Gold Rush and Mining Glossary
The following is a glossary of mining terminology popular
with old prospectors and modern miners. It is by no means a
comprehensive collection of mining terms, phrases, minerals
or equipment, but it should be sufficient to give a working
A horizontal or inclined entrance into a mine.
The forerunner of modern chemistry. Its chief aims were the transmuting of baser metals into gold, and the discovery of an elixir of life.
When two or more metals are melted or joined
together, an alloy is formed. This is done to harden or
strengthen other metals, such as silver added to gold; or
to form a metal not found in nature, e.g., copper and
zinc to form brass. Alloys have different properties from
their constituent elements; e.g., they are poorer
conductors of heat and electricity, often harder, and,
with the exception of aluminum alloys, more resistant to
The practice of working a natural alluvial fan where
centuries of erosions has washed down great mountains
into wide, sloping deposits of loosely packed dirt,
stones, gravel and boulders. (See also Deposits)
This is a mining term relating to the combination of
metal such as silver, platinum or gold, with mercury.
Amalgamation is one of the simplest and easiest ways of
recovering fine gold from concentrates.
Due to landslides, earth tremors and other natural
forces, the course of a river was often dammed and forced
to seek alternate routes. These "old channels", or
ancient riverbeds are eagerly sought by prospectors, as
their gold-bearing gravels have never been touched.
The process of heating, then cooling slowly, for the
purpose of making metals less brittle.
The burlap or canvas apron is the part of the rocker
that is stretched across a frame, at an incline, beneath
the hopper. It traps the fine particles of gold as they
fall through the perforated holes of the hopper's bottom.
A mixture containing one part nitric acid to four
parts of hydrochloric acid which is strong enough to
dissolve gold and platinum.
The evaluation or analysis of ore to determine the
proportion of gold, silver or other valuable metals.
Usually an assay is done by chemical methods and was
This is the ability of mercury to absorb gold, silver
or platinum into a common ball, or alloy, called amalgam,
while ignoring lighter sands and gravel.
AURIFEROUS QUARTZ MINING
These are mines where the production of gold is the
main ore, not a by product.
This refers to the common English and American system
of weight measure. This system is not used for medicine,
gold or other precious minerals.
437 Omega=1 ounce
7000 grains=16 ounces
16 ounces=1 pound
BAKED POTATO METHOD
A method of separating gold from the amalgam.
This term was given to submerged sandbars that formed
in a creek or river. It increased in size as dirt, sand,
gravel, black sands and gold were deposited. Sandbars
have produced great quantities of gold in the past and
should not be overlooked today, if you employ equipment
which can wash it rapidly.
An area of a river or stream that is incapable of
producing gold, or produces exceedingly little.
This is the mining of metals such as copper, lead,
zinc, tin, aluminum, etc., as opposed to precious metals
such as silver, gold or platinum.
Another name for a stamp mill.
Originally, this referred to the solid rock bottom of
a stream or river. A false bedrock is formed when the
feldspar portion of eroded rocks gathers and settles.
creating a tough clay or cemented-gravel. The largest
quantities of gold are generally recovered within a
couple of feet above bedrock.
A flat area above a stream or river.
Usually composed of hematite and magnetite, black
sands are heavier than ordinary sands and settle much in
the same manner as does gold. For this reason, black
sands are good indicators of gold and should never be
overlooked. When panning, black sands will normally
comprise most of the concentrates remaining in the pan.
This is a term used to describe an exceptionally rich
and persistent vein of ore, usually gold.
A term used to describe raw gold or silver that is
ready to be shipped to the mint. When the metal has been
reduced to nearly pure form, it is then cast into bars or
ingots for easy storage and shipping. Occasionally other
forms were used. The famed Bullion Mine in the Cariboo
once melted one big clean-up into the form of a large
naval gunshell. It weighed 650 lbs. and was valued at
A secondary product obtained while mining something
else. For example, gold is often a byproduct of a copper
mining operation, which means copper is the main metal
mined, but some gold is also recovered.
