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Gold Mining History of Canyon City, Oregon


Canyon City is credited for having the richest gold deposits anywhere in the state of Oregon at Whiskey Gulch on Canyon Creek near John Day.

Miners had discovered gold in Eastern Oregon’s Blue Mountains the fall prior about 50 miles to the east in Auburn, but it wasn’t long before gold discoveries were being made all throughout the region throughout the Burnt, John Day, and Powder River basins.

Canyon Creek flows through the present day town of Canyon City, and drains into the John Day River just downstream at the town of John Day. Bucket line dredges worked the narrow canyon at the lower end of Canyon Creek for many years, and millions of dollars of gold has been recovered.

Gold Panning in Oregon

Numerous lode mines on Little Canyon Mountain produce good gold, and fed the rich placers that were discovered at Whiskey Gulch and Canyon Creek.

The gold deposits in this area were some of the richest in the state; just one small canyon was said to have produced over twenty million dollars in gold. Miners reported gravels as rich as $500 per yard, at a time when gold was only worth about $20 per ounce!


Big Gold Nuggets in Eastern Oregon


Many big nuggets came from these rich gravels as well. The Canyon City area, along with many of the mining districts in Eastern Oregon, has produced some gold nuggets that would be easily found with metal detectors today. Official records of production did not exist during much of the early gold rush years, but there are undoubtedly still good mining opportunities here.

Oregon Gold Nugget

The “Armstrong Nugget” was found in the now abandoned mining town of Susanville, not far from Canyon City. Big nuggets like this were not uncommon during the height of the gold rush in Canyon City.

Placer gold can be found throughout the John Day River. One very rich section that was placer mined extensively with bucket line dredges is the valley that runs from Prairie City west to Mount Vernon, and including the town of John Day. Some large tailing piles can still be seen today while driving down Highway 26 through the John Day Valley, although many of the old workings have been leveled out and are now pastures and farmland. These huge dredges moved massive amounts of material, but the crude methods were hardly efficient when compared to the equipment that we have today. Dredge tailing piles can often still hold good gold that was missed.

The historic town site of Marysville is located on Little Pine Creek a few miles east of Canyon City. Countless prospects and gold mines can be found in this area, including the Great Northern Mine and Golden West Mine at the northern boundary of the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness.


Gold Prospecting near John Day & Canyon City


There is still plenty of gold left to be found in the waters around Canyon City, although much of the richest ground is now claimed up or on private lands. Old diggings can be seen all throughout the canyon as you drive up Canyon Creek from John Day.

Canyon City is located at far western side of a rich gold belt that extends for almost 100 miles to the east to the border with Idaho. There are dozens of old mining towns scattered all throughout this part of Oregon that still have plenty of areas that you can search for gold.

Metal detectors can work well in tailing piles, but these piles are often littered with iron rubbish, making detecting quite challenging in some areas. Locating virgin ground adjacent to the places where to dredges dug their way through the valley may be productive to explore.


Canyon City Today


Be aware that today the homes, schools, and business of Canyon City and John Day are located directly atop many of the dredge tailings in the narrow canyon. This makes some of the richest ground completely inaccessible now.

While there are still a few miners finding gold around John Day and Canyon City today, the economy of the region has moved past gold mining. This is mainly a farming and ranching area today, but the history of gold mining is still entrenched in the community.

If you make it to Canyon City, be sure to explore the local museum, which has an abundance of old mining relics from a bygone era. Some of the more interesting things on display include old hydraulic monitors used for hydraulic mining, ore carts that were used in the surrounding lode mines, and even an old jailhouse from the nearby ghost town of Greenhorn!


Next: 9 Places to Pan Gold in Oregon without a Mining Claim


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