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,
laborsaving 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 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.