In 1851 gold was first discovered on Greenhorn Creek near the Kern River by a exploration party sent out by John C. Fremont. This discovery led to the first Kern River gold rush. Prospectors spread out finding rich placer gold yielding as much as $50 per pan and several lode deposits. In 1852, Richard Keys, a half-Cherokee '49er discovered lode gold at Keyesville. Soon afterward Captain Maltby discovered the nearby Mammoth mine. After discovery of placer gold in the Kern River in the spring of 1854 a stampede of miners began to the area. By January 1855 the area was swarming with miners. In August 1855 five or six arrastras were running and by spring 1857, 16 were running. From 800 to 1,000 men were working the mines. The first stamp mill was hauled though Visalia from San Francisco and erected on the river in 1856 by Abia T. Lightner. By 1858 three arrastras, and five water driven mills with a total capacity 22 stamps, were working Keyesville ore. They were all destroyed in the floods of 1861-1862. Three years later, in 1865, a 20-stamp mill was constructed on the Kern River, but it did a poor job recovering gold and was soon shut down. In its heyday the town of Keyesville consisted of 5 or 6 stores, 3 hotels, 4 saloons, a brewery, two livery stables, a wagon-making shop, 2 blacksmith shops, a barber shop, 2 butcher shops, a shoemaker's shop, express and post offices. There were boarding houses and saloons at the individual mines. After the high-grade placer deposits had been exhausted, the Euro-Americans moved on to other areas, however, Chinese miners continued to work the gravels in Keyesville well into the 1860s.
The underground mines in Keyesville were idle until a 1897 revival. During this time a 5-stamp mill was erected at the Keyes mine and a 10-stamp mill at the Mammoth. Both mines were intermittently active until about World War II. The Keyes mine produced a total of $450,000, the Mammoth about $500,000. Small scale placer mining has been conducted in the Keyesville Mining District from the first discovery of gold until present.
In order to control illegal occupancy of mining claims within the Keyesville area, on March 19, 1968, the BLM withdrew several hundred acres of land in the Keyesville area from the mining law. Four hundred acres remain withdrawn from the mining law, and is managed for recreational mining. Recreational gold mining on lands withdrawn from mineral entry is not a mining activity--it is a privilege. Be aware that panning and sluicing can adversely impact water quality, vegetation, fish, wildlife, and ultimately people. During the process of separating gold from the sand and gravel, silt may be washed into streams, creating turbid water. Fish and aquatic insects have difficulty surviving in heavily silted water because of its reduced oxygen supply.
Opportunities and Restrictions
The 400 acre Keyesville Recreational Mining Area is located within the 7,133 Keyesville Special Management Area. The recreational mining area is one-half mile wide and encompasses one and one-quarter miles of the Kern River. A popular location in the spring of the year, and also within the recreational mining area, is lower Hogeye Gulch.The recreational mining area is about two miles northwest of the community of Lake Isabella, about one-quarter mile below State Route 155. The west side of the river is accessed via paved Keyesville Road, and on the east by the dirt road that leads to the Slippery Rock picnic area. Panning, dredging, sluicing, and dry washing are allowed. All activities are subject to any other applicable Federal, State, or County laws or regulations. Other rules which apply include:
- Camp fires require a current fire permit. Camping is permitted up to 14 days within any 30 day period and up 28 days in a year.
- Only hand tools may be used, motorized equipment including pumps (except dredges), chain saws and mechanized earth moving equipment (backhoes, bulldozers) are prohibited.
- Dredges working Hogeye Gulch must have an intake nozzle diameter of 3 inches or less.
- When working in the Kern River, dredges must be at least 100 feet apart. Cables may not cross the river, and must not create hazards for boaters.
- Water may not be pumped from water courses for any purpose.
- High banking, hydraulic mining and ground sluicing are not permitted.
- Sluices / riffle boxes / dry washers must have collecting surfaces of no greater than 6 square feet.
- Explosives, mercury or other hazardous chemicals may not be used.
- Vegetation may not be disturbed.
- Any subsurface archeaolgical, historical, or paleontological remains discovered during mining activies must be left intact; all work in the area should stop and the Bakersfield Field Office Manager should be notified immediately. Resumption of work may be allowed upon clearance by the Field Office Manager.