This was a temporary hiding place for gold or other
wealth, including supplies, food or equipment. Basically,
anything hidden by the owner until his return.
A gold ore with a whitish, metallic luster composed
of gold in combination with tellurium.
A measure of weight for gold or precious gems. Pure
gold is 24 carats.
An expression used to describe Chinese miners. The
term was in wide-spread use during the California gold
rush, and was brought into British Columbia when the
Forty-Niners came north. The word originated from the
Celestial Empire of China.
A hard, tightly-packed material that is frequently
rich in gold. It can accumulate and form a false bedrock.
A kind of soft leather used to squeeze out the
mercury from the amalgam before burning.
A term used to describe an area which was abandoned
by whites as unprofitable, but was still being worked by
the Chinese. Some of these often proved to be far richer
than the white men thought.
A term used to describe the wages accepted by Chinese
workers which would have been considered low or
unacceptable to white miners.
An area that has been filed with the proper
government agency for the extraction of gold or other
metals. It gave the prospector the rights to the minerals
within his claim for a certain period of time. The
boundaries of the claim were marked by stakes, piles of
rocks, etc. A can containing the description and
particulars of the claim was usually placed on or near
one of the posts.
Someone who seizes, or illegally restakes a claim
which has already been filed by another prospector.
A term used to describe the cleaning-up of
concentrates from the riffles of rockers, sluices,
dredges, etc., after the gold-bearing gravel has been
washed. These concentrates are then processed, usually
through amalgamation, to recover the gold.
Rough, unrefined nuggets of gold which vary in size.
Gold that has travelled a considerable distance is
usually worn smooth; therefore, coarse gold is an
indication of limited travel.
A term used to describe the minute specs of gold in
gravel. Colors, though themselves minuscule, are
indicators of gold in a particular stream or river.
This is the name given to the material that remains
in the gold pan, rocker, sluice, etc., after washing.
Concentrates are usually composed of black sands, gold
and silver, but particles of platinum and a variety of
other minerals could be included.
A channel or pipe used for conveying water.
These are usually core samples extracted from solid
rock to test for mineral content without blasting away
tons of rock.
A crack or narrow fissure in bedrock which tends to
accumulate and trap gold. Small cracks can hold large
quantities of gold, and are usually the best prospects
for the gold panner.
This phrase was used by prospectors to describe the
work of clearing away over-burden to get at the
This usually refers to an area where gold or other
metal has been found. There are two types of placer
deposits; eluvial deposits, located near the originating
lode; and alluvial deposits, found at considerable
distances from the originating lode.
This name usually applied to claims that were
currently being worked for gold, silver, or other ore.
This was the first claim filed on a given stream or
river. The other claims were then staked above and below
the discovery claim, which was legally larger than any
other claim on the creek.
A dredge is a machine used for scooping or sucking
goldbearing gravel from the riverbed. There are numerous
types and sizes, ranging from the small, portable,
compact models that can easily be operated by one man, to
large barge-type dredges for clearing mud from harbour
entrances. Next to hydraulic mining, nothing destroys the
landscape faster than dredges.
"Drift" mining simply means tunnelling a horizontal
shaft that leads from a central deposit or ore. Drifts
can run for hundreds, even thousands of feet, as miners
traced tiny seams of gold fanning out from the original
A deposit of gold or precious metal found on dry
This is a device used to work claims without the use
of water. Instead, a small billows blows away the light
materials, leaving the gold and heavy particles to be
The ability of metals to be drawn out in fine wires
This term refers to particles of gold so minute that
they resemble dust. In the old days, the amount of gold
dust a miner could pinch between his thumb and forefinger
constituted one dollar, while a whisky glass full was
Originally derived from the Spanish, referring to a
legend about a land of gold and plenty. It is now used
frequently to describe a place of fabulous wealth, a
region abounding in gold and precious gems.
