There are two primary methods of mining for gold: placer mining or lode mining (also known as “hard rock mining”).
Gold exists in lodes or veins that are filled with mineral under the earth’s surface. These lodes can be eroded like other minerals, which can break the lode apart, carrying pieces of gold through waterways and depositing them on the gravel or soil beds. Extremely rare crystalline gold occurs in both the placer streams and the lode deposits.
The process of placer mining is the process that is used to find the gold that has been eroded from the lode. Very generally speaking, placer mining involves sifting through gravel to separate the pieces of gold. Placer mining can be done by a single prospector with a gold pan.
The process of lode, or hard rock, mining, on the other hand, is the process by which gold is extracted directly from the lode beneath the ground. Lode mining requires the labour of many miners working together to extract the gold from tunnels or massive open pits in the ground.
During the late 1800s, or the first Cariboo Gold Rush, miners found much of their success through placer mining. This is the story of towns like Barkerville, Richfield, Camerontown and Marysville during the 1860s.
After the earlier success of placer gold mines in the Cariboo, prospectors began searching for the source of the eroded gold, the underground, hidden lodes of gold. Fred Wells was one of these prospectors that were searching for the ‘Motherlode’, the largest underground concentrations of gold. The search, by following coarse nuggets in fragments of vein quartz through Lowhee Creek and the region, led Fred Wells all the way to Cow Mountain and to an area that would later become a town bearing his name.