Friday, October 19, 2018

The Real Story of the Famous Blue Gravel Mine

A wagon hitched to two horses hauling a load of supplies to the Blue Gravel mine. Date unknown. (Public Domain)

The Blue Gravel mine is situated on the Rancho Buena Ventura land grant in Redding on a tributary of Canyon Creek. It was named due to the bluish gravel waste generated by the men who extracted the lucrative gold ore from this placer claim. At a later date, the placer mine was transformed into a quartz mine by men digging shafts and tunnels. The Blue Gravel mine was also known as the Covell mine. Miners located the Blue Gravel mine in 1910, the original owner of this mine was a capitalist by the name of Jacob Henry Brush.

Jacob Henry Brush was born to Albert Brush and Julia (Birchard) Brush on July 9, 1833 in North Salem, New York, where he was raised and he became well-educated. He was a lifelong banker. Then in 1856, he relocated to Osage in Mitchell County, Iowa. This is where Jacob met Julia Augusta Buckmaster and they began courting each other. They eventually married and settled there.

Jacob Henry Brush and Julia Augusta (Buckmaster) Brush had the following children born to them: Anna Brush, Frank A. Brush, Mame Brush, and Irving H. Brush. These children were born between the years: 1865 and 1879, respectively. They were a were a wealthy first class family. Jacob uprooted his family from Osage, and ventured west to California in 1885, where they settled at Santa Rosa in Sonoma County. Then in 1886, Jacob established the Santa Rosa National Bank. He owned and operated this bank, and it became a family operated business. Brush, eventually, hired his son Frank to be the cashier there.

During the interim, Jacob H. Brush began traveling north to Redding, to familiarize himself with the northern California area. It wasn't until June 12, 1899, when Jacob purchased land in the Westwood Addition of Redding from Clinton C. Crosby. Nearly two years later, Brush purchased additional land in that subdivision on May 23, 1901 from W.W. Hendrick. Then Jacob and his wife purchased the remaining property in the Westwood subdivision on March 16, 1908, from W.F. Arams.

Around 1910, Jacob H. Brush acquired the Blue Gravel mine property on the Rancho Beuna Ventura land grant. The exact date he acquired this property is not known. The research I completed for this article yielded no results through the records at the Shasta County Recorder’s Office in Redding. A search through our mining records at my work, Shasta Historical Society, yielded no results as well. The Westwood Addition property was purchased before the Blue Gravel mining property was acquired by Brush.

It was Jacob’s son Frank who lived with his wife, Lena, and their eight children in Santa Rosa. His father eventually promoted him from cashier to part owner of the bank. Later on, Frank A. Brush hired his son Howard to become his secretary at the Santa Rosa National Bank. It was Mame Brush who married Edson C. Merritt and they produced a son by the name of Clifford Merritt, during their union together. Due to unknown reasons, Clifford lived with his grandparents, Jacob H. Brush and Julia (Buckmaster) Brush in Santa Rosa. The 1910 U.S. Census records Clifford Merritt at the age of fourteen. 

The genealogy of the family is important to present here due to the following account which was presented in a 1966 Covered Wagon article titled, Twice Told Tales III. The Blue Gravel Mine, published by the Shasta Historical Society about an unidentified person who falsely represented the Santa Rosa National Bank in Redding: “… the Covell’s arrived at the mine one day to find a stranger busy in the area. He informed them casually that he was the nephew of Frank A. Brush in charge of the Santa Rosa National Bank, and that he was going to work the mine. He added that he was inexperienced in mining and asked them to find some miners to assist him in the work. He said he would divide the takings, share and share alike. The Covell brothers hired themselves on this basis, saying nothing of the report that they already had taken thousands of dollars out of the mine.

Clearly, the man in the above reference was not Clifford Merritt who was the biological nephew of Frank A. Brush, but a stranger who has never been identified. Clifford Merritt would have been a young teenager at the time. As for the Covell family, they consisted of three siblings: James F. Covell, Albert B. Covell and Charles Covell who worked as miners. James was the eldest of the siblings who lived at home with his brother Albert, and their aged mother Sophronia Covell in the Bells precinct of Redding. The youngest brother Charles lived with his wife, Nellie, in their own home with their six children in the same precinct according to the 1910 U.S. Census.