An alloy of gold and silver.
A constituent of granite, basalt, and other igneous
rocks that form a large part of the earth's crust. Clay
is the chief substance formed when weathering decomposes
feldspars. (See also Bedrock)
Generally, this term refers to gold which can pass
through a 40-mesh screen. It includes fine gold and dust,
which, in your pan, will appear as colour so small that
it can only be collected by amalgamation.
This is a word used to indicate the purity of gold.
These are small chips of gold, or pieces that have
been flattened in transit.
A word describing a level spot, often near a stream
or river, that was suitable for a settlement.
A method for recovering gold from crushed ore and
An extremely fine gold that is difficult to save. It
is uneconomical to pan flour gold because of its almost
powdery, size and weight.
An inclined waterway, most often a channel dug in the
hillside to transport water to hydraulic mining camps.
Simply described, they are similar to a long series of
sluices, and in fact, the name flume was once synonymous
A small portion of ground lying between two claims
which could not be staked by either as it exceeded their
legal limits. "Twelve-foot" Davis, was so named after a
12-foot fraction on Williams Creek which he worked
between two other claims. After recovering over $12,000,
Davis sold the fraction, which then yielded over
FULMINATE OF MERCURY
An explosive substance made by dissolving mercury in
nitric acid and adding alcohol.
The worthless minerals associated with metal ore
The science of the rocks and strata of the earth's
An apparatus fitted with a nozzle used in hydraulic
mining. Water is forced through the nozzle under great
pressure, then directed against gold-bearing gravel. The
material is then washed into sluices where the gold can
A term used by miners to describe a small, but
unusually rich deposit of gold.
Someone who beats gold into thin sheets.
Gold beaten into extremely thin sheets.
The wild scramble by prospectors to reach the new
The slope or descent of a stream or river.
This term is used to describe small particles of
gold, and is also used as a unit of weight. (See
Avoidupois and Troy Weights)
The gold-bearing material in a stream which you must
wash to recover gold.
A device used to keep rocks and boulders out of a
The rate of decay of radioactive materials.
Any member of the family of very active elements
consisting of fluorine, chlorine, bromine, and iodine.
Chemically the hologens resemble one another closely and
form a saline compound by simple combination with a
This usually refers to quartz mining and is said to
have originated in California about 1850. First a main
shaft had to be sunk, then horizontal shafts or drifts
would be cut that followed the various seams of gold as
it led from the main deposit. As this type of mining
required a sizable investment, the small operator was
This applied to the heavy timber frame found above
most hardrock mine sites. It was used to hoist ore from
the depths of the mine, and also as an elevator to hoist
and lower workmen.
A form of native iron ore, blood-red in color. (See
The unseen values usually found in black sands, which
in many cases, could not be detected by the naked eye.
The tray in the upper end of a rocker.
In hydraulic mining, water under great pressure was
discharged through monitors against a gold-bearing
hillside. The force of the water would wash away the
hillside, flushing the silt and gravel through sluices
where it could be separated and the gold recovered.
Hydraulicking could-and often did-completely ruin the
The only known compound of hydrogen and chlorine made
by dissolving the corrosive gaseous compound, hydrogen
chlorine, in water. (See also Aqua Regia).
A metal bar, especially of silver or gold, usually
cast from a mold for convenience in handling and
A silvery metallic element belonging to the platinum
A very hard, semi-precious stone, usually dark green
in color, that is carved for ornaments or used in
jewelry. Frequently found in British Columbia.
partly or fully watersubmerged screen that is shaken
to wash or sort particles by weight and size. Also called
A metallic vein in the earth's crust, especially
silver or gold. These lodes were the original source of
This was a special sluice box of extra length so that
it could capture extra fine particles of gold.
Deposits of gold, silver, or other metals, which
exist in insufficient quantities to be worked
economically, except through large-scale methods.
