Santa Catalina Island, California - History - Catalina's Gold Rush

Catalina's Gold Rush

Three otter hunters, George Yount, Samuel Prentiss, and Stephen Bouchette, are responsible for the Island's short-lived gold rush. Yount found promising samples and, shortly before he died in 1854, told some discouraged 1849 Gold Rush miners. Samuel Prentiss, Catalina's first non-native permanent resident, was told of a buried gold treasure. He died in 1854 after spending 30 years unsuccessfully digging for it. Just before he died, he told Stephen Bouchette of the treasure. That same year, news of Yount's promising sample began to circulate. Bouchette staked a claim and announced he had found a rich vein. He secured generous backing and spent more than $10,000 for extensive tunnels stretching over 800 feet. Some believe that there was little, if any, gold and that the claim was a ruse to get loans to dig for the lost treasure. In 1878, he and his wife loaded all they could onto a sailboat and were never seen again. Experts are still unable to determine if they found the buried treasure, were lost at sea, or simply returned to the mainland.

Word of Yount's promising samples, combined with Bouchette's well-funded claim, brought hopeful miners, and, by 1863, boom towns briefly dotted the hills. In less than one year, 10,000 feet of claims were registered, and 70 miners were actively mining these claims. Tunnels were dug by hand, and miners camped out with only one store and saloon to supply their needs. Challenged by hardship, they did enjoy the convenience of homing pigeons that delivered messages to the mainland in 45 minutes, while mail took 10 days. By 1864, all prospectors had been evicted by the Union Army. Although evidence of gold on Catalina is inconclusive, the promise of a gold-rich bonanza fueled real estate speculation for the next few decades.

The island experienced a brief gold rush in the 1860s, but very little gold was actually found. In 1864, the United States federal government, fearing attempts to outfit privateers by Confederate sympathizers in the American Civil War, ended the mining by ordering everyone off the island. A small garrison of Union troops was stationed at the Isthmus on the island's west end for about nine months. Their barracks stand as the oldest structure on the island, and are currently the home of the Isthmus Yacht Club.

Read more about this topic:  Santa Catalina Island, California, History

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