Digging up the Graveyard...

It was a beautiful June rock hounding day in the  Owyhees. Gene Stewart, his son, his son’s friend and I thought we’d go out to the Graveyard Point area and see what Gene Mueller, Jake  Jacobitz and Thom Lane were digging up at Gene Mueller’s Regency Rose claim. Thom Lane was out in these parts for a few days before, spotting at the mine for Mueller. He came into town and stayed a few days at my house to get cleaned up and relax, before heading out with us. 

 Gene Mueller is, of course, famous for his rock shop, The Gem Shop, in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. He is also a miner of various rocks, including Morrisonite, Laguna and Agua Nueva Mexican agates. Thom Lane is a well known dealer in the agate world and long time friend of Gene and Jake. Thom dug Morrisonite with Jake and Gene in the last years that the Christine Marie Morrisonite mine was producing. In later years, he dug Mexican agates for three years with Gene.   Jake Jacobitz, best known for “Jake’s Place” Morrisonite Claim,  and well known to all Northwest miners as, “Crazy Jake”.  

 Diving out to the Graveyard point area is relatively easy in dry times, but all week it has been raining cats and dogs. This makes the dusty, powered-sugar, consistency roads, greasy slick. However, the past two days, the rain has stopped, just enough for the sun to dry up the roads a little bit.
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  Heading up the dirt road to the claim, we see Gene’s huge Cat sitting idle.  It’s large bucket, for gouging the hill for agate, empty. We get out of my Suburban and there to greet us is Jake. Gene Stewart and Jake go way back and two friends meeting after many years, always makes for a cheerful reunion. Gene and Jake share a few funny stories and catch up on who’s still around and who’s not.  This was my fist time meeting Jake, after years hearing some pretty wild stories about him and visualizing what he looks like. I was pleasantly surprised, that I was not too far off, as to what I expected. Very likable, easy to talk with, and very willing to share his insights, places he’s dug before and what’s still out there.  Jake has a slight accent, I can’t quite place…Minnesota? Wisconsin? I’ll have to ask Thom later about it. Kinda gives him a down to earth persona, a little more color to “the miner” character I envisioned.
  Heading over to the big pit and looking down into it, I see Gene Mueller digging in a large hole in the side of the pit, almost like a small cave.  Gene stands in the hole surrounded by Angel Wing and veins of agate.  Angel Wing is formed basically, like how stalactites form in a cave, by thousands of years of ground water seeping through, then dripping off the ceiling and walls, leaving minerals behind to accumulate. In this case, the cave is a large vug hole in the ground.  The Angel Wing can be removed in plates, because the surrounding host rock is softer. Therefore, carefully using a chisel and hammer, the delicate plates can be extracted successfully.
  I jump down into the pit with Jake and we head over to the hole. I greet and shake hands with Gene Mueller.  He begins to elaborate on what he’s doing, and how he’s going to get most of the Angel Wing and the gem plume out. Sitting on the edge of the hole, Jake and I inspect the seams Gene pecks out and throws up to us. Jake looks at one and says, “Hey, here’s some plumes,” and then gives the seam a long lick to wet it. I look at him and raise my eye brow. “Geez, Jake! Looks like you’re eating a damn ice cream cone.  Is that how you test to see if it’s good plume or not, by how it tastes?” He laughs and says, “ya, don’t ya know that?  I thought all you smart young fellers knew that”. After an hour or so of pulling out seams of agate and wing, Gene begins to dig again.  This time on the other side of the pit, with his Big Cat excavator, looking for that elusive pink plume, he calls, “Regency Rose”.
 
 

  Coming up out of the pit, Gene Stewart and I decide to go over to his old Graveyard Point Plume Agate claim, which he had back in the 70’s which is about 200 yards away. Walking up the road from Mueller’s camp, we detour off and then down along a path for about 100 yards.  We find a shallow hole, where the claim used to be, now filled in with silt from runoff. Gene stands on the top edge of what used to be a deep hole. I can see in Gene’s eyes, he’s deep in thought, probably bringing up some old memories of when he and Tom Caldwell dugs tons of plume out of that hole. Bringing him back, I ask, “Where was that old truck you where telling me about?” Gene told me a story of when he and Tom Caldwell were blasting one day. Seems Tom put a little too much powder in and blew a huge 100 pound seam straight up in the air.  It landed right on top of Gene’s truck cab roof. The roof was so caved in, that you had to lean out the window to drive! Gene still laughs about it. It was so funny at the time, that he decided to drive the truck home with the boulder still on the roof. Gene smiles and chuckles…“I tell ya.  I got a lot of funny looks and people laughing at us, all the way home!”
  Heading back to camp, we see everyone sitting around the camper, under the canopy, taking it easy. For me, this is a great chance to prod stories out of these guys. I start with Thom. He tells me the detailed story of how he once owned the great Morrisonite collection that Gene Mueller is currently selling for the current anonymous owner. He went on to say that Betty Warrington was the original owner.   Then, Jake pipes up and tells some long tales, that I can’t really relate here to the whole world, but they are pretty, “thought provoking”. Well, it’s getting late and at the end of this mining day.  Only a few sacks of Regency were filled, in addition to several sacks of standard gem Graveyard-type plume. Gene Mueller said it was a good productive mining day.


  While heading back on the winding dirt road towards town, I see a huge mud hole filled with water right in the middle of the road.  It’s about double the size of my Suburban. The road veers around it, but I stop about 50 yards from it, looking straight ahead.  I start thinking. Everyone in the truck is talking and then realizes that I have stopped driving. Thom Lane is sitting in the passenger seat, looking back towards Gene Stewart, talking.  He then stops, looks around and asks me, “Are we stopping for something?” I look over at him and give him a devious smile…”Looks deep,” I say out loud. Then Gene Stewart says smiling, “Oh shit, don’t even think about it!” Then everyone catches on.  I say, “What would Jake do??”  Thom then says, “Ahh crap!”  I gun it! I hear wale’s and cheers, as we bounce up and down , side to side, on the rough road, heading towards the large water hole. It would have been a great classic scene in a movie…A bunch of old farts, bouncing up and down in a truck, laughing and screaming heading for a mud hole.  Plunging the truck fast into the hole, I feel that it is deep. A large fan of water on both sides, towers over the truck.  As the wheels start to spin, the speed keeps us going forward, up and out of the long, deep hole. Everyone is laughing and whooping it up like teenagers, as we drive down the road, leaving a cloud of dust far behind us…

Jake Jacobitz

Now here's a Hard Core Miner if I ever saw one.

 

Decades….decades past on.

  On a porch, the old man sits in a chair rocking slowly…frail and purpled veined hands lightly grip the arm rests, as he rocks…The sun is setting… the old eyes glint in the reddish hue of last light…looking long and far out into the distant. He sees the shadowed mountains of the Owyhees…memories…memories of friends long gone…ghosts of voices in his mind…Someone is laughing… His leathery wrinkled face starts to glow and a faint smile folds the deep wrinkles around his eyes. A small hand touches the top of his hand…”Grandpa? What are you thinking about?” He looks down into bright eyes of a child. The old man hears a voice behind him, in the house…”Honey, what’s grandpa Phil doing?” “Oh”, the child says. “He’s thinking about digging up the Graveyard.”  “He’s what?!” The old man gives a light chuckle at the very young child’s response…He looks back at the mountains, which are now only outlines in front of billowy plumes of towering clouds  against the Sun’s faint light, in the new night sky…

 Philip-

 

 

 

 

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