Next to the creek, in Coffill Park, is a wooden frame with the roof covered with brush. This is a brush house, a favorite of the Mexican miners.
In the beginning all mining during the Gold Rush was placer mining. Geological activity over millions of years broke up much of the gold embedded in quartz into nuggets and flakes, and rivers and streams carried the gold and concentrated it into what were called placers. In 1848, before word spread around the world about the discovery in the American River, gold was plentiful. Individual miners could simply pick out nuggets or dust from the streambeds, or wash dirt in a tin pan or a slightly more complicated device known as a cradle, or rocker. Later, as gold became harder to find, more elaborate equipment was needed, with groups of miners operating it, such as long toms, sluices, and the user of quicksilver, or mercury, to help recover gold. Eventually, in places like Columbia, hydraulic mining was used, with water carried by canvas hoses under high pressure that washed away entire hillsides
Large nuggets were found in the creeks. One man, Robert Turner, was washing sand from a creek near Sonora in 1855 and discovered a 30-pound nugget worth $6,400. The following week he found a second nugget, worth another $1,200.
In the gold-rich days of the early Gold Rush, there were men known as “pickers". These men were interested in gold, but not so interested in working for it. They hung out in the saloons, waiting for a heavy rain. Such a rain would wash away dirt and expose chunks of gold along the banks of the creeks and the hillsides. Nuggets would also sometimes be washed into the city streets where they could simply be picked up. After one storm in 1852, a picker found a nugget weighing 5 ˝ pounds. The next day he found one weighing 4 ˝ pounds, and three others weighting half a pound each. He made $2,400 in those two days.
Another man was not a picker, simply a man leading a donkey pulling a cart up Washington Street. It was raining heavily. He bent down to move a rock in the street, and found that the rock was a gold nugget weighing 35 pounds. It was worth $7,500.
These finds were aberrations. Many other miners made small strikes, but lost the money just as quickly, sometimes the same night, in gambling. There commonly seemed to be an “easy come, easy go” psychology at work. The average miner could barely make a living, if that. The word that mining was hard work and that the typical miner would not get rich easily began to spread and by 1851, the number of men coming to the mines decreased. In 1853, the amount of gold taken out of the mines dropped. The Gold Rush was over.