Canyon City Oregon owes it existence to the discovery of gold here in 1862. Every June since 1922 a local organization called the Whiskey Gulch Gang has held a celebration called the '62 Days commemorating the founding of Canyon City and the gold rush of 1862. Gold rushes play a big part in the history of the American west. Gold has some characteristics that make gold mining different from other forms of mining. It is one of the few metals which can be found in the metallic state in nature. It is also very dense. These two qualities mean that the natural action of water as it erodes the landscape will, over geological periods of time, tend to create local concentrations of almost pure gold. This is why there are gold rushes and not coal rushes or copper rushes in spite of the fact that far more money has been made from mining coal or copper or iron than gold. One does not need much more than a shovel and a pan to make a fortune in a week's time if they can find a placer deposit. But they do need to be first. It takes millions of years to make these deposits and even then they are rare. Once the placers are gone there is still lots of gold left in the hills and streams. But now the prospector must dig up tons of rock for each tiny bit of gold. The days of easy riches are over. This is Canyon Creek as it flows through Canyon City today. The course of the stream has been altered by the construction of highway 395 in the right side of the picture. In the 1860's it was broader and shallower. This part of Oregon was almost entirely devoid of settlers when a party on their way to gold fields in Idaho discovered some rich deposits on the banks of Canyon Creek. Within 10 days there were at least one thousand miners camped along its banks. A gold rush is a great adventure story made real: venturing into uncharted wilderness, fabulous fortunes made overnight, wild and desperate characters from every corner of the earth, and absolutely no government except whatever the miners created for themselves on the spot. It is impossible to be certain, but it is likely that in the middle 1860's Canyon City was the largest city in Oregon. The official tally says that twenty six million dollars worth of gold in 1860 dollars was mined here during the gold rush. The same amount of gold at today's prices would be worth billions. Without the lure of gold, settlers would have come much later to this region. Many of the boom towns became ghost towns once the mines were exhausted but Canyon City lives on. It is the seat of government in Grant County and its longer history gives it a very different character from other towns in the region. Now every June the people of Canyon City come out for the '62 days to celebrate their town and its history. The whole community gets together for a weekend of parades, barbeques and historical re-enactments. There is a lot of history in what is now a very small place and the inhabitants do a remarkable job of preserving what they have. If you would like to find out more about the Whiskey Gulch Gang and how you could participate in upcoming '62 days celebrations, click through to the next page and drop me a line.
Grant County Gazette Masthead
Celebrating the Canyon City Gold Rush
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