Gold: Its Occurrence in Illinois

Gold is not known to occur in minable deposits anywhere in Illinois, so prospecting essentially refers to recreational panning. Gold has never been mined in Illinois, not even as a by-product of other types of mining such as fluorite, zinc-lead, or sand and gravel.

Information about panning for gold is available at sites such as Mining Links.

Two older, noncommercial reports of gold found in bedrock in Illinois may be credible:

  1. A small amount of gold was reported in a couple of samples of geode-like quartz from a hand-dug shaft in dolomite in Stephenson County (Hersey, 1899), southeast of the Upper Mississippi Valley Zinc-Lead District;
  2. A newspaper story (Peoria-Star Journal, Aug. 6, 1975) reported that, around 1900, small amounts of gold were recovered from a shaft in Bald Knob, a large hill in Union County. There is no evidence to back up the claim, but some of the limestone and chert bedrock in that region may have been silicified by low temperature hydrothermal waters, which might have deposited a little gold. However, tripoli and ganister have been mined in the areas of most intense alteration, and no gold or sulifide mineralization has been found.

All of the other reported occurrences of gold in Illinois are from unconsolidated surficial deposits including boulders containing gold, small amounts of gold found by panning heavy minerals from sand and gravel deposits, or in material transported south from areas of gold-bearing bedrock in Canada and deposited in Illinois during the Pleistocene (ice-age) by the action of continential glaciers and later reworked by streams and winds.

An unpublished report by J.E. Lamar (1968) of the Illinois State Geological Survey describes occurrences known at that time. For example, on page 20, item 6 records a reported gold find in Jackson County about 1925. Boulders collected from a field near Carbondale were said to have assayed $25 per ton. No additional gold bearing boulders were found.

I have panned a few minute flakes of gold, with considerable time and effort, from certain samples of glacial deposits, including:
      1. the Sangamon River Valley in Macon County
      2. the Mississippi River Valley and a small tributary in Henderson County
      3. the Illinois River Valley in Fulton County
      4. the Spoon River Valley in Fulton County
      5. an outwash plain in McHenry County.

Wherever you consider panning for gold, you must respect others property rights and legal restrictions. In Illinois, you cannot file for "mineral claims" on public land. Most land is privately owned, and permission for nonmechanized digging, panning, collecting, etc. must always be obtained from landowners. A mechanized activity may require a mining permit or more, especially if surface water is involved.

According to the Land Management personnel of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Conservation Division, panning is forbidden by law on State land, such as parks. The only open federal land in Illinois is the Shawnee National Forest, where very small-scale panning by individuals with no more than a trowel and pan is allowed as long as it does not cause problems.

The ISGS is a research and service agency, not a regulatory one so you will need to contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Office of Mines and Minerals for information about permits for mining or dredging:
      One Natural Resources Way
      Springfield, IL 62702-1271

Prospecting permits for forest land may be applied for from:
      Forest Supervisor's Office
      Shawnee National Forest
      901 S. Commerical St.
      Harrisburg, IL 62946

Other references concerning the occurrence of gold in Illinois include these:
      • Bradbury, J.C., N.C. Hester, and R.R. Ruch. 1970. Analyses of some Illinois rocks for gold; Illinois State Geological Survey Industrial Minerals
        Notes 44, 14 p. - (Note: Gold was not positively detected.)
      • Gunn, C.B. 1968. A descriptive catalog of the drift diamonds of the Great Lakes region, North America; Contribution of the Department of
        Geology, University of Western Ontairo, London, Canada No. 163. Reprinted in Gems and Gemology magazine, summer and fall issues, 1968,
        pp. 297-303, 333-334.
      • Hershey, O.H. 1899. The gold-bearing formation of Stephenson County, Illinois; The American Geologist, v. 24, p. 240-244.
      • Klasner, J.S., T.M. Kehn, and R.M. Thompson. 1983. Mineral resource potential of the Burden Falls road less area, Pope County, Illinois;
        USGS, Miscellaneous Field Studies, Map FG-1565-6, Pamplet. - A trace of gold was reported in the spectrographic analyses of two panned
        stream-sediment samples.
      • Lamar, J.E. 1968. Gold and diamond possibilities in Illinois: Illinois State Geological Survey, Manuscript 128, 21 pp.

In summary, it is possible to pan trace amounts of gold in certain favorable locations in Illinois, especially in glacial outwash deposits and in deposits of streams that are incised into glacial drift. However, the only chance of gold being produced economically in Illinois is probably as part of a byproduct heavy-mineral concentrate recovered during the excavation and processing of sand and gravel for construction aggregate products, and only then if ideal economic and geologic conditions exist.

Information about panning for gold is available at sites such as Mining Links.

See also: Gold Possibilities in Illinois (from 1968) (pdf)