However, no official contract was signed between the Covell party and the Santa Rosa National Bank allowing them to operate the Blue Gravel mine. There was another man involved with the Covell family named George H. Cochran (sometimes referred to as George M. Cochran) who also showed an interest in the mining property. The 1910 U.S. Census records him being employed as a pound master. Cochran was married to his wife, Mary, and they had five children living with them at their home on Placer Street in Redding. The Covell party began sluicing its ground as they extracted $1,200 worth of gold per day. Most of the money was spent in Redding on groceries and other supplies they needed.

Jacob H. Brush and his family learned of these gold strikes on their property through state wide media coverage, which warranted an investigation of their property as they hired an investigator who went to Redding to investigate the reports. Then on, July 4, 1911 Jacob H. Brush made a visit to his property in Redding. Brush found the same evidence his investigator did. It’s unknown if the Covell party made contact with Brush at that time.

The Westwood Addition property belonging to J.H. Brush and the Blue Gravel mine property on the Reading land grant was granted to the Santa Rosa National Bank in a deed by Brush himself on February 1, 1912. A few days after the property was deeded over to the bank, the following article appeared in the San Francisco Call newspaper on February 6, 1912:


(Special to the Call) 

Redding, Feb 5, four miners who are said to have washed out $2,500 worth within the city limits of Redding during the last three months were stopped today by a restraining order issued by the superior court upon the application of F.A. Brush, cashier of the Santa Rosa National Bank who owns the ground in the southern suburb. The miners quit work four months ago upon the demand of Brush but under advice since they obtained they think they have a right to work the ground. The question of title will be settled in court Saturday. The ground is said to be very rich, though this was not revealed until the results of the prospectors’ work became known.” (SIC)

Yet, the Sacramento Daily Union newspaper heralded a slightly different story on February 6, 1912:


Special to the Union. 

   Redding, Shasta County, Feb 5, Standing guard armed with rifles J.F. Covell, Albert Covell, Charles Covell, and George M. Cochrane, alleged jumpers of a mining claim adjacent to the western limits of the city, refused to allow those claiming ownership to approach within the boundaries of the claim. Attorney Tillotson acting for Frank Brush who owns a large acreage which is believed to be include the disputed ground, obtained a restraining order this afternoon from Judge Barber ordering the Covells and Cochrane to appear in superior court Saturday and show cause why they should not be dispossessed. Sheriff Montgomery served the order this afternoon. The ground in dispute is alleged to be rich and the owner, and Frank Brush, is president of the Santa Rosa National Bank. It is reported that well known mining men are behind the attempt to work the ground by force if necessary. Charles H. Braynard, attorney for the Covells and Cochrane, claims the boundaries of the old Reading Grant do not, include disputed mining ground and that his clients have rights by location. Brush has surveyors in the field running lines to ascertain the boundaries of the grant. The question of ownership hinges on the boundaries." (SIC)

Then on, February 19, 1912, the Courier-Free Press newspaper of Redding printed the following article:


Judge, Barber this afternoon gave decision in the mining case – First National Bank of Santa Rosa against Covell brothers and others. He found that there was merit in the demurrer interposed by Judge Carr, counsel for the defendants, but he would not dismiss the restraining order. That would remain in full force and effect until next Wednesday, by which time, the court intimated, counsel for the bank W.D. Tillotson and T.W. H Shanahan, may submit a new complaint or amend the old one. The decision was on technical points. The effct is that the court still refuses to permit the Covell brothers or the bank to work the rich diggings that were recently struck on the ground in dispute.” (SIC)

The Santa Rosa National Bank charged the Covell family and Cochran with illegal mining while they sued them for $5,000 in damages. It was Judge Joseph E. Barber who presided over the case. As noted above the Covell party was represented by their lawyers Charles H. Braynard and Judge Francis Carr while the Santa Rosa National Bank was represented by their lawyers Williard D. Tillotson and Senator T.W. H. Shanahan. The case drew a large audience of spectators at the courthouse in Redding. It became headline news. Then on, January 29, 1913, the Courier-Free Press newspaper heralded the following article:


