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Alabama Little Miner 49er

Alabama Gold

The Harrall Gold Mine

by James Mallonee

The October Field trip was to the Harrall Gold Mine near Sylacauga, Alabama.  The mine is located in the Talladega National Forest, to the north east of Sylacauga.  It is owned by Mark Stevenson, at least part of it since almost everyone who sold it has retained a "percentage" of the mineral rights.

We had 14 members of the Montgomery Gem and Mineral Society show up at 7:30 AM at the Wetumpka McDonald's for the day’s trip.  That included Leonard, John, Mary, Linda, Dru, Becky, Terry, David, and my bunch.  We then started north to Sylacauga to meet Mark.  With just a few problems caused by traffic lights and lead feet, we made it to Sylacauga with about 20 minutes to spare.  Most of us decided to check on drinks at the Winn Dixie or bowls and sifters at the Big Lots where we were to meet.  Mark showed up a little later and gave quick directions and then the caravan started out of town. 

The property is accessed by about a mile of well maintained dirt road.  The road continues around the hill from where the mine tunnel is located, with an easily accessible parking area just before the tunnel.  The parking area had been recently plowed and Mark showed an amazing collection of Indian artifacts picked up in the area.  He also showed the largest piece of gold found, a $5 gold piece in excellent condition.  Mark said he had gotten into artifact hunting and away from gold mining because of all the finds.   

Mark set up his generator and lights and then his high banker for the mine tour.  He also gave a quick history of the area and some of the more interesting things to look for including coins and artifacts both ancient and "modern".  Mark then took us in groups of about 4-5 at a time through the open areas of the mine.  While he was busy with the other group, several of us went through the parking area to see if we could come up with a gold coin (grin).  My wife Jody quickly found a nice flint arrowhead bird point, and several pieces of cast iron were found with a metal detector.  There were several cuts in the hillside where the early miners had looked for gold, as well as an area near the old stamp mill that had some interesting looking "tailings".  Leonard filled the back of his truck with chunks of rock from the "tailings" pile, and David found some small flakes near the stream. 

Finally it was MY TURN at the mine.  I brought a bucket and the metal detector (hoping for a nugget), as well as a hand light.  About half way in there is a 50 foot shaft mostly filled with water.  This is believed to have been the reason the mine stopped production.  There were many pick marks left on the walls where Cornish miners had dug out the tunnel.  About 100 feet in the area opened out into a large chamber, the floor covered with rubble, dirt and water.  We were treated to the sight of large numbers of cave or camel crickets and small bats on the ceiling.

While Terry and Becky panned out their "mine scrapings", I dug dirt from the back of the mine and passed it through a sifter into a bucket.  This allowed me to get just the pannable dirt and leave a lot of the rocks.  I used water in the bucket to help separate the rock and dirt.  Fortunately, my 99 cent sifter fit perfectly into my plastic bucket and worked fairly well.  My only complaint is that there were too few holes in it.  It took a little bit to get a quarter of a bucket full of material since I was tossing out most of the rocks, but it worked great.  After sifting all the material I came out of the mine and set up a tub that I had brought for that purpose.  The very first pan full I picked out a large flake of gold...  A good omen.  Mark told us that it was the largest one he'd seen on a first try, and that he'd been out for 3 days without finding one that size before.  Then he asked me to tell him exactly where in the mine I'd found it!!!

Unfortunately, that was the only large one that I found, although I got quite a bit of fine flour gold.  Garnets were abundant in the pans as well mainly small purple ones.  Mark mentioned that sometimes flakes of gold would be found on the garnets, an unusual location that I had never heard of before.  The large flake I found was very finely crystallized gold and had a gorgeous "gold" color.  This is proof of the quality of the gold from the mine, since impurities can change the color of the gold.  Some of the gold in the mine has more silver content and is lighter gold or even silver in color.

Mark had set up the high banker, and we brought out several buckets to run through it.  He had the perfect source for water in the mine... the water filled mineshaft.  Mark ran the high banker for some time before shutting it down and cleaning up.  Everyone got at least one pan full of the concentrates to check out.  Mark also had a drawing for a brand new gold pan and vial.  Lynn was chosen to pull the number out of the hat, and everyone told her "make sure your daddy doesn't get that pan"... Sure enough she did make sure... She pulled her own number!!!  And a very proud little girl now has her own gold pan to play with.

It was an excellent time, and was much too short.  The rain that had been threatening all day long finally sprinkled about 3:30 in the afternoon, and by that time everyone was tired and ready to call it a day.  Most of us had only gotten to one or two places, and there was an open cut on top of the hill, the field to hunt artifacts, a ledge of greenstone for carvings, the stream itself which had gold bearing gravels, and the site of the stamp mill.  We could spend a week without exhausting all the possibilities.

James Mallonee