Between 1848 and 1967, 106 million troy ounces were recovered by hydraulic, placer or hard rock mining in California. Especially rich deposits of placer gold were located in what became known as the Mother Lode, a gold bearing area that stretched through the Sierra Nevada from Mormon Bar north to Georgetown.
The Keystone mine was located in Amador City, north of Sutter Creek, and was one of the richest mines of the Mother Lode. Although Amador City has a population of 202 people today, at the height of the gold rush the population was 5000.
Jose Maria Amador gave his name to the town. Originally from San Francisco, he and a group of Indians camped what is now known as Amador Creek in 1848. His name was given to the county in 1854.
The First Miners at Amador City
In the autumn of 1849, four ministers arrived in Amador City. Evidently they had not heard the part about “love of money being the root of all evil” and they worked their claims with gusto, although it has to be said that at the end of the long days they did go about the area saving souls.
In 1851, a Baptist minister named Davidson, discovered quartz gold in Minister’s Gulch, the first find of gold-bearing quartz in the area. A company called the Spring Hill Company was formed when a man by name of Samuel Hill, who lived in Buckeye, was put up the funds to back the company. A rich vein on the north side of Original Amador creek was found about the same time by a father and son team, Thomas and James Rickey.
A stamp mill, the first to be used in Amador, was erected, and the Samuel Hill purchased a steam engine in Sacramento to power the stamp mill. The steam engine was old and it was difficult to get enough wood to keep the boiler going, but with some refurbishing it was successful.
On September 5, 1851, superior machinery was brought to the mill north of the creek, but a lot of the gold was extremely fine, failing to settle and ultimately lost. Profits were not all that had been hoped for, until a German man began using an arrastra, a primitive wheeled mechanism for crushing ore. Although it was slow going with this method, he managed to accumulate approximately 75 ounces of gold per week, thus establishing what became known as the Minister’s Claim, making Amador County the site of the first quartz mining to be considered a success.
Following the Quartz Underground
The picture became less rosy when the company undertook underground mining. Development was far more expensive, and the owners accumulated large debts. At one point, a disgruntled rancher who had not received payment for hay, went to the sheriff. The sheriff determined that he could take payment in gold from the mill, but the mine superintendent hid the gold in the mine. When the sheriff went down into the mine to look for it, the superintendent attempted to flood the shaft by stopping the pumps. However, the sheriff found the gold ahead of the rising water, and the debt was paid.
The Spring Hill mine was consolidated in 1857 with the Walnut Hill and the Granite State mines, which had already been combined with the Keystone Mine. The new mine was called the Consolidated Keystone. Due to heavy debt, a mortgage was foreclosed, but due to a previous judgment that favored A. H. Rose and Phillip Crusart, they retained ownership. Rose, an Amador County State Senator, became the sole owner of the struggling company and he sold the company.
Fighting Ensue Over One of California’s Richest Mines
In 1866, the Keystone mine hit the big time and began producing more than $40,000 every month, making it one of the world’s richest gold mine. Needless to say, A. H. Rose was not best pleased that he had given up such a successful mine and began to scheme a way to get it back – he bribed a United States Deputy Mineral Surveyor to produce a fake survey plat. When the false survey was produced it indicated that the A.H. Rose property included all the mines as well as the actual town of Amador City.
Property owners immediately disputed the survey, and Rose was refused ownership until a new survey could be conducted. It was soon obvious that Rose was attempting to commit fraud, but crooked politician that he was, he fought on as if he had a right, and pressured everyone he thought could help, all the way up to the Secretary of the Interior. He ultimately failed and the only thing that kept him out of jail is that the government opted to simply ignore his claims.
The stamp mill was enlarged to forty stamps by 1870, and the takings were so great that dividends of $550 per share were paid to shareholders each month. The mine was booming, but the good times never last forever.
After Decades of Success, the Keystone Mine Fizzles
By the beginning of the 20th century things were starting to slow at the Keystone, showing a really good strike only occasionally. In 1909 James McDonald sold the company to the California Consolidated Mines Company. Mr. McDonald had been the owner of the Keystone since 1865, and it had produced $17,000,000 in gold, but the mine was all but played out.
As debts mounted, the mine could not make a profit, and operations were suspended in 1919. The mine was reopened for a seven year stretch from 1935 to 1942, producing just a million dollars worth of gold, a far cry from the past. Very little has been at the Keystone since World War II began.