Pioneer Chinese American miners in Oregon and Idaho were placer miners, sifting by hand through the above ground tailings left behind by white miners churning through the land with large machinery to extract large loads. At the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area, view a massive preserved historic gold dredge, an important historic and cultural resource that links Oregon’s pioneering past with settlement and development. Nestled at the base of the majestic granite peaks of the Elkhorn Mountain Range, the nearby Powder River is born deep within the range and picks up speed as it spills down the Sumpter Valley, traveling through the park before reaching Phillips Reservoir.
The dredge in the park is the last of three built on the Powder River. Built in 1935, it ran until 1954, digging up more than $4 million worth of gold. Sticking out from the dredge’s hull is a massive boom bearing 72 1-ton buckets. The buckets, moving like the chain of a chainsaw, would bore into the riverbank and carry the loose rock back into the dredge interior. Once inside, the rock would pass through a series of steel cylinders to separate the material by size, sending the smaller material deeper into the dredge. Using water and sluices, the gold then would be separated from the sediment. The larger rock and remaining debris would pass through the back of the dredge and be deposited behind it via another boom.
Gold dredge at the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area.
Highlights: One of the largest and most accessible gold dredges still remaining in the US today, almost a half century after the last bucket load was lifted, the dredge stands silent. It whispers the hope, sweat and dreams of the men who worked on it. The surrounding landscape also still bears the scars of this massive work. Miles of tailings line the banks of the river, a remembrance from the prosperous days of mining. After visiting the dredge you may continue on the Elkhorn Scenic Byway to continue your trip into history. For a small fee, visitors to the dredge also can pan for and take home their own gold!