   Judge J.E. Barber this morning rendered his decision in the superior court in the locally famous case of the Santa Rosa National Bank against Covell brothers – J.F. Covell, Albert Covell and Charles Covell. Judge Barber gave judgement to favor of the bank but did not allow it any damages. The defendants are to pay all the costs of the action. In disallowing the defendants, the Covell brothers are to pay all the costs of the action, and, as the trial was a long one, the sum will be considerable. George Cochran, who was also a defendant, was absolved from any liability on account of costs. 

   The Santa Rosa National Bank sued for $4,100 damages, alleging that it had established that the Covells had sold that much gold that they had mined from its ground. The chief issue in the suit was to establish title to the disputed ground on which rich placer diggings had been struck. The trial was a long one. The action was begun on February 5, 1912; when the bank filed its complaint. Several weeks passed before the case came to trial, though the case had many innings in court before the trial properly opened. There was a restraining order to argue up and down, demurrers to argue, complaints to amend and all the infinitude of attorney’s technicalities to dispose of before the case came to the show-down of evidence.
   The trial opened before Judge Barber on April 29, 1912. The establishment of corners and lines drew out a lot of evidence. For instance, Charles Dozier, the surveyor, was on the stand for a week. Other surveyors were likewise on the stand, seemingly a very long time. On June 3 the trial was adjourned for the summer vacation. A second hitch was taken on September 10. Three days later the trial ended, so far as taking evidence was concerned, the attorneys being allowed almost a month to submit their briefs.
   The Santa Rosa National Bank based its claim to the ground on the survey of the Reading grant. Attorneys and the maps were all wrong. The corner stakes were all askew, and nothing on the records was correct. Indeed, nobody in the western part of Redding had a good title to his property, they said. The Covell brothers, it will be remembered struck rich placers almost within the city limits of Redding the winter before last. They mined gold in considerable quantity in a gulch west of town and were selling in Redding by the bootleg full nearly every week, before anybody knew what was up. 
   When the Covells good fortune became public they were congratulated. Nobody begrudged them their good fortune. Nobody knew how much gold they took out in a few weeks, further than that it was a considerable sum. When the word of their good fortune reached the ears of the Santa Rosa National Bank, for banks have ears that hear the jingle of gold. The bank, through its president Mr. Brush, owned land in the Reading grant, adjoining Redding. It sent an agent up here, and he found that the Covells were mining on the bank’s ground. The Covells claimed they were not mining on the bank’s ground. A restraining order put a stop to all the mining, until the differences could be settled judicially.
   The settlement was reached today when Judge J.E. Barber, after carefully reviewing the evidence, decided that the disputed mining ground belonged to the Santa Rosa National Bank.” (SIC)

Eventually, the property jumpers relocated from the Redding area, with the exception of Sophronia Covell who died in Redding on November 18, 1910. She is buried in Redding Memorial Park. Jacob H. Brush remained president of the Santa Rosa National Bank until his death on March 6, 1919 at Santa Rosa. At that time media reports claimed that the Blue Gravel mine would be sold, but the bank held onto the title.

Above: the Blue Gravel mine. Circa 1930s. (Public Domain)

In the interim, the Santa Rosa National Bank received many offers for this lucrative mining property. However, the mine became dormant from 1913 to 1922. In 1922, they leased it to a miner named James Murray. Through their attorney, Williard D. Tillotson on February 5, 1922 a notice of non-liability was notarized by the Santa Rosa National Bank stating the following terms of their property:

Further notice is hearby given that the undersigned will not be responsible for the work and labor being done and performed in or upon in connection with said property, and particularly in connection with the mining operation now being done or carried on upon said premises by or under direction of James Murray, and it will not be responsible for any materials furnished or used upon said premises or in connection with work, inter, and improvements being made, done, or performed thereon.

