Important Geological & Mining Report by California’s First State Geologist

Essay on Placer Mining & Prescient Review of Petroleum

Click thumbnails to open zoomable images.

554. TRASK, John B[oardman]. Document No. 14. In Assembly. Session 1855. Report on the Geology of the Coast Mountains; Embracing Their Agricultural Resources and Mineral Productions. Also, Portions of the Middle and Northern Mining Districts. By Dr. John B. Trask. [Sacramento]: B.B. Redding, State Printer, [1855]. [1-9] 10-91, [1-9] 10-91, [2, altitudes & index], [1, blank], [1, note], [1, blank] pp. 8vo (22 x 15 cm), recent half tan cloth over marbled boards with brown morocco spine label lettered and ruled in dark brown. A few pages browned, otherwise fine.

     First edition. Cowan I, p. 278: “[Trask’s] reports on the geology of California are important contributions in this field.” Not in Cowan II. Eberstadt 114:177. Greenwood, California Imprints 1833-1862 #622. Norris 3951. Vogdes, A Bibliography Relating to the Geology, Palæontology, and Mineral Resources of California, pp. 1-2:

This report contains a description of the physical geography...geology...Tertiary rocks...primitive rocks, [and] volcanic rocks of the coast mountains; geology of the San Bernardino Mountains; stratified rocks of the San Bernardino chain and plains of Los Angeles; extent of the infusorial group; Plains of Los Angeles; artesian borings; soils and productions of Los Angeles; mineral productions of Los Angeles; country north of the American River; mineral district of the upper Sacramento Valley; geology of the northern coast mountains; Carboniferous limestone of the eastern part of Shasta County; Trinity County; structure of the Sacramento Valley; Tertiary rocks and other deposits of the Sierra Nevada; placer mining; quartz veins; quarts mines, with descriptions of mines, and statistics.

     For more on Trask, see preceding entry for his 1854 report. In the preface, Trask states that his expedition covered areas not explored in his report of the previous year and that he spent six months and twenty-two days of active labor in the field. Among the counties he explored were Butte, eastern Klamath, Los Angeles, Luis Obispo, Monterey, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Shasta, Sutter, Trinity, Yolo, and Yuba. He spent three weeks in the mines. As in the previous report, Trask includes discussion of the economic potential of the State’s geological resources. Pages 69 to 91 are specifically on the mines, beginning with a lengthy essay on “Placer Mining,” noting its increased use in the past year.

     Trask, though a native of Massachusetts, chides Easterners who criticize placer mining. Among others, Dr. A. Kellogg in his eulogy (Remarks on the Late Dr. John B. Trask, 1879, pp. 3-4) describes Trask as a “true gem...remarkable for originality and independent thought” that some interpreted as “direct and blunt of manner.” Trask’s comments on placer mining show that feisty side of his personality (p. 69):

There has been much discussion abroad relative to the probable continuance of the placer deposits of California, and attending to this discussion, a manifest disposition among Atlantic writers to underrate the capacities of the State for the production of gold.... When the publication of such articles are carried to an extent that a public injury is sustained upon our shores as a consequence, then it becomes a duty we owe to ourselves to speak in defence of the State of our adoption.... We shall, therefore, confine ourselves to facts, as developed within the past year and the year preceding.... It is to be hoped that they may prove sufficient to convince such as may be seriously affected with melancholy for our future fate in this particular, that they are in no danger of sinking deeper into the slough of that insolvency which their over-heated imaginations have prepared, from any failure, on the part of this State, to produce even an increase on her past annual exports. The commercial circles of the East, have been saved from bankruptcy by our exports.

Trask follows his spirited essay on placer mining and its use in various areas with specific developments at various mines, such as Osborn Hill Mine, Jones & Davis Amador Mine, Key-Stone Mine, and others, followed by “Statistics of Mines,” “Water Companies,” and “List of New and Resumed Mines for 1854-5.”

     Because of the Gold Rush, the focus of this report was metal deposits, but Trask also speculated about the use of bitumen for making gas for energy, such as illumination; he does the math on money that could be saved by San Francisco in using local gas rather than imported coal (see pp. 40-42). From the time of the first explorers, the prolific oil seeps along the Pacific coast of southern California evoked interest and were mentioned in many accounts. In early southern California, the heavy oil was used in its natural form for construction and other purposes.


Sold. Hammer: $150.00; Price Realized: $183.75.

Auction 23 Abstracts

Click thumbnails to open zoomable images.

DSRB Home | e-mail: