Between 1848 and 1858, California transformed from wilderness to “wild” with gold fever. When gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma in 1848, the “world rushed in” and the California landscape changed virtually overnight.
Amador County was one of the most productive counties in the Mother Lode. From the early 1850s until World War II, it was reported that Jackson’s three main mines – Eureka, Kennedy and Argonaut – produced more than 4.5 million ounces of gold – a yield of more than $105 million in gold at price levels of the Gold Rush era. This yield represents more than half of all the gold discovered in all of Amador County’s 19 mines.
Argonaut and Kennedy mine shafts both dropped more than 5,500 feet under ground. They were reported to be the largest shafts in the United States. The operations of these two mines led to changes in mining methods across the Mother Lode. When miners were called to support World War II, both mines closed in 1942.
Originally called the Pioneer Mine, the claim was discovered in 1850 by two freed slaves who became miners, William Tudor and James Hager. They worked the claim until the 1860s, and sold it to the Pioneer Gold & Silver Mining Company in the 1860s. The Argonaut Mining Company purchased the mine in 1893. The Argonaut Mine produced more than $25 million in gold before World War II, making it one of the richest mines in California.
This mine is the site of the worst mining disaster in the Mother Lode. Forty-eight immigrants were trapped at 3,500 feet below ground in August of 1922. All of them died from deadly gas that was released during a mine fire. The cause of the fire was attributed to unsafe working conditions. The fire burned 2 ½ days before it was extinguished. Rescuers worked for two weeks to descend to the level where the miners were trapped. All recovered victims were buried at local cemeteries.
During one of the rescue attempts, rescuers equipped with oxygen tanks brought a canary with them. The canary died. Rescuers were led to believe that the miners died soon after the fire started from lack of oxygen. The phrase “canary in the mine” has since become a common method for describing or predicting hazardous conditions.
The Argonaut is located on Highway 49 at the top of the hills between the city of Jackson and Martell.
The Kennedy Mine was discovered in 1856 by Andrew Kennedy and mined almost continuously from 1860 to 1942. By the time the mine closed, it had produced more than $34 million in gold. The price of gold at the time was valued between $20 and $35 per ounce.
According to the Kennedy Mine Foundation, between 1942 and 1961, the Kennedy Mine lay idle. Sybil Arata, a teacher from San Francisco bought the property in 1961 and lived in a mine house until her death in 1994. Her will stipulated that the Kennedy Mine remain as open space for wildlife habitat and maintained for its historic value.
The mine is open for classroom and public tours. Visitors can see the 125’ metal head frame, tour several mining buildings and learn the history of the mine. Volunteers guide visitors through the property at Kennedy Tailing Wheels Park.
The historical marker is located at the Hwy 49 Rest Area across from Kennedy Mine, near Jackson.
Amador County was one of the most productive of the “Mother Lode” counties. The mine shafts were reported to be among the deepest in the world. Mining continues in select areas today. The eastern slope of Amador County begins at Kirkwood’s historic stage stop. The relatively narrow county is aligned between the Mokelumne and Cosumnes rivers and roughly follows an important emigrant trail route. Gold rush camps and boomtowns abound in the history of the area. Amador County is also recognized for its dozens of vineyards and wineries.