory occurred that year in the gravels of Gold Canyon, near present-day Dayton. The miners who worked the Gold Canyon placers during those early years were plagued by a heavy bluish-gray sludge that clogged their pans and sluice boxes. Eventually, they realized that the heavy blue clay in the bottom of their pans was rich in silver!
By the late 1850's, the source of all that placer gold and silver was discovered near the head of Gold Canyon. The miners had finally stumbled on the famous Comstock silver lode. The ore bodies of the Comstock Lode surpassed everyone's wildest dreams. A total of 16 major bonanzas were discovered within the first few years of operation, most within 600 feet of the surface! A river of silver poured out of the mines.
The huge strikes at the head of Gold Canyon spawned the famous mining camp known as Gold Hill. For 30 years the town of Gold Hill was in its heyday. Site of the greatest silver discovery in history, the town was giddy with excitement. Along with nearby Virginia City, Gold Hill served as the hub of business and society in early Nevada. More recently, Gold Hill has experienced another kind of excitement. On September 15, 1980, just outside the city limits, a security guard for the local mining company encountered a Bigfoot!
Nevada has never been known as Bigfoot country. Of all the western states it has the fewest sightings. Interestingly, one of the earliest recorded sightings in the West took place in Nevada during the 1860's. A party of white frontiersmen encountered a large, man-like creature carrying a slain rabbit. The creature fled as they approached and their hunting dogs refused to pursue it. More recently, Bigfoot-like creatures have been sighted in the Diamond Mountains near Eureka and on the Nevada Test Site. The latter sighting took place on January 23, 1980.
The Jarbidge Mountains in northeastern Nevada are home to a legendary Bigfoot-like creature known as "Tsawhawbitts" to the local Shoshone Indians or
"Jahabich" to the nearby Nez Perce Indians. Indeed, the name "Jarbidge" is a corruption of the various Indian names for the region. The Jarbidge Mountains had a dark and ominous reputation among the early Native American peoples who lived nearby. The Bigfoot-like creature who haunted the canyon was said to eat men! Needless to say, the Indians tended to avoid the area.
The Jarbidge Mountains are home to another type of mystery and legend - a fabulous lost gold mine! The Jarbidge Mountains were first prospected during the 1870's, but very little placer gold was discovered in the streams. Consequently, prospectors didn't spend much time searching for lode deposits in the nearby mountains. But then in 1890, a prospector known only as Ross discovered incredibly rich gold-bearing float somewhere in the heart of the Jarbidge Mountains.
Ross had been prospecting the area for some time when he finally made his discovery. Unfortunately, he was unable to trace the float to its source before a snowstorm forced him out of the mountains. On his way out, Ross met a local sheepherder named Russ Ishman who worked for a nearby rancher. In his excitement, Ross told the sheepherder about his fabulous find. His plan was to return in the spring and stake his claim.
The following year, Ishman returned to the Jarbidge Mountains with his herd of sheep. He decided to search for the location described by Ross and lo and behold, he found it! He also found something else. Next to the rich gold-bearing float was a human skeleton. Undeterred, Ishman traced the float uphill to a ledge of quartz literally "shot through with gold". He gathered a few of the richest samples and eventually returned to the ranch with his sheep herd. Here he showed the gold samples to his boss, John Pence. Unfortunately, Ishman was never able to return to the gold ledge. He died soon after his discovery. John Pence had actually seen and held Ishman's samples and therefore knew that a rich gold deposit existed somewhere in the Jarbidge Mountains. He searched for the ledge many times but never found it.
Nevada has always been mining country. The state has experienced three truly significant mining booms in its history. Each has exerted a powerful effect on the nation's economy and on the mining industry as a whole. The first of these booms began in 1859 with the discovery of the famous Comstock silver lode near the head of Gold Canyon. Prospectors poured over the mountains in search of silver. In the following decade, a succession of rich silver strikes occurred including Unionville and Aurora in 1861, Reese River in 1862, Ione and Candelaria in 1863, Pioche and Eureka in 1864, Belmont in 1865, and White Pine in 1868.
The second of Nevada's great mining booms began in 1900 with the discovery of massive gold and silver lodes near Tonopah. The Tonopah ore bodies proved to be incredibly rich. Prospectors streamed into the mountains and deserts of Nevada in search of similar deposits. Again, a number of rich ore bodies were discovered including Goldfield in 1902, Bullfrog in 1904, Manhattan and Round Mountain in 1906, National in 1907, and Jarbidge in 1908.
The third great mining boom in Nevada's history began in 1962 with the discovery of immense disseminated gold deposits near Carlin. This discovery has reinforced Nevada's reputation in the mining world. The incredible reserves of gold at Carlin have placed Nevada near the top in world gold production.
The history of mining in northern Elko County began in 1869 with the discovery of small placer gold deposits and rich silver veins near the Bruneau River. A small mining camp called Bruno City sprang up nearby but almost immediately died out a few years later. The 1870's saw similar strikes near Tennessee Mountain and at Rowland. In 1876, rich gold placers were discovered on the southern side of Copper Mountain, along Seventysix Creek. This was the first official discovery of gold in the Jarbidge Mountains. Prospectors found gold in many of the surrounding creeks including Pennsylvania Gulch, Dry Ravine, Badger Creek, and Union Gulch. The town of Charleston grew up near the diggings.
The Jarbidge Mountains were sporadically prospected for the next 30 years, but the first big strike didn't occur until 1908. It was during that year that David A. Bourne discovered fabulously rich gold deposits near the Jarbidge River, 14 miles north of Charleston. Prospectors poured into the Jarbidge Mountains by the hundreds. A wild mining camp known as Jarbidge sprang up along the banks of the river. New discoveries kept the district going through the early 1900's until 1932 when the last mine finally closed. But the town still survives today. Jarbidge has a proud and rich mining history. Over 200,000 ounces of gold were produced from the Jarbidge District during its lifetime.