Gold was discovered in 1851 in a creek located just south of town. In the early 1860s there was a period of dormancy in hydraulic mining due to the lack of water from drought years. Many miners left to work mines in Canada and Nevada. During this period a miner, Julius Poquillion went to San Francisco to acquire investors to start a large scale hydraulic mining operation. The North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company (NBGMC) was formed in August of 1866 and over 1,500 acres were purchased in the Humbug Canyon area of North Bloomfield.
Realizing the need for a larger and continuous water supply to work their diggings, the NBGMC purchased the English Reservoir, the largest reservoir in the state at that time. They also purchased Bowman’s Ranch on Big Canyon Creek as a site for another reservoir and a created a ditch system to bring more water to the diggings.
The water held for disbursement came from eleven principle reservoirs totaling 11,600 acres with a capacity of over 2,195,000,000 cubic feet. Total daily water consumption for the Company was more than 100 million gallons.
The need for more water also created the need of disposing the large volume of water and debris. The Hiller Tunnel, previously used to drain the debris from the diggins, became obsolete and to handle the needs of more gravel tailings and water the company built the North Bloomfield Tunnel. (See Drain Tunnel pages.)
In 1876 NBGMC began full operation of the mine, 12 hour shifts, 6 to 6.
The company employed over 800 Chinese and 300 Whites in 1868. The Malakoff Mine became the premier hydraulic mining operation on the San Juan Ridge and is considered by many, in the nation. Research indicates that the name Malakoff came from the large population of French miners who came to this area remembering their battle victory at Fort Malakov in Russia during the Crimean War.
In 1878 The Anti-Debris Commission was formed and petitions submitted to Legislature regulating laws to control mining operations. These laws were ineffective and in 1882 litigation was brought against the NBGMC by a farmer in Marysville to stop hydraulic mining. (See Sawyer Decision page.)
In 1886 the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company was found in contempt of the Sawyer Act as they had been operating their monitors at night and they were fined heavily. Also in this year the company installed an elevator system that would pull debris from the tailings and retain it in holding ponds. This extra step in the process hindered greatly the production capabilities and reduced the profit margin. However, this did satisfy the Sawyer Decision.
In 1890 the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company was the only hydraulic mine in operation in the South Yuba River area.
In 1893 Congress passed the “Caminetti Law.” All hydraulic mines must be licensed. The North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Co. at this time was in accordance with Sawyer so they disregarded this new law and did not file for a license. However, in 1896 the U.S. District Court declares that mining without this permit was illegal. The North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Co. was found in contempt and fined heavily. Litigation expenses became immensely expensive to the company and depleted a large amount of the company’s assets.
In the nearly 40 years of operation the NBGMC, which was commonly called the French Company, invested approximately $3,500,000.00 with expenses equaling the same amount. But this was expected. The company planned to work for many, many more years. What wasn’t expected was the restrictions placed on hydraulicking and the price of gold regulated by the government. With expenses out weighing the profits, the company shut down it’s operation around 1900 leaving a pit that was 6,900 feet long, 3,800 feet wide and 600 feet deep. The company excavated 41 million cubic yards of dirt and gravel from the diggings.
It is estimated that 80% of the gold is still present in the Malakoff hills. The state mineralogist calculated that 300,000,000 cubic yards of auriferous gravel still remain.
Hydraulic gold mining at Malakoff was abandoned in 1910 with occasional “outlaw operations” which continued sporadically for a few more years where rich gravel deposits had been found.