The environmental ramifications of mining technology on California are tremendous and far-reaching. Sluice-mining, in which mercury was used to coagulate onto gold and strip everything else from it, created toxic vapors that were deadly if inhaled. Particles of mercury would wash into the ground during this process. Mines throughout northern California are laden with heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium and lead. An estimated 103,000 tons of mercury was dug up and used for the Gold Rush in California. (1)
Hydraulic technology created piles of rock and debris that can still be seen today. The sacred sites of countless indigenous nations were destroyed and altered from the use of water cannons on the land. The rivers- from the Klamath to the Trinity- overflowed with brown, dirty water; the fish died and the banks fell in. The majestic redwood trees that had lived for centuries were seen as an obstacle by miners and cut down.
There are accounts among indigenous elders in every tribe, that in their rush to get to rivers and creeks, hundreds of miners would stampede straight through village sites, leaving a swath of destruction in their wake. Villages near the Trinidad Bay were especially in danger, as that is where most miners first landed. They would then travel north to the Klamath river and Happy Camp, which was one of the largest mining towns of the Gold Rush era in the northwest. Indigenous people living near the Humboldt Bay were in jeopardy as well. Early miners and settlers would not hesitate to claim the land as theirs. Their horses and mules would cut deep trails into the forests while they searched for gold. The environment still bears witness to the damage caused 150 years ago.
(1). "Gold, Greed, and Genocide," Pratap Chatterjee. Inkworks Press, 1998.
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