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Glossary A ~ E

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Alchemy -
A precursor to chemistry; a rudimentary form of science from the Middle Ages in which practicers attempted to make gold from baser elements.

Alchemist -
One who practiced or dabbled in alchemy, trying to make gold from baser elements. The studies and experiments of alchemists formed the basis for the major branches of science, such as minerology, metallurgy, physics, and medicine.

Alloy -
Gold mixed with other minerals, such as copper, iron, or silver. Alloys are often used in jewelry to add strength to the gold, which is inherently too soft to work by itself.

Alluvial Gold - Gold deposited by flowing water.

- Gold or silver mixed with mercury.

Amalgamation - A process that separates gold (or silver) from ore. Ore is crushed in a mercury-water solution and subjected to violent agitation, which breaks up the mercury into minute particles that adhere to the gold. When the gold has partially separated from the mercury, the remaining mass is heated in a retort. The mercury vaporizes and is condensed to use again. The gold is now almost pure and is cast into bars.

Anneal - The process of heating and cooling slowly to prevent brittleness.

Aqua Regia - A mixture of nitric acid and hydrocloric acid, used in processing ore to dissolve gold and platinum.

Argonaut - (Gr. Argo, Jason's ship + nautes, sailor - Any of those who sailed with Jason in search of the Golden Fleece) A term used interchangeably with "49er" (referring to the year 1849 when the Gold Rush was officially "on") to refer to the first goldseekers in California.

Arrastra - A primitive, mule-powered millstone, similar to a horizontal flour mill, used by Mexican miners for crushing gold ore. A shallow, circular pit with a sturdy rotating post set in the center to which heavy beams were attached. The beams were hooked to large blocks of stone. Ore was dumped into the arrastra and mixed with water. Mules rotated the apparatus, reducing the ore to a muddy mass. The gold could then be separated by panning or amalgamation.

Assay Office - A place that evaluated or chemically tested and analyzed the mineral content of ore to determine the nature and proportion of the ingredients.

Audit - A mine entrance that is horizontal or inclined.

Auriferous - Gold-bearing.

- (1) Banks, bands, or strips of sand or gravel that extended into a river. Later used to indicate a camp that sprang up alongside a river bar, such as Chili Bar. (2) The form like a brick that gold was cast into after refining, also called gold bullion. (3) A drinking establishment in town where some miners spent their time and gold dust; also called a saloon.

Base Gold - Gold alloy.

Black Gold - A term commonly used to refer to crude oil, but it is also ouro preto, gold found in Brazil that is smoky-colored due to the presence of certain chemicals. Gold has varying hues.

Blazing Star - One of the few now-defunct modern-day mines in California, located in Calaveras County near West Point. It is the 116-year-old gold mine that Troy Gold Industries of Canada refurbished in 1978 for $2,000,000 in the hopes of mining 200,000 tons of ore from its vein. It was on the auction block in 2007 by the Calaveras County Treasurer-Tax Collector for back taxes owed to the tune of $381,416.59

Bullion - Unprocessed gold or silver, before coinage or minting. Usually melted into bricks or bars for easy storage.

(also Karat) - (1) One 24th part of pure gold. (2) It's also a unit of weight equal to about 0.2 grams used to weigh precious gems.

Celestials - A name used for Chinese miners, referring to the Celestial Empire. They worked hard, often in abandoned claims, and lived frugally. These miners bore the brunt of vicious discrimination, with many negative expressions originating on their account, i.e., "He doesn't have a Chinaman's chance."

Claim - Piece of land that was located, "staked out," or claimed by a miner for working. Miners quickly needed a system for filing claims, so they drew up regu lations specifying the size of claims and decided how disputes would be handled. These were the basis for mining laws all over the West.

Claim Jumping - Appropriating your neighbor's claim, which was considered inappropriate.

Clampers - (See E Clampus Vitus below)

Colloidal Gold - Gold suspended in a fluid, often referring to gold in the oceans.

Color - Term usually used by prospectors to indicate finding evidence of gold. "Color" could become "pay dirt" if the prospector estimated that a day's mining at the site would more than cover his expenses.

Comstock Lode - An extremely rich four-mile-long lode near Virginia City, Nevada, producing $300,000,000 in silver (and silver-gold alloy called electrum) from 1860 to 1880.

Cousin Jack - Nickname for a Cornish miner. They were such good miners that an employer would pay to have a relative - "Cousin Jack" - brought over from England.

Coyote Hole - A man-size shaft or tunnel that yields gold.

Coyoting - The practice of digging shallow coyote holes in search of gold.

Cradle (Rocker) - Rectangular wooden box set on rockers, used in mining. The rocking motion caused the mixture of dirt and water to flow through the box, with gold-bearing particles trapped by riffles on the bottom. It was also called a cradle because of its resemblance. Improved upon by the long tom and the sluice box.

(Diggings) - Term referring to a claim that was being worked for gold. Mining camps were often called diggins, such as Placerville and Hangtown's original name, Dry Diggins.

Drawing - The process by which gold wire is made.

Drawplate - A metal plate about 10 inches long with about 20 holes of graduated size through which gold in drawn, from the largest hole to the finest, to make wire. Often the fine wire needs to be annealed to make it pliable after the drawing process.

Dredging - A gold mining method in which a barge or boat equipped with machinery scoops the gold-bearing gravel from the river beds. The gravel is then processed by washing or sluicing. Seldom used in the Mother Lode, but common on the rivers of the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys.

Drift - A horizontal tunnel leading from the main bore or shaft of a mine.

Dry Blowing - A two-man method of mining gold deposits similar to winnowing chaff from wheat, the wind being supplied by bellows, developed in Australia.

Dry Diggins - A mining claim worked for gold where water has to be brought in to work the gravels, such as Hangtown (Placerville).

Dust - Minute particles of gold taken by placer mining and used as money. In many camps, $1 was the amount of "dust" that could be held between thumb and forefinger; and was also called a "pinch". Some shifty bartenders would secretly press a buckshot or small pebble between their thumb and forefinger to make a greater indent so they could get a higher yield on the pinch! A whiskey glass was used to measure $100.

E Clampus Vitus
- A fun-loving organization reportedly founded in Sierra City in 1857 in jest of the more serious fraternal orders, like Masons and Odd Fellows. No one actually knows where the Clampers started because they were always too busy having fun to take notes. Their mission was to recruit new members, charge them a huge initiation fee, then spend the fees on a lively initiation ceremony. Their main purpose was to help widows and orphans. They met in the "Hall of Comparative Ovations". As their membership and bank account soared, they were able to perform many commendable community services during the Gold Rush. The order was reactivated in 1931 by historian Carl Wheat in San Francisco, and today it is a thriving organization, documenting early California history and marking historical sites, especially in the Gold Country, such as the Moore's (Riverton) marker on Hwy. 50 and the Snowshoe Thompson monument on Hwy. 88. The Old Timers Museum in Murphys features the "Wall of Comparative Ovations", a witty collection of plaques praising the deeds and accomplishments of E Clampus Vitus.

El Dorado - [Sp. The Gilded or Golden] Land of the Golden One, or Land of Wealth, often applied to California. An early spelling is one word, Eldorado, but both terms are used today, i.e., Eldorado National Forest and El Dorado County.

Electrum - A pale yellow gold (gold-silver alloy) found in abundance in the Comstock Lode near Virginia City, Nevada.

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