Gold was discovered on the Cosumnes River in 1849 by two men from Michigan in the vicinity of the historic Nisenan settlement of Palamul. In the 1850s the town of Michigan Bar was the largest in Cosumnes Township, with as many as 1500 people. By 1800 the town had declined but still retained its post office, Wells Fargo office, and important pottery works. Little remained by the 20th century and much of the town was destroyed by hydraulic mining and dredging. The Michigan Bar School was in use until the 1940s.
California Registered Historical Landmark No. 468
This plaque placed by the California Department of Transportation
The Michigan Bar Mining District
The Michigan Bar Mining District covered a vast area roughly between the towns of Michigan Bar and Sloughhouse. The district's placer gold deposits were mined extensively between 1849 and 1900, primarily by hydraulic and ground sluicing techniques. Dredging was another successful technique and extended the district's mining life into the 1950s. Total gold production in this district has been estimated at over 1,500,000 ounces.
Placer mining followed the typical sequence of starting with easily reached river deposits. Once those deposits were exhausted, miners turned to nearby gulches but had to haul their dirt to the rivers for processing. The construction of ditches made it possible to work deposits far from water sources and the first in the Michigan Bar area was completed in 1851. The Prairie Ditch, still visible near here, was completed in 1858, and signaled the beginning of hydraulic mining in the area.
Miners and their families were a diverse group from the United States and Canada, Central and South America, Europe, Asia and the Pacific Islands. Native Americans continued to live in the vicinity for some years after the discovery of gold led to the loss of their homelands. Some no doubt worked for miners and ranchers in the Michigan Bar District. Several African American mining families also lived in Michigan Bar for many years.
This 1860s photograph of hydraulic mining in the Michigan Bar Mining District is presented courtesy of the California Department of Mines and Geology. If you look up from the photograph you'll see a remnant hydraulic scarp not unlike the one depicted. The power of the pressurized water against the hillsides, combined with additional water arriving from miles away through ditch systems, made it much easier to break down the soils and process them for the gold they contained. But the technique also crated tons of debris, much of which made its way into the river system, depositing silt and flooding croplands. Only after a major lawsuit filed by Sacramento and San Joaquin valley farmers was California hydraulic mining curtailed in 1884.