A long time supporter of the right of the miner is Steve Hicks out of White Sulphur, Montana. He works tirelessly for the rights of the miner to be respected by the government. He has had lots of experience in going to court and winning cases against the government especially with new lawyers in appellate court who didn't want to stand up to his knowledge, experience and documentation.
One day I wanted to know more about the Mining Laws of 1872 and their history through the years so I called him up. He gave me a run down of history of how little the law has changed over the years and is still in place mostly for the protection of the prospector. Here are some of the questions I asked him as I wanted to know to prepare to go head to head with these government boogers. See what he says:
Interview with Steve Hicks, a mining consultant out of White Sulphur Springs, MT
What are the laws that influence the laws for the miners of today?
The laws that were put on the books in Washington DC that influence us today were logged into the national register in 1866 and 1872.
Where can I get a copy of these laws so I can prove them when I need to do that with the government agencies?
I am sure you can find a copy of the original on the site of the Public Lands for the People .org website. They have been scanned and are a part of the legal documents that influence decisions today in courts. Not much has changed over the centuries.
What has changed that you know of?
In 1920 there was a court case that located mineral decisions that didn't affect the basic law much that was put in place.
Were there other influences over the basic law later on?
Yes, there was a court decision in 1955 about the surface decisions and in 1976 there were changes with BLM and the recording of claims, but the basic law of statutory rights of the miner's claim of ownership of the minerals below the ground was undisturbed.
How do you get legal help and advice with your legal briefs and projects?
There is a guy who left the Mining and Mineral Advisory Council who went to support the Public Lands for the People that is not a lawyer, but very skilled in research and information regarding the rights of the prospector. He has given me advice and unpublished laws that I have been able to use in court to win cases for the prospector's rights.
Are there other magazines and companies that can help the prospector?
The ICMJ Mining Journal is a very influential magazine out of California that has lobbied many times in Washington DC to get the ear of the government about the rights of the prospector to access the land as we were invited to do by Congress back in the 1800's.
Is there access for legal advice if our prospecting club belongs to any of these magazines?
Yes, if you join the PLP, your club or mining organization can have access to support nationally to help and legal advice to defend yourself and your organization in negotiating with the government or dealing with problems that ensue in trying to work with them.
What would be your advice when dealing with issues with the USFS?
The first thing you must do is notify the USFS in a certified letter that you have a right to have access to your claim, and you expect to have answers in a timely manner in regards to your Plan of Intent and Plan of Operation. If they don't comply within 15 days that they have deemed, the judgement is in the prospectors' favor and reverts back to the former arrangements.
What's your advice presently in dealing with an aberrant USFS?
Keep documents, ask for information under the FOYA or Freedom of Information Act, and send certified letters to them keeping your copies and notification documents. The USFS wins most cases because prospectors get intimidated by a huge governmental agency that is not honest nor operates adequately managing the land.
An innovator and creator of a very successful prospecting manufacturing business called Gold Fox, Kelly Fowler gives a very thorough and informative tour of his shop answering all kinds of questions fielded at him for hours with a visit to his Conrad, Montana digs.
Below is just some of the pieces of conversation we had while touring all the various production places while there. He is very honest, forthright, and helpful to the understanding of how prospecting equipment is made. You couldn't ask for any better person to get your appetite filled for prospecting equipment.
It all started when he said to himself while using a piece of equipment, "I can do better than this." He went home and did it, and five years later he is expanding his business worldwide. We congratulate him!!
Interview with Kelly Fowler of Gold Fox, Conrad, Montana
What were some of the other jobs you had that gave your the experience to create this prospecting business?
Not only was I into the airplane business, I was also a master mechanic, car restoration, and water sports. They all led me to know what I know that no one else can duplicate or have had this background to be able to create such a business. That's why my products are so unique and my product copyrightable.
How did you set yourself up legally to protect your ideas?
When I began my business I put the paperwork together with all the parameters I wanted to protect myself legally. My copyright and documents state that if anyone duplicates my ideas, I can collect 45% of their sales.
If you find a duplication of your ideas do you act on it right away?
No, I wait them out for awhile to let them build up their sales level and then it is profitable to take legal action. I have the paperwork in place to get it done.
Have you seen duplication of your products out there on the market?
There is a guy in California who is known for copying other people's ideas. There are ones to watch and check. The industry of prospecting manufacturing is small. The word gets around and we are aware of infringements.
When you buy products to use in your Little Monsters, how do you trust them?
When you buy $10,000 worth of product from this guy, he is not going to want to do you wrong because he wants to continue his level of sales or increase that.
Why don't you have a sign on the outside of your building?
I do most of my business on line and I like to keep a low profile.
What is your production level?
We make 5 Little Monsters a day to ship all over the world.
Do you encourage sales of your equipment other than direct ones?
About the first year I shipped one of my machines to Germany for the winter to let them use it and that's when my business took off because it was such a huge success.
Are there examples of people using your machines on the internet?
There are all kinds of videos on YouTube. This one guy in Virginia put one on YouTube and it went viral with like 300,000 hits in like two months. I feel like it is best for me to change my web page myself as I feel it is a more direct way of having contact with my company's progress and image.
