The Midas Touch
By: Bud & Evelinn Kannenberg
West of Redding, California, in the southwestern corner of Shasta County is a place called Harrison Gulch. It got its name from W.R. Harrison who, in 1850, became the first judge of Shasta County.
In 1894, L. Benton discovered gold there, and shortly thereafter the Midas Gold Mining Company took over. Soon the tiny town of Knob boomed to around 1,500 people. The Midas Gold Mine was the magnet that drew them there.
A 1914 fire in the main mineshaft shut the mine down. The shaft filled with water, and all efforts to pump it out failed.
Millions in gold had been taken out, but now the town of Knob, with its school, stores, hotels, five or six saloons, and other attractions, was on a downhill slide. People moved away in droves, but what remained hidden under years of overgrow after that exodus spoke volumes about their daily lives.
We were fortunate to be the first people to go over the area with a metal detector, and what we uncovered told quite a story when we dug it out.
In the late 1960s and early '70s, my wife, Evelinn, and I lived just a few miles from the Midas Gold Mine. By then Knob had become a ghost town, with only a few permanent residents. We were history buffs and treasure hunters in our spare time, and in the evenings we detected for buried treasure and panned the nearby streams. Yes, gold was still there!
We queried as many old-timers as we could find in the area about the Midas Mine, Knob, Hall City, McKinley City, and other "chicken scratching" little settlements. Evelinn filled notebooks full of quotes and observations.
One evening, after several unsuccessful tries, we were going up a small draw and got a strong signal. It had rained and the ground was pretty wet, but I dug up a heavy slab of mud-caked iron. I thought it was a plate off an old sewing machine and handed it to my wife. She cleaned off the wet dirt and said, "Hey, this is part of an old slot machine, dated 1898."
One of the most colorful characters we shared time with was an old cowboy named Roy Shields, who was in his 80s and lived on his ranch at Wildwood, just a few miles from the old Midas Mine. We would sit on the front porch of his ranch house while this old bachelor told us stories. What follows is taken from those tales.
Roy was born in 1885. His family moved to Wildwood in Shasta County, California in 1894, and started a ranch a few miles from the recently discovered gold at Harrison Gulch. In 1896 the Shield family relocated to the town of Knob, where Roy's folks opened a store.
When Roy was old enough he went to work at the mine. Everything was prosperous then, including the saloons where whiskey sold for 10¢ a shot. He regaled us with accounts of early-day Knob, and also shared the locations of several sites which sounded promising. Following his directions to one up a draw from the main town area, we took our Bill Mahan D-Tex metal detector and started looking for the mentioned sites.
By this time the metal detector was really getting excited and squealed with my every move. Bits of history were coming to light with every signal, but so far we hadn't come up with enough to tell us whether the building had been a home, a store, a blacksmith shop or what. Our finds included a watch fob, a 1909 California hunting license, a woman's buckle, and a lady's hand with a Victorian cuff intricately crafted in bronze with a fine patina, which we believe was half of a silver clasp, a K. P. (Knights of Pythias?) 1902 medallion, and an 1894 California Mid Winter Fair pendant.
Among other recoveries were a filigree brooch, coins dated from 1865 to 1911, Chinese money, a Masonic lodge pin, U.S. Army buttons, a silver buttonhook, various other pieces of women's jewelry (some of it silver), and one gold & turquoise piece- all together a representation of the hundreds of small personal treasures left behind by the people who lived Midas Gold Mine's history. The place seems to have been a mountainside melting-pot where people blended their lives together for a time and then parted to become components in another crucible of life.
We certainly felt the touch of King Midas there. Everything we discovered was truly a golden nugget of history, and we came away enriched beyond measure.