Central Montana Prospectors
Central Montana Prospectors

Gunshots While Panning Sapphires

     Packing some heat is not always a bad thing when you are in the forest looking for gold, but you would not think that a need would arise in the sapphire village of Utica, Montana.

      But long ago, Will Hieriman, a long term miner was panning his sapphires there to look up at the sight of a deer running straight towards him. "What was I to think? Duck, pull my gun or what?" But shortly the answer arrived.

     His partner took one shot at the wolf; the wolf was toast, and the deer sauntered away, with the miner being saved by the gun. Yahoo!! Point tip is: guns might have their purpose in prospecting.

Stories of Gold, Stones, Fossils, and Prospecting Delight


Hearing Them Come When Listening and Sharing

Why Montana Sapphires? It Isn't a Mystery

      While chatting over the shaker table a Wyoming man who was nearby said, "There are no sapphires in Wyoming."

      I said, I will tell you a story: Several years ago I had a guy working for me that came to this Blue Jewel Mine to dig for sapphires with me. As we went up the hill out of this valley area we stopped for  a moment on the side of the road for his kid to have a break. He began to dig in the dirt. I asked, "What are you digging for?" He said, sapphires. I said, "You aren't going to find any here. They are down below by the water." 

      I called Gem Mountain and asked, "Was I right?" The attendant said, "It depends on how they were formed. At Phillipsburg there was a volcano that expoded long ago and spewed the sapphires into the air and they fell to the ground. In the El Dorado Bar the sapphires were formed underground and moved on up for finding." There's a difference and Wyoming didn't have the same kind of formations eons ago. 


Are You Going to Believe Him?

      While having breakfast at the 5th St. Diner in Great Falls, Mt, the owner, Bill shared the story of listening to Rich Matoon tell him history of a guy near Stickney Creek out of Wolf Creek, MT.

      Word has it that every time the guy needed supplies, he would come down off the mountain, head to Helena, and buy them with gold, not cash, like most. Apparently he was successful on Stickney Creek and his gold is said to be buried somewhere near his cabin for someone to find. Launching a search soon?

Geysers Give Up Coins and More

     When asking a geologist at the Montana Bureau of Mining and Geology about what happened with the geyser in Yellowstone Park recently with it coughing up such strange things from the 1930's he said, "The geyser finally choked itself and just had to spew it all up!!

     Relating to the geyser as though it was human to explain away the events was a curious thing. Certainly one would not think of metal detecting in the geyser, but coins were there!! Ha ha, something different.

Making Prospecting Plans for Next Year

     Some men have all the luck to have a decked out garage where they can do most anything. Jesse Buff has one and he uses it to get ready for next year's opportunity to go to the mountains remote.

     He has all kinds of plans to make this rig a prospector's dream. He is rebuilding all kinds of parts and including a snorkel so if the water gets too high he can get the engine to breath up higher than the water. He has plans to build a PVC pipe rig on top to have hot water ready for a shower when you get to your destination. 

     The benches inside will have a refrigerated system to keep food cool and the wheels will be very high above the ground so as to traverse any riverbed or rock formation. Nothing will be an obstacle. Pretty amazing.

     But this is all so he can go prospecting in the Middle Fork of the Judith next year. He's planning now with the many steps of rebuild so many can enjoy the benefits of prospecting in Montana together because he says, "I prospect all year long." Hmm..he's got a heated garage. Some of us don't, so we will have to just pine away and do things inside where it's warm.


Stories of Life "Way Back Then" Amaze Many

      Wanna hear stories of how life was in the old west of Montana days? Take a spin to Bannack State Park and listen to the Park Ranger who has worked there for 14 years. He's got plenty to tell. He kept our toursit group mesmerized with lots of tales for hours while touring the streets of Bannack. He's got them all logged in his memory and can pull out so many at a moment's notice that it is worth the trip.

     As the gallows stand in the background, freshly made by a filming crew, how the Vigilante group hung the sheriff and his men, added to the ambiance of the day's tour. A German gal who had an interpreter come through recently found there was no word in the German language for the word vigilante.

    Vigilante was a term developed as the old west expanded to indicate when there was a need to take the law into their own hands, and they certainly did. 

California Rivers Give Up the Gold

     When Montana transplants to California came back home for a visit several times this summer, they shared the story of finding glitter looks all along the shoreline of California's Feather River. 

     When you hear that this river was where stories from the California gold rush days of the 1860's you begin to believe it. It is the source of Sacramento's water supply and the word was there is even gold being dumped into the ocean from this river. I would believe it because gold is being unearthed all the time especially in the western US where the mountains provide the heighth to propel it downhill.

