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Gold in Georgia

By Sylvia Gailey Head

The oldest and best known mine in Lumpkin County is the Calhoun, first called the Obar since Robert Obar owned the 239 acres where it was discovered. However, it was then in Hall County, created in l8l8 from Indian lands. Lumpkin was also created from Indian lands, and a strip of Hall containing the Calhoun Mine, sixteen years later. This was where Benjamin Parks kicked up gold while deer hunting and went to Obar asking for a prospector's lease. Obar laughed at him but signed an agreement giving the owner one fourth of any gold found. Parks, when he was 93 years old, told the story of this deal to a reporter of the Atlanta Constitution saying, "I went over to the spot, with a pan, and turning over some earth, it looked like the yellow of an egg. It was more than my eyes could believe." When Obar heard of this he, with three members of his family, came demanding, "I want the mine." Following a refusal Parks said, "Mrs. Obarr broke the sluice gates, to let out the water. A laborer was in the ditch and the woman threw rocks in the water in order to splash him. Failing to make him aggressive she burst into tears. When her son advanced to attack him, I caught him by the collar and threw him back. Then the party went off, swore out warrants against us, and had us all arrested. All this was done for intimidation, but it failed to work; and the next thing I heard was that Obarr had sold the place to Judge Underwood, who in turn, sold it to Senator John C. Calhoun and then I lost a fortune. Senator Calhoun wanted to buy my lease, and I sold it to him for what I thought was a good price. The very next month after the sale, he took out 24,000 pennyweights of gold, and then I was inclined to be mad with him as Obarr had been with me."

Deed records show that on 7/24/l828 Obar bought his land from Edwin Pettigrew for one hundred dollars in hand. On l/9/1830, he sold it to four men in Gainesville for sixteen hundred. John C. Calhoun paid six thousand for the same land.

Calhoun graduated from Yale, studied law in Charleston, S.C. and Litchfield, Conn. and served the nation for over forty years as State Legislator, member of U.S. Legislature, Secretary of War, Vice President, Secretary of State, and then became a very powerful U. S. Senator.

Much has been written about the richness of the Calhoun mine but a letter written by his son-in-law, Thomas Green Clemson, to Patrick, John C's son, is the best source of information. It is quoted in part here: "The O'Bar lot was purchased by your brother, A.P. Calhoun, and your father took it off his hands and occasionally worked its deposits, particularly when cotton was low. In the interim it was leased out and I have often heard him say that the cost of the property had been refunded to him before the discovery of the rich vein which is in part the origin of the deposits.

"When I received a letter from your father, then in Washington, requesting me to go to the mine and take charge of it as he understood that it was yielding wonderfully and his interests were suffering.

"I got there about a month after the discovery.

"It is impossible for anyone to say how much gold was taken from the mine that month. Those who were residents in the neighborhood said at the time that the amount pillaged was greater than would be believed and Mr. Singleton, superintendent of the mint at Dahlonega, told me that the receipts of gold that month were greatly increased.

"I found whilst at the mine heaps of ore which had been rapidly culled over and only the richest portions selected and yet the remainder were still rich in visible gold. I remained there I think about three months and I had only three hands and yet I extracted many thousand dollars of gold.

"I have often taken from two to five hundred dollars from a single pan full of ore, but from peculiar circumstances no order was observed in calculating the days work and no books kept which I now greatly regret as to prevent me from making more accurate statements.

"The first portion of the time I camped out and when I got a log home over my head I was expecting every moment to leave and consequently things went on as it were from day to day without much regularity. It was impossible for me to prevent robbery either from outside intruders or those in my employ.

"I put up a small overshot wheel which moved three or four stamps and they washed the surface ore taken from about the opening of the mine. It proved to be very rich. They were also frequently robbed - perhaps more taken from them than I received. Circumstances made it necessary for me to leave the mine.

"When I left the rock had become harder and some water had entered and temporarily had prevented the operation from going on. The gold was still visible in the rock and I have no doubt the vein continues and might if properly explored yield more than it has ever done.

"The amount of gold yielded by the comparatively small space of ground excavated places this among the richest gold mines ever discovered. I told your father that I had great confidence in the mine and believed that it would richly pay exploration and if I were called on to give professional opinion I should unhesitatingly urge an expenditure much greater than I could advise him to make.

"I thought it unwise for him to go deeper into the matter as he would necessarily have to trust to the judgement and honesty of other persons and the proceeds already realized might then be jeopardized or entirely lost. I have not visited the property since 1843 and I do not know in which state it may be or what has been done since I left it. Your father as you know did not work it again but it has been constantly leased out doubtless at a great loss. I do not hesitate to say that I believe that with judicious exploration remarkable results might be expected.

