Gold Towns: Rich Bar

Located high up in the northern regions of the Feather River in Plumas County, Rich Bar was a mining camp on the river’s north fork, in a gulch beneath the summits of towering ridges. Legend says it was discovered in July 1850 by unknown stragglers returning from the search for a fabled but non-existent lake of pure gold. Enormous production records were made at Rich Bar: pans of dirt frequently yielded from $100 to $1,000; and it is said that three Germans took out $36,000 in nuggets and gold dust in four days. Claims were so rich, in fact, that miners were limited to ten square feet. In its first two years, Rich Bar yielded three to four million dollars in gold. The society and activities of some 2,000 miners at Rich Bar and neighboring Indian Bar are immortalized in The Shirley Letters, written by Louise Clappe. She was a doctor’s wife who lived there in 1851-52, and whimsically signed this collection of 23 letters to a sister as “Dame Shirley.” First published in 1854 in The Pioneer, a monthly San Francisco literary magazine, The Shirley Letters remain a classic in authentic gold rush literature. Today the site of Rich Bar is commemorated by a metal plaque set in stone, which marks its status as Registered Historical Landmark No. 337.

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