The California gold rush in the Sierra Nevada and the silver mining in Nevada’s Comstock load fueled the industries that required mercury to extract gold and silver from ore. Consequently, mercury mining along the Northern California’s Coast Ranges began production as early as the mid-1860’s. Boom-and-bust fluctuations characterized mercury mining.
The Oat Hill Mine was one of several prominent mercury (quicksilver) mines in the Mayacamas Mining District. The Oat Hill Mine was one of the largest producers of mercury in the North Coast Ranges. The mine employed roughly 200 Chinese workers to help load and clean the mercury furnaces.
Mine workers were often exposed to unsafe working conditions including the exposure of mercury vapor which resulted in neurological damage including uncontrollable shaking and salivation and working in unsafe mining tunnels. Chinese wages were about half of those compared to white workers, and yet they were assigned the most dangerous work. Chinese workers suffered most from mercury poisoning, and dozens of Chinese workers were buried alive in a tunnel collapse at the Socrates Mine.
The Oat Hill Mine Road was an important thoroughfare to the Oat Hill Mine, and wagon carts were used to transport supplies and refined mercury to waiting rail-cars in Calistoga. Visitors can still see wagon ruts etched into the bedrock. Chinese labors purportedly constructed the Oat Hill Mine Road.
Submitted by: Chris Lloyd