Ojai’s Gold Rush!

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Posted by Craig Walker on December 7, 2011

Ojai Succumbs To Its Own Gold Rush by Ed Wenig

Miners Rush to the Hills

“Nordhoff and vicinity is in a ferment of excitement over the hiding place of an immense ledge of gold-bearing quartz which runs from the Coyote and Matilija canyons to the Sisar Canyon…Old miners say they believe it to be an extension of the Piru district strike, and are trying to locate the leads on the ledge, while the greenhorns are generally staking out claims at random.”

The Ojai on March 13, 1897.

The gold fever had started the previous Wednesday afternoon when some old prospectors from the Wilsie ranch in the east valley appeared with some likely looking rock, the main street of Nordhoff was literally crowded with men, hot with the gold fever.  The editor of THE OJAI announced to the crowd on the street that he would print some location blanks for use in posting possible claims. By 10 p.m. they were off the presses and were sold to the waiting crowd which had gathered in his shop during the evening. The editor was wakened at frequent intervals during the night to make further sales, and by 7:30 a.m. on Thursday he had disposed of 163 location blanks. (By noon the following Saturday he had sold over 380.)

A Mining Camp

In describing what took place on Thursday, the editor wrote:

“The usually quiet little village of Nordhoff has suddenly become an excited mining camp…Fully seven-eights of the male population of the village were scouring the Chaparral. Many struck out in the middle of the night to get ahead of the ‘other fellow.’ And in the early morning they dotted the hills like a flock of blackbirds in a cornfield.”

Some came back early from the hills discouraged, but when some one came into town with some bits of gold, all would rush off again to the hills. “Sometimes they seem to go stark, raving mad, –plumb crazy,” reported the newspaper. Rumors added to the confusion. One such indicated that the Southern Pacific was getting ready to sell through tickets to the Ojai mines. Already men from Ventura, Santa Paula and Santa Barbara had arrived.  That evening at a mass meeting in the office of George Stewart, plans were laid to form the Ojai Mining District. The boundary of the district was to include the territory of all the school districts in the valley, including Sisar, Upper Ojai, and Santa Ana. The United States Mining Laws were to govern the district. The following prominent men were among those who signed the resolution: W. E. Wilsie, George R. Coe, Earl Soule, W. F. Parrish, B. Ward Blumberg, John J. Burke, J. F. Dennison, S. B. Rose, and D. J. Raddick. Unfortunately for Mr. Stewart, by the close of the meeting, someone had made off with a little nugget he had placed in a showcase.

Shot full of Holes

The Ojai Gold Rush had both its dramatic and humorous sides. A miner from Santa Paula put up this notice on his claim site: “Anybody who attempts to jump this claim will be shot full of holes.” Commented E. S. Thacher, “How can a free silver man expect a hearing when he undertakes to suppress the new-kindled desire of our community for gold?” Wee may vote for silver, some of us, but when it comes to posting notices and digging, and pounding, we all want gold, and we are determined to have it.”  Dan Smith startled a crowd on the street by saying he had a claim that went $30 a ton at one foot below the surface. When asked for proof, he pulled a big potato from his pocket!  For the next three weeks, except for an item about the Ojai Mining District assay of $11.30 to the ton, the newspaper was strangely silent about gold mining activities. Then in the issue of June 12 appeared the statement:

“The gold miners of the Ojai Valley have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. It develops that apparently gold is not present in sufficient quantity to pay for the working, and as a consequence the mines have petered out.”

Within weeks, Ojai pioneers were back to normal, listening to the gramophone at George Mallory’s store, planning a concert of the Ojai band, and participating in community dances.??   Years after the gold boom John Dron Sr. reported uncovering in the foothills a can containing a mining location blank which had been filled out by some disappointed miner. So far as is known, all mining stakes have disappeared from the Ojai Valley.

Source: Ed Wenig, “Ojai succumbs to its own gold rush”, The Ojai Valley News, March 11, 1970

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