How Our Family Contracted Gold Fever in the Red GA Clay

The Hunter

Copyright © G. Wasdin All rights reserved.

Remember the song “Silver and Gold” and how it says that “everyone wishes for silver and gold?” It’s pretty much true but most folks don’t bother to go looking for their own. But my hubby is not “most folks.” One of his nicknames is Weird Wendell so that should tell you something.

Anyway he likes to hunt things: deer, turkey, quail, foxes, raccoons, and the list goes on. If it has a season and it lives in south Georgia, he has more than likely hunted it. He also likes to hunt for inanimate things such as ginseng roots and water and lost class rings and coins. The class rings and coins he hunts with a metal detector, but in all his hunting experience he had never prospected or hunted for gold.


The First Gold Rush


That situation changed in June of 1994 when our daughter and I gave him a

gold prospecting

kit for Father’s Day. We didn’t know it then, but our lives were about to change.


He had soon signed up to attend a “common dig” at an old gold mine located in north Georgia. North Georgia was the site of the United States’ first gold rush. And you probably thought is was California!

Our Introduction to Gold Prospecting Begins

Though the “rush” times are long gone, there is still quite an interest in the red clay, gold-bearing hills of the Peach State. There are old gold mines to tour, a gold museum, a gold festival, and plenty of places for tourist to stop and pan for gold. These venues are a nice introduction to the art and science of finding gold. The first time we traveled to these locales as a family, we did all the tourist stops, but we went one better.


The common dig that my husband had signed up for was amazing to the max. When we drove into the mine area it was as if the gold rush had started all over again. The mine property encompassed about thirty acres and it was covered with people. Many were camping on the property. Some had obviously been there, done that, but there were many like us who were total greenhorns.


After registration was completed, the men and women were instructed as to their duties. A large excavator had already pulled up lots of dirt near a pond and there were several highbankers set up at the edge of the water.

Rocks Are Not Friends

Now the work began. There was lots of dirt and it had to be shoveled into five gallon plastic buckets and then carried to one of the highbankers. The soil was then dumped into the highbanker which has a grill type configuration near he top of the hopper to filter out the larger rocks. Rocks are not a prospector’s friend. They get in the way. Now to be fair, sometimes a rock, especially a quartz one will have gold in it, so it pays to at least give the rock a cursory once over before tossing it onto what is called a tailing pile.

Getting Down and Dirty

Before long, it was hard to tell one prospector from another at least by their clothing. Georgia is well known for its red clay and everyone who wasn’t wearing waterproof rain gear now had pants and tops that matched whether they started out that way or not. They were all a Georgia red clay color which isn’t usually truly red but more of a brownish-orange. And I can tell you, it does not come out. It could make a really excellent fabric dye, if one cared for brownish-orange.

Clean Up


As the day wore on and the prospectors wore down, the talk was of the clean-up. Cleaning up meant that the highbankers would stop running and the miner’s moss which lined the bottom of the highbanker would be rinsed out in a bucket of water leaving behind the heavier soil and hopefully some gold nuggets. If you were very, very lucky, you might have gotten a big enough nugget in your high banker that it actually showed up on top of the moss and had already been “picked” out. These nuggets are known as “pickers” and were turned in to the common dig sponsors for later division among the prospectors.

Divvying Up

After a day of being wet, muddy and sometimes extremely cold, the prospectors turned their attentions to cleaning up, eating, resting and telling some tall tales about prospecting that could put a fishman’s tales to shame. While the majority rested, a select group of experienced prospectors processed the concentrates garnered in the day’s work. There was much speculation about how much gold would come out in the painstaking process of panning that was going on, but now it was time to wait for this information would not be revealed until the next day.


The gold that had been recovered in the common dig was painstakingly divided up and placed into tiny plastic zipper bags. The largest piece was labeled as number one and each succeedingly smaller piece was labeled as two, three, four and so one until the smallest piece was labeled. In the case that not enough nuggets were found to give each prospector a reward for their day’s work, the further concentrated pannings of “black sand” were measured and placed in bags with the numbering proceeding until each and every prospector would have a take.

The Drawings Begin

The next day the noonday meal was shared covered dish style. The crowd began to gather and food was coming into the clubhouse from all directions.  There was excitement in the air as everyone knew the event they had been waiting for, the division of the previous days findings, would soon begin.


Finally, someone was banging a rock on a piece of plywood that been placed on two sawhorses to serve as a table. The crowd grew quiet and gathered a bit more closely in. After greetings and introductions from the dig coordinators, the drawing began. Each prospector took a turn. As a number was withdrawn everyone seemed to hold their breath as the tiny piece of paper was handed to one of the coordinators who seemed to open it way too slowly. Then the number was announced and either a cheer or a groan emanated from the crowd according to how low or high the number drawn.

We caught it!

As the tension mounted, my hubby who was carrying our then four year old daughter up with him, continued to hope and pray that he might be the one to get the number one draw. It was finally his turn and he held our daughter close to the bowl. She reached in and picked out a piece of paper. She knew what to do, and handed it over to the coordinator. I was holding my breath.

“Number four!” shouted the announcer.

We were so excited! This was the lowest number drawn so far and was quite lucky since there were well over one hundred. Our daughter was handed the appropriate zipper bag and inside was a gleaming, rich yellow, Georgia GOLD NUGGET! That did it. We were now officially hooked and the newest sufferers of that strange malady call GOLD FEVER.

Copyright © G. Wasdin All rights reserved.

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