Mormons found first gold in Dayton
May 9, 2005
The most frequently asked question at the Dayton Museum is where gold was discovered and the location of Gold Creek.
Well, to look at the unimpressive dry ditch that runs through Old Town Dayton, one wouldn’t imagine it spawned one of the greatest mining rushes in the history of the West. People are a little skeptical of the authenticity of the creek’s location. One woman recently asked, “Are you sure?”
Due to a late -1930’s gold-dredging operation near the mouth of Gold Canyon, the upper end of the creek was rerouted from its original path to the Carson River.
Historians agree that Abner Blackburn was indeed the first person to find gold in what would later become Nevada.
On his way to California, Mormon guide and mountain man Blackburn and his party of Mormons waited in what would become Dayton for snow to melt in the Sierra in July 1849.
While his friends played cards, Blackburn took a bread pan and butcher knife out into the ravine to prospect and found a fair amount of gold. Too bad he didn’t persist. He lived in poverty, surviving on his Mexican War pension of $8 a month until his death in Southern California.
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Less than a year later, in June 1850, John Orr found his famed nugget while traveling with a Mormon wagon train heading to California’s gold fields. Basically, he found his nugget the same way Blackburn found his. At that time, Orr’s large nugget was probably the first one found. Blackburn dug out smaller particles of placer gold hidden in the canyon, now one of Nevada’s most historic sites.
Thanks to Bob Nylen, Nevada State Museum curator, a replica of Orr’s nugget is on display at the museum, while the original nugget is protected at the state museum in Carson City.
Orr’s nugget is about the size of a thumb, and in 1850, was worth $8.25. Today, it is probably worth $300 as far as the value of gold. But as one of Nevada’s first gold nuggets found, it is much more valuable.
News of Blackburn’s and Orr’s discoveries, along with gold found by others, prompted Nevada’s first gold rush. The irony of these discoveries was their location on the edge of one of the richest mineral deposits in the world, the Comstock Lode, which remained undiscovered until 1859.
The Dayton Museum is on Shady Lane and Logan Street in Old Town Dayton. It’s also the location of the Dayton Chamber office. It is open during the week at random hours and Saturdays 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sundays 1- 4 p.m. Go to daytonnvhistory.org. Group tours are available. Call 246-5543, 246-0462 or 246-0441.
n Ruby McFarland is a 17-year resident of Dayton, a board member of the Dayton Historical Society and a docent at the museum.