All About Lode Gold Mines (Part 2: Discovery Pursuit)
Discovery Location Markers
As is true for any mining claim, the mine location has to be clearly marked on the ground so that its boundaries can be easily traced. Most state laws require that the claim be marked with monuments (markers) using corner posts and sometimes side and end center posts. Remember, a standard lode claim is 300 feet by 1,500 feet from the center of the lode or vein discovery. So, at minimum, you'll have to erect four corner posts or monuments. Monument or post marking requirements are pretty lax overall. They can be wooden or metal rods set into concrete (or otherwise stabilized), piles of rocks, or any other sort of discovery marking that is reasonably prominent and easily visible. You'll need to file a location notice for your claim with the County Clerk or Assessor and The Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 also requires you file claim location documents with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). (By the way, cook up a good name for your mine...use your wife's name in it to smoothe the waters!) Next, you should put a copy of your location documents in a container (the old timers used tobacco tins or Mason jars) and place that container in a safe location near the center of your lode discovery. Oh, lest I forget. You can't just file a claim anywhere...it has be on public lands open to mineral entry. So no, you can't locate on your neighbor-from-hell's acreage or Native American lands, nor can you get a sudden brainstorm about striking it rich and then filing on the site of some corporation's pricey real estate downtown (I'm teasing you here, of course!). By the way, you can't file a claim in the U.S. if you're NOT an American citizen. I like to think this harkens back to the Days of '49, but if not...it's a damn good law just the same.
Just for shits and giggles, here's a list of states in the U.S. where you CAN file lode or placer claims:
If you're wondering why I italicized certain states let me say the obvious. You're gonna play hell finding lode (or even placer) gold in those fine states for the most part. However, they are open to mineral entry for other "treasures" Ma Nature produces, including gem minerals, diamonds, "black gold," and God only knows what else.
Pursuit of Discovery
These days gold prospecting (and prospecting for other precious or strategic metals and minerals) has become a high-tech pursuit. Not so much for the small-scale guy or gal, but certainly for commercial and corporate mining interests. Now there are ways of searching out and finding ore that require no "hands-on" effort initially, unlike those old single-blanket jackass prospectors who searched for gold and silver in the past. Since the "big boys" have a distinct advantage in this regard, U.S. courts have stepped up and recognized this fact by arriving at a legal doctrine known as pedis possessio, an old Latin term for suggesting you gotta have boots on the ground to claim possession of a discovery. In other words:
"A claimant who has peacefully and in good faith staked claims in search of valuable minerals may exclusively hold those claims while he or she is diligently working against others having no better right to them than he (or she), so long as the claimant retains a continuous exclusive occupancy and in good faith faiths works toward making a discovery."
I'll leave you to decipher the fine points of the legalese contained in this statement. One thing it means in a somewhat vague way is that, for example, a corporate jet flying overhead and getting a good hit (or series of hits) with a magnetometer or other fancy detecting gear isn't enough to establish a discovery. What this also means is that you have be actively digging or drilling (i.e., mining) that discovery. Just making preparations or plans to mine your discovery is not enough in the eyes of the law. You may have found something good out there, but if you don't follow up on it with some action that mining corporation with the fancy jet can take it away from you if they find it economically feasible to do so. You might also want to note that when the mining big boys get onto something, they tend to claim up everything for miles in the immediate vicinity just in case that lode or vein network is extensive. By the way, the doctrine of pedis possessio prevents anyone (including corporate interests) from forcibly entering your claim to prospect or mine, attempting to set location markers, or otherwise f'ing with you from a claim or mining standpoint.
(Site of the "Golden Queen" Mine in California's Mojave Desert.)
Asserting Pedis Possessio
All this said, it's not always clear whether you right of pedis possessio can be asserted in all instances. In fact it can vary widely from case to case. Here are the main factors involved in ensuring your pedis possessio rights:
1) There must be actual physical work being done on the claim.
2) You have to establish physical occupancy of the ground you're working.
3) You have to keep others off your claim if they are hell bent on prospecting or mining on it.
Number one is pretty much self-explanatory. Number two is more confusing. What do the powers at be mean by "establishing occupancy?" Fortunately, this occupancy issue can be translated as any "work in progress" on your claim. After all, with unpatented claims (there are no others for you to file these days, by the way) you can't build living quarters or a cabin on your claim to establish "occupancy." However, you can camp out on it for two weeks at a pop. So a combination of you being there in person periodically and doing some work on the claim should satisfy the legal eagles.
(Placer or lode...sampling is ALWAYS important.)
Now the third item is one I tend to harp on...and have already...numerous times. You only OWN the mineral rights to your unpatented claim, not the land itself. So don't get like that crazy ass dude I wrote about a while back and get all high and mighty, threatening to shove people's guns up their asses if they approach your claim. As long as they DON'T try prospecting or mining on it they can pretty well do what they damn well please as long as those activities aren't a threat to you physically. If that's the case get law enforcement involved and don't try being Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral. Most non-miners are totally unaware of anything to do with claim notices, markers, signs, etc. They may be nature worshipers, hikers, fishermen, campers, or stargazers who don't know diddly squat about mining laws or etiquette. So forgive them their ignorance and calmly let them know you're working a mining claim and would prefer them not hanging around...you could push the safety issue here as one strategy.
When Your Blood Starts to Boil
I had something like this happen when I was highbanking one of my California placer claims back around 1983 or so. I was sitting next to the campfire in front of my tent after dark taking in the silence of the great outdoors when a pick up truck came rumbling up the dirt road and promptly backed into a clear spot adjacent to where I was camped. And I mean virtually right next to me! A young guy and a very old man got out, stretched, and then walked over to where I was sitting. They said hello, we exchanged a few tight-jawed pleasantries (on my part, anyway), and then the young guy informed me they were going to camp there for a few days. I took this in and felt my blood start to boil...after all, back then I wasn't the gentle, mellow soul that you now know! I told them they were on my mining claim and that I didn't appreciate the fact they rolled to a stop right next to my camp site. I was all het up, to say the least. Well, the old gent walked slowly back over to the pick up (he knew I was angry) but the young fella (his grandson as it turned out) kept his cool and pulled me aside. He told me his grandpa was ill and getting frail, but what really got me was when the young man told me his grandad had worked this same spot back in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Well, I was instantly deflated. I have a soft spot for the old timers or "down n' outers" of that period. Anyway, to make a long story shorter, I told him it was fine and the only thing I asked was that they find a camping spot a bit farther away the next day when it was light. You see, I value my "alone" time as much as I do my mining time. I also told the young guy they were free to pan or sluice as they saw fit. Two days later they pulled up stakes and came over to thank me. I remember looking into that old timer's eyes and I just knew this was the last time he'd probably ever turn color at the spot he once worked as a young man himself.
(I have a soft spot for the miners of the 1930s Depression Era...no matter where they mined.)
Anyway, a true story and what I need to point out about it are two things. 1) I could've gotten very nasty and threatening, and prevented them from mining on my claim. I could've acted like that flaming asshole I wrote about. And I'll admit that at first I started in that direction. But my saner self intervened and so did my heart. 2) The real truth of the matter? The young man and his grandad could've camped wherever the hell they wanted to...legally speaking, that is.
Get the drift?
(c) Jim Rocha 2018
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org