Murray continued mining operations at the Blue Gravel mine which yielded lucrative results and he  sunk a shaft into the ground 75 feet deep transforming the property from a placer mine to a quartz mine. In 1922, the Blue Gravel mine's production assayed at a high value and it began to yield a total of $20,000 in gold ore. Clearly, the Santa Rosa National Bank had no interest in pursuing mining activities, but they knew their land in Redding on the Reading land grant was valuable.

It was Henry P. Hilliard who was the receiver for the Santa Rosa National Bank and they eventually sold the Blue Gravel mine to the St. Edal Company for $4,000 on December 20, 1921. The St. Edal Company was a California based corporation who became interested in the Blue Gravel mine. After the St. Edal Company acquired the mine, full-fledged mining operations continued where Murray left off. A payment of $3,500 of the initial four thousand dollar agreement would be due on or before January 15, 1922.

The St. Edal Company sold the Blue Gravel mine to Mrs. Grace (Welsh) Elliot of Los Angeles on October 15, 1923. Elliot acquired 416.85 acres of mining land in the City of Redding. Elliot had no intentions of mining the property which entered the mine into a period of dormancy. On December 10, 1927, Elliot sold the mine to the City of Redding when they purchased the property for the construction of Benton Airfield, now Benton Airport.

A large amount of land in the Shasta View Addition of eastern Redding, was combined with Blue Gravel property, in the above deed, which was recorded on December 22, 1927. On that same day, the Courier-Free Press newspaper noted that the property was purchased by the City of Redding for a total of $85,000. When the deal was completed the City of Redding became the first and only city in the United States to own a gold mine. Redding still claims that honor.

In September of 1934, the mine was leased by the City of Redding to Holton Cochran, a son of George H. Cochran the former partner of the Covell family. Holton followed in his father's foot steps in operating the famous mining property. Holton Cochran introduced a new method to the mine by operating a gasoline shovel.

The gasoline shovel drastically changed the landscape of the mining site. During this era, the City of Redding was earning ten percent of the royalties from the mine they owned. Cochran earned the rest. In November of 1934, the mine produced a total of $399.93, in gold from the gasoline shovel operations.

Above: L-R: Elois Cochran, Cody Elias Stowe and Holton Cochran pose for a photograph at the Blue Gravel mine with an ore car. This photograph was taken in 1934. Courtesy of Shasta Historical Society.

The City of Redding terminated the lease held by Holton Cochran in January of 1938, and then the lease to the Blue Gravel mine was then reissued to Jacob C. Larsen and his brother J.S. Larsen of Sacramento. The Larsen siblings discovered a new vein of quartz at the mining site. About $3,000 worth of exploration and development occurred at the Blue Gravel mine that year by the Larsen brothers. They probed the mining property for future shafts and tunnels as well. The lease to the Blue Gravel mine was granted to them for another twenty-five years by the City of Redding, however, the city could terminate the lease at any time.

Jacob C. Larsen brought in new partners in 1941 to assist with financial backing of his Blue Gravel mining activities. The first load of ore assayed at $750.00. Production at the mine continued until January 20, 1942, when the lease to the mine was terminated by the City of Redding. Due to the first World War, the mine laid abandoned, and the City of Redding leased it to various people over the years until 1958 when the city stopped leasing the mine.

Presently, the Blue Gravel mine includes the stanchions of it's former twenty ton stamp mill. The openings of the mine have been plugged by the City of Redding. It was the City of Redding who transformed this mining property into a hiking trail called the Blue Gravel Mine Trail. There is parking available for the trail at the corner of Placer Street and Buena Ventura Boulevard. The trail is an easy 1.75 mile hike one-way, take some time with your family to explore this trail’s history. There are water fountains available, dogs are permitted but must be kept on a leash and there are benches available for sitting.

Above: the entrance to the Blue Gravel Mine Trail from the intersection of Placer Road and Beunaventura BLVD. This picture was taken by Jeremy Tuggle on October 16, 2018.

Above: on the left is a tributary of  Canyon Creek which channels itself near the Blue Gravel Mine Trail on the right. This picture was taken by Jeremy Tuggle on October 16, 2018.

