The traditional image of a gold miner that comes to mind is that of a grizzled old man in shabby clothes, squatting on the side of a creek with dirt swirling in his pan searching for that elusive nugget. And that wouldn't be entirely untrue. However, gold mania has been known to affect people from all walks of life as evidenced by the numerous gold rushes of the 19th century.
Historically there hasn't been much written about the contributions in which women made as prospectors and miners. Digging for gold is very physically demanding and it wasn't viewed as something that women were suited for, not to mention the unsavory element which were attracted to the mining camps. In Lumpkin County there are several stories of women who broke the mold and panned for gold alongside their menfolk, or on their own and made a profit for themselves.
One of the very first accounts during the early days of the Georgia Gold Rush tells us that a small stream which flows into the Chestatee River, was named the "Petticoat Branch" because a group of women were the ones panning gold there. Folklore also tells us that the women were temporarily driven off by a rival group of men. The ladies filled their aprons with stones and in true pioneer spirit, returned to "make war" on the intruders. Not wishing to cause physical harm to the women, the vagrant miners retreated, leaving the "petticoats" in control of the branch for good.
Rhoda Young settled in Dahlonega not long after the town was established in 1833. Despite her advanced age, Rhoda still managed to pan for gold. When she died in 1854 at the age of 110, her obituary stated that her daily pursuit had been in the digging of gold and that she had become so proficient at it, her name was known far and wide.
Two years earlier in 1852, a news account from the Dahlonega Signal, reported that a woman from Lumpkin County who was over sixty years in age, left on the overland trek for California. The article went on to state that this intrepid woman left behind her mother who was over 100 years old. She has no doubts as to her success and will compare to any miner in California.
Even as late as the 1890's, several other lady miners who lived in Lumpkin County, were prominently mentioned in newspaper dispatches.
Winnie Howell, a lifelong resident, had been known to find gold in the streets and gullies around Dahlonega after a heavy rain. In one instance she panned out over $7.00 dollars worth of gold in less than one hour in the street runoff following a storm.
Mary Odum had learned gold digging as a child from her father who was the brother-in-law of the famous Green Russell. In 1897, the Los Angeles Herald ran a story which described how Mary, now in her 50's, lived like a hermit and hid all the gold she had discovered in an old sock. Although some had tried to find the location of where Mary had hidden her fortune, none had been successful in finding her sock of gold. Local folklore hints that Mary took the secret of her hidden treasure to the grave, but no one knows for sure.
Man or woman, there is no cure for the gold fever. Once you catch it, it stays with you forever.
Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Chamber & Visitors Bureau | 13 South Park Street | Dahlonega, GA 30533 | (706) 864-3711 or (800) 231-5543.