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Sunday, October 27, 2002

A taste of gold fever in Solano

Jerry Bowen

Local land provided some golden excitement

The allure of gold and silver goes back a long way.
An ancient culture in the area of today’s Eastern Europe began roughly 6,000 years ago to use gold to fashion decorative objects. The gold probably was mined in the Transylvanian Alps or in the Mount Pangaion area of Thrace.

By 1500 B.C., the immense gold-bearing regions of Nubia made Egypt a wealthy nation, as it became the recognized standard medium of exchange for trade. The Shekal, a coin containing 11.3 grams of gold, became the first standard unit of measure in the Middle East.

It wasn’t until 1377 that Great Britain shifted to a monetary system based on gold and silver. The United States enacted the Coinage Act in 1792 defining the U.S. dollar as an equivalent of 24.74 grains of gold and 371.25 grains of silver.

During the banking panic of 1933, President Franklin prohibited private holdings of all gold, bullion and certificates by U.S. citizens, and with the beginning of World War II, he closed all the gold mines in the country.

In 1973 the U.S. devalued the dollar and raised the official price of a dollar to $42.22 per ounce of gold. The price of gold was allowed to “float” later in the year and in 1974, Americans were once again permitted to own gold.

The fascination with gold caused the market value to rise to a historic high in 1980 of $870 an ounce. Today it has been floating at around $300 an ounce. Fortunes were gained and lost in a twinkling of an eye, depending on how you bought and sold the “royal metal.”

So what does that have to do with the history of Solano County?

The gold rush of 1849 was a major steppingstone for the establishment of California and ultimately Solano County. Of course many of our early settlers spent their days here in the famed gold fields of central California, but . . . gold also was found and mined in this county!

Just before the gold rush to the Yukon in 1898 that sent many of our local citizens scurrying north, an astonishing discovery was announced right here in Solano County.

Infected with a slight case of gold fever, Vallejo residents Christian Mangold and his partner, George Ashley, had been prospecting around Green Valley for about a year. In late 1886 they discovered traces of gold in the valley and began quietly tracking down the source of the precious metal. They believed the gold had washed down from the surrounding hills.

Based on assays of the local ore by the Selby and Refining Company, they bought the property containing their discovery in early August 1887. Up until then, little attention had been paid to the prospectors.

An article in the Solano Republican on Aug. 27, 1887, headlined “More Gold Prospectors Locate in Green Valley.” According to the article, “...keen interest was aroused by the report that the prospectors had purchased sixteen acres of land on the Oberti hills for mining purposes and some excitement has been caused by the reports which have circulated regarding the discovery.”

Then on Oct. 15, 1897, the Cordelia newspaper, X-Ray, announced in bold headlines, “GREEN VALLEY GOLD MINERS!! The new finds are said to be very valuable - The entire mountain is worth $5.00 a ton” (about a third of an ounce of gold per ton of ore at the prices of the times).

With assays showing a rich discovery, they began sinking a shaft to recover the gold. Although Mangold and Ashley attempted to keep a low profile, speculation mounted that a stamp mill to crush the ore was to be built near the mine by a San Francisco company.

Little more is known about the partners’ mining operations from that time on. When Ashley died in 1914, Mangold bought his share of the property from the estate.

In 1996, local historian Clyde Low had been researching the story and contacted me. I had done some recreational mining and was also working as a volunteer at the Solano Archives. We determined approximately where the mine had been and Clyde contacted the current property owners. They knew of a cave on the property, but didn’t have any idea it could be a mine.

They kindly gave Clyde and me permission to take a look at the “cave” and sure enough, it was the work of man!

The shallow tunnel went in two directions and had caved in on both sides. The ore was very decomposed and crumbly. I took a couple of samples and managed to crush and pan out one very tiny piece of gold dust just barely visible to the eye. It is possible the mine wasn’t rich enough to support a major operation or it may have only been a small pocket of ore.

Mangold had owned and operated Vallejo businesses including a bakery and an ice cream shop while he worked his mining operation. In 1914 Mangold and his wife, Alice, moved from their Virginia Street home in Vallejo to the Green Valley property and put in a cherry orchard.

Alice died in 1931 followed by Chris in 1932.

Green Valley isn’t the only place gold has been found in Solano County.

In March 1913, the Vacaville Reporter reported that George Wolfskill and Harry Hartell, “... picked up a nugget weighing more than $20,” (about three-quarter of an ounce at the price of gold in the ‘30s) in Miller Canyon above Pleasants Valley. They planned to file a claim, but nothing more was heard of any strike or mining operations.

On Jan. 28, 1938, the Vacaville Reporter revealed that George Grieve and Charles Lentz found gold on Putah Creek and planned to run a dragline. Government reports show that approximately $60,000 worth of gold was recovered from Putah Creek in the 1930s.

No, don’t bother trying your hand at panning in Putah Creek now; the Berryessa Dam has removed any chance of gold being renewed.

Yeah, I tried it myself with no luck. Darn old gold fever just never seems to go away!