Although significant gold was found in the La Panza district in the eastern part of San Luis Obispo County and much gold prospecting occurred in the Cambria area, the only successful operations were in the Los Burros Mining District in the southwest corner of Monterey County. There are tales of gold mining activity in the Los Burros District as early as 1853, only five years after Marshall’s historic discovery at Sutter’s Mill, and a Monterey newspaper carried a clearly exaggerated story of $100,000 worth of gold being taken from the area in 1869. As a result of this activity, the Los Burros Mining District was formed on February 5, 1875 and included a small portion of the northwest corner of San Luis Obispo County. It was bordered roughly by San Carpoforo Creek on the south, Prewitt Creek on the north (about 13 miles north of the county line), the Naciemento River on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west.
The surge in activity in the Los Burros Mining District might have been much larger were it not for the remote location of the site. Since there was no coast road in the area at that time, ore from the mines was placed in sacks and transported on the backs of mules (los burros) over the Santa Lucia Mountains to the Nacimiento River. Here the ore was placed in wagons and the mules were loaded with supplies for the miners for the return trip. The ore was then hauled in wagons through the small settlement of Jolon to King City where it was transferred to the newly built railroad for shipment to San Francisco where the gold was extracted. Later on, rock crushing mills and stamp mills were used in the Los Burros District and these were brought by ship to Cape San Martin. From there they were hauled on sleds by mules several steep and tortuous miles to the mines.
The first important gold discovery in the Los Burros district was the Last Chance mine which was discovered on April 7, 1887, by William D. Cruikshank. This find triggered a small-scale gold rush and, in the next two years, more than 430 claims were filed in the area. The gold activity gave rise to the town of Manchester on Alder Creek in 1887 which had a population of 125 to 200 (some say as high as 350) and included a post office, four stores, a restaurant, five saloons, a hotel and a dance hall in spite of the fact that there was no road to the town. Manchester burned to the ground in 1892.
The Los Burros gold rush was renewed in 1900 when placer gold was discovered in the area along Willow Creek and its tributaries. Placer gold is gold contained in gravel or alluvial deposits which has been transported from its original lode location by natural forces such as water, wind or glaciers. Between 1900 and 1909 another 322 claims were filed there. It is believed that 2000 or more claims were filed in the Los Burros mining district altogether. Despite the large number of claims, it is estimated that only about $150,000 worth of gold was produced in the entire district although some “experts” have estimated the total as exceeding $500,000.
In September, 1970, 45,000 acres of the Los Padres National Forest burned in the Buckeye fire including the Los Burros Mining District. The fire destroyed nearly all of the miners’ shacks and cabins as well as many of the timbers supporting abandoned mine shafts and tunnels. On the other hand, with all of the vegetation removed, the locations of a number of mines which had been lost for many years were revealed.