JSNH&B home • Winter 2008 • vol. 1 no. 1

Geologists of California Series: Charles Scott Haley

by David Lawler, Consulting Geologist, Berkeley, California

From California Geology, (Sacramento: California Division of Mines and Geology, July 1988, pp. 157 – 159).


Charles Scott Haley, who is perhaps best known as the author of Gold placers of California (California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 92, 1923), possessed a brilliant mind and keen observational powers which contributed to his establishment as an expert in the field of placer gold deposits both in California and abroad.

Family history

Haley was a descendent of Scottish and English immigrants who came to California in the 1850s. His grandfather, Ebenezer Haley, and his father, Caleb Scott Haley, were sea captains. After hearing reports of the gold strikes, the family decided to settle in California. Shortly after arriving in California, they tried their luck mining in the Sierra Nevada at the newly founded gold mine camp of Goodyear Bar near Downieville. Although the mining venture was unusually successful, Haley's grandfather decided the bawdy gold mine camp was not a good environment in which to raise a family. Using profits derived from the mines, he moved his family to a large farm tract in the Irvington district of Alameda County.


quoteyoung Charles was considered a prodigy … unquote

Charles Scott Haley was born in Alameda County in 1884. Coincidentally, during that same year the United States Circuit Court issued the Sawyer decision, which banned widespread hydraulic mining in California.

As a youngster and teenager young Charles was considered a prodigy; he rapidly mastered his assignments in school and was a voracious reader. His mother recognized his potential and wanted her son to become a professor of Greek and Roman classical literature at the University of California, Berkeley. However, early in his life Charles had developed a fascination with mining, possibly from learning of his grandfather's and father's exploits in the gold camps or from reading about rich gold strikes in such papers as the Mining and Scientific Press. This fascination ultimately led to his decision to choose a career in mining instead of classical literature, although he was well versed in the classics. By 1907 at the age of 23 he had completed a Bachelor degree at the College of Mining, University of California, Berkeley. This was the most advanced degree available at that time in the College.

Early career

During the next five years (1907-1912), Haley gained professional experience in mining and milling operations by undertaking about 30 different jobs as a miner and millman, including the position of assistant superintendent at the Big Flat hydraulic mine in Trinity County. Much of his early mining experience was derived from knowledgeable Cornish miners working in the lode mines of the Grass Valley district. His acute field experience and practical working knowledge of placer deposits assisted him in rapidly gaining expertise in the diversified field of placer gold recovery. Several major British companies sent him to Columbia and Peru in South America and Honduras in Central America to evaluate placer deposits. Other major American companies retained him to examine placers in California, Oregon, and Alaska.

Shortly after opening a consulting office in San Francisco in 1917, he joined the U.S. Army and served with the engineering corps in France during World War I. He attained the rank of major in the corps. Even during the war Haley continued to have an interest in mining- related matters. Much of his free time during active duty was spent on formulating proposed plans to dam several California rivers to retain hydraulic mining debris.

Even though he was partially handicapped by exposure to mustard gas during World War I, after the war he returned to South America for two years to conduct geologic evaluations for both gold and oil properties on behalf of Sinclair Oil Company. The fieldwork at high elevations in the Andes agreed with him, and he was fortuitously cured of the respiratory problems caused by exposure to mustard gas.

Post-war years

quoteHaley was considered a placer deposit expert par excellence … unquote

Soon after returning to the United States in 1921 from conducting a comprehensive evaluation of numerous placer de- posits in British Columbia, Haley was retained by the California State Mining Bureau to write a detailed report on the gold placers of California. Haley was considered a placer deposit expert par excellence by his peers and was wisely chosen for this task. His years of field experience evaluating placer deposits in North America and South America provided him with a broad understanding of genetic and depositional processes under a variety of environmental conditions.

His exceptional memory helped him to systematically compile the occurrences of different types of placer deposits in California. In addition, such noted contemporaries as Henry Bradley, Mark Alling, Clarence Logan, E. C. Uren, and James Hill provided him with accumulated data for the project.

During the next two years (1922-1923) he was engaged in the preparation of Bulletin 92, Gold placers of California, which encompassed all economic occurrences of alluvial gold deposits known in the entire state. This was the first comprehensive study of Tertiary fluvial (river) placers, dredge fields, and dry placers on a statewide basis. The work, particularly that done on Tertiary placers in the northern Sierra Nevada and in the Klamath Mountains, still serves as a standard reference today.

Haley directed part of his investigation to formulating a feasibility plan so large scale development of placer deposits could resume under the provisions of the Caminetti Act of 1893. Haley thoroughly understood both sides of the sensitive issue. On the one hand, he believed that hydraulic mining interests had violated the rights of farmers in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys by allowing an estimated 600 million cubic yards of mining debris to destroy valuable farmlands and alter formerly navigable rivers -- thus, precipitating the closure of the hydraulic mines by the famous Sawyer decision of 1884. On the other hand, he calculated that nearly four billion cubic yards of minable placer reserves were available for economic exploitation if hydraulic or dredge mining was restored under the proper conditions. Therefore, he outlined a comprehensive plan of debris control in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys that postulated future benefits for farmers and miners alike. Many of his debris control recommendations were subsequently adopted by state and federal agencies (although not entirely implemented for the same reasons).

Later career

During the 1920s Haley's consulting business continued to boom with various types of mine evaluations and development projects, culminating in his position as chief engineer of a major sulfur operation located in Nevada. After he worked there nearly two years getting the mine into production, the stock market collapsed, causing funds from the mine's Wall Street financiers to rapidly dwindle. In vain, Haley spent considerable amounts of his own funds in an attempt to put the mine into production.

During the 1930s Haley continued a busy career as consulting engineer and consulting geologist on both placer and lode gold properties located throughout the western United States. He devoted much time to the Bunker Hill mine project, a drift placer mine located in the Sierra Nevada near Johnsville in Plumas County. Being an outdoor enthusiast, he would often snowshoe into the remote mine area in the dead of winter to the dismay of the local United States Forest Service officials, who knew the danger posed by winter storms in this region.

In 1940 Haley returned to Honduras to work on several large placer projects for a major British company, even though his Honduran mine development plans were severely curtailed by the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939. He regarded the curtailment of these proposed mine projects as one of the major disappointments of his career because he was not able to fulfill his objective of involving major mining interests in this production program.


quotehe devoted time to writing humorous mine accounts … unquote

Haley became semi-retired from an active consulting career in the mid-1940s. Between short-term consulting jobs, he devoted time to writing humorous mine accounts for a biweekly column in a Grass Valley, California newspaper. He wrote an account (never published), which chronicled many of his life experiences in a humorous light. In addition to keeping current on geological and engineering matters, he retained an active interest in academic pursuits. Throughout his career he was still considered an expert in classical literature and could recite the Iliad in Greek or Latin at will.

In 1958 after routine surgery, he was given a transfusion of mismatched blood; and he died. This fatal mistake ended the long and successful career of one of California's most eminent placer mine experts.

Haley's Philosophy

As a scholar and intellectual, Haley believed that the ability to critically analyze a geologic problem was paramount to success in applying earth science principles to practical mining problems, such as predicting the location of previously undiscovered buried placer channels and lode deposits. Speaking as someone who truly loved his work, Haley felt no one should be compelled to work at a profession - that a person should love his work so much that he could hardly wait for the next workday to begin.