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Is thar gold in that thar drought?

POSTED: January 3, 2008 5:02 a.m.

A drought once again has undressed the shoreline of Lake Lanier, revealing naked landscape not seen for years.

Who knows what lies along the lakeside, which has been eroded by wave action for more than half a century? Indian arrowheads and other relics left by the side of what used to be rivers could pop up among the plethora of plastic bottles, pieces of Styrofoam, fishing lures, beer and soft drink cans, sunken coolers and other debris from decades of wear and tear on the popular pond.

Or could there be more valuable treasure, gold nuggets or even diamonds?

William Waring Habersham studied mining activity in North Georgia during the 1880s, well after the Dahlonega gold rush. He was convinced an area described as "a point near Atlanta through Gwinnett, Hall, Banks and Habersham counties ... " was awash in diamonds.

Perhaps Habersham based his theory on a diamond find in northeast Hall County some decades before. Prospectors picked up several gems, some as large as 2.5 carats, in the Glades Farm area. But a large lode such as Habersham suggested never materialized.

That area, however, was one of several mined for gold. Stockingeater and Hayden's mines were among those in the Flat Creek area where $10,000 in gold is said to have been found in a 200-foot stretch of stream.

"All the mountain streams in North Georgia abound in gold to be found in the gravel on their banks and above the bedrock on their bottoms," Waring wrote in a Gainesville paper in the 1890s. "During a season of drought, when the streams are very low, it is no uncommon thing to see the country people searching for nuggets. ..."

Miners dredged numerous streams for gold, including the Chattahoochee and Chestatee. Could some of their overlooked treasure be uncovered as the lake level recedes?

Valuable minerals showed up all over Hall County in its early days. Flowery Branch once was a mining hot spot, and Habersham wrote that besides gold, deposits of copper, lead, manganese, graphite and iron could be found there.

When the Dahlonega gold rush waned, surrounding counties were scoured by leftover prospectors looking for their Petosi Mine. That name derives from an outrageously successful silver mine in Petosi, Bolivia, highest city in the world. Spanish conquistadors are said to have enriched themselves by enslaving Indians who had been working that mine in the 1500s. Mining continues there today.

Hayne Thomas, somewhat of an explorer and researcher, says that Murrayville once had what was referred to as a Petosi mine. Less than a mile from today's downtown Murrayville, some Englishmen are said to have discovered in 1834 a pocket of gold that yielded more than a million dollars in two years.

As a child, Thomas explored the abandoned mine, but it was so dark he could muster only enough courage to go about 100 feet. Lucky for him, because he later discovered quicksand would swallow anybody who tried to advance.

The mine closed about 1930, its four vertical shafts filled and other entrances blasted shut. One nugget found there is displayed at Georgia's State Capitol.

Thomas several years ago had permission to look through the tailings of the mine. He found enough gold to make four sets of earrings. The jeweler told him the gold was 97 percent pure, contradicting reports that the mine produced mostly low grade mineral.

The late James Hulsey told Thomas this story about Murrayville's mine: A New Yorker worked the mine in its last days, using his two teenage stepsons almost as slave labor. The stepfather was mean to them and beat them regularly. Tiring of their treatment, the boys one day pulled the ladder out of a shaft and left their stepfather trapped below. He wasn't rescued until about midnight when some coon hunters heard his screams for help.

That might have spelled the end of the mine, not to mention the boys, but the pursuit of another Petosi probably persists in some people's pipedreams. Perhaps some Petosi-like prize lies on the expanding lakeshore or in one of the drought-drained streams that are only a trickle this fall.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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