      But just to know you can see glitter on the ground does one well knowing that life shines on. Prospecting on the Feather River sounds like it would be a good thing to still do as it is offering the glimmer.

When greed, lust, and desire take over

     Story was told about some California residents that were visiting in Montana who used to live here, but went hunting sapphires at the Blue Jewel Sapphire Mine out of York. 

      They bought a $50 dollar bag of gravel and processed it right there. The one sapphire was so huge that it was about a 13 or 14 carat one, so huge Bruce had not ever seen one that size on his compound before. 

      Bruce was so beside himself and wanted the stone so bad, he could have kicked himself for selling them the bag. In the business you win some, and you lose some. Glad they got it.

Goldilocks and Her Orange Bucket

      One needs to remember to carry equipment to a Grandma's field to prospect that is going to stand up to the strain of bringing little rocks back home to sort. 

      If you have a weakend bucket from your backyard that has weathered there is a chance that it might not make it home in one piece. Little pieces of your orange Home Depot bucket might get left along the trail so you can find your way back to the creekbed to dig, but Smokey the Bear might not like your littering too much.

      But when your bucket gets hit on the side by a jagged rock and punches a hole in its side spewing out all the water with gold dust, Grandma might not be too happy at any end of the trail she might be at.  Pack intelligently, predict some outcomes and enjoy the trail.

Check Out Alan Robertson's Latest Video on Finding Gold in Montana

Abby, at the Lincoln Heritage Days, Tells of Begging for a Dime as a Kid to Spend At a School Sponsored Garage Sale in Helena, Montana, and Finding a $400 Gold Nugget for 10 cents 

When Prospectors Gather

      The opportunity to tell experiences with going out in the world and prospecting comes up when people are about to meet on the hillside to dig gravel in the search for gold.  Who knows just how many big tales or basic truths one might hear. But for sure on Stemple Pass mid July many will be shared and some will be posted to savor and share.  

      A claim and those who work it have a common bond of the love for the outdoors and what might be found under the ground. We are all not greedy, but maybe for inspiratiton of the rock kind!! Soon to be posted some fun stuff for your ears only to hear. See you soon!!



Prospecting Equipment Goes Around the World

     Five years ago when Kelly Fowler of Gold Fox USA out of Conrad, MT started up his business of making the trommel /sluice piece called the Little Monster he thought of his machine sitting all winter and decided that maybe it would be better to put it to good use. So he offered it to avid prospectors in Germany to use during the winter; it got mailed in the fall. 

     Germany used it through the winter and it took off from there. Kelly told them to share it with other clubs or basically "pass it on!" For five years it has collected stickers from all over the world on it, including Australia. It is currently in Italy right now, and has basically been more places than many of us in Montana!! Great business technique! It will come home to roost in his archival, historical display. Yeah! 



True Story:

      While at our prospecting rendezvous at Poorman's Creek, Allan Robertson told the story of Bruce of Blue Jewel Mine in York, Montana, having both sapphires and gold embedded in his dentures. Now that's showing a love for what you do. Wearing your product right in your mouth is quite the statement. Amazing what people will do!

How Prospecting Equipment Catches Forest Fire Starters

      This is how a pink sluice box is the key to finding the guys who started the fire that broke out in Zortman area, burned for days and about got the town. 

      Some people crossed the border from Canada and headed to the Gold Fox in Conrad with the request to go to Zortman to use his piece of equipment to see if it works and if they wanted to invest money into it. They would return it after the weekend was over.

       Apparently you can lite fireworks in Canada, so they were doing it in the Zortman area while prospecting. That's when the forest fire started and they high tailed it, dropping off the borrowed pink sluice Kelly Fowler had donated to the Zortman Hotel family and it was at his front door along with his machine. Border Patrol can trace them. They will do prison time for sure is what is said. They got em!



Finding Gold in Alaska

    The story I was told was guy's team had to dig a 50 foot deep hole down under where there was a drop off from a river that formed a waterfall in Alaska. The team had heavy equipment skid steers, front end loaders, and drills with dynamite for their explorations. They figured that the land below the former waterfall drop point would have the heavy gold deposited in the near the bedrock of the river. 

     The team came up with 20-30 pounds of gold in nugget form amd turned this into cash a long time ago.  There is a question as to whether anybody would do this nowadays. The story told to Wynston Happel stuck with him for a long time. Always stories of finding gold are alluring. Just the idea of the stategy of looking below a former waterfall was a good one. It points to clever thinking. 


Tips Come From Networking with Prospectors

      While in Zortman for the Big Dig, an opportunity to talk with the President of the Headwaters Chapter out of Belgrade, Bob Lindner, about events with his club and the contacts he has found that works for his crew came up. He mentioned that the CBU out of Bozeman held a big banquet which he attended and found that the information from the event was very helpful.  It was in view of assessing our assets in linking with other organizations that can help and benefit our cause. 