A magnetic form of iron ore also known as lodestone.
(See Black Sand).
The ability of a metal to be hammered without
A white iron pyrite used in jewelry because of its
A heavy, liquid metal, silvery-white in colour, with
a very low melting point. Used to recover gold, silver
and platinum from concentrates. Also called Quicksilver.
The art of working metals or of obtaining metals from
(See Giant monitor)
MOSS-Small, thickly growing, cryptogamous plant which
thrives on moist surfaces. Gold often accumulates in
moss, which should be broken up and panned carefully
A vein or streak of gold or other precious metal in
the earth's crust from which placer deposits originate.
A highly corrosive, colorless liquid that emits
choking fumes into air. A diluted solution is used to
clean the gold-bearing concentrates before amalgamation,
and also to clean mercury that has become dirty. (See
Metals which do not have great chemical activity,
particularly gold, which is neither corroded by moisture
nor affected by oxygen or ordinary acids.
An amateur or inexperienced prospector or miner.
A rough lump or mass of native gold of no particular
size. These range in size from the head of a match to
nearly 200 pounds. The largest United States nugget,
The preservative coating which must be burned off
steel gold pans before using.
(See Ancient Streambed)
Rock containing metals or their compounds in
sufficient quantities to be mined.
OUNCE A DAY
In the early days, ground that yielded an ounce of
gold a day, through panning, was considered rich ground.
The point where the vein or lode of a metal comes to
the surface of the earth's crust and is visible.
Generally, the low-grade material which must be first
cleared away to get at the rich gold-bea ring gravel just
A rare metal of the platinum group.
A broad shallow vessel of metal or plastic used to
wash gold-bearing gravel.
The act of washing gold-bearing gravel with a gold
pan, batea, or other similar vessel.
A word used to describe gold-bearing gravel that
returns wages or better to the miner.
This is a term used to describe an area where a
prospector has found gold, e.g., "struck paydirt."
A Troy weight of 24 grains. (See Troy Weights)
A common expression that applied to a claim, mine, or
deposit that had been thoroughly worked over, leaving
only the worthless rubble behind.
Generally, this word refers to deposits of
gold-bearing gravel. (See Deposits)
The act of recovering gold from placer deposits by
means of a gold pan, rocker, sluice, dredge, etc. Placer
mining depends largely on water for washing and
separating the gold and gravel.
A rare, silvery-white malleable metal. It is harder
than gold, but very ductile. In B.C. it was discovered in
the Similkameen region, but was discarded as worthless by
all except the Chinese.
An unusually large concentration of gold in a small
area was often referred to as a pocket". (See also Glory
A small leather bag or pouch, usually two inches wide
and six inches deep, with a drawstring at the top. These
were used as wallets by miners to carry gold dust and
This term did not mean that the area being worked was
low grade or yielding small quantities of gold, but
rather that it could be worked by a miner with a rocker
or sluice with very little capital. Hence, it could be
worked by a poor man.
A cavity formed in bedrock by the action of stones in
the eddy of a stream. They are highly overrated as gold
producers, as the gold is eventually ground into fine
dust and escapes.
The total yield or "production" of gold or other
precious metal from a mine, claim or deposit.
The act of searching for gold, silver, copper, lead,
or any other valuable metal. In the case of placer gold
deposits, the prospector retrieves the gold as he finds
it, thus becoming a miner. If lodes or low-grade metals
are located, the prospector usually sells or leases the
rights to them to a large mining company which has the
necessary equipment and resources to mine them, and he
continues looking, or "prospecting," for new finds.
A box used to break up tough clay or cementedgravel.
A name for many compounds of metals with sulpher or
arsenic, especially iron pyrites or copper pyrites.
Pyrite is brassyellow and brittle, but because of its
color, is often mistaken for gold, hence the name "fool's
One of the most common materials found in the mother
lode. It consists of pure silica or silicon dioxide and
is formed in massive and in hexagonal crystals. Quartz
may be transparent, translucent, opaque, colourless or
coloured. Most of the hardrock mining done for gold comes
from quartz veins.
