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Questions & Answers

Q: In hydraulic mining, how did the miners get enough water pressure in their hoses to force a stream out of the monitor that could shoot 400 feet into the air and demolish a hillside in no time flat?

A: The expensive flumes that the hydraulickers built (sometimes by means of Chinese laborers) often carried water many miles to the mining site. They directed the water so that it entered the site at a higher elevation, up to a 400 foot drop, to ensure enough pressure to wash away the soft gravels of the hillside into their sluices. Thus, the sheer weight of the water being pulled almost straight down by gravity for that distance produced the destructive force needed.

Q: I've heard that gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, so why is Sutter's Fort in Sacramento?

A: John Sutter began building his empire in the Sacramento Valley on a 48,000-acre land grant from the Mexican government in 1839. He built his Fort, New Helvetia, on high ground near the junction of the Sacramento and American rivers there. To continue his building, he instructed that a sawmill be built in the nearby foothills so he could use the timber found there. In partnership with James Marshall, construction on the mill began at Coloma on the South Fork of the American River. Timber found and processed here could be sent down the river to Sutter's valley property. Sutter's Mill was just a means to an end in two ways: expanding Sutter's kingdom by (1) supplying lumber for valley building projects and (2) adding Coloma to his property holdings (which, by the way, didn't pan out; he never gained title to Coloma and ended up selling his interest in Coloma).

Q: Why is a troy ounce abbreviated DWT?

A: A pennyweight, not a troy ounce, is designated DWT. There are 20 pennyweight in one troy ounce. In the common abbreviation for pennyweight, DWT, the D is taken from the Roman "denarius", and WT evidently stands for "weight". Alternate abbreviations for pennyweight are PWT and PW. Pennyweight was Britain's penny before their money system was decimalized in the late 19th century. The DWT measure is still used to determine the amount of gold in jewelry.

Q: One source says that Sutter's Mill had a flutter wheel. How is that different from a paddle wheel?

A: A ranger at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma helped us with this one. A paddle wheel, or water wheel, uses an overshot water action, short paddles or boards, and has buckets for catching the water to turn the wheel. The boards on a flutter wheel are longer, there are no buckets, and the water runs under it. A paddle wheel used to propel a boat through the water is similar to a flutter wheel, but uses steam power to turn the wheel.

Q: What is the current price of gold?

A: This chart will give you an idea:

U.S. Price of Gold
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Price of Gold



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