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A settlement was made at Trinidad Head, a town platted, and on April 13, 1850, an election held for the purpose of organizing a government. At this election it is reported that over 140 votes were cast. During the summer, the population of Trinidad increased rapidly. By the last of June, the town fathers were able to boast that a trail had been opened to the gold diggings on the Trinity. Trinidad claimed a population of 300, with 100 dwellings, counting houses and tents. Speculation in real estate boomed. [1]

J. K. Johnson and several companions in the spring of 1850 had headed north from Trinidad to look for the mouth of the Trinity. In passing up the beach, they saw glittering particles of sand, which on examination proved to be gold. Gathering some of the grains, they returned to Trinidad to purchase provisions. On their return, they found nothing but a bed of gravel, a change in the direction of the surf, having swept away or buried the glittering treasure. [2]

Not long afterwards, in May 1850, B. Nordheimer, J. H. Stinchfield, Charles D. Moore, and a number of other prospectors started up the seashore from Trinidad en route to the new town of Klamath City. As they pushed up the beach, they spotted grains of gold in the beach sand. They collected some of the flakes, but it was so intermixed with fine gray and black sand that "they could do nothing with it." They passed on, and no attempt was made to work the seashore diggings. [3]

That fall, J. W. Maxwell and ____Richardson went to the bluffs and commenced operations. They soon found that the gold was only visible under favorable conditions. The bluff, subsequently named Gold Bluffs, was several miles long and several hundred feet high, with but a few feet of sea beach between it and the Pacific. During periods when the breakers came rolling in and the surf beat against the bluffs it eroded the quartz. The fine grains of gold that thus became mixed with the sand were occasionally brought to the surface by the wave action and sometimes buried. Maxwell and Richardson watched their chance, and when the glistening grains appeared on the surface, they filled their buckskin bags with the mixture of sand and gold, and carried it up onto the bluff to be separated at their leisure. The gold was so fine and the sand so heavy that they only saved a small percentage of what the mixture contained. Word of the wonderful beach of gold reached San Francisco, where it caused tremendous excitement. [4]

In December, the Pacific Mining Company was organized with capital of $150,000 and the goal of developing the beach of gold. The Steamer Chesapeake was chartered to transport 30 adventurers to the gold region. She cleared San Francisco for the new El Dorado on December 21, 1850, and 48 hours later she hove to off Gold Bluffs. The next morning, a small boat was launched, but she was broken up as the crew took her through the surf. The occupants, however, reached the beach in safety. Not wishing to chance their lives in such a risky undertaking, the rest of the adventurers had the captain continue up the coast to the mouth of the Klamath. Chesapeake, unable to cross the bar, dropped down to Trinidad, where the prospectors were landed. They then went up the coast afoot with pack-mules rented from J. C. Campbell. [5]

Walker Van Dyke and his companions organized a second company for working the bluffs. He recalled that tons of the black sand, during storms, would slough off, tumble down the bluff, and into the breakers. When the tide had ebbed, men would gather the sand. "Our company," he recalled, "built buildings for amalgamating the ore and we made considerable money." [6]

Meanwhile, Chesapeake had returned to San Francisco, with five or six of the adventurers headed by General John Wilson and John G. Collins. A meeting of the stockholders was called to listen to their report of a new Golconda. The stockholders of the Pacific Mining Company were told that

twenty-seven miles beyond . . . [Trinidad], there is a beach several miles in extent and bounded by a high bluff. The sands of this beach are mixed with gold, to an extent almost beyond belief. The sands are of two kinds, a fine black sand and a gray sand. The gray sand can be separated very easily from the black sand, and this seems to be a desirable object. The gold is mixed with the black sand in proportions from ten cents to ten dollars to the pound. At times when the surf is high, the gold is not easily discovered, but in the Spring of the year, after a succession of calms, the entire beach is covered with a bright and yellow gold. [7]

Collins, who was Secretary of the Company, stated that he had measured a "patch of gold and sand" and estimated "it will give to each member of the company the snug little sum of forty-three million dollars." At their arrival at Gold Bluffs, the adventurers had found 19 men at the diggings. These individuals were unwilling to dig, because, as they explained to Collins, "the gold was all ready for them whenever they felt disposed to take it." Moreover, the recently opened beach road to Trinidad was so bad that they could not carry away more than 75 to 100 pounds apiece—an amount too trifling for their consideration. They had built a comfortable log cabin and planned to watch their claim until Spring, when they would take off a shipload of gold and "travel to some country where the metal was not so abundant."

Collins told the eager stockholders of seeing a man who had "accumulated fifty thousand pounds, or fifty thousand tons" of the richest kind of black sand. In General Wilson's opinion thousands of men could not exhaust this gold in a thousand years. [8]

After listening to these glowing reports, the stockholders voted to send up 100 additional laborers, as rapidly as they could be recruited and embarked. Plans also were made to purchase a steamer and run her up to the Gold Bluffs. [9]

To support their stories, Collins and Wilson showed the stockholders numerous specimens of the sand and gold. Collins likewise published in the Alta California two affidavits he had secured testifying as to the richness of the strike. One was signed by M. G. Thompson and G. W. Kinsey and the other by Edwin Rowe. Both were attested by L. B. Gilkey, Justice of the Peace for Trinity County. They first described the nature and richness of the beach, while Rowe added:

I am now, however, confident that with the proper arrangements for amalgamating the gold, on a scale as extensive as your company is capable of doing.

millions upon millions of dollars can be easily obtained every year for more than a century to come. [10]

This news had its anticipated effect. The next day, January 10, found the shares of the Pacific Mining Company selling at a premium. On the 18th, the steamers, Chesapeake and General Warren, cast off for the Gold Bluffs, to be followed within the week by the bark Chester. Other companies were organized and vessels chartered to take prospectors northward to the fabulous beach. By February 1851, the population of Trinidad had exploded. As hundreds of adventurers poured into Trinidad en route to Gold Bluffs, they were met with discouraging news that no process could be devised to separate the gold from the sand, and that it was a waste of time and money to attempt it. Still many eager prospectors had to be convinced by experience, and when so convinced they pushed on up the Klamath to the Salmon mines.

All efforts to work the beach on an extensive scale failed and were abandoned. As soon as this became known, Trinidad's brief period of preeminence was past, for her population declined as rapidly as it had grown. For several years Trinidad maintained its importance as a shipping point, because its proximity to the Klamath and Salmon River diggings was a marked advantage. [11]

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004