There was a gold rush, and in its wake the birth of a lucrative agricultural venture: wheat farming. When a gold rush hits again years later, this time with the advantage of new technologies and mass-mining techniques, the wheat farmers see their lands flooded, their crops ruined.
Colonel Ferris (Claude Rains) is a farmer who has made his wealth on northern California wheat. He’s very much opposed to these new hydraulic mining ventures. They threaten to destroy everything he’s built.
The colonel’s son, Lance (Tim Holt), is not quite so resistant to the new wave of miners arriving in town. Much to his father’s dismay, Lance strikes up a friendship with Jared Whitney (George Brent), a mining engineer who has just arrived in California from the east.
When Whitney sets his romantic sights on Lance’s sister Serena (Olivia de Havilland), and the colonel’s brother (John Litel) enters the mining business, tensions within the Ferris family grow even stronger.
Micheal Curtiz directs 1938’s Gold Is Where You Find It.
Hollywood is not known for its accurate portrayals of history, but still, I love to watch historical films. Especially delightful are those historical films which open my eyes to a part of history I’ve never studied thoroughly.
Gold Is Where You Find It is one of these films, a story of mining innovations and political disputes in northern California in the 1870s. I’ve done a bit of reading about mining, but mostly the copper mining industry in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula rather than the gold mines of the West.
Since watching the film, I’ve done a bit more reading on this hydraulic gold mining boom and it seems that the portrayal in Gold Is Where You Find It is actually pretty accurate. There were, in fact, many heated disputes between farmers and miners, eventually reaching the courts (which ruled in favor of the farmers in the 1880s, but couldn’t reverse the damage done by years of flooding and mine waste). The effects of this pollution are still being felt today, according to the US Geological Survey.
Fascinating history aside, Gold Is Where You Find It has a lot to offer. Shot in beautiful technicolor, the film features plenty of eye-catching costumes and outdoor scenery. Though the story’s turns are at times predictable, a nice balance is struck between the sweet Serena/Jared romance and the much more serious miners-vs.-farmers drama.
The cast is also fantastic, which goes without saying when you see names like “Claude Rains” and “Olivia de Havilland” adorning the poster. Rains in particular does a great job of representing not only one fictional farmer in “Colonel Ferris,” but the plight of all of the farmers. A level-headed and just man, he’s angry at the destruction that the miners have brought to his community, but wants to fight back the right way, avoiding violence if at all possible.
Gold Is Where You Find It is an interesting film, not an epic historical drama, but a fascinating near-forgotten story of the mines that nearly wiped out northern California. Definitely worth a watch if you’re interested in the more obscure corners of history!