American Canyon Placers

American Canyon is considered to be the best placer gold mining ground in the State of Nevada (Koschmann and Bergendahl 1968, Vanderburg 1936a). Estimates for total placer gold production for the district between 1881 and 1895 varies from $5,000,000 to $20,000,000. The Wells Fargo and Co. estimates that they hauled $9,000,000 worth of gold on their stage lines during this period. A Chinaman living  in the area in 1913 reported that his people removed $20,000,000 (Basso 1970).  An exact amount will probably never be determined since the Chinese were reluctant to discuss such matters with whites and much of the gold was sent back to China. A reasonable and much quoted estimate puts the figure  at  $10,000,000.     

Early History of American Canyon

     The Chinese first came to Nevada in 1858 to assist with the construction of a placer ditch in the Gold Canyon District in Lyon County. After ditch construction, many Chinese remained to work as placer miners in the vicinity (Vanderburg 1936a. Angel 1958). Dayton, before it received it's current name, was known as Chinatown in reference to the Chinese that lived there (Angel 958, Mack 1936). Chinese soon began to spread out to other parts of the state, not only as placer miners, but as railroad grade workers, hard rock miners, truck gardeners, laundry operators, etc. The first mention of Chinese in the area near American Canyon is from Unionville in May of 1863 (Marden 1992). It is a newspaper article which does not mention what capacity the Chinese had in Unionville, but only that the white citizens of the place wanted them to leave. By the mid 1870's Chinese were placer mining in the Island Mountain and Tuscarora Districts in Elko County; the Klondyke, Tule Canyon and Tokop Districts in Esmeralda County; the Bald Mountain District in White Pine County and the Rebel Creek, King's River, Rosebud, Sierra, Kennedy and Indian Districts in Humboldt and Pershing Counties (Bragg 1976, Vanderburg 1936a). American Canyon is located in the Spring Valley Mining District, Pershing County, Nevada (Pershing County was formed out of Humboldt County in 1919). From 1861 to 1885 this district was included in the Unionville (Buena Vista) District and/or in the Indian District.  Initial discoveries in the district were for lode deposits and include the Moonlight silver mine and Eagle gold mine (Johnson 1977, Vanderburg 1936). Placer mining took place in American Canyon, South American Canyon, Spring Valley Canyon, Indian Creek, Troy Canyon and Dry Gulch, all within the Spring Valley and/or Indian Districts.

     Placer gold deposits were found in Spring Valley in 1875, and in that year were being worked by about 30 whites and as many as 125 Chinese (Vanderburg 1936). They used a long tom (a modified sluice box) in the winter when water supplies were adequate.   During the rest of the year, rockers were used (Vanderburg 1936).

      In 1877 there was reported to be 200 Chinese in Spring Valley.   They were prospering and had established a camp that was able to support four stores (The Silver State [SS], 17 January 1877: pg. 3). However, in 1881 the Chinese population in Spring Valley had dwindled to 75 and by 1891 there were only 10 or 12 (SS 23 July 1881: pg. 3, 21 August 1891: pg.3.).Placer deposits were found in American Canyon in 1881.  They were initially worked by white miners who reportedly recovered $1,000,000 before leasing the claims to the Chinese in 1884 (Vanderburg 1936). Between 1884 and 1895 the placer grounds in American Canyon were worked by the Chinese. Wong Kee, Hobach Kong and Toi Lee acquired claim leases from white miners L. F. Dunn and M. S. Bonnifield (Bragg 1976, SS, 17 May 1893: pg. 3, Davis 1913, Carlson 1974). These Chinamen convinced many of their fellow Asians to come to the area, and subleased 20 foot X 20  foot sections to individuals or small groups(Vanderburg 1936a).Shafts were excavated on each of the smaller leases. These shafts vary in depth from 10 to 100 feet. The shallower shafts are located in the upper reaches of the canyon where the depth to bedrock is also shallow.  Depth to bedrock, and corresponding shaft depth, increases towards the mouth of the canyon. Drifts were dug along pay streaks on bedrock and false bedrock clay layers. The gravel was washed using six miner's inches of water (54 gallons per minute [Wells 1973]) (Bragg 1976, Vanderburg 1936s, 1936b). The population of the Chinese in American Canyon during the period 1884 to 1895 is unknown. Estimates vary from 300 (Basso,500 (Mordy and McCaughey 1968), 900 (Bragg 1976) to as high as 3,000 (Paher 1970),  It would appear that most if not all, of these figures are exaggerated. Census figures for the critical year of 1890 are unknown; however Rusco (1979) states the total Chinese population for the State of Nevada to be 2,833 in that year. Between 1880 and 1900 the percentage of Nevada Chinese in Humboldt County rose from 10 percent to 16.6 percent. That would indicate the Chinese population in Humboldt County was somewhere between 283 and 470, making 300 the only reasonable estimate. However, newspaper articles report the population of American Canyon in 1891 and 1892 to be 120 (SS 21 August 1891: pg. 3, 17 January 1892; pg. 3).  The August 21, 1891 Silver State also counts an additional 14 to 17 Chinese in Spring Valley and Dry Gulch and 15 Chinese in Spaulding Canyon in the East Range.

     The Chinese were constantly coming and going.  It is possible that populations of Chinese were moving between American Canyon and other mining districts in which they were working and that the estimate of 300 for Chinese placer miners was county wide. The Chinese retained their culture in American Canyon. They established a Joss House, decorated with peacock feathers, gilt and pictures of dragons and devils (Basso 1970). At least three stores and a butcher shop, selling imported traditional Chinese goods and preferred dietary items, were operating in American canyon (Basso1970, SS 21 August 1891, 17 January 1892). Imported goods were brought in from Lovelock on a weekly stage (SS 21 August 1891). Recreational activities included opium smoking and gambling.


The Chinese population began to decline after 1895. By 1905, after a visit to the area, the Humboldt County Assessor reported less than ten Chinese living in American Canyon. These men were said, "to be too old to be of any account anywhere else and are left to die (Bragg 1976)." Ransome (1909) made no mention of Chinese in American Canyon in 1908, but a lone Chinaman was reported to be "on the ground" in 1913 (Brasso 1970). This man may have been the last surviving original Asian in the district, who died  in neighboring  South  American  Canyon about 1928. (Vanderburg 1936).

American Canyon Today

In the mid 1970's the placers of American Canyon were under the control of AART Inc. During this time the placers were operated on and off by AART for  testing out their new Electro-static air belt technology. The placers were then leased to a public company who did little or no testing of the pay-streak material but rather simply pushed overburden around from area to area. this went on until the late1990's when other various mining promoters and small companies leased American Canyon from AART. In 2000 RMC became interested in the placers and joint ventured with a small company from Nevada to perform small scale testing. Results from the testing were very positive but proper funding was not realized. In 2003 RMC Joint ventured with a public company to perform a small drilling of the pay-streak channel. The BLM waiting period to drill in the channel was 3-6 month's and it was decided that drilling was to be done outside the KNOWN area's of occurrence of high grade gold within the placer claims. The hastiness of the drilling led to unfavorable drilling results and the abandoning of the claims. In 2004 RMC claimed three initial (160) claims along the American Canyon Wash and claimed and additional 480 acres in 2006.