LEAVES FROM THE PAST: FORT MILLER
There were scoundrels abounding in this area in the 1850's and all the men were determined to get rich. There were some who would not hesitate to kill to get the gold. A few men tried everything but murder, but were never successful at anything they tried to do. Such a man was Captain Thomas Jordan.
Captain Jordan was variously referred to as a commanding officer or quartermaster of the fort. He was there from 1853 to an undisclosed date. Today, he would have been described as a "con man", working hard to make a "fast buck" as long as he was not punished for it!
The greenhorn miners soon discovered that the richest pockets of gold were to be found in the crevices of the rocks that lined the river bed. The only time they could work these crevices was when the river was low in the dry season. Captain Jordan developed a scheme to obtain this gold.
The men at the fort who were no longer constantly patrolling the seemingly peaceful Indian rancherias needed to be kept busy. There were miners who had not been too successful and were idle. There were Indians in the nearby villages who had to be kept out of trouble. He brought all these men under his command and, carrying out his plan, he put them to work digging a ditch. Starting a quarter of a mile above the fort and next to the river, they dug a ditch six feet deep and twenty feet wide, and was over a mile long when completed, ending about a quarter of a mile below Millerton. Before digging out the head of the ditch at the upstream and above the fort, he constructed a brush and earth dam. The dam was slowly opened and the San Joaquin River began to alter its course and the old bed of the river was exposed in the remaining shallow water. Eagerly, the men began to search for the gold that had to be there for their promised share. Above the ditch and below it the gold was plentiful, but there was nothing in the riverbed they had uncovered!
Winter's high water again returned the course of the river back to its original bed. The heavy rains of 1862 washed the piles of earth back into the ditch and finally the only evidence of Jordan's ditch was at the Point of Rocks which had been blasted out and the lower end below Millerton.
South of Fort Miller stands Table Mountain. The lava top had covered part of the higher ancient bed of the river. Captain Jordan believed that gold was to be found in the old river bed, washed down from the higher area in ages past.
About a year had passed since his great fiasco and the restless, moving population of the region had changed and fewer were the biting remarks made to Captain Jordan to his face and behind his back. He was still determined to find the great source of gold that would make him wealthy. He had spent all his money and had recouped very little of his personal losses. He could afford to hire only a few men to help him carry out his new plan. He selected a spot, much above high water line and running parallel to the San Joaquin River. Near the source of Winchell Creek, he began digging and drifted a tunnel in a southward line. No one has determined why he began so far above the evident water line, though he may have planned to sink shafts downward at intervals along the tunnel to the river bed. Winter came and the rains began. Roads were washed away, the gullies were flooded with brown water and Jordan's tunnel collapsed. No one was in it, but the wheelbarrows, shovels and picks are still buried there. There is no record that he ever tried to mine again, alone or with anyone else.
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