We’re talking about the hills of Richland County, of course, and in particular the streams near the villages of Bellville and Butler.
This part of the county has been attracting would-be treasure hunters yearning for instant fortune now for some 166 years.
Bellville was where it all started. The village’s first mayor, Dr. James C. Lee, himself a veteran of the California Gold Rush, discovered flakes in a south flowing tributary of the Clear Fork River known as “Deadman’s Run” or “Dead Man’s Run” (there’s a story about how that name was obtained which involves, of course, a drowning).
Just as in California, gold fever hit Ohio. Within a short time, almost every river in the area had new ownership or claims.
This activity continued for years – in fact, for decades. In May, 1868, the Galion Review shared the following story:
“We were again show, a few days since, by Jacob Riblet, several nuggets of fine gold washed out by a number of our citizens on the land of our Galion Gold Mining Company, near Bellville, Richland County, Ohio. The gold is said to be worth $22 per ounce, and the nuggets shown us were worth from 75 cents to $1.25 each, being termed shot gold, and is obtained by what is called gulch mining. The prospecting thus far has been very successful, and the mine when fully developed promises to pay well. The company is making arrangements to operate them very extensively this season, feeling confident that they will realize the “precious stuff” to the extent of at least one ounce to every miner per day.”
A second discovery of gold occurred near Gatton Rocks west of Butler. Mining technology quickly improved, and soon sluices were being used, and by the end of the century mines were being planned and dug. By 1905, one operation had produced a nugget worth $2.50!
By one estimate, only $50 or so in value was ever produced; the entire output of one operation was said to have provided enough gold for a single ring. What the operations did produce, however, were stories, illegal activity, and the opening of the so-called “Dew Drop Inn,” whose proprietress was said to be “several times a mother ere she was a wife.” Hmmm…
These areas still attract the occasional mining activity, in particular the Swank Claim near Gatton Rocks. This claim has produced burgundy colored garnets and fine flour gold, including gold-infused quartz of substantial value. It can be mined on occasion with programs of the Muskingum Water Conservancy District.
Sources: Wikipedia, Muskingum Water Conservancy District, Galion Review, Ohio Geology Newsletter, Spring 1985