Thieves broke a glass case, taking nuggets that had been collected over decades. Police, Siskiyou County sheriff's deputies and the California Department of Justice are investigating.
Thieves in Yreka, Calif., made off with $3 million in gold nuggets Wednesday after breaking into the Siskiyou County Courthouse and smashing a glass case that contained a display on the area's mining history, officials said.
The collection in the town near the Oregon border was about the only remnant of the Northern California county's little-known Gold Rush days.
Founded after gold was discovered there in 1851, Siskiyou County came to be known as "the second Mother Lode," said local historian Claudia East. "But a lot of times, we're just kind of left out."
Sheriff's officials said surveillance video indicated that two men broke into the case, which was prominently displayed in the courthouse lobby, about 1 a.m. Officials said the thieves probably entered the building through a back window and rifled through a few offices before smashing the thick display glass.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Allison Giannini said an alarm that was on the case did not sound.
Yreka police, along with the California Department of Justice, are assisting sheriff's officials in the investigation.
"These thieves not only stole valuable gold that belongs to the people of Siskiyou County, but these individuals violated the security and sanctity of our courthouse and stole a piece of our Siskiyou County history," Sheriff Jon Lopey said in a statement.
The county owns the gold, which was donated over the decades by various miners.
According to officials, the thieves ignored mining pans and historical photos, along with some smaller pieces of gold. Gone were the bigger chunks, including an unusual piece shaped like a woman's shoe.
"There really is a sense of betrayal," Giannini said. "When somebody steals your car, you feel violated personally. But this violated everybody in the county. These are rather sacred items to us."
East, who writes a blog about Yreka history and is board vice president of the Siskiyou County Historical Society, said the theft is "the talk of the town."
The collection was amassed over time and included samples from mines throughout the county, in various shades from reddish to vivid yellow. It had been displayed at the World's Fair at San Francisco's Treasure Island in 1939.
East's blog features a photo of the collection taken in 1947 by local shutterbug Snappy Goodrich.