Gold Panning in the Ouachitas

Friends, recently we had an inquiry about gold panning in the Ouachitas. I can get only a little more specific than what I said in the Arkansas Gold Rush post on this site.

Old timers who were alive in the 1880s “gold flourish” as it was called, told us kids stories of several people finding gold in the streams around our homestead. The tributaries of the Ouachita, Cossatot, Little Missouri and Little Saline in Polk County have the possibility of finding a few colors and in a couple of those streams, tradition holds, nuggets were found.

Reminder needed here is most of the clear, cold spring fed streams in the high mountains are under the protection of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Meaning you can’t do “nuttin” in those waters. No dredging, sluicing, digging of any sort. This protects the little leopard darter and some small mussels that can’t stand muddy water.  

Little of the land in the Ouachita National Forest is private and most of that owned by non-residents who use it for vacation homes. Almost all private land is posted and guarded with cameras. All it takes is a picture of you on the land to get a conviction for criminal trespass.

My suggestion for finding the most likely place to find flour gold or perhaps a few colors is to read the post mentioned, and get old maps of the area to locate the names of the mining camps from the 1880-1915 era.

The most minerals found in Polk County come from the Novaculite (Arkansas whetstone) geological formations. This area is generally Southeast of Mena. The belt trends Southwest to Northeast. This same region is called by the State Geologists; “the Silver belt.” It begins just west of Little Rock to across the Oklahoma state line and actually almost to Atoka, OK.

Several producing silver mines were reportedly operating in this belt for over a century. Also found in this region are lead, antimony, copper, turquoise, cinnabar, barite, bauxite, manganese and the only producing diamond mine in North America, near Murfreesboro on the southern edge of the silver belt.

One tin deposit was claimed almost due east of the Shadow Mountain RV park on U.S. 71. I remember visiting that prospect way back when some of my kin were trying to make it produce. I think the old digging is on private property so I won’t get more specific here.

Once a the owner of a auto repair shop near Mena showed me a small vial of colors said to have been panned in Mine Creek east of Shady near the old CCC camp. This fellow is a genuine nice guy and I don’t doubt his word.

The only gold I ever saw coming from Polk Co…..for sure?.. was a bean sized nugget with gold in a dark gray matrix found by Isom Avants in a small creek near his home. The branch is now called “Nugget Branch” by old timers in the county. Another nugget was said to have been found by Polk County Surveyor, Jim Wood while deer hunting just over the mountain from where Isom made his find, on the north side of Fodderstack Mountain. He was searching for blood where a wounded deer crossed a small branch when he saw something shining in the water. I know this caused quite a stir of activity resulting in some manganese mines being developed up a southern fork of the little unnamed stream. This stream joins Brushy Creek north of Sugartree and east of Smokerock mountains. There is an old mining mill site located at the junction of these streams. Ruins of an old concrete bridge and some big tailings piles make this easy to find. Just beware of hippie school bus dwellers running around there naked as has happened in the past.  It’s a long hike up the canyon to where the nugget was said to have been found, however that location is west of the divide separating the waters of Brushy from those of the Cossatot drainage.

I suggest anyone venturing into these mountains obtain a good Topographical Mapping program so waypoints may be uploaded to a good GPS.  My recommendation would be Delorme Topo software.

Delorme software works wonders for our treasure hunting and even allows John and I to work treasure depositories without ever leaving our office. A good field man with camera, compass, maps and a good GPS is all we require to work KGC/*** treasure sites.

If I can find a digital copy of the map drawn by the Arkansas State Geologist in 1884, I’ll post it on this site. It will be very helpful for locating old mines and prospects in western Arkansas.

As many of you know many of my ancestor’s families produced prospectors, investors, miners who worked the mines of Pike, Polk, Howard, Sevier and Montgomery Counties for many years. Some of my umpteenth Great Grandpa’s brothers were among the first Anglo-Americans to settle in Southwest Arkansas a decade before it was a state.

 I’ll throw in an anecdote here about an old family tradition. It started back in the 1600s around Jamestown, VA. One of my ancestors told his family, “It’s time to move, I can smell smoke from someone’s fireplace.” This tradition was followed though Virginia to Pittsylvania County, then to North Carolina in Buncombe, Co., to Hawkins Co. Tennessee, to Owsley Co. Kentucky, finally to the Ouachitas in Southwest Arkansas.  Most Brewer’s were great woodsmen, hunters, trappers and miners. So if you wonder why I’m a Hillbilly now you know.

Have Fun!

And if you write please include a name. Seldom do we answer anonymous inquires. We don’t mind helping most people but there are some we prefer to leave stumbling around trying to learn treasure hunting. They deliberately try to confuse others by screwing up the facts.  Crossed rifles…What a joke!


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