After the BLM guy left the digging area in Zortman, up pulls Patrick. He asked what the BLM wanted. Shared the comments that were made and Patrick said, "Both the BLM and the USFS point fingers at each other."
He was in disbelief of what was said by the BLM visit, said their comments were not true. Road closures have been a big issue.
He shows true signs of an experienced prospector.
Part of the design of the Big Dig event is the planning of where to dig and how to do it. Patrick said:
"Because John and Candy share their claims with the club for the weekend, the Yellowstone Club has access to an associated grouping of claims along the creek. The claims we are working on are owned by John and Candy's family, like this one might be their daughter's claim."
The set up for our Big Dig is to allow as many opportunities to get gold nuggets for as many people as possible. "We never know how many nuggets we are going to get, so you just take your chances. Each year it is different."
The stations for digging allow for concentrates to come from the dig and they are distributed among everyone at the end of their shift. We do the best we can to make this a good experience for everyone.
"Our event is set up so people dig either in the morning or the afternoon. When they are done with their shift, they can still dig in the creekbeds up the river, just not where our group digs are."
Another part of the event is what is behind John and Candy's Hotel: the gold panning area where people process their concentrates for the day to see if they got gold.
Every year there is a digging place for kids where they can get an opportunity to learn how to look for gold like the adults are doing.
There is adult supervision, but the digging spot is designed so that it is kid friendly and they can be successful.
"Kids don't have to be confined by this area, they can work with parents in other spots, but we are kid focused and make it a time where they can learn as well."
Interview with Tim Graham, NW Gold Prospectors Club, Libby area.
Why do all these people in the campground have their vehicle hoods up?
Because of wood chucks. They will crawl under the engine, make a nest and eat your wires, thus ruining your car. Some club members had that happen to their vehicle and it ruined it. The hood up makes it easy for them to be seen and they won’t get in there and build a nest. They won’t do it in the afternoon, it is overnight that you have to worry about them nesting in your car or truck.
Do you work readily with the Forest Service with digging in your gravel pit without a hitch with them?
Yes, we have developed a good relationship with them that Sharon will attest to over the years. Everything we do here has been approved by them and we are not in violation of anything. The only thing we cannot do is access this area before June 17 because there is a momma bear with her cubs who has a den up on our claim area.
Why do you have to stop running your machines at 1 PM?
With the fire season being in full swing and the chance of the gas powered engines sparking a fire, we are required to stop our operations by then so there is no danger of starting a forest fire.
Do you have water rights on your claim?
Yes, we do, as that is how we can bring water up to our processing area to run our machines, pan, and search for gold together. It’s a big advantage to have water rights. Some claims don’t around here.
Whose equipment is this all around here?
Many members of the club loan their front end loaders, dump trucks and gold cubes for our use. We share equipment as a club and work together. Some members of our club have built the trommels we use here as we no longer use high bankers; they get you too wet.
Do people camp here?
Yes, but they also go one mile down the road to Howard Lake to camp as well.
How is it that you are packing a gun?
As a club we talked about the dangers that are presented on site with animals, peculiar strangers that might need the physical authority and just basic protection and safety of the club members, so we took a vote to agree to carry weapons openly after they were banned for awhile due to complaints.
What is the policy as to the club’s activities in the Recreational Gold Panning Area?
We share the area with those who come, we help newcomers learn about recreational prospecting and we teach them about the do’s and don’ts of the area. For instance, if you wanted to use a sluice, we would let you know you would be slapped with a fine so huge, you would not take to kindly to it.
While at the Blue Jewell Mine the Lead, John Keith from Arizona, showed us his rock he found while metal detecting in Arizona. He told us that it contained 60% copper, 30% silver and 10% “other.” The following conversation ensued:
How did you ever find out the contents of this rock?
We had it tested. A guy down in Arizona who wrote a book about Quartzsite has a “gun” that he shoots a beam at any rock so he can tell what’s inside. Bruce, the Blue Jewell Mine owner, and I met him in Arizona during the winter. That’s when we learned about what was in it.
Who was it that told you about the contents of the rock?
Dr. Erik Melchiorre, who wrote the book, The Gold Atlas of Quartzsite did. It’s a book all about quartzsite in Arizona. He is a geologist from San Bernadino, California.
What did he use to determine the contents?
He used a semiconductor. It is a laser that directs a beam into the rock which then heats up the contents. As the rock cools down from the intense heat projected into it, the geologist can figure out the type of metal inside the rock by the rate of cooling. The 60% copper inside this one cools at a different rate than the 30% silver. We ask ourselves then, what is the 10% other metal?
How are you going to find out about the other 10% then?
We are going to cut it open. We have a guy locally lined up to do that. We hope the “other” is gold.
Wouldn’t he be able to determine it was gold by the way it cools too, then?
(I thought about this later; so there is no answer. But you would suppose.) People line up in big long lines to have their rocks tested with him.
When people line up to get their rocks tested, does it cost anything?
No, he does it for free.
How much did the conductor cost?
It costs about $200,000.
How do I find out more about this guy?
Look up information on the internet about him. There are all kinds of research about his information and books. He is very interesting and is willing to teach people about the geology and geological information especially of Arizona. He serves and helps out about rock knowledge. It is great he shares such information; that’s what it’s all about.