Gold dredger history

Photograph on display at Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Coloma

Back in the middle of last November I published a post about gold dredgers in Yuba County — but it wasn’t too many decades past that we had dredgers operating on the lower American River, including the area of what is now Lake Natoma. Along the river’s course, anywhere you find heaping piles of rounded cobble laid out in long rows, you can be sure dredgers have worked their way through, pulling the river bed up one bucketful at a time, sometimes from as deep as 100 feet down. Older residents of Fair Oaks, Orangevale, and Folsom still recall the unique sounds of the buckets scraping and dumping all day and all night.

Dredger bucket on display at Folsom History Museum, Sutter Street

In 1958, the local San Juan Record newspaper printed the recollections of Sim Green, whose family first arrived in Fair Oaks in 1899.

“About 1903 or 1904 the construction of a gold dredge was started in the lower end of Sailor Bar. This was a wooden boat fabricated and constructed on the site. It was also the first dredge in this area, and when it went into operation, the destruction of thousands of acres of productive land began. Some of the larger ranches destroyed were the Pike and Kendall Ranch of about 600 acres, Ike Nuttall ranch, approximately 400 acres; the Chas. Nuttall ranch, about 400 acres; and the huge Natoma Vineyard which covered several hundred acres on each side of the Folsom road. Some table grapes were grown in this vineyard, but most of the grapes were wine varieties that were made into wine in the winery that stood where the Libby olive plant is now located. There was also a 200 acre Muscat vineyard just south of the station and many thousand of grain land just south of the Folsom road. While this land was not in the Colony during the harvest season, it gave employment to a great many men, women and children. The hundreds of acres of orchards and vineyards one could view from the bluffs was much more pleasing to the eye than the rock piles that meet your view now.”

Dredge model on display at Folsom History Museum

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