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Prospector to Give Talk on Gold Fever

The discovery of gold in Placerita Canyon in Newhall--six years before the much-publicized discovery to the north at Sutter’s Mill--and the ensuing gold fever will be discussed Monday by prospector Donald A. Woelke at the Valley College Historical Museum Assn. meeting.

Dressed in the traditional prospector garb of overalls, boots and goggles, Woelke will recount the tale of Francisco Lopez. While napping under a Placerita Canyon oak tree in 1842, Lopez reportedly dreamed that he was floating in a pool of liquid gold. When he awoke and dug into the ground, he found the genuine article. The lode yielded more than 1,000 pounds of gold before running dry in 1847.

For Woelke, 72, the gold bug is also personal. The child of homesteaders who settled in Brawley in the eastern portion of Imperial County, he recalls prospecting--gold pan and pick in hand--with his twin brother in the areas north and east of home.

But they never ventured far enough, Woelke recounted, as one of the largest modern California mines, the Mesquite Mine, is about six miles north of where they prospected.

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Woelke’s talk “is going to be a very good time,” predicted Austin Conover, who runs the Valley College Historical Museum.

“He believes that there’s a lot of gold still left in these hills around here.”

The talk, which is free to the public, will begin at 3 p.m. in the Valley College cafeteria conference room, 5800 Fulton Ave. in Van Nuys.


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