Some squatted and panned. Some "rocked the cradle." Some used a knife to pry it loose from crevices. Some "coyoted" for it, digging one-man holes into hillsides, a dangerous practice because of frequent cave-ins.
And then there was the fellow who purportedly found it when a stray bullet clipped a rock during a gunbattle with a would-be robber.
Gold, as the old saying goes, was where they found it. And, at least according to the tales hopeful miners used to tell each other, they found it in some pretty strange ways and places.
One Mariposa County miner, it was said, was accosted by an armed robber. While bullets were flying, the miner noticed a glint in a rock hit by a ricochet. He thereupon killed the bad guy, examined the rock -- and found gold.
A man hunting rabbits near Angel's Camp was rooting around under a manzanita bush and found $700 worth of gold, using his rifle to dig it out. A Rough and Ready man out chasing his cow stumbled over a nugget the size and shape of a human kidney. It proved to be worth $1,200. Three Frenchmen were digging out a tree stump in the road from Dry Diggings to Coloma, found gold beneath it and dug out $5,000 worth in a week.
And then there was the aptly named "Rich Bar," on the east branch of the north fork of the Feather River. In July 1850, two men turned over a rock and found a chunk of gold. They washed a small panful of dirt and found $250 in gold dust. In two weeks, they had taken out $6,000. Two other men in the same area found 33 pounds of gold in eight hours. One panful of dirt contained $1,500 in dust.
"In a little more than a week after its discovery," wrote Louise Clappe, who lived in the area with her husband, "five hundred men had settled upon the Bar for the summer. Such is the wonderful alacrity with which a mining town is built."
By the end of the Gold Rush, more than $4 million had been taken from the area. Gold was indeed where they found it.