The 15-lb Nugget

Week 38: #52 Ancestors – Unusual Source

By Eilene Lyon

I’ve written quite a few posts about unusual sources, because I’m always pursuing juicy leads, like a dogged investigative reporter on the trail of the latest Trump scandal. I’ve listed some of these at the end. Please check them out!

For this week’s prompt, I thought I’d share a little about my crazy research processes and recent findings as an example of how I unearth these gems – such as the story of the 15-pound gold nugget.

Verifying a Memoir

One of the people I’m writing about, Elias D. Pierce, is both part of my gold rush book and of a separate biography that I’m working on. He left a memoir, but because memoirs can be untrustworthy (and always biased) sources, I seek out supporting evidence for his tales.

While he omits key elements in his stories, I have been pleasantly surprised at how much I’ve been able to verify. It helps me trust the source material. Recently I’ve been working on chapters about his time in Shasta/Siskiyou County, California, in 1850 – 1852.

A Lucky Strike

In the summer of 1851, a rich gold discovery occurred on Shasta flats, northwest of Mt. Shasta. Miners, about 40 miles away on the Scott River, abandoned their claims and rushed to the flats. One abandoned claim sat in front of Pierce and Pfouts’ store.

Their partner, James Brown, decided to take over the claim. While digging under a boulder he found a collection of nuggets, one weighing “14-¼” pounds – worth $3,152 at the time.1 Within a week, the claim produced $11,000 worth of gold. That’s a lucky strike!

Scott's Bar - CSL

Scotts Bar on Scott River (California State Library).

I’ve done previous searches for E. D. Pierce in the California Digital Newspaper Collection, but they didn’t find every article about him, so now I use adjunct search terms. (I can’t just look for “Pierce,” because Franklin Pierce comes up a gazillion times, not to mention all the people “pierced” by arrows and bullets.)

Yesterday I was doing a search for “Scott River” in 1851. The following four articles came up among the results:


18510623SDU - Browns big lump

This article verifies that Brown took a $3,140 gold nugget from Scotts bar. I don’t know any “Beach & Forets”, but would guess someone misheard “Pierce and Pfouts.” (Sacramento Daily Union, V. 1 No. 83, June 23, 1851, p. 2, col. 3.)

18510702DAC Pierce buys Browns big nugget

This report gives the weight of the nugget as 13-1/2 pounds and confirms that it belonged to Brown and Pierce. Pierce bought Brown’s share for “$1600 in fine gold,” roughly half the estimated value given in Pierce’s account and in the previous article. (Daily Alta California, V. 2 No. 204, July 2, 1851, p. 2, col. 2.)

Screenshot_2018-09-20 Daily Alta California 23 July 1851 — California Digital Newspaper Collection

Given the rarity of a nugget this size, this must be the same one, having come from Scott River and being reported in the same month as the previous article. Pierce probably sold the nugget to Mr. Watkins. Because it was presented in Sacramento, I think this is the most accurate representation of the actual weight: “fifteen pounds two and one-eighth ounces nearly.” (Daily Alta California, V. 2 No. 224, July 23, 1851, p. 2, col. 6.)

18510721SDU Brown and Good gold nugget 15lb 2oz

This final article confirms the 15-lb 2-oz weight and attributes the find to Brown and another partner, William S. Good. It would be interesting to find out what it actually sold for. (Sacramento Daily Union, V. 1, No. 106, July 21, 1851, p. 2, col. 2)

An Indian Boy Named Ned

“…one evening the chief came around and brought an Indian boy that appeared to be about five years old. The boy seemed to be rather puny. The chief wanted to sell him to me…I asked the boy if he would go with me, he gave me to understand he would, I gave him [the chief] one pairs of blankets for the boy…I called him Ned, he soon learned his name, in a short time was a favorite in camp.”2

This story is a bit shocking, the purchase of an Indian boy, also in the summer of 1851. I wanted to know if it could possibly be true. Pierce only mentions Ned one other time in his memoir:

“I went to scotts valley to D. H. Lowery’s and made arrangements for them to continue to keep, Ned my Indian boy that I had taken to raise. I did not wish to take him with me, as he at that time was one of Mrs. A. A. Lowery’s pupils. As he was so bright and smart I wished to educate him.”3

Anna Amelia Lowry was the first white woman to settle in Siskiyou County with her husband, Rev. D. H. Lowry.4 They are mentioned quite a few times in Wells’ 1881 History of Siskiyou County. The Lowrys were evidently very good friends with Pierce. They even set up side-by-side business establishments in Yreka when the gold find on Shasta flats led to the creation of the new town.5

First, I found the Lowrys in the 1860 U. S. Federal Census. In their household is a 15-year-old Indian servant named Ned “Price.” Ned has personal assets of $125.6 Later, I found the Lowrys in the earlier 1852 California Census. They have a “Mul[atto]” boy, age 8, named Ned, born in California, in their household.7 While not conclusive, the evidence does support Pierce’s story.

1860 Lowry Ned - Siskiyou - A

Excerpt from 1860 U. S. Federal Census for Siskiyou County showing Ned “Price” with D. H. and Ann A. “Lowery.”

