Galice, Oregon, has been recognized as a source of plentiful gold and ores since the 1850s. To this day, gold is mined from Galice Creek in Josephine County. There are still several active mining operations there.
Let’s take a look at the rich history of this unique mining settlement.
Prospectors Find Gold in Southern Oregon
In February of 1852, a collection of prominent Oregonian miners including Ebenezer Dimmick, Hardy Eliff, James Tuffs, Jimmie Twogood and Joseph Knotts were the first to find gold at the drainage of the soon-to-be Galice Creek. The placers were extremely rich, and miners hoped for gold production as plentiful as the finds at Josephine Creek and Sailor Diggings.
Local Native Americans did not approve of the prospectors though, and the men were driven out of the area. It would not be until later that year that gold would be seen again.
Louis Galeis at Hellgate Canyon
The gold rush in Galice started to heat up when a French miner named Louis Galeis set out to prospect the area for gold with a crew of men. Just a few miles below Hellgate Canyon on the Rogue River is where it is thought he first discovered placer gold in the creek that would one day bear his name: Galeis Creek (now known as Galice Creek).
But Galeis and his crew would also encounter troubles with the Native Americans. They had an unfortunate run in with Chief Taylor of Grave Creeks, who later confessed to killing Galeis and his men. It was after this that the creek was named for Galeis.
The Siege of Galice Creek
By now, a mining camp had sprung up at the mouth of Galice Creek. But it would not be long until the Siege of Galice Creek in 1855, when many residents were injured and killed. The town became a small war zone with trenches built and bullets exchanged between the miners and the natives.
Though the miners left for a time, the lure of gold was strong. They returned yet again to Galice Creek in the fall of 1856. With men averaging two ounces of gold per day, even the threat of death couldn’t keep miners away.
The Rise of Historic Galice Gold Mines
Between 1858 and 1860, the Sugar Pine Mine was discovered and brought quartz mining to the town of Galice.
Galice Creek became a hotbed of national investment and many workers were employed in mining at that time. Many mines opened in and around Galice Creek.
A mine worth mentioning is the Old Channel Mine, first opened for production in 1860. It was the largest hydraulic mine at that time in Oregon. It washed away exposed gravels from an ancient river channel that sits perched high above the current creek.
The Almeda Mine, also known as Big Yank Lode, was also a prolific source of a variety of valued minerals. Gold, silver, lead and copper were all recovered here.
Galice Creek and the surrounding county exploded with mining production. Countless mines were established throughout Josephine County around Galice. Very rich placers were mined on the Rogue River, and numerous mines were operated up and downstream for many miles.
Gold Production Slows in Southern Oregon
The most condensed gold deposits had been mined out by the 1880s, and many miners of European descent ceased working in the area. Local Chinese miners took possession of several Galice Creek mining operations at this point, keeping gold mining alive in the region for the time being.
Though the region would eventually come to rely on the lumber industry rather than mining, gold mining never entirely stopped. Records show that as of 1913, five million dollars worth of gold (based at $17.50 per troy ounce) had been produced within the Galice District to date.
Gold Mining Today
Gold miners are still finding gold along Galice Creek. There is still gold here, although most of the good areas are actively claimed. Some areas are still open to prospecting but have severe restrictions (more on that later).
The famed Sugar Pine Mine is still working to this day, but many standoffs and disagreements between local miners and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management have made for a dicey situation.
In general, running a successful mining operation is more difficult than ever before. New restrictions on once common types of mining equipment like sluice boxes and suction dredges are now heavily regulated. I would encourage anyone interested in doing any of this type of mining anywhere in Oregon to reach out to one of the local prospecting clubs and get some guidance on current regulations.
One great spot to do some prospecting here is anywhere within the Hellgate Recreation Area. This section runs from Graves Creek all the way to the mouth of the Applegate River, including the area around Galice. There is plenty of gold here, but you are limited to “hands and pans only.” This means that you cannot use shovels, sluice boxes, or even basic crevicing tools. Only a gold pan is allowed. As a result, the amount of gold you will be able to recover is somewhat limited.
Galice, Oregon: Historic Places
This is a very popular summer tourist destination. The Galice area draws visitors in with hiking, rafting and gold panning. Hellgate Canyon offers a beautiful view and was the site of filming for Rooster Cogburn, featuring John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn. Many guided fishing tours and outfitters operate in the area. You may also enjoy taking a walk through the old Galice cemetery at Hungry Hill where local miners were laid to rest.
Abandoned shacks, pieces of hydraulic piping, flumes and remnants of mills can still be seen along Galice Creek. Whiskey Creek Cabin is one of the few cherished buildings still holding on from the gold rush era. It is only accessible via dirt trail or river, giving you a taste of just what it would have been like to traverse the area as a miner.