      In checking the internet the Citizens for Balanced Use seems like an organization with the right focus and purpose and is inclusive, not exclusive. I know keeping track of these events would be beneficial to us all in Montana. Check it out. http://www.balanceduse.org/ 


Testing These Remote Sensing Devices

     Steve Hicks of White Sulphur Springs shared a story of a guy who proposed a test to see if these machines worked accurately to sense minerals below the ground. The man would do the 3 covered cup test with gold in one cup and the other two cups empty. In a sampling of like 5 tests in a row, he never found anyone able to be accurate with their machines or techniques. When the claims are said to be spot on, yet they can't do it, how can you be sure they are right when ID'ing gold or any other mineral as a matter of fact.

     Apparently, some people are convinced on theory and not on factual basis of repetitive testing. We hope you too will take a second guess and try out the information presented before purchasing any of these gadgets. The guy who did the testing never found anyone capable of handling his easy test. Funn to me. 


Making Gold 

     Ken Dreyers, one of the co-owners of the Columbus Center moonlights most of his time in Alaska where he smelts big bars of gold for a company there.

     It is a big operation that brings in massive amounts of gravel, sifts, and the remains are melted into bars of gold. He makes quite a few in a trip there from his home in Idaho. He has ties to the mining industry but always has time to come to Great Falls to do a fine Christmas Party for the tenants of the Columbus Center.

     Ken is also known to work on his building with a variety of projects remodeling entire wings of his facility to top notch looks. We are so happy he and his wife along with his brother have ties to Great Falls as well as Alaska and Idaho. We are very fortunate.



Problems With Gold Panning in the Yellowstone River

     Last year Frank Franco of the Yellowstone River Prospecting Club at the Zortman Big Dig said to me that his group was not able to pan in the Yellowstone River. I wanted to do something about that. Why? Why Not? There were other problems with prospecting throughout the state and I wanted to pursue solutions, one of them being this. I wanted more details about this later but no phone calls were ever returned from their leaders.

      This year when I was there again I got more details. Pat Bailey said, “Yes, we were run out of panning in the Yellowstone River by the Fish, Wildlife and Parks people.”  Frank Franco concurred and said I could quote him. Our basic right as prospectors is taken away from us by all kinds of government agencies and yet those in Helena, such as Joe Kolman who helped write the recreational prospecting bill this year said, “This bill isn’t going to change anything because you already are able to prospect anywhere in Montana.” Hmm…the heck you say. Not only does BLM close roads so prospectors have no access, so does the US Forest Service bully and intimidate the prospectors.

      The logic just isn’t there; it’s missing in action! Our freedoms are only as far as any of the government agencies want to allow. They say one thing and do another. It’s time to get it straight and have the state offer some certificate to prove and indicate there are prospecting freedoms for the individuals to pan with a license for individuals. Prospectors are tired of being tossed around in the dryer of governmental desire. Panning is our right!! So they say, but take away!!

joe kolman's desk

yellowstone river

old man prospecting

Gold Livelihood

               When the subject turns to prospecting with your friends, one can hear some of the most unusual stories. My swimming buddy told of her brother in law, Dennis who had a friend come visit him occasionally when she was visiting her sister in Melrose.

               The visitor’s name was Walter; he had a big white beard and would disappear up into the hills and nobody would ever know where he went. He would go back up into the mountains and come back a little while later with a jar of gold nuggets. He would use them to live on for a year and then he would go back up into the hills and do it again the next year. 

First Experience Gold Panning

Renee's Rocks


renee at rock shop

yukon river

On the Famous Yukon River near Circle, Alaska.

     We were new arrivals in Alaska in the 1980’s. After weeks of unpacking and not wanting to waste summer days, we decided to go exploring and drive up the Steese Hwy to Circle, AK situated on the Yukon River. We arrived after midnight to find dozens of people out along the banks of the river.


     Approaching the river to discover what all the excitement was about, we noticed a fellow carrying a gold pan - the surface covered by a fine gold dust - and overheard him saying to his friend, “do you want this?” The other guy said “no” and before I could cry out “I do!” the fellow tossed the contents of the pan back into the river. Fact was, the day before a child was digging in the black sand alongshore and dug up a gold nugget the size of a man’s thumb. Everyone and anyone was out with their pans and sluice boxes.


     We drove back to Fairbanks, approximately 200 miles but taking much longer than 4 hours (frost heaves slow you down a bit) bought gold pans and headed back to Circle to try our luck. Our children were 6 and 8 at the time. Giving them some small saucer sized pans we set them loose. Before I could even get to the bank of the river, my six-year-old daughter ran back with her pan asking, “Is this gold mom?” Indeed it was.


