Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick

Gold in Iowa

Ralph Arnold once told me that Van Buren County contains one of only three locations in the State of Iowa where it is geologically possible to find gold. However, there have been no outcroppings of gold-rich rocks in Iowa, although gold is scattered in tiny amounts in some of the glacial materials that cover the state. Gold is concentrated in sands and gravels in some of Iowa’s rivers, where it can be recovered by panning.

In 1853 an Eldora inn keeper named John Ellsworth reported a discovery of gold on his farm along the Iowa River in Hardin County. As news of the discovery leaked out, Iowa experienced its own gold rush. As many as 3,000 would-be miners descended on the Eldora area in search of instant wealth; all left disappointed. Between 500 and 1,500 people lived in tents, and farmers were so busily engaged in gold panning that they forgot about farming. Not much was raised in Hardin County that year.

In his 1904 report on the Geology of Fayette County, T.E. Savage stated that $1.00 to $1.50 worth of gold could be panned from Otter Creek in a day by a 'patient washer.' Today with the value of gold at about $300 per ounce, that gold would be worth about $25.

Ralph told me that he owned a gold pan and had found traces of the mineral in Chequest Creek. Before a stampede descends on Pittsburg, he was careful not to divulge the location where he found gold. He said that there had been several prospectors in Van Buren County that made a meager but steady living panning for gold.

Along Cedar Creek near Stockport, one pioneer family was successful at prospecting. Another prospector near Farmington made a living panning Indian Creek. Again, the exact locations of these mineral finds remain a mystery.

Gold in small amounts is known to have been found along the Iowa River near Steamboat Rock and Eldora in Hardin County; Otter Creek, West Union; Brush Creek and Volga River in Fayette and Clayton Counties; along the Des Moines River near Pella, Douds, and Farmington; Vasser Creek in northeast Davis County; and the Little Sioux River near Correctionville and Cherokee.

Iowa’s only known commercial gold mining venture took place along the Big Sioux River at Klondike in Lyon County during the early 1900s. The Internet is full of places in Iowa that sell pans, gold-mining equipment, and information on how to successfully prospect for gold. Ask google search engine for "panning gold in Iowa."

Personally, I'm not going to invest in such materials, as I figure I have about as much of a chance finding gold in some creek bed as I do winning a gold medal in the next Olympics!

(Sources: Iowa Geological Survey, Raymond R. Anderson, January, 1999; Mineral Resource Facts, Robert M. Mckay, Iowa Dept. Of Natural Resources Geological Survey.)

- -
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick