Chinese Miners Turn Discarded Clay Tailings into Gold

Jun 1, 2016

An 1857 Oregon law taxed each Chinese miner $2 a month for the privilege of mining in the state.  Some counties even made it illegal for Chinese to hold or work a claim.  The tax was extended a year later to everyone of Chinese descent, not only for mining, but also for trading, selling or buying goods.

By 1859 Josephine County was charging Chinese miners $50 a month to engage in any kind of business. 

The discriminatory treatment didn’t deter enterprising Chinese who demonstrated a knack for reviving abandoned claims.

In one example, a claim was located on a rocky area covered by hard white clay.  Miners had axed their way through the clay and thrown it onto the mine tailings, but after finding only about $8 a day in gold, they declared the mine unprofitable and abandoned it.

Eager Chinese took over the claim a few years later and carefully sluiced the discarded clay.  By rolling weathered clay chunks around long enough, the Chinese unlocked considerable gold and began collecting $15 to $20 a day from what had been an abandoned claim.


Source:  Pfefferle, Ruth. Golden Days and Pioneer Ways, Josephine County Historical Society (1977): 35. Print.