In some areas of the US, miners were allowed to pan for gold on any lands that hadn't been formally claimed; however, when demand increased, cities in the US and Australia began to issue "Miner's Rights" (seen above) which granted specific people the right to mine or pan for gold in a specific area for a specific time.  In the more active areas, these also assigned specific plots of land to avoid any disputes among miners.  


One of the biggest areas for gold panning was in the area of Nome, Alaska around 1900.  As stated above, one needed precious few resources to begin panning.  Here we see a prospector loaded up with all of his tools:  a pan, a shovel, and enough provisions to last him a month.  

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What it Was Like to Pan for Gold (10 Photos)