Oregon may be one of the most overlooked states in the western United States when it comes to gold prospecting and its potential for producing large gold nuggets. Many impressive specimens have come out of the state over the years. Some of the biggest nuggets that were found during the early gold rush here would get any gold prospector excited today!
The Main Gold Regions of Oregon
There are two primary regions within Oregon that have been the primary gold producers. The area that has been the largest producer of gold is in eastern Oregon, where roughly 2/3 of the historic gold production has come from. The other major gold producing area is in southwest Oregon, which has produced roughly 1/3 of the gold here. A few scattered gold districts are also found throughout the Cascade Mountains.
Large gold nuggets have been found in nearly all of the major gold districts in Oregon.
In eastern Oregon, the richest mining districts are located within the Burnt River, Powder River, and John Day River drainages. These three rivers all have rich placer gold deposits, and countless creeks and gulches that flow into these rivers will also produce gold.
In southwest Oregon, the Rogue River is the main river that drains the richest gold country. Other rich drainages include the Applegate River, Illinois River, South Umpqua River, Cow Creek, Josephine Creek and Althouse Creek. The first gold discoveries in the state were made in this area, and the largest gold nuggets known to have been mined in this region came from these waters.
The Largest Gold Nuggets
There have been some impressive gold nuggets found in Oregon. As with so many of the big nuggets that were discovered throughout history, most of the best finds were melted down long ago. Very few of Oregon’s biggest nuggets exist anymore, and aside from a few references in old mining literature there is very little information about some of the big nuggets that were found. In those days, a miner was wise to keep any major discoveries a secret to prevent theft from claim jumpers.
The area around the towns of Cave Junction and Takilma in Josephine County was an exceptionally gold-rich part of Southern Oregon. The Illinois River Valley was one area that has produced some huge gold nuggets over the years. Althouse Creek, a tributary to the East Fork Illinois River, has probably produced more large nuggets than any other part of Oregon.
It was reported that a 17-pound gold nugget and a 15-pound gold nugget were found in Althouse Creek during the first few years of mining here! Many other spectacular specimens came out of the creek and the surrounding bench deposits in this area.
Another impressive discovery was the Briggs Pocket Mine near the headwaters of Thompson Creek in Josephine County. It was reported that over 2000 ounces of gold came from a very small area only a few feet in depth. The gold occurrence here was exceptionally coarse and many of the pieces were massive!In Eastern Oregon, the largest gold nugget known to have been found is the Armstrong Nugget. It was found by George Armstrong and Dick Stewart in 1913. This huge specimen weighs a massive 80.4 troy ounces and is an amazing chunk of placer gold that is entirely clean with no matrix or host material attached.
It was found in Elk Creek, a tributary to the Middle Fork of the John Day River. Located near the old mining town of Susanville, very little evidence that mining took place here exists anymore, but at one time it was a bustling little mining community.
Many other amazing nuggets and specimens from the Eastern Oregon gold country are on display in the US Bank in Baker City, Oregon. The Armstrong Nugget is the centerpiece of the collection, but there are many other pieces of natural gold that are quite breathtaking, including some gorgeous pieces of high-grade gold in quartz that weigh several pounds!
Oregon’s Specimen Gold
The gold production in Oregon has come from both lode and placer sources. In some areas, lode gold is the primary source of the yellow metal, but in most mining districts there are also placer deposits that can be found as well.
Some of the lode sources in Oregon are extremely high-grade, and produce thick veins of gold running through quartz. Some of these deposits were the richest discoveries in Oregon, and there are most certainly some that are still yet to be discovered. Often the gold that is found will be very coarse, indicating that it has not traveled very far from the source.
A quartz matrix is also very common with much of the gold that is found in certain districts in Oregon. These high-grade pieces of quartz containing veins can be of exceptional quality and are worth a nice premium to collectors.
Oregon’s Current Potential for Producing Large Nuggets
The first significant gold mining in southwest Oregon started in 1852, and about ten years later the first gold discoveries occurred in eastern Oregon. Much mining has taken place since then, and nearly every waterway within the known gold areas of Oregon has been mined to some extent.
It is sad to think of all the amazing gold nuggets that have been found in Oregon, only to be sent off to be melted down at the refinery. Nonetheless, there is still good gold being found here today. Certainly the “easy pickin’s” are long gone, but with millions of ounces of gold to its credit, much of which came in the form of large gold nuggets, there is little doubt that there are yet to be some impressive pieces of natural gold still waiting to be unearthed by miners in Oregon’s gold country.