Float gold or “floated gold” livened up life in the Old West with the ability to turn any man or woman rich — or turn any man or woman into a pauper. As the name implies, it was gold which had washed (floated) down from the mines in mountains into the streams and creeks. Mining float gold was done by “placer mining”: Using dredges, pans, sluices and other hydraulic methods to separate the grains and nuggets of gold from the sand and gravel along and inside of streams and rivers throughout the West. Placer miners let the water do the work, saving a lot of back-breaking labor with picks and shovels and mining carts dragging ore up from the earth, for sure.
Placer mining for float gold was attractive for many reasons
If you think about it, placer mining for float gold was attractive for a number of reasons:
1. Less physical labor than digging gold out of the ground at a gold mine.
2. Less outlay for mining equipment and mining supplies.
3. Easily done, therefore, by men, women, and children in many areas of the West.
Of course, as with anything related to gold in the Old West, there were serious risks. Whether digging gold out of the ground or sluicing it out of a river, gold deposits were tricky to find and generally in rugged areas. There was always hardship from nature, wild animals, and Indians. In addition, other prospectors and people willing to take advantage of prospectors may pose threats to the most honest and determined gold seekers.
Gold prospecting, whether done with a pan or a shovel, was hard work. Though gold in the West served as a constant lure to draw immigrants to the region, few people saw their dreams of wealth come true. It’s been said that the enterprising merchants, saloon keepers, and others who helped mining towns and camps spring up all over the Old West generally profited more from the gold rush than the prospectors.
Such was life in the mining camps and placer diggings of the Old West, whether hard rock mining or sluicing for float gold.