When you drive up I-20 into downtown Atlanta, you will spot one of our state’s most visible icons, a Greek style building with a shining gold dome. That is the Georgia state capitol building, and yes, that is real Georgia gold on top. In 1928, according to one of several stories, a slave belonging to Frank Logan found a gold nugget in Dukes Creek near Dahlonega. That discovery set off the first great gold rush in America. Unfortunately for the Cherokee, it was on their tribal land. But the greed for gold would not be denied, and the natives were forced off their land and submitted to a punishing march to Oklahoma along what became known as the “Trail of Tears.” Exact figures are not available, but estimates say that from 2,000 to 6,000 died on the forced march.
The most telling factor was that the Cherokee were among the five civilized tribes that previously occupied portions of the southeast. They worked hard to adapt to the white man’s ways. Chief John Ross, a mix breed Cherokee, invented an alphabet of their language. Soon the Bible and several other books were translated, and a newspaper in the Cherokee language was published.
But that was to no avail. Soon the white man’s greed for gold overcame the tribe and all but a few were removed. The remnants are still in Cherokee, North Carolina and are now known as the Eastern Tribe of the Cherokee Nation. Once the Cherokee were removed, their lands were distributed by lottery to white settlers. They were awarded up to 40 acres each. Many found pockets of gold on their ill-gotten land, and a few found productive mines.
Eventually, several thousand miners were active, and enough gold was found to supply a branch of the United States Mint. The Dahlonega Mint produced gold coins from 1838 to 1961. At the start of the War Between The States, Georgia seized the mint and produced a small number of Confederate coins. But at the end of the war, the U.S. Government decided to close the mint and move it too Denver. The Georgia coins carried the D mark for Dahlonega. That mark went to Denver along with the mint’s equipment.
When Georgia’s gold dome needed to be restored a number of years ago, the state activated an old mine near Dahlonega and collected enough gold to complete the task. The dome is covered with tiles containing a thin gold line.
The gold was not all found. People still find small deposits of gold along the creeks in north Georgia. When I was a teenager, my uncle, Sloan Gillispie, had an old gold mine on his property north west of Gainesville, he assured us that a pack of rattle snakes lived in the old tunnel. I suspect that was just to keep us out of it. Several of my cousins and I spent a number of weekends with pie pans and small shovels trying to find gold in the sand bars along a nearby creek, but we never had any luck.
The Georgia Gold Rush came to an end when larger gold deposits were found in the western states from Colorado to California. Several state officials made an attempt to keep them in Georgia by assuring them that there was still “gold in them thar hills” but few remained, and most mining operations in the state closed down.
If you have a great desire to find gold, go to one of the local parks where for a small fee you can pan for the yellow metal, and with persistence, you can find a few flakes. At least you can have fun trying!