I’m a serious student of California History whose appetite for tying up historical loose ends was whetted by a family of wildlands surveyors, dam builders and construction professionals who kept my interest up by telling me stories of what they had discovered over family dinners.
As a kid, I always wanted details. Fortunately, my relatives would sometimes unfold maps and show me where they had been working.
Nothing cements a memory to an event like an artifact pulled out of a pocket or hauled into a house from the back of a pick up. Which is precisely how I’ve come to own a small collection of pre-columbian and Mission-era native American grinding stones that my father,Boardie Forbes, would sometimes discover when he was grading land next to San Gabriel RIver water courses.
My dad had exceptional eyesight and I keenly remember him stopping a dozer or grader, hopping down to the ground and rooting around to pick up grinding stones and granite pestles his blade unearthed
But it wasthrough my grandfather’s, mother’s and Uncle’s eyes that I came to view the San Gabriel Canyon as a treasure chest for 19th century and Depression era artifacts. My collection of items began when I was first allowed to explore the canyon alone, or in the company of two childhood friends from Azusa,Chuck Woerner and Dave Wachtelborn. Over the last 58 years I’ve slowly added 19th Century one-, five-cent, (or more valuable coins), plus small clinker gold nuggets pulled from the San Gabriel River’s East Fork, mostly around its confluence with the Iron or Prairie Forka.
I’ve also found a few arrowheads and even a Ford Model T spark plug.
TO put a point on continued posts about precious metals and mining operations in the San Gabriel Canyon; I’m more interested in the miners and how they lived than I am pocketing a few pennyweights of gold from the East Fork or any of its tributaries.To satisfy my interests, I was taught to look for signs of rough miner’s cabins and to poke around the edges of those sites and looking closely for any evidence of a clothes line or privy.
My grandfather and his Lodge buddy, the late Sedley Peck, were 19th Century babies who lived among miners and taught me that loose change would often fall out of washed clothes or from pockets as miners exited outhouses.
Most of the coins I’ve picked up from miners’ habitats on the East Fork have come from underneath clothes lines or from near single-hole privies.
the wisdom of elders who lived the life has paid off for me.
It’s not hard to find 19th century mining sites in the San Gabriel Canyon. the trick I use is to look for elevated plateaus overlooking the edge of streams or clearings in arroyos near quartz outcroppings.
Two of the more famous mines in the San gabriel mountains are the Allison and the Bighorn. both are accessible from trails and both have been thoroughly gleaned. But,t those are just two of the most noteworthy.
And gold wasn’t the only precious metal mined in the Canyon. there were also numerous silver mines in the canyon’s lower section. most around the appropriately named “Silver Mountain” near Morris and San Gabriel Dams. Most of these mines were located on the West side of the river bed and were flooded and erased when the dams filled with water.however, a small handful of silver mining sites remain and the evidence of habitation still stand.
There are no good maps showing mining claims or sites in the San Gabriel Mountains but there are reports of mining operations in ancient copies of Los Angeles newspapers.(some of which are available at the main Los Angeles County library in downtown LA).
But my interest isn’t really in granite or other silver-bearing ore minerals but in the long line of people who made the canyons their home, or-in the case of distant Southern Shoshone tribe members-- passed through and left their sign on the mountains.
ONe of tne most interesting trips in the Angeles National Forest is the hike up Rincon Canyon on the west Fork to see the Pre Columbian petroglyphs etched and colored on slabs of mountain stone.
Take the time to see the ancient symbols and puzzle at their meaning. But if you go that far, look beyond and try to spot the ancient pathways that cross the mountains. And if you spy an old stone cairn leave it alone, or put a pebble beside it to honor the memory of the ancient people who hiked down to present day Azusa and Duarte from the high desert north of Wrightwood.
In many of my San Gabriel wilderness treks, I’ve foundnd myself thinking back to a time when local bears did more than scrounge food from upscale home, or in back yard hot tubs. Back to the time when salmon and steelhead jumped and finned their way up crystal clear chilly streams seeking out spawning beds where gold glittered in bright sunlight and where Indian trade routes wound their way up and over the mountains.
Tread lightly and leave no permanent marks.
But remember, never ever go into any old mine that looks unsafe or which signs of cave-ins.
-- Jim Forbes on August 25, 2013.