I’m sure that you’ve all heard the term mother lode. The term comes from the world of mining and refers to the main vein or the source of an ore; it’s thought to be a very literal translation of the Spanish words veta madre. In California, mother lode is used to name the principal vein of gold that comes out of the Sierra Nevada.
Somewhere in the midst of “the Mother Lode” is the Kennedy Mine; one of the deepest and richest gold mines in North America. During its lifetime (1860-1871 and 1885-1942) companies removed $34.3 million worth of gold when it was valued between $20-$35 per ounce. In today’s prices ($1300-ish per ounce), that would be well over a billion dollars.
The Kennedy Gold Mine could do all aspects of the mining process on-site: mine the ore, ore stamping (Photo #5), extract the ore from quartz, melt the gold down (Photo #17), and shape into heavy bars that were later moved to San Francisco by Wells Fargo.
Extracting gold from other materials (usually quartz) is an extremely toxic process (uses mercury with arsenic as a byproduct of the extraction process) and the town of Jackson was left to clean up the toxins left behind by the tailings pumped away from the mine. The town of Jackson recently (Feb 2014) received a grant to clean-up a chunk of land called Oro de Amador and make it safe for use.
As mentioned above, at one point the Kennedy Mine was the deepest mine in North America. It is within throwing distance of the Argonaut Mine and for many years the two companies fought over an 18-foot wide vein (known as the Pioneer vein). Both mines were permanently shut down in 1942 just after the U.S. entered the Second World War.
And, while the Kennedy Mine remained free of disaster during its 80-year history, the Argonaut Mine was the location of the worst gold-mining disaster in California’s history. On August 27, 1922, disgruntled employees set fire to the main mine tunnel trapping 47 miners below. Rescuers couldn’t open the shaft until September 18 and it took a further three weeks to reach the level where the miners were working. Evidence showed that all had died during the fire.