Have you dreamed, of setting out into the mountains, like the Old-Timers-with a Grubstake, Packmule, Pick, and Shovel? Maybe, there’s Gold in Those Hills! Even if, there is no Gold in the hills, Gold Mining is something uniquely absorbing, to Humankind, throughout History. From time to time, I will be posting more, memories of Gold Mining in Montana. Most of these recollections, come from the Gold Boom days of the 1980s, when Gold hit $1000 an Ounce, for the first time. The hills, in those days, were crawling with the curious, famous, notorious, and infamous, with ONE thing on their minds – GOLD. During that time, Paper was hung, and re-hung, on Placer Claims, wherever anybody could figure out, who the Federal Administrator for the lands, actually was. My remembrances, stem from hours of laughter, singing and dancing, with Old Timers-Denny (two guns) O’Laughlin, Ken and Mary Craft, Ray Austin, John D’Orazi, Gravel Gertie, Frank Hainline, Jr., Wayne Klutis, and all the folks, who frequented Yreka, Montana, the Garnet Range, and especially Elk Creek. They are from my Anthology, “The Elk Creek Chronicles”-A Montana Mining Tale.”
The old miners, that first taught me where, when and how, to find the veins of Gold, are almost all, gone. They had a good time of it, while they could! Gold Mining is unique to almost any other, of humans’ quest for wealth! Mining for Gold, lifts the spirit, with the hope and wish, of ascending to, the Brass-Ring-Line, after all. Like all Quests, wild-eyed monkeys show up, somehow convinced that the Gold you just dug up, at great cost, belongs to them! Hence, Denny O’Laughlin, actually packed MORE than two guns. My personal armaments, include a .44 cal. Rueger Hog-leg, a visual reminder that it’s not good to hang around, especially near the sluicebox. Additional weaponry is always placed within reach, but out of sight.
Unfortunately, the adrenalin rush, of finding your sluice glowing, with a load of gold, loses its power to keep on, season after season. Breaking your back and budget, in pursuit of the Golden Idol, becomes harder to contemplate, without erasable brain synapses. Consistently, in my experience, men are far more likely, to become inured to the down-side, of this pursuit, than are women. After the first intoxicating, glow, reality slams the amateur adventurer, to the dirt! Then, you slog through 8 feet or more, of water, and each time a bucket of gold comes out, you lose a full ounce. Working in water, is the bane of Gold Miners-Gold will always follow water to the lowest surface possible. When disturbed, in virgin ground, the heaviest pieces drop to China-while being raised out of the water. Dredges can be helpful here. However the water is freezing and it is not the safest thing you can think of doing.
My old Friend, Denny, often watched the “clean-up” on those Glory days. Eventually, he would declare emphatically, “Yup! Gold will quit ya’, like a woman.” From our first meeting, I was curious about Denny’s perspective of women. Innocently curious, I asked his partner, Frank Hainline, Jr., if Denny had ever been married. “Don’t YOU KNOW–Denny is a WOE-MAN hater???!!!” Whirling his head at the question-Old Frank looked at me like I must have just fell off the nearest Turnip Truck. Later I was the only person, of the female gender, allowed to run Denny’s Old Drag-Line.
Denny didn’t get upset often. A man of few words, the feral look in his eyes, spoke to anyone, with the brains of a rock. Something that always, got Denny riled, were thieves. Rumors persisted, that he had a hidden stash of Gold, somewhere on the Kennedy-Creek Placer. There he lived, in an old 1920s mining cabin, following his return from WWII. Naturally, this brought out young punks, thinking they would just relieve him, of his Stash. Denny HATED being robbed! After each break-in, he dutifully called the Sheriff’s office, and they would flounder up to his cabin, on Elk Creek-below Garnet, Montana, on nearly impassable roads. Finally, an exasperated Deputy said “Denny, we can’t come up here all the time-you have a back-hoe, take care of it yourself!” Wrong! Not something the old 82nd Airborne Para-Trooper, would misunderstand. He had already, survived handily, behind the Allied Lines in WWII France, undetected, for two months. Denny was one of a small percentage of those Troops cut-off with him, who returned to his Unit unscathed. I don’t really know what happened following Denny’s conversation with those Sheriff’s Deputies. The Deputies seldom went back up to Elk Creek after that. They came up a couple of times, to look for an occasional missing person-thought to have been on the Creek, at some time. They came to arrest Breed, for raising a ruckus with the tourists. Once, Denny shot Ralph, for getting Gertie drunk-he turned himself in, that time.
Denny’s unique interpretation, of the writings of Nostradamus, was augmented by the sparse radio broadcasts, he was able to pick up evenings, after firing up the generator. This resulted in a view of the world, a little off kilter. One of my very dear friends, was in her wrong mind, on one of our visits to Denny’s place, and GAVE him a book of Nostradamus’ predictions! Not realizing the monster, she was creating, she placed into Denny’s hands, the key for crafting his World View-developed after digestion and adjustment, from his frame of reference. I have my opinion, of the outcome of this philosophical epiphany, however, it has been a few years, since Denny passed away, still cursing the tardiness, of Noster-Damn-Us’ Prophecies! He planned to stand on the hood of “Leaping Lena“, his ’39 Ford Coupe, and watch the show!
Montana’s Boom and Bust Economy, has long attracted, those who dream of the “big score”, that will solve their Economic Equation. However, before going off to the Gold Fields, of Montana, you should prepare. Preparation, will determine your success.
If you haven’t staked a Placer Mining Claim, you will need to do this, first. Afterwards, the Bureaucratic rules, must be followed to a T. If not, fines, will slash your profit margins. Do not plan to hire everybody you know, because they need jobs. Non-family, mining operations, are a major target of Bureaucratic Hit Agencies, like MSHAW, Worker’s Compensation Police, DEQ, BLM, and probably, the main offender, the IRS. Your results will be more satisfactory, if you have a mining crew in the family.
Mining Equipment: You will need-Shovels, Pickaxes, Hoes, Rakes, Rock Forks, and any other useful-looking hand tools, you spot. Of course, there are Gold Pans, Gold Sluices, Gold Washing Plants, Gold Shakers, Rockers, Strainers, Peculiar Gold Separating Contraptions, and your Metal Detectors. Three large investments in equipment will be necessary. Excavation requires a Track Hoe, Excavator, Drag Line, Bulldozer, Backhoe, or plain old shovel. Washing the gold-bearing material, requires; a sluice box, wash plant, generators, water pumps, and/or the above-mentioned-specific devices, for refining the material. In many cases, excavation equipment will represent significant investment. How much you spend for equipment depends on your working area, and the depth of the pay dirt. Another critical investment in mining equipment, will provide a means of transporting material to the site, where it is processed. If working in plenty of room, without issues, such as, too much water, not enough water, for running the processing, you might find a good deal on a front-end loader, or Backhoe. A dump truck, for longer transport, may be necessary to carry material located apart from Wash Plant or Sluice. Whatever means you use, to extract, transport and refine your materials, you should always be mindful of your, specific needs. Don’t be locked-in, to the designs of other operations. How you process the material into its product, is a series of decisions, you will need to base, on the variables you meet, at your specific claim site. Independent Miners have both the luxury and the drudgery, of designing and implementing their own Mining Plan.
Be advised: all Mining Plans, are submitted for approval, to the Federal Agency, administering the specific lands, and the DEQ. It is a good idea to have this done, well in advance, of the ideal mining season. Issues, such as, impact on Wetlands (swamps), recovery system evaluation, to prevent pollution of streams and water courses; Reclamation Bonds; Plans and Proof of Reclamation Completion, restoration of native flora; arrayed with obscurely defined, regulatory requirements-lurk, in Bureaucratic nooks and crannies-waiting to pounce, on your best, efforts of Compliance. In most cases, good, mutually satisfying, relationships, with all minions, delegated to interpret and administer, these mountains of obstruction, are vital. That is, unless, you are one of those people, who enjoy buying hub caps, for your Attorney’s Cadillac. Then, you can sue until the cows come home, usually getting nowhere, but deeper. My advice? Just “get along” with your “Surly Steward“, who thinks this is their personal property, anyway.
I have provided a small glimpse , of the People and Process of Independent Gold Mining, as I’ve experienced, in Montana. You can’t start making a profit, or having fun times, until Phase One, as outlined above, is complete. In the future, I will talk about Characters, Mining Etiquette, and somewhat interesting/useful/useless/humorous, subjects, related to Gold Mining in Montana. The adventures, travails, triumphs, and perils, met, while pursuing Wild Visions of Wealth, are beyond description, in this single reading. The Spring, brings another Mining Season for Montana’s Independent Miners. Perhaps, there will follow photos and descriptions of great “Moments of Technological Triumph”, and “Individual Victory”, over the “Conspiracy of Nature” designed to thwart mans’ puny schemes to extract wealth from the Earth’s precious Trove. For Sure, there will be pictures and descriptions, of challenges, ridiculous quandaries, and hilarious encounters with Bureaucratic Power-Wielders. Remember, you can’t EVER tell what you’ll find in those hills, when Gold Mining, in Montana.
- Mark Dampier: Mining stocks pale next to gold’s lustre (independent.co.uk)
- Do you need a license to mine for gold (wiki.answers.com)
- There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills (davejohnlucas.wordpress.com)
- Mining: The wacky world of gold (economist.com)
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