Despite James Marshalls discover of a large nugget
in the American River and the vivid descriptions in guidebooks that
followedproclaiming gold-lined streams in the foothills of the
Sierrasmost Forty-Niners found the work of mining the gold more arduous
than whatever occupation they had left behind. Separated from their families,
they camped alongside rivers for months at a time, either alone or in groups,
and were exposed mercilessly to the elements..
The miners basic tool
was a shallow pan, in which water would be washed continually over sediment
until any gold, which was eight times heavier than stones or sand, would be
left in the bottom.
As the day
wore on, the miners legs and hands would grow numb from the icy water, while
his entire body ached. As a result, labor-saving variations on the pan
appeared. These included the cradle, a device that was rocked as sediment was
poured into the top and then panned out the bottom. Another innovation was the
sluice, a long trough with bars, or "riffles," on the bottom, which caught gold
from the constantly cascading water and sediment. Based on a similar
principles, the "long tom" was a trough designed to filter sediment through a
"riddle" before directing it to a "riffle box" that separated the gold.