Claim and Property Rights in the Goldifelds of the American West (Part 3)
It's time to move forward once again with this series of posts. Some of you may think these "gleanings" from the mining history of the West have no real meaning for you but in thinking that you're dead wrong. Everything I write in this series has a direct relationship to you and your mining endeavors. If you cant see that...well, more's the pity.
A Civil Matter
So the astute comments keep rolling in. Bernadette L. said she's in the process of filing a claim in Northern California and was wondering what sort of legal recourse she would have if she found "jumpers" busily at work on it. As I replied to her in the comments section of that post, I really didn't know the answer to her question from a legal standpoint but I'd try and sort things out for her. Then "Sniper" pitched in with some very good advice to Bernie that pretty much follows the path in a "real" claim jumping situation. First off, your only first-line legal defense against a claim jumper or jumpers who blow you off or are overtly hostile when you confront them courteously (assuming that's your initial approach) is to get on your cell phone and call your local county sheriff's office. If you're wondering why sheriffs would get involved in a claim jump situation, your answer is that you pay county taxes each year on your claim (or you should be doing so, anyway) and the county sherriff's office works for yep...the county your claim is in. But many claim areas have no cell phone coverage (as "Sniper" noted) and even if you get through to the sherriff's office, don't expect them to come hauling ass to help you out with a claim jumping situation immediately unless there have been threats of, or actual, violence (not the path you want to take, by the way) or other forms of potential criminal behavior. You see, a standard claim jumping situation is a civil matter, not a criminal one unless there are extenuating circumstances or repeat offenses that you have proof of.
The Long and Short of It
Again, as "Sniper" suggested, gather as much physical evidence (cell photos of them and any illegal work they've done, license plate numbers, make-model-type of vehicle the jumpers are in, and so on). Some claim owners use game cameras to gather this sort of evidence or to provide an "eye" on their claim while they're away. But game cameras won't prove useful in most desert or dry placer claims...they're too easily spotted. Otherwise, you really can't do much except to inform jumpers that they are illegally working your claim and politely ask them to back off and NOT dig, metal detect, or pan on your claim (let alone use a dredge, highbanker, dry washer, and so on). Most good folks who are on your claim unintentionally (and some who are intentionally there) will accede to your request, apologize, and stop what they're doing. Those who won't stop doing their dirty deeds on your claim regardless of what you say (whether politely or in anger) are going to be tough nuts to crack without a lawyer or the sheriff's office backing you up. You can file a report with the nearest BLM office (good luck on that one) or if you have gotten their names and personal info somehow, someway, you can take them to court. That'll cost time and money and the outcome may...or may not...work in your favor. Who knows? So in other words, you're pretty much screwed, blued, and tattooed if push comes to shove. That's the long and the short of it. And PLEASE don't start this half-crazed shit that some nutcases do on their claims by threatening physical violence, brandishing a rifle or pistol, or otherwise acting like you own the land your claim is on. The point of fact remains that you DON'T own that 20 acres and acting like a damn fool ain't gonna change that. It's only gonna result in something very bad happening to someone, with the end result you might be facing a judge or jury (not the jumpers themselves) on serious charges.
Now let's transport ourselves back in time to the goldfields of the American West. Once again, claim jumping was considered a very serious offense that could include criminal intent. The idea that claim jumping was a "civil" matter for the courts to decide wasn't even a gleam in the eyes of the miners of the time. It was a serious offense that had to be dealt with directly, firmly, and with consistency over time. In extreme situations in the old mining camps violence toward claim jumpers was considered acceptable or even righteous, as were some of the harsh punishments meted out to claim transgressors or those who stole or vandalized a miner's property. There was little latitude in this regard in the goldfields. So what is unacceptable today regarding mining claims and claim jumpers is vastly different from what was acceptable in 1853, 1867, or 1878. However, you need to understand this if you're a current-day claim owner. I'd say probably 90%-99% of you guys and gals who own claims don't work them 24-7, 365 days a year (with or without weather considerations). In other words, you're not a full-time gold miner. Nor are your unpatented claims the complete or full source of your annual income in most cases. Finally, your domicile of residence is NOT on your unpatented claim. So take note. For the old timers who worked the goldfields of the American West just the reverse was true in the majority of instances. It was a life or death struggle of sorts where one's livelihood was at stake, not to mention being able to gather enough gold to provide at least one good meal on a daily basis.
So, does all this mean I am discounting your legal rights as a mining claim owner or trying to minimize how upsetting it is to find jumpers on your claim? Of course not. I've been right there with you for long periods in my small-scale mining career and I hate the claim jumping thing as much as anyone. In fact I downright despise it and those who do it intentionally. I'd like to put my size 12 boot in their asses at the very least. But I've learned that your rights as a claim owner in this regard are "limited" (for lack of a better term). You should always take the "high road" approach with claim jumpers and let them know what's going on...that they are on your claim and cannot do any mining or treasure hunting on it. Taking the "low road" approach with threats, intimidation, weapon brandishing, or even telling jumpers they are trespassing is not gonna get you anywhere from a legal standpoint. You don't own the land your claim is on so there is NO trespass law in effect. Anyone can come onto your claim anytime and camp, fish, hunt, hike, shoot, or do anything else they want as long as those activities are not illegal in that time and place. They just can't do ANY sort of mining activity on your claim. So you see...we've come full circle here.
(A proper claim notice sign. Note it says nothing about trespassing.)
What You Do is Your Thing
To tell you the truth, I'm glad I'm not a claim owner any longer. Early on in my mining career it was a good thing without a lot of expense, hassle, or frustration involved. But I got really tired of the BS as the decades went by. And as an "absentee landlord" with my last couple of claims being hundreds of miles away claim jumpers had free reign pretty much. That was too sour a note for me and the rest was history. So what you do with your claims and anyone who might jump them is your thing. Like "Sniper," I recommend you politely ask them not to mine on your claim, gather "evidence," and if need be call the county sheriff's office. But trying to pull an Earp brothers confrontation against a claim-jumping Ike or Billy Clanton is the absolute worst thing you could ever do. Your claim is NOT the OK Corral.
(End result of the OK Corral confrontation.)
I'm just saying...
(c) Jim Rocha 2018
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org