The Western gold rush continues to be a fascinating period in American history. Typically when people hear "gold rush," people are reminded of the famous California expedition that produced massive amounts of gold.
Amid the great rush for gold in the West also arose the demand for coins in the nineteenth century. This became a problem in California, where there was a shortage of circulating coins. Further, the raw gold proved not to be a very practical material for daily economic exchanges. As a result, a number of private mint companies arose to meet the demand for coins. However, most of these businesses only stayed alive for a few years. The common problem for the businesses was the inconsistency of the gold content.
Gold in Oregon was not discovered until 1851, near the town known as Jacksonville. An estimated two-thirds of Oregon's male population left for California's goldfields, leading many local businesses to close. Around 6,000 to 8,000 men returned from California to Oregon with heavy pouches of gold.
In the 1860s, during the heat of the Civil War, a gold rush sprang in Eastern Oregon, with as many as 80,000 pioneers headed to the goldfields in 1862. Raw gold dust had to be used as currency in Oregon because gold had to be shipped to the San Francisco Mint for processing. As a result, a demand grew for a U.S. Mint to be created closer to the goldfields in Oregon. On July 4, 1864, Congress passed a bill that authorized a new branch of the mint at Dalles, Oregon, for minting gold and silver coins.
Construction for the Dalles Mint began in 1869 under the direction of superintendent Harvey A Hogue. However, the project was repeatedly delayed and ultimately abandoned when the Oregon gold rush died down and the Central Pacific Railroad opened. The project died before the building was even completed or the minting equipment could be put to use.
Ultimately, the story of the Dalles Mint provides an interesting history of the Western gold rush as well as what could have been for a new mint branch in a pioneering society.