Wells mentions that the land then belonging to O. V. Green (in 1881) was previously the Lowry’s dairy farm. The book provides an illustration (below).8 I was able to find Green’s patent for 160 acres in Scott Valley in the BLM General Land Office records, which enabled me to confirm the location as described in the illustration caption.9 So now I know exactly where Ned grew up. I’ve even located it on Google Earth.

Dairy Farm DH Lowry - Wells p 74

The O. V. Green (Lowry) dairy farm in Scott Valley “3 Miles North of Etna, Siskiyou Co. Cal.” From Wells, 1881 (public domain)

Following a New Lead

When I was researching in California archives last year, I collected a huge quantity of material by taking pictures with my phone camera. I still haven’t read through it all, but I have it filed by archive and know generally what is where.


At the California State Library in Sacramento, I copied some articles from the Siskiyou County Historical Society yearbooks. One article has a quote by Hiram G. Ferris, “one of the first gold seekers in Yreka” that came from letters to his family in 1851 and 1852. He described the town’s beginnings and how supplies were brought in by pack mule.10 Because Pierce ran a pack train and opened a store in Yreka in 1851, Ferris’ letters would naturally be of interest.

But there’s another reason I picked up on Ferris. Take a look at the 1852 California Census record I mentioned earlier. The very next person listed after Ned is “H G Ferris”! Clearly Ferris knew the Lowrys, and he was probably very well-acquainted with Pierce, too. Now I really want to take a look at his papers.

1852 Lowry Ned - Siskiyou - A p.37 L16-18 9-4-18.jpg

Excerpt from the 1852 California Census showing the Lowrys, Ned, and H. G. Ferris. Note that Amelia has the occupation of “Dairy Maid.”

When I caught this connection, I immediately directed my browser to the Online Archive of California. This fabulous database allows you to search archives over the entire state. There’s an embedded Google map to search for archives geographically. You can browse or do word searches in individual archives. You can also do a keyword search through the entire database.

Since Ferris is a somewhat uncommon name, I started with that and turned up this result:

Screenshot_2018-09-20 Online Archive of California

The Hiram Gano Ferris collection is even noted as having “some papers as Siskiyou County clerk.” Excellent find!

I previously began a research list for the Bancroft Library, which I plan to visit on my next California trip. I’ve added Hiram’s papers to the list and highlighted them as a priority. Many items on the list are just remotely possible sources, perhaps concealing my next piece of research gold.

Where will you find your next nugget?


For other tales about unusual sources I’ve found, you may want to read these posts:

Don’t Do This…Though Your Descendants Might Wish You Would

Research Miracles

Roadside Genealogy

Finding Family Treasure

Probate Gold Mine

Feature Image: Placer gold nugget from the Alma Mining District, Park County, Colorado (Wikimedia Commons)


  1. Pierce, E. D. 1975. The Pierce Chronicle: Personal Reminiscenses [sic] of E. D. Pierce as transcribed by Lou A. Larrick. Edited by J. Gary Williams and Ronald W. Stark. Idaho Research Foundation, Inc. Moscow, ID. p. 38. 
  2. Ibid. p. 41. 
  3. Ibid. p. 66. 
  4. Ibid. p. 37. 
  5. Ibid. p. 39. 
  6. D. H. Lowery. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009. Census Place: South, Siskiyou, California; Roll: M653_69; Page: 16; Family History Library Film: 803069. 
  7. Ned. California State Census, 1852 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. California State Library; Sacramento, California; 1852 California State Census; Roll #: 5; Repository Collection #: C144:5; Page: 37. 
  8. Wells, Harry Laurenz. 1881. History of Siskiyou County, California: Illustrated with Views of Residences, Business Buildings and Natural Scenery, and Containing Portraits and Biographies of Leading Citizens and Pioneers. D. J. Stewart & Co. Oakland. Biography of Orson Valentine Green, between p. 40 and p. 41. 
  10. Siskiyou County Historical Society. 1976. The Siskiyou Pioneer in Folklore, Fact, and Fiction and Yearbook. Vol. 4, No. 9. p. 2. 

19 thoughts on “The 15-lb Nugget

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  1. I wonder what happened to Ned. I had an ancestor who grew up with Indians–lost hist mother and was apprenticed to a blacksmith, whose wife was so mean to him that he ran away–back east. He eventually married a white woman in Illinois and moved to Iowa–an early settler. The story was in a county history, written while he was still alive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very interesting! Aren’t county history books so fascinating?
      I think I have Ned in the 1870 and 1880 census records, but it’s difficult to be 100% positive. He didn’t keep either Pierce or Lowry as a last name, or he died before 1870. I’d love to know, too.


  2. I couldn’t help thinking about the 27.5 ounce gold nugget that was found near Butte, Montana. We were looking to move to Whitehall (near Butte) many years ago and everyone acted like you were bound to stub your toe on a big gold nugget any day. A fellow who was trying to sell us his home claimed that he panned for gold in his driveway and made a fortune. Enough said. Obviously we did not move to Whitehall.

    Liked by 1 person

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