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Some Definitions Used in Gold Mining


alluvial fan - cone-shaped gravel deposit formed where a stream emerges from mountains onto a lowland.

bedrock - solid rock underlying gold-bearing gravel.

bench (alluvial) deposits - An alluvial deposit is an ancient river-washed rock and gravel bar that may be thousands of feet from the nearest stream, creek, or river. Alluvial (or bench) deposits contain untapped potential for finding gold because such areas have never been worked before. The hydraulic giants generally worked alluvial deposits.

cheechako - 'cheechako' or 'chichaco' is probably of Kanaka origin. 'Chi' or 'chee' means 'new' and 'chaco' or 'chako' means 'to come'; a 'cheechako' is a newcomer. The term corresponds to 'tenderfoot' in Alaska. It is a word from the Chinook language, a jargon composed of derelicts from English, French, Indian, and Kanaka. Long before the Russian or the American controlled Alaska, there was trade between the Indians of the Pacific coast and the islanders in the South Seas.

claim - mining ground held under federal or state laws by virtue of location and record.

color - a particle of gold found in the prospector's pan after the gravel has been washed.

concentrate - minerals which have been separated from less valuable materials.

discovery (above or below) - the first claim on which gold is found on any creek is called the discovery claim, or briefly, 'Discovery'. Other claims located subsequently are numbered according to their relative position above or below the discovery claim, so that the third claim down-stream is called No. 3 Below Discovery, and the tenth claim up-stream from the discovery claim is called No. 10 Above Discovery. The claims in the Yukon now extend for 500 ft. along the course of the creek; formerly the}7 were smaller. In Alaska they are usually 1320 ft. lengthwise along the creek and 660 ft. across, making 20 acres. Hence the number in the name of a claim will give an idea of its relative position, although the accuracy of the deduction is apt to be spoiled by the existence of intermediate fractional claims. If the discovery is made at the point where a branch creek joins a main valley, there will be no claims below 'Discovery'. Thus we speak of "No. 5 El Dorado".

dredge - A common piece of mining equipment today, the dredge sucks up dirt and gravel from within the stream bed by the use of water pressure. The dredge is operated by the use of a water pump and a network of hoses. Dredge hose sizes can be anywhere from one inch in diameter to 20 inches or more.

drift - 'drifting', as a word to describe the driving of galleries along the bedrock of an alluvial deposit.  The main drift will be referred to as a 'tunnel', the excavation will be labeled a 'drift'

false bedrock - a hard formation, usually a clay layer, within a placer deposit some distance above bedrock.

fines - sand or other fine-sized material associated with placer deposits. Usually the last material left during the panning process.

flour gold - finest gold dust, much of which will float.

float - rock separated from the parent vein by weathering.

hard rock mine - a hard rock mine is a tunnel that is dug into solid rock for the sole purpose of finding valuable or precious rocks, minerals, or metals. Gold originates deep within the earth in places called Pockets. The pockets are filled with gold, heavy ore, and quartz.  Early hard rock mines were hand dug, and the Chinese were often hired to dig them.

heavies - minerals of high specific gravity in a placer concentrate, also called black sands.

lay - the men who undertake to work a claim on a royalty, paying the owner a fixed proportion of the gold obtained, are called 'lay-men,' and they are said to have a 'lay'.

limit - a river is said to have a right and left 'limit'; here 'limit' corresponds to bank or border. The right limit is on the right going down-stream.

lode deposit - a vein of mineral ore deposited between nonmetallic rock layers.

nugget - a piece of gold that can usually be picked up with the fingers.

patent - a government deed that conveys legal title of public land to the party to whom the patent is issued.

pay streak - a limited horizon within a placer deposit containing a concentration of gold rich enough to mine.

placer deposit - a glacial or alluvial deposit of sand or gravel containing eroded particles of valuable minerals.

placer mine - Placer Mines are in the categories of mining through the use of water. It involves mining gold that has been washed away from it's motherlode (or source) and deposited in small cracks, holes, or sand bars in the mainstream of a river. Some Placer Mining involves working bench gravels. Hydraulic giants take advantage of the bench deposits and recover gold from these ancient river-borne gravels.

poke - a bag or sack of gold.

prospector - a person who searches for valuable minerals.

sluice box - a long, narrow, wood or metal artificial channel that water passes through when put in a creek or stream. Nineteenth century miners used and twentieth century miners still use sluice boxes to separate the dirt and junk material away from the gold. Gold, the most dense metal known to man, stays in the sluice box because of it's heavy weight.  The sluice box is the most commonly used tool in mining aside from the shovel and pan.

sourdough - a highly experienced miner who has prospected for many years.  'Sour dough' and 'cheechako' are complementary. Being unable to procure yeast, the prospector or woodsman carries a little can filled with soured dough-batter; with this and by the addition of a little baking soda, he starts the leavening of his bread, in the form of pancakes, or 'flapjacks.' The men of the North will allow the lump of sour dough to freeze and as the stock is diminished they add flour and water, mixing the mass, so that it performs for them the function of yeast.

stake - laying out and marking the corners of a mining claim. Originally wooden stakes were used.

streak - the width of gold-bearing gravel rich enough to be mined.  The gold-bearing gravel may exist as a deposit half a mile wide, and even when smaller there is no connotation of narrowness.

tailing pile - Gravel, dirt, and rocks with no gold. Whatever is left behind from mining activity. Occasionally, a gold nugget can slip out of a mining classifier or piece of equipment and end up in the tailing pile, but in modern sluice boxes most of the gold never makes it to the tailing pile.

troy ounce - 1/12-pound, used in reference to amounts of precious metals.




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