Gold is a chemical element with symbol Au and atomic number 79, making it one of the higher atomic number elements that occur naturally. In its purest form, it is a bright, slightly reddish yellow, dense, soft, malleable, and ductile metal. Chemically, gold is a transition metal and a group 11 element.
Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming are the “States With Gold” in which major amounts of gold have been found.
Gold mining by state
Gold was discovered in Alabama about 1830, shortly following the Georgia Gold Rush. The principal districts were the Arbacoochee district in Cleburne County, mostly from placer deposits, and the Hog Mountain district in Tallapoosa County, which produced 24,000 troy ounces (750 kg) from veins in schist.
Russian explorers discovered placer gold in the Kenai River in 1848, but no gold was produced. Gold mining started in 1870 from placers southeast of Juneau. Alaska produced a total of 40,300,000 troy ounces (1,250,000 kg) of gold from 1880 through the end of 2007. In 2015 Alaskan mines produced 873,984 troy ounces (27,183.9 kg) of gold, 12.7% of US production. The largest gold producer is the Fort Knox mine, a large open pit and cyanide leaching operation in the Fairbanks mining district.
Arizona has produced more than 16 million troy ounces (498 tonnes) of gold.
Gold mining in Arizona reportedly began in 1774 when Spanish priest Manuel Lopez directed Papago Indians to wash gold from gravel on the flanks of the Quijotoa Mountains, Pima County. Gold mining continued there until 1849, when the Mexican miners were lured away by the California Gold Rush. Other gold mining under Spanish and Mexican rule took place in the Oro Blanco district of Santa Cruz County, and the Arivaca district, Pima County.
Mountain man Pauline Weaver discovered placer gold on the east side of the Colorado River in 1862. Weaver’s discovery started the Colorado River Gold Rush to the now ghost town of La Paz, Arizona and other locations along the river in the ensuing years.
Spanish prospectors found gold in the Potholes district between 1775 and 1780, along the Colorado River, in present Imperial County, California, about ten miles northeast from Yuma, Arizona. The gold was recovered from dry placers. Other placer deposits on the west bank of the Colorado River were quickly found, including the Picacho and Cargo Muchacho districts.
Placer gold deposits were found at San Ysidro in San Diego County in 1828, San Francisquito Canyon and Placerita Canyon in Los Angeles County in 1835 and 1842, respectively
Major gold mining in California began during the California Gold Rush. Gold was found by James Marshall at Sutters Mill, property of John Sutter, in present-day Coloma. In 1849, people started hearing about the gold and after just a few years San Francisco’s population increased to thousands.
Gold was discovered in 1858 during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush in the vicinity of present-day Denver in 1858, but the deposits were small. The first important gold discoveries in Colorado were in the Central City-Idaho Springs district in January 1859. Only one Colorado mine continues to produce gold, the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine at Victor near Colorado Springs, an open-pit heap leach operation owned by Newmont Mining Corporation, which produced 360,000 troy ounces (11,000 kg) of gold in 2018.
Small amounts of gold were mined commercially in North Eastern Florida during the late 19th Century, at the site where Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park is located today. No records are extant on the amount of gold produced, but the find was insufficient to keep the operation running commercially, and the small amount of pay dirt was depleted within a matter of months.
Georgia is credited with a total historical production of 871,000 troy ounces (27,100 kg) of gold from 1830 through 1959. Although historically important, the state is not currently a gold producer.
Gold was first discovered in Idaho in 1860, in Pierce at the juncture where Canal Creek meets Orofino Creek.
The leading historical gold-producing district is the Boise Basin in Boise County, which was discovered in 1862 and produced 2.9 million troy ounces (90.2 tonnes), mostly from placers.
The French Creek-Florence district in Idaho County began in the 1860s, and has produced about 1 million troy ounces (31 tonnes) from placers.
The Silver City district in Owyhee County began producing in 1863, and made over 1 million troy ounces (31 tonnes), mostly from lode deposits.
The Coeur d’Alene district in Shoshone County has made 44,000 troy ounces (1,400 kg) of gold as byproduct to silver mining.
In 2006, active gold mines in Idaho included the Silver Strand mine and the Bond mine.
