The rainfall in the Central Valley this year may give rise to a new California Gold Rush. Eyewitness News’ John Shrable went with modern-day miners to pan for gold and to see if the trend will return 150 years later.

By JOHN SHRABLE | May 2, 2017

Like most rivers in California, the Fresno River is full of water this year, but it’s also full of gold.

The sounds of prospectors and equipment echo, and they have penetrated canyon walls for more than 100 years. Hidden between the rocks and rapids of the swollen stream lay the hope of fortune that drew thousands to California over a century ago.

“Oakhurst and Coarsegold – those names are there for a reason,” said Mark White as he dug through heavy soils beneath the rushing waters.

California’s Highway 49, that winds its way through the heart of California’s gold country, begins in Oakhurst – just up the road from the claim White and his fellow group of prospectors set up shop for the day’s work.

Just talk with White for a few minutes and you’ll get the idea of what brings people out to these rivers.

He’s the president of the Central Valley Prospectors, a Fresno-based group of people with one thing in common – after their day jobs are done, gold fever kicks in.

For White, gold is in his blood. His father, after spending one summer in Alaska, has the inside scoop from a local on where to strike it rich – pulling out 72 pounds of gold in just a few short months.

“It has a high quality of gold that was recovered through the years, and it still has it.”

“That’s incredibly rare – stunningly rare,” White said. “You only hear about that in urban legends, and it ends up being your dad.”

White invited Eyewitness News to join them in the hunt at the group’s claim in the rugged foothills of Madera County.

“That’s gold,” said Angie Paul, who was excited after seeing some gold in her pan.

These weekend prospectors seem to have an extra shimmer in their eyes this year saying it could be the beginnings of a new California gold rush.

“It has a high quality of gold that was recovered through the years, and it still has it,” White said. “So when this big water comes through, it’s going to move it back down to the places they found it originally, and you could be first.”

As it turns out, this year’s drought-busting rain and snow has not only filled our reservoirs, but it could also fill your wallet.


“All the water is pressing through the cracks and knocking stuff through as it flows.”

“The velocity of this water coming down is going to move these big boulders where that gold has been sitting maybe underneath that boulder,” said prospector Bob Paul. “So it’s going to break those boulders loose and break that gold loose that’s been hiding underneath there for years.”

“I slipped and my chest waders caught the water and filled up, almost dragged me down the darn river.”

White added, “All the water is pressing through the cracks and knocking stuff through as it flows.”

Mother Nature may have boosted your chances of hitting the motherload, but the process of finding gold takes equipment and a lot of patience – especially when most of what you’re looking for turns out to be fool’s gold.

Having good equipment like a shovel, a sluice box and a pair of waders is really just the first step when getting out onto the river. You’ve got to be very careful because with such high water; these full rivers can be treacherous.

“I slipped and my chest waders caught the water and filled up, almost dragged me down the darn river,” Bob said.

The same force that makes these rivers potentially so dangerous, is the force that’s tumbling boulders and exposing areas that prospectors in years past would have had no way of reaching.

“It makes it kind of a game. You’re trying to beat Mother Nature where she’s hiding that gold at,” Bob said.

The challenge of finding what may just be a few flakes of gold, if any at all, after hours of work, is part of the appeal for prospectors like Bob, Angie and White.

“Everything that glitters is not gold, Tarzan,” White said.

It takes a keen eye during every step of the process, as well as knowing exactly how not only the gold, but everything else around it filters out.

“If you don’t set it up right, your not going to get the stream that you need,” Angie said.

Hours of setup, digging through mounds of dirt – all for that Eureka moment.

“That little siren goes off in your head when you find it,” White said, “and gold fever starts right after that.”

Angie and Bob Paul joined the Central Valley Prospectors just a few years back – all as just a hobby.

“We found two good sized nuggets – I guess you could say, and he made earrings out of it.” said Angie next to her husband Bob.

And just like his father, for White it’s more than just about the crisp mountain air, but that lingering idea that maybe, just maybe it could be him that cashes in on that next big nugget that keeps him coming back.

“I didn’t really understand it until later,” White said, “so after I retired I thought, you know, I’m just going to go deal with it so I found this club, and you know I really enjoy it.”


  • Discovery of Mariposa Mine


    Discovered by Alexander Godey and a group of Sonorian miners. It lied within the disputed “Las Mariposas Grant” claimed by Fremont. The firm of Palmer, Cook and Company leased the mine.

  • Discovery of Mount Ophir


    Discovered by “Quartz” Johnson and called the Shepherds Creek Vein

  • Discovery of Josephine Mine


    “Quartz” Johnson leased part of the vein to Haydon Co.

  • Merced Mining Company


    Investors reorganized into the Merced Mining Company

  • Shepherds Creek Vein Renamed


    Sold to a group of San Francisco investors and its name changed to Ophir, and then Mount Ophir Mine

  • Completion of Mount Ophir Mill


    Mount Ophir mill was completed at a cost of $100,000.

  • New Lease on Mount Ophir


    Leased to the Nouveau Monde Gold Mining Company of Paris and London; operated at a loss

  • Mount Ophir Ownership Returned


    Ownership returned to Merced Mining Company

  • Las Mariposas Grant


    John C. Fremont’s Las Mariposas Grant held to be a legal grant and took possession of all properties within its boundaries

  • Biddle Boggs vs. Merced Mining Company


    Fremont leased the mine to Biddle Boggs, starting the “Biddle Boggs vs. Merced Mining Company.” The lawsuit established the ownership of the minerals of the Las Pariposas Grant

  • Dispute Over Ownership


    Ownership over the mineral from the Josephine Mine was not included in the Fremont Grant. Pine Tree Mine was opened within proxmity of the Josephine Mine. In July, the Merced Mining Company seized the opening tunnels of the Pine Tree Mine without violence and contended the vein belonged to them by right of discovery.

    The Fremont miners did not abandon their claim but remained the tunnels.

    Fremont gathered an army of 50 men and the Merced Mining Company gathered a force of 75. The Merced Mining Company sent a proposal to Fremont for both parties to desist mining until the Supreme Courts made a ruling.

    Fremont rejected the offer.

    Fremont requested help from the Governor and the County Sheriff. Sheriff Crippen arrested the Merced Mining Company miners and in August attmepted to take possession of the mines. Only 6 men aided the Sheriff despite his request for 40 men to help in the seizure.

    The stalemate ended when Fremont agreed to pay the Merced Mining Company $20,000 for investments in the Josephine Mine, thus merging Josephine and Pine Tree Mine.

  • Fremont Victory


    California State Supreme Court rules in favor of Fremont in “Biddle Boggs vs. Merced Mining Company”

  • New Mariposa Mine Ownership


    Fremont leased the mine to John Barnett and sold to a New York syndicate who took over direct operations

  • 40-Stamp Mill Move


    40-Stamp Mill moved in and the yield was $84,948

  • Closing of Mariposa Mine


    Syndicate was dissolved in 1868 and remained operational until 1970, when it was closed. The mine yielded a total of $1,500,000.

Images and information courtesy of the Mariposa Museum and History Center




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