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Mind Bend-ers: Featuring Bend’s not-so-huge gold rush

February 21st, 2013

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Welcome to your fifth edition of Mind Bend-ers, a special feature offering you the inside scoop on quirky Bend history and offbeat trivia.

BulletinGoldRush

The local newspaper announces the start of Bend’s “gold rush” in 1904.

There’s a reason you don’t hear much about Bend’s big gold rush. That’s probably because it wasn’t so much a rush as a minor drip.

On Friday, April 15, 1904, The Bend Bulletin printed an article headlined, “Steps to get gold.” In it, they noted gold had been found near Cline Butte just north of Bend, and residents were all a’twitter.

“There is said to be a very promising ridge extending over to the westward,” the article noted. “There was a distinct stampede for claims the latter half of last week.”

Indeed, oodles of mining claims were filed, and prospectors rubbed their hands together with glee. According to Jason Hogstad, the assistant curator of Living History programs at Bend’s High Desert Museum, the list of claimants included many of Bend’s movers and shakers at the time. Citizens were convinced the handful of gold bits found lying on the ground indicated an abundance of gold lurking just beneath the earth’s surface.

They just had to get to it.

Claimholders ponied up big bucks the following week—about $5 apiece—to raise $150 toward prospecting the lode, purchasing blasting powder, and hiring men to open up the ledge. Bend residents buzzed about the possibility of a historic gold rush in Bend.

“If the mines pan out,” noted The Bend Bulletin, “a new town is likely to be built in that vicinity.”

Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out (though you’ve gotta appreciate the Bulletin’s gold pun).

mining day girl and ralph by Todd Cary

A “miner” (played by High Desert Museum volunteer Ralph Berry) displays his gold to a young visitor at the placer mining scene in the Hall of Exploration and Settlement.

The gold nuggets were sent to assayers, and as reports trickled in, prospectors ceased their Snoopy dancing. As it turned out, the gold wasn’t particularly high-quality. Ditto that for the silver found in the same area. Interest in Bend’s “gold rush” began petering out, and by June, the buzz had almost completely died. Funds for prospecting dried up, as did residents’ enthusiasm for the possibility of gold in them-thar hills.

Wishing you’d been a part of Bend’s gold rush trickle? You can still play make-believe at High Desert Museum.

Stake your claim when you stop by the museum’s Hall of Exploration and Settlement, which features a re-created underground mine. It’s dark and spooky and perfect for kids or grownups with an urge to play out their gold rush fantasies. There’s also a re-created placer mine with an indoor running stream, or head outside to the 1904 Miller Family Ranch and Sawmill for a chance to encounter a “rancher” (OK, maybe it’s a volunteer – don’t tell the kids) describing the gold he just found on his land.

The Hall of Exploration and Settlement is open seven days a week, and you can get a live tour from a Museum interpreter at 2:30 pm daily. You can also go prospecting on your own by downloading the 30-minute audio tour to your mobile device.

Happy gold hunting!


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