Gold heist leaves California gold town, Yreka, reeling

Sacramento BeeFebruary 10, 2012 

The last time so much gold was pulled out of this town, the place was known as "the richest square mile on earth," a Gold Rush jewel north of California's Mother Lode.

By the mid-1850s, the town so glittered in gold that miners showered the popular child dancer Lotta Crabtree with buckskin bags filled with nuggets at the Arcade Saloon.

Now Yreka is feeling violated by an audacious heist that has stolen its history and wounded its pride.

Last week, two men with cloth hoods, socks for gloves and a crowbar apparently slithered in through the window of a men's restroom at the Siskiyou County Courthouse and reached a fortified lobby display containing one of California's most revered gold collections.

A security alarm failed to activate around 1 a.m. Feb. 1 as the thieves hacked away at the inch-thick bulletproof glass. They punched a hole big enough to grab as much as $1 million in nuggets, including a treasured, 28-ounce find, discovered in 1913, known as "the shoe," then stuffed the riches into a backpack and escaped hours before the theft was discovered at 7 a.m.

Yreka, population 7,500, is one of a handful of California mining communities that has proudly and steadfastly kept precious trophies of its golden heritage on public display, even as gold prices have topped $1,750 an ounce.

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