The Cottonwood River flows northwestward to join the Fraser River about 12 miles north of Quesnel. The Cottonwood River has incised a valley to a depth of 300 to 353 feet in the Fraser Plateau. Beading north, the river first meanders in a wide valley, then enters a narrow valley of steep-rocked canyons, then cuts through a mass of glacial debris hundreds of feet in thickness and finally, passes through a second short rock canyon, terminating at the bridge on the Prince George-Quesnel Highway.
Extensive old workings are situated on the right bank of the river upstream from Deep Creek, at the head of 10- Mile Canyon, and at the lower end of this canyon.
A number of individual operators have worked the Cottonwood River over the years. Well over 90% of the gold produced to 1945, was recovered during the period 1874-1895. These deposits were largely worked by hand.
In 1936, one company, Cinema Gold Placers Ltd., and a number of individuals, were actively engaged in mining the bench deposits . By the late 1940’s, a number of companies, including the Umity Valley Gold Mines Limited and Swift River Dredging Co. Ltd. had acquired a large number of placer leases. Dredges were used in most of the operations and the volume of gravels worked increased tremendously.
During the following years most of the placer activity on the Cottonwood River reverted to small scale private workings. In 1972, Brent Explorations Ltd. performed some $30,000 worth of work in testing a section of the river 4 miles east.
The formations cut by the river consist of alternating bands of volcanic and sedimentary rocks. The bands are usually several hundred feet in width. The sediments are chiefly thin- bedded argillites. They are considerably folded, strike mainly northwesterly with a southwesterly dip. The volcanics are andesitic and contacts are very poorly defined.
These rocks are intruded at a number of places by batholitic tongues and by stocks of considerable size. Although the intruded rocks show considerable pyritization at different points, there is little evidence of the existence of quartz veins in the formation exposed by the river. However the presence of a large amount of quartz pebbles in the pre-Glacial gravels suggest that quartz veins occurred in the eroded formations.
The gold occurred mostly in bench-type deposits (remnants of earlier stream beds) and originated either from glacial materials or from the reworking of glacial or pre-glacial channel deposits.
There are several placer gold deposits along the Cottonwood River. The deposits are located in benches ranging in height from about a metre to several metres above the present course of the river. The ultimate source of the gold may have been the auriferous veins of the Barkerville terrane from which the Cottonwood River drains.
There are still many good opportunities for placer mining on this river today. The British Columbia Department of Mines Bulletin No. 28 of 1950 states that recorded gold production from the Cottonwood River to 1945 was about 10,000 ounces.