Above: the new marker dedicating the history of the Blue Gravel Mine. It was dedicated in 2018 as a historic site by the City of Redding, Shasta Historical Society and the Turtle Bay Exploration Park. The stanchions of the stamp mill are seen in the distance to the right. This picture was taken by Jeremy Tuggle on October 16, 2018.

Above: now you can read about the history of the Blue Gravel mine when you're out exercising along the Blue Gravel Mine Trail in Redding. This picture was taken by Jeremy Tuggle on October 16, 2018.

Above: old roads leading to and from the Blue Gravel mine are still in existence today. This is one of them near the stamp mill site. This picture was taken by Jeremy Tuggle on October 16, 2018.

Above: another old road is barely visible in the landscape near the Blue Gravel mine. This picture was taken by Jeremy Tuggle on October 16, 2018.

Above: Looking down a the stanchions of the Blue Gravel mine twenty ton stamp mill.  The stanchions are the foundation of a stamp mill. This picture was taken by Jeremy Tuggle on October 16, 2018.

Above: the stanchions of the twenty ton stamp mill are towering high above the grass along the Blue Gravel Mine Trail in Redding. The historic stanchions are tagged with graffiti. This picture was taken by Jeremy Tuggle on October 16, 2018.

Above: the stanchions of the twenty ton stamp mill. A close-up. The historic stanchions are tagged with graffiti. This picture was taken by Jeremy Tuggle on October 16, 2018.


1880 U.S. Census

1900 U.S. Census

1910 U.S. Census

Old River Channel Gives Up $500 A Week In Gold - The Mariposa Gazette newspaper of Mariposa, July 29, 1911

Santa Rosan In Gold Streak - The Press Democrat newspaper of Santa Rosa, August 3, 1911

National Bank Gets Offers For Its Gold Mine - The Press Democrat newspaper of Santa Rosa, August 4, 1911

Miners Barred From Digging Gold In City - The San Francisco Call newspaper of San Francisco, February 6, 1912

Rifles Flash In Property Dispute - The Sacramento Daily Union newspaper of Sacramento, February 6, 1912

Valuable Land Is Involved In Suit - The Sacramento Daily Union newspaper of Sacramento, February 14, 1912

Restraining Order Holds --- New Complain Must Be Submitted - The Courier-Free Press newspaper of Redding, February 19, 1912

Continues Restraining Order - The Sacramento Daily Union newspaper of Sacramento, March 10, 1912

To Try Gravel Cases - The Morning Union newspaper of Grass Valley, September 11, 1912

Santa Rosa National Bank Wins Suit Against The Covells - The Courier-Free Press newspaper of Redding, January 29, 1913

Who's Who On The Pacific Coast A Biographical Compilation Of Notable Living Contemporaries West Of The Rocky Mountains, edited by Franklin Harper. Harper Publishing Company of Los Angeles, ©1913. Page 77.

Death Thursday Of Aged Banker, Jacob H. Brush - The Press Democrat newspaper of Santa Rosa, March 7, 1919

Aviation Field Is Property of City - The Courier-Free Press newspaper of Redding, December 22, 1927

Gasoline Shovel To Be Operated This Fall At Blue Gravel Mine - The Courier-Free Press newspaper of Redding, September 18, 1934

More Gold Sent To Mint From City's Mine - The Courier-Free Press newspaper of Redding, November 16, 1934

Colorful History Of Blue Gravel, The Only Gold Mine Owned By City, Is Related - The Courier-Free Press newspaper of Redding, February 27, 1935

Leasers Of City's Blue Gravel Get 25 Years More - The Shasta Dial newspaper of Redding, January 6, 1938

Shasta County, California A History by Rosena Giles, published by Biobooks, ©1949.

Twice Told Tales III. The Blue Gravel Mine - The Covered Wagon, 1966. Published by Shasta Historical Society.

622. VF - Blue Gravel mine, Flat Creek, Gold Leaf file on file at the Shasta Historical Society in Redding.

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