MINING HISTORY OF THE MIDDLE FORK OF THE JOHN DAY RIVER
By: Norman Johnson
Gold was discovered at Susanville, in 1863. Elk Creek was placer mined by hand, and also hydraulic piped. The creeks were worked by the first comers. When they were through, the Chinamen reworked the placers again by hand and hydraulics. Deep Creek was worked, also Vincent Creek and other small streams. There was a lot of hard rock mines working, especially around Susanville, and back in the hills. Hard rocks mines or underground mines worked for some time after the placers were worked out.
Later the river was worked with big dredges, The Timms Gold Dredge started work in 1933 in Galena. It paid off very well. This was at the start of the big 1930's Depression. Wages were .40 - .45 cents per hour. Those days though you could buy a candy bar for five cents and a coke for a dime.
The dredge ran three 8-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. No time and a half or overtime. The dredge ran on electricity. They built their own diesel power plant. The dredge was built on a boat, and floated on a pond of water, which it dug, and filled in behind with tailings. The only time it stopped was to clean up the gold, and when it broke down.
Other dredges worked at Canyon City, Prairie City and Sumpter. The Timms Dredge ran for six years at Galena. It was disassembled and rebuilt on the Dewitt Ranch in 1939, where it ran several years.
There were quite a number of people who lived at Susanville and Galena, and families on every ranch along the river. It is said that Susanville came very near being the county seat of Grant County. The stage ran six days a week to Susanville and Galena. There was so much snow in the winter in those days that the stage used horses or sleighs and took all day to go to Austin and back. They would change horses at Dewitt's ranch each way. The road didn't follow the river much, like it does now. It went through the hills most of the way. It was a single-track dirt road. There were no doctors or dentists closer than Prairie City, and it took two days to get out to see a doctor and back to Susanville in the winter months. Winters were much colder, and more severe in those days.
Our only heat was wood, cut with an old hand cross cut saw. You either sawed wood or froze.
Most people had running water in their homes, or carried it from a spring or creek. Washday was a real drag. We did have water piped into our house, but no hot water tank, until later years. Was all outside toilets, and a dreaded experience to go out through the snow and sit on a frosty seat some winter mornings.