      As for me, I worked the gravel in my pan, slowly, meticulously, hours of labor to retrieve a few minute pieces of gold about the size of a pin head at best. My back hurt and I was sore all over. Gold panning is definitely not a quick and easy way to get rich, but I agree with Robert Service who wrote,


There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;

It’s luring me on as of old;

Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting

So much as just finding the gold.

It’s the great, big, broad land ’way up yonder,

It’s the forests where silence has lease;

It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,

It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

“It’s not in getting the gold, its in finding it.”

Spell of the Yukon

Her Gold Nugget

DSCN1605 (3)


yukon river panning

Spontaneous Stories



     In the hullabaloo and frenzy of the Saturday morning Great Falls Farmers' Market there is always time to hear stories about rocks, prospecting and history of it in people's lives.

     Nikci, our neighboring vendor, shared her story of growing up in California and visiting Arizona to prospect. She shares her memories so eloquently here.

     Prospecting stories are always so fun to hear.

     Rocks bring out the love in people's hearts to share.


carol showing sapphires

Why not trade that in for a few bucks??

     As a child, the values of family hold little worth. But as we age, we grow fond of the history we made over time. Time is what has molded us. Time and history have sculpted our very existence long before a building was ever built. The basics of our planet earth are under our feet every day. Minerals, gems, all the rocks of the world, have supported humans from the beginning of our time. I find it quit fitting that as I get older, I hold onto the memories of gold panning with my father and grandfather as a kid.

     It was in Prescott Valley, Arizona, that these memories were cultured for me. Romping into Lynx Creek with the VW Westphalia and the Nissan pick-up, through streams, and over rocky terrain...getting stuck on old tree stumps is top on my memory list. We would all go sit in a stream and shimmy our pans in the glistening waters.

     I would wander the hills that were encrusted in caves, black sand and quartzite, collecting eyefuls of awe sketching away. But that’s jumping ahead of the small smells and noises that trigger delight.

     Distant, neighboring campers would put out popcorn surrounding their campsite for fair-warning of javelina. The subtle rummaging noise of little crunches crackled along with the various tweets. We sipped morning black coffee, with a plethora of coffee grounds from the good ol’ reliable percolator.  A crackle of NPR AM radio, which was our only connection with humanity, in the non-cell phone era. I did have an awesome pager, but there was no phone or phone service...so it was totally pointless.

      An egg with some fried spam sneaking in the air, the crisp early dew, and soggy shoes, droplets on the interior of my itty bitty tent...oddly I miss this. The monsoons would come grumbling in at an awfully alarming speed, this was our town run time. The Burger King had an excellent view for the light show, and flushing toilets. Oh, and a mirror, no rugged girl should ever encounter a mirror while adventuring. The storm would move out, and it was game on.

      To the hills with the lustrous rivers my family and I went. A deck of cards in the back pocket, a bag with some pencils and a sketch pad is all we needed. And a giant bucket of shovels, gold pans, strainers, suction bottles, magnets and little glass bottles to save our finds. I found extracting all my black sand in my pan with a magnet, extremely mesmerizing.  I panned the largest nugget on one of the trips, and I still treasure it. This memory, trapped in a little glass bottle....a time capsule.

      Yet, gold is the basis of our cultural existence, across the planet. And I keep mine in a little bottle, for memories sake, of course.

      Memories define us, and elaborate our worth. Remember the value of your memories, over material growth....which is usually temporary. Somehow I have found a way to materialize my memories though. I have now inherited that very VW bus that my grandparents owned. It’s a slow and expensive, lifelong relationship of refurbishing Dolly, the VW camper, which now ventures in Montana. But in return....I drive in a time capsule.

      With the car I have a daily glimpse of memories past that will get me to my new adventures. I question where I will find new gems to cherish that will last a lifetime within my soul. I have a story inside from prospecting memories with family. And no, it's not for sale; their fondness remains to warm my heart.


Nikcole Irene Kings Creative Incentives (NIKCI)


Rock Family

dean schamp's mother

 The most unusual finds

     "Would you like to know where you can find lots of Montana agates all over the place?" When you are a roofer on the old Sears store you know that the roof is held down by local rocks brought in.

     Dean Schamp shared his recent conquest right on 10th Ave. South rooftop with his pockets full of beautiful agates. Not all of us are that lucky to have access to a sea beauty. Prospecting finds come in all kinds of places.

     Recently a very large garnet was purchased at the Good Samaritan in Helena for $1.50 and it will turn out to spawn at least six large stones for setting in jewelry. On thrift store shelves are not the places to go prospecting but they have proven to be bountiful.

     Aren't we lucky!

Agate Man


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