"I do not know of any mine either in California or elsewhere that yielded in the same length of time and to the same number of operations greater profits."

This letter was dated Oct. 12, 1856. Clemson was a well-educated man and was the first Secretary of Agriculture of the United States, then called Superintendent of Agriculture. Because of his interest in scientific farming he bequeathed his home (previously the home of John C. Calhoun) and about eleven hundred acres of land to found a college oriented toward the teaching of agriculture, textiles, architecture and general science. From that beginning grew what is known today as Clemson University in Clemson, S.C.

The above information was gathered from newspapers and different books about these two men.

June 3, 1879, the Calhoun Gold Mine lot was sold at the partition sale, for division among the heirs of John C. Calhoun and was bid in by his son, Patrick for $410.00.

About five months later Patrick sold the old Calhoun to J.A. Bostwick of New York and thereby hangs another tale. Bostwick spent $40,000 building a dam, erecting a 40 stamp mill, and moved in a lot of machinery. He employed John Congdon and A. J. Reese to superintend the operation of the mine. Reese soon died and Congdon was summoned to the bedside of a dying brother in California. He died in a railway station in Nebraska. Both dead brothers were brought back east on the same train.

Bostwick, being a superstitious man, thought his mine was under an unlucky star and gave it to the North Georgia Agricultural College at Dahlonega in 1892. For two years it was a big help with the expenses of running the institution. Then a tremendous freshet broke the dam and not having any money to replace it, the college sold it to S.M Wharton of East Spokane, Washington.

The next real excitement came at the old Calhoun nearly fifty years later and I was there to see it. I was living in Dahlonega next door to a miner named Graham Dugas. While sitting in the yard one afternoon, he came across and showed me a piece of quartz heavily impregnated with gold. When I asked him where he got it he replied, "At the Calhoun Mine." I laughed as did the Reverend Obar when Benny Parks asked him for a lease to look for gold on his land. Dugas said, "Come with me and see for yourself." There on the wall of the entrance to the old mine with the dirt washed away was a beautiful pocket of gold.

Dugas had already notified the news media of his strike and reporters came from several newspapers with their cameramen. Their pictures included two or three men with shotguns guarding the mine. The headlines on November 16, 1939 were "Rich vein is found in century old Dahlonega Mine" and "Big gold strike at Dahlonega may revive old mining days" and "Rich vein opening at the Calhoun mine assays up to $75,000 a ton" followed by "Major Graham Dugas who has been searching these hills for gold for the past 15 years now thinks that he has, at last, hit real pay dirt." State geologist, Garland Peyton was quoted, "Frankly, I am impressed with what I have seen but there is no way of telling how far down it goes until the rock has been blasted out." Dugas was in no hurry to find out for he knew not what direction the vein might take nor the distance to another pocket of gold. He was known to be more a promoter than a miner and he was enjoying the publicity. He had a twenty year lease on the mine and owned 90% of it according to the papers. He quietly let it be known that there were a few shares of stock that might be available. Even those who knew Dugas as a promoter and the character of the mines, were eager to buy stock.

Things were happening so fast that it is difficult to remember the sequence. From sixty years hence, it can't be recalled when his automobile had its door handles and other trim washed in gold. At some time a blast was set off down in the mine and Dugas was quoted as saying that $l5,000 worth of the yellow metal was lying around on the floor of the shaft. Later, a second such blast, to accommodate the movie people, revealed a vein that Dugas estimated to be worth from $150 to $200 per ton. The question was: is there a ton of it?

There was a clamor for the pocket to be blasted out and Peyton said there was no way the state bureau could force the operator to drill or blast until he was ready. Dugas wasn't ready as long as the reporters continued to come and write and the public continued to come and look. Had Benny Parks been there he would have said, "Dog-my-cats it was an exciting time." Eventually, however, the excitement died down and Dugas took out the pocket of gold and that was the end of that story.

There were many mines in Lumpkin and Dawson Counties and they had a convenient market for their gold at the United States Branch Mint in Dahlonega. The neighboring counties within the Georgia gold belt opened up mines also. There was the La Prade Mine in Habersham County where a three and a half pound nugget was said to have been found. And there was the Glades in Hall County where the miners panning for gold in the branches flowing into Flat Creek, continually had to throw out little white rocks getting in the way in their pans, only to learn later that these shining little pebbles were diamonds. And there was Dukes Creek in what is now White County. It was claimed that gold was discovered there before the discovery by Benny Parks, but Benny said, "men will claim anything, but dog-my-cats if I ain't the one sure enough."

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