All About Lode Gold Mines (Part 5: Claimant Rights)

Let's forge ahead with this lode gold claim thing and talk about claimant rights. Or if you live in the South or Southeastern United States, claimant "rats." No offense to you Southerners out there. Half of my roots go back to Alabama (great grandmother) and Texas (great grandfather) and I went to graduate school in Virginia. It's also said that I had a distant relative on my great grandma's side who fought with an Alabama regiment during the Civil War. Anyhoo, enough family tree stuff...but I still like to wave the Bonnie Blue flag!

 Extra-Lateral Rights

Any Joe or Joan out there who has filed a legal lode claim of an "established" mineral deposit (i.e., gold in this case), has located that claim properly, and is actively working it and doing the necessary assessment work has "exclusive rights" to the minerals on that claim. He or she also acquires extra-lateral and surface rights to that claim as well. Extra-lateral rights, you ask? Here's your legal explanation of those rights:

The locator of a valid lode mining claim acquires the rights to mine all the veins and ledges throughout their entire depth, and the tops or apexes that lie within the claim's surface lines. Such veins and ledges may depart from a perpendicular in their course downward so as to extend outside vertical, downward extensions of the sidelines of the claim. However, private property is excluded from extra-lateral rights.

This bit of legalize defines your extra-lateral rights but know the old days there was a great deal of dissension, heated arguments, and even gun play over someone exploiting their extra-lateral rights and encroaching an adjacent claim underground. In more modern times these sorts of lode claim disputes over extra-lateral rights tend to end up in the courts or...better yet...settled privately without violence or high-priced lawyers (aren't they all?).

 (Claim disputes were often handled differently in the old days.)

Patented and Unpatented

Valid, unpatented lode mining claims are considered real property in the full sense of the term except as modified by multiple use laws. Whoa there pard! This doesn't mean your unpatented lode claim is considered real property like a chunk of real estate or a vacant lot. In the old days (and even into the modern era) you could take that unpatented claim of yours and transform it into a patented claim. With a patented claim you actually DO own the land your claim is on and can build a cabin, house, or even a disco on it (if the spirit of disco still lives, that is. Hopefully not...). And if door-to door salesmen or Jehovah's Witnesses show up at your door...well pard, you can grab that double-barreled 12 gauge of yours, wave it in their faces, and run their asses right off your property! I'm being somewhat loose with my patented claim interpretation here, but patented claims are NO LONGER available (thank you, U.S. Congress) unless you buy one and they cost big dollars these days since they are, in effect, real property. Once again, you don't own the land your unpatented claim resides upon, only the mineral rights. Still, if a door-to-door salesman or Jehovah's Witness breaks out a gold pan or pick and shovel and tries mining your unpatented claim, you can run their asses off however you see fit (short of actual violence that is). To maintain the rights to own and mine your unpatented lode claim you must continue to comply with all Federal, state, and local laws and regulations. You'll never get a possessory title for your unpatented lode claim since the bureaucrats will maintain title to the "public" land your claim is on. See? They got it all figured out.

(Cabin on a patented mining claim in Colorado.)

 Dot Your "i's" and Cross Your "t's"

If the Federal, state, or local bureaucrats begin looking askance at your lode claim and what you're doing on it, they can contest your rights to mine and maintain that claim. Interestingly enough, the government boys and girls have to come up with prima facie evidence of why you've lost the rights to mine your claim...prima facie evidence: Latin for "first look" or "on the face of things." This is where the evidence before going to trial is sufficient enough to prove the case unless there is substantial contradictory evidence presented at trial. In other words, you lose! They've got all the power, money, lawyers, and judges. What do you have? Your honesty and good name. Good luck taking the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to court with that alone. But here's something the Feds or state will allow. You can hire at your own expense any qualified attorney and/or mining "expert" to defend your position in an attempt to hold onto your lode claim. Aren't they generous? Anyway, this is why it's so important to have all your claim ducks in a row for all the bureaucratic parties involved...state, local, or Federal. When you file a claim and locate it, make sure to dot every "i" and cross every "t" and continue to do so as long as you own and work that claim.

 (The odds are stacked against you.)

Unauthorized Occupancy 

Once again, you can't "squat" on an unpatented claim...lode or placer. You can't build a domicile on it or a beer tavern with topless dancers to draw in the local mining crowd. Obviously you can camp out on your claim or bring in a camper truck, trailer, or even a big ass motor home if you can get one of those behemoths onto your claim. You just can't build a cabin, house, or structure for permanent occupancy. Believe it or not, there have been a number of poor souls who thought their unpatented claim allowed them to erect permanent living quarters or were sold a bill of goods by an unscrupulous claim seller who told them exactly that. All that effort and expense was for naught when the shit came down the pike from the powers at be. Bye-bye money, bye-bye materials, bye-bye cozy cabin. Here's the deal though. You are allowed to build structures on your claim that are direct adjuncts to your mining activities. These include (but are not limited to), storage sheds, head frames, lifts, tracks for ore carts, and so on. So let me ask this question. What happens if you sleep in your storage shed? The way I read things you're good to go!

(Don't try this on your unpatented claim.)

We'll talk a bit about trespass limitations and safety requirements in the next go around. Until then, hang tough!

(c) Jim Rocha 2018

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. topless dancers.......
    I've got a good one folded and ready to fly!

    I do worry about "our" cabin on the mine claim I've never been able to get filed. This year, I'm going to do my best to get that claim, but it wouldn't save the cabin. I've been told it could even paint a target on it....not real sure just what to do.

    1. "Hurrah, hurrah, for Southern rights hurrah. Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue flag that bears a single star!"

    2. Woo Hoo! You Bet!!!
      "Hurrah, Hurrah, for Southern rights Hurrah, long live the Bonnie Blue flag that bears a single star!"
      Too bad so many folks are down on that now, but most have no idea what the Bonnie Blue even looks like or what it is. Probably better that way.... but it's a shame to bury history.
      I might have to put up a flag pole and fly her again!

      Beautiful day here today, snow is melting on the mountain, and the river is high. Might get up to do some prospecting before June!


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