Monday, December 28, 2009

Eel River Jade

common name for either of two minerals used as gems. The rarer variety of jade is jadeite, a sodium aluminum silicate, NaAl(SiO3)2, usually white or green in color; the green variety is the more valuable. The commoner and less costly variety of jade is nephrite, a calcium magnesium iron silicate of varying composition, white to dark green in color. Jade has been prized by the Chinese and Japanese, as well as by pre-Colombian Mesoamerican peoples, as the most precious of all gems. The Chinese in particular are known for the objets d'art they carve from it, and they traditionally associated it with the five cardinal virtues: charity, modesty, courage, justice, and wisdom; they also attributed healing powers to it. It was much used for implements by ancient peoples.

When I was a kid, every rock that I found was a "Rock". There were pretty rocks and ugly rocks. As I got older and more sophisticated, rocks became either jasper, sandstone, quartz, soapstone or isinglass. They still fell into two classifications for me, pretty rocks and ugly rocks.

Back in the fifties, everybody took on a new interest in mining. Uranium became a big item after they developed nuclear weapons. They also needed uranium to power the nuclear power plants that they were starting to build. A friend of my grandmothers asked her for permission to “prospect” on her property in Laytonville. Of course she said yes. It was pretty exciting for her to think that somebody might find something valuable on her property.

The old prospector was very knowledgeable about rocks. He didn't expect to find Uranium, but he did expect that he would probably find something worth mining on Gramma's property. He found some fairly favorable tungsten ore, but not in the amounts that would have been worth mining.

The one thing that the old prospector did find, was me at his heels. He became the total focus of my insatiable curiosity. I learned quite a bit about the names of rocks from him. He knew about the “Jade” on the Eel River. He told me that it is really not Jade, but “Nephrite”. He said that is was pretty like jade, but not nearly as valuable. For a 9 year old boy, that was hard for me to understand. To me a pretty rock was a pretty rock, I couldn't understand the concept of “valuable”.

I found out from him that the stuff we called “Fools Gold” was really iron-pyrite. Again, I couldn't understand why it was not valuable. We found fools gold all over the ranch. He soon started asking me where certain kinds of rocks were. And, of course I knew where all of the “pretty rocks” were. I was able to lead him right to wherever he wanted to see a certain type of rock. We had a little trouble communicating at first. He had all of the Newcomer names for my pretty rocks. But, we were able to teach each other a lot. One of the things that I found to be really interesting about hin is that he used to be a cop in Texas, and he still packed a 45 cal semi-automatic pistol in a shoulder holster. I had never seen an a semi automatic pistol before.

The reason that I tell you all of this, long story, is just to prove that I was right all along. “A pretty rock, is a pretty rock”. The stuff in the Eel River that we called “Eel River Jade” has slowly changed from worthless to semi-precious.

The main deposits of Eel River Jade is in a place called Mina, just north of Covelo on the North Fork Eel River. A fellow by the name Sam Gitchel, from Philo, California, bought the ranch out there, and has been mining it. Jade is found in several locations on the main Eel, and is of varying colors, from white to dark green. Some is almost black. There are shades of blue and also red. But it is all called “Nephrite”. The stuff that my old prospector friend called “worthless”.

Here are some Photo's from Sam's website:

The art of "Suiseki" is the Japanese art of stone appreciation. They will display the stone in it's most natural form, depicted in an artful way.

Interesting links to Eel River Jade collecting:;_ylt=AkynArY6m33UotFIGV7o0jftiBIF;_ylu=X3oDMTJpNDl2aGl2BGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTAwMTE4L2FzX3ZpZXRuYW1fYmlnX2J1ZGRoYQRwb3MDNARzZWMDeW5fbW9zdF9wb3B1bGFyBHNsawN2aWV0bmFtYWltc3Q-


Ben said...

Ernie... I carry a piece of black nephrite in my pocket. Probably found it at Dry Lagoon rather than the river. Over the years I have talked to several other folks who carry a piece of "jade".

Ben said...

Ernie.. Happy New Year! Not much interest in jade I see... i Have a story.
Back in the late 50s when I was a teenager, I belonged to the Pasadena Lapidary Society. I wasn't much in the lapidary department but these folks were pretty entertaining. A guy named Al Stoltz was a fantastic lapidist and had a sphere machine. He made real crystal balls of incredible beauty. On one field trip we went to some beach up by Santa Barbara (Agate Beach?) We're all poking around finding stuff at low tide and 'ol Al calls out from the water. He's barefoot and his feet found a really slick rock. We all go out and huff and puff and get wet and the thing comes out and it's a jade (nephrite) boulder weighing at least 100 pounds. It was beautiful and almost polished by the sand. Very deep green with black streaks. Al showed it at rock shows for years and then , to our shock, cut it up and made spheres. I was young and broke so I couldn't afford his work but I sure wish I had one of those jade balls they were gorgeous.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Sombody must be interested, the old hit meter is spinning. Everyboby has a pretty rock story, it's just that people