Any substance, generally in a solution, employed to
bring about a characteristic reaction in a chemical
The act of "recovering" fine gold from the heavy
concentrates, usually through amalgamation.
To reduce crude metals to a finer, purer state.
An apparatus used to separate an amalgam of gold and
mercury, through heating, which saves the mercury for
A hard, silver-white metallic element found in river
sands or rocks associated with other members of the
platinum family to which it belongs.
Ground where gold or other precious metals abound.
A large perforated iron sheet which forms the bottom
of the hopper in a rocker, used for sifting or screening
gravel. (See diagram and description on page 60).
Simply stated, these are obstructions which line the
bottom of a rocker, sluice or dredge, collecting the fine
gold. Different types of riffles include; common riffles,
zig-zag riffles, block riffles, stone riffles, poles
riffles, etc. (See diagrams and description on pages 62
The outer border or edge of a gold pan.
A device consisting of a box which rests on
"rockers," and which is used to wash placer deposits.
(See diagram and description on page 60).
The practice of removing the froth from the surface
during the floatation method of recovering gold.
The gradient of a stream or terrain.
The sluice was invented by a party of Nevada miners
in 1850. It consisted of a long trough leading down from
their claim to their Long Tom. The sluice was an
immediate success, becoming a standard tool of the
California gold rush, and was later brought north into
The act of washing gold from river gravel through the
use of a sluice box.
In miner's jargon, this word meant the act of
prospecting and re-working old claims, dumps, and other
sites that have been abandoned. It also refers to
cleaning out bedrock cracks.
This could refer to the act of "staking" a legal
claim by following the necessary regulations (See Claim),
or it could refer to the occasions when a miner had
accumulated enough gold to retire, either temporarily or
permanently. In the latter case, the miner is said to
have "made a stake."
A piece of heavy machinery that is power-operated and
smashes the hardrock ore into a powder so that it can be
processed for gold or other precious metals.
This usually denoted the discovery of gold or silver.
Once a ',strike", or discovery had been made, hundreds,
or even thousands, would swarm into the area.
This word describes the waste material that is left
or discarded after the gold is removed. Also called
dumps, these are generally piles or rocks or debris left
from the mining operation. Once considered worthless,
tailings have become a target for modern prospectors.
Occasionally large nuggets were discarded with the
stones; or valuable metals, unknown to early prospectors,
were tossed aside.
These were wheels used to transport the waste
material from the mines to a place some distance away.
In mining a trestle is a wooden frame consisting of
braced legs fixed underneath horizontal bars, used to
support a sluice or series of sluices.
A branch of a stream flowing into a larger stream.
A long, open vessel carrying water and gold-bearing
A system of weight measurement for precious gems and
metals. This system is different from avoir dupois weight
with which most of us are familiar.
24 grains=1 pennyweight
20 pennyweights=1 troy ounce
12 troy ounces=1 troy pound
A metal in the pure state, not alloyed with any other
A current under the surface of the main stream,
sometimes flowing in a contrary direction.
A mine or stream that was abandoned because it was
unprofitable to work. Due to the recent escalation in the
price of gold, many of these abandoned areas are being
Any material that is considered worthless after the
gold has been removed. (See Tailing)
A term meaning well-worn, generally referring to
bedrock, and a result of glacial and water action.
A deposit of gold or other precious metal located
WELCOME STRANGER NUGGET
An enormous nugget of gold weighing 2,280 ounces and
yielding 2,248 ounces of gold.
This refers to a variety of water-wheels employed to
provide water for mining. These were put to effective use
on the Fraser river.
This was a dam that divided a riverbed miners wanted
to work, lengthwise, allowing water to flow through
sluice boxes and other devices set up to wash the gravel.
These were put effective use on the Fraser River.
(See Peter out)