Gold was reported in Maryland as early as 1830, but no production resulted. Placer gold was discovered at Great Falls near Washington, DC in 1861 during the American Civil War by Union soldiers from California. After the war a number of mines were opened on gold-bearing quartz veins in Montgomery County. No gold production has been reported since 1951. Total production was about 6,000 troy ounces (190 kg).
Approximately 29,000 troy ounces (900 kg) of gold were produced from the Ropes gold mine northeast of Ishpeming in Marquette County, Michigan. The underground mine, originally operated from 1880 to 1897, and reopened from 1983–1989, extracted gold from quartz veins in peridotite.
Gold was first discovered in Montana in 1852, but mining did not begin until 1862, when gold placers were discovered at Bannack, Montana in 1862. The resulting gold rush resulted in more placer discoveries, including those at Virginia City in 1863, and at Helena and Butte in 1864. In 1867, the Atlantic Cable Quartz Lode was located.
The Butte district, although mined primarily for copper, produced 2.9 million ounces (91 tones) of gold through 1990, almost all as a byproduct of copper production.
Current active hardrock gold mines include the Montana Tunnels mine, and the Golden Sunlight mine. Active gold placers include the Browns Gulch placer and the Confederate Gulch placer. Gold is also produced from three platinum mines in the Stillwater igneous complex: the Stillwater mine, the Lodestar mine, and the East Boulder Project.
Nevada is the leading gold-producing state in the nation, in 2016 producing 5,467,646 troy ounces (170.06 tonnes), representing 81% of US gold and 5.5% of the world’s production. Much of the gold in Nevada comes from large open pit mining and with heap leaching recovery. Some of the world’s major mining companies, including Newmont Mining, Barrick Gold and Kinross Gold, operate gold mines in the state. Active major mines include Cortez, Twin Creeks, Betz-Post, Meikle, Marigold, Round Mountain, Jerritt Canyon and Getchell.
Newmont and Barrick operate the largest mining operations, on the prolific Carlin Trend, one of the world’s richest mining districts.
Gold was first discovered in New Mexico in 1828 in the “Old Placers” district in the Ortiz Mountains, Santa Fe County, New Mexico. The placer gold discovery was followed by discovery of a nearby lode deposit.
In 1877, two prospectors collected float in the area of the future Opportunity Mine near Hillsboro, New Mexico, which was assayed at $160 per ton in gold and silver. Soon, ore was discovered at the nearby Rattlesnake vein and a placer deposit of gold was found in November at the Rattlesnake and Wicks gulches. Total production prior to 1904 was about $6,750,000.
In 2007 all gold production in New Mexico (13,000 troy ounces (400 kg)) came as a byproduct of copper mining from two large open pit mines in Grant County. However, two primary gold mines are being readied for production: the Northstar mine in Rio Arriba County, and the San Lorenzo Claims mine in Socorro County.
North Carolina was the site of the first gold rush in the United States, following the discovery of a 17-pound (7.7 kg) gold nugget by 12-year-old Conrad Reed in a creek at his father’s farm in 1799. The Reed Gold Mine, southwest of Georgeville in Cabarrus County, North Carolina produced about 50,000 troy ounces (1,600 kg) of gold from lode and placer deposits.
Gold was produced from 15 districts, almost all in the Piedmont region of the state. Total gold production is estimated at 1.2 million troy ounces (37.3 tonnes).
Although gold mines are spread over much of Oregon, almost all of the gold produced has come from two principal areas: the Klamath Mountains in southwest Oregon, including Coos, Curry, Douglas, Jackson and Josephine counties; and the Blue Mountains in northeast Oregon, mostly in Baker and Grant counties.
Prospectors from Illinois discovered placer gold in the Klamath Mountains of southwest Oregon in 1850, starting a rush to the area. Lode gold deposits were also discovered.
Travellers along the Oregon Trail bound for the Willamette Valley are said to have discovered gold in northeastern Oregon in 1845, but mining in earnest did not begin until 1861.
About 37,000 troy ounces (1,200 kg) of gold was produced from the Cornwall iron mine five miles south of Lebanon, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. Although the deposit produced iron since 1742, no gold was reported from the mine until 1878.
South Carolina had a number of lode gold mines along the Carolina Slate Belt.
The Haile deposit was discovered in Lancaster County in 1827, and at least 257,000 troy ounces (8,000 kg) of gold were extracted intermittently between then and 1942, when the gold mine was ordered closed as nonessential to the war effort. Beginning in 1951, the deposit was mined for associated sericite, which was used as a white filler.
The only operating gold mine in South Dakota is the Wharf mine, at Lead, an open pit heap leach operation operated by Coeur Mining that produced 109,000 ounces of gold in 2016.
Placer gold was discovered on Coker Creek in Monroe County, Tennessee in 1827. The district produced about 9,000 troy ounces (280 kg).
About 15,000 troy ounces (470 kg) of gold was recovered from the massive sulfide copper ores at Ducktown, Tennessee.
Some prospects have been excavated for gold on the Llano Uplift of central Texas. Gold prospects include the Heath mine and the Babyhead district, both in Llano County, and the Central Texas mine in Gillespie County. Gold production, if any, is not known. Historically, the Lost Nigger Gold Mine may be in Texas.
Most gold produced in Utah today is a byproduct of the huge Bingham Canyon copper mine, southwest of Salt Lake City. In 2013, the Bingham Canyon mine produced 192,300 troy ounces (5,980 kg) of gold. Over its life, Bingham Canyon has produced more than 23 million ounces (715 tonnes) of gold, making it one of the largest gold producers in the US.
The Barneys Canyon mine in Salt Lake County, the last primary gold mine to operate in Utah, stopped mining in 2001, but is still recovering gold from its heap leaching pads. Utah gold production was 460,000 troy ounces (14,000 kg) in 2006.
Most gold mining in Virginia was concentrated in the Virginia Gold-Pyrite belt in a line that runs northeast to southwest through the counties of Fairfax, Prince William, Stafford, Fauquier, Culpeper, Spotsylvania, Orange, Louisa, Fluvanna, Goochland, Cumberland, and Buckingham. Some gold was also mined in Halifax, Floyd, and Patrick counties.
Gold was first discovered in Washington in 1853, as placer deposits in the Yakima Valley. Production from the state never exceeded 50,000 troy ounces per year until the mid-1930s, when large hard rock deposits were developed near the Chelan Lake and Wenatchee deposits in Chelan County, and the Republic deposit in Ferry County. Production through 1965 is estimated to be 2.3 million ounces.
Gold was discovered at the South Pass-Atlantic City-Sweetwater district in present Fremont County in 1842. The placers were worked intermittently until 1867, when the first important gold vein was discovered, and prospectors and miners rushed to the area.. The towns of South Pass City, Atlantic City, and Miner’s Delight catered to the miners. The district was nearly deserted by 1875, and was worked only intermittently afterward. Total gold production was about 300,000 troy ounces (9,300 kg). In 1962, the district became the site of a major iron mine.
The first significant gold rush in the United States was in Cabarrus County, North Carolina (east of Charlotte), in 1799 at today’s Reed’s Gold Mine. Thirty years later, in 1829, the Georgia Gold Rush in the southern Appalachians occurred. It was followed by the California Gold Rush of 1848–55 in the Sierra Nevada, which captured the popular imagination.
The California gold rush led directly to the settlement of California by Americans and the rapid entry of that state into the union in 1850. The gold rush in 1849 stimulated worldwide interest in prospecting for gold, and led to new rushes in Australia, South Africa, Wales and Scotland.
Successive gold rushes occurred in western North America: Fraser Canyon, the Cariboo district and other parts of British Columbia, in Nevada, in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, eastern Oregon, and western New Mexico Territory and along the lower Colorado River. Resurrection Creek, near Hope, Alaska was the site of Alaska’s first gold rush in the mid–1890s. Other notable Alaska Gold Rushes were Nome, Fairbanks, and the Fortymile River.
One of the last “great gold rushes” was the Klondike Gold Rush in Canada’s Yukon Territory (1896–99). This gold rush is immortalised in the novels of Jack London, and Charlie Chaplin’s film The Gold Rush. Robert William Service depicted with talent in his poetries the dramatic event of the Gold Rush, especially in the book The Trail of ’98. The main goldfield was along the south flank of the Klondike River near its confluence with the Yukon River near what was to become Dawson City in Canada’s Yukon Territory, but it also helped open up the relatively new US possession of Alaska to exploration and settlement, and promoted the discovery of other gold finds.