U.S. History 1877-Present 5: Hydraulic Mining
Today we're learning about hydraulic mining, which was all the rage in the mid 1800s. Unfortunately it caused a lot of slickens, which meant slim pickens for farmers, which quickened legislation that eventually banned its use. Womp womp.
|U.S. History||U.S. History 1877-Present|
a crystal-clear California river.
If Sam sifts a nugget
from the water, he does a happy dance.
And unless he steps on a snail, [boot avoids squishing snail]
nature remains unscathed.
Of course, gold mining
might have started with guys like Toothless
Sam, but, uh, people quickly
figured out that panning for gold was like
looking for a needle in a haystack.
So folks started innovating techniques
like hydraulic mining.
And wouldn't ya know it? It worked like a charm.
Over three decades,
it yielded a cool 100,000,000 dollars'
worth of gold, which is worth about
7.5 billion dollars today.
Man, they're lucky they didn't
But despite all this
glittering success, the government put an end to the
gold party. Now why would the government
do something like that? Sheer
meanness? Bling envy? Well, probably
not. See, hydraulic mining
blasts water at rock or sedimentary
material to get it moving,
and then runs that water-sediment
flurry through gold separating devices.
Sounds nice and clean,
right? Like a high-powered shower
that gets you gold. Where can we buy
one of those? Sharper Image, perhaps?
Well, the problem is that hurling
high-pressured water at any land
scape, even one made of solid
rock, causes serious
erosion. Then there's the small
problem of millions of tons of water,
gravel, and sand streams
ready to run but with nowhere to go.
Well, thanks to hydraulic mining all over
the West, water systems got, uh,
a little scrambled. And a few
were probably even poached. For instance,
California's Sacramento area had
streams and rivers that were filled with
gravel and rocks. You know what
Pocahontas likes most about rivers?
Besides the whole, uh,
"can't step in the same river twice" thing?
She likes to have,
uh, what's that called? Yeah,
water. Yeah, water
in rivers. Well, waterways were
diverting, overflowing, and being
halted in their tracks. This
deprived people of water
and made it way harder to
navigate the area by boat, or
uh, pool noodle. All
the flooding that was happening wasn't
too cool either. A flood is
bad enough on its own, but these floods were
particularly destructive for farmers
because the waters were filled with silt and
sand. And you know the old saying:
"when a fellow's farm floods with sandwater,
he might as well become an accountant."
Uh, we might have made that
one up here at Shmoop, but it proves
the point. Yeah. Anyway, many farmers'
farmers quickly became unfarmable
after being doused in the
silty water known as slickens.
There's an appropriately
disgusting name, if we ever heard one.
Well, farmers started giving their local elected
officials an earful and filing
lawsuits left in right. Well, finally,
in 1884, federal circuit court
judge Lorenzo Sawyer mandated
that the mining industry stop
discharging its debris.
In plain English, he said,
"Hydraulics are off the table,
boys." With the Sawyer
injuction, the industry collapsed
and hydraulic mining became a thing of the past.
So the government didn't step in
to crush an industry just for the fun of it.
They stepped in to protect peoples'
private property. And even though
this wasn't pure environmental protection,
it planted the seeds for laws to
come. Also, it put Toothless
Sam back in the game, and somewhere,
he did a toothless jig.