A photograph of a group of white and Chinese miners at a sluice box in Auburn Ravine, 1852.
Photographer Joseph Blaney Starkweather captured this scene in Auburn Ravine, a mining settlement founded in 1848. Starkweather was originally from the East Coast, but by the 1860s, he had established a photography studio in San Francisco.
The Gold Rush attracted more than 25,000 Chinese immigrants to California in search of the rumored “gold mountain” promoted in Chinese cities and towns. Instead of a gold mountain, Chinese immigrants encountered the difficult and uncertain work of mining and rampant discrimination. Many were forced to work claims already abandoned by other prospectors or perform hard labor as “coolies,” or unskilled workers, to support the mining industry, such as constructing equipment like sluice boxes or clearing roads between mining camps.
The sluice box, an example of which is pictured here, was a popular tool for gold prospecting. It works by pouring water, or diverting water from a river or stream, through the long box, which then separates gold nuggets from other dirt and rocks by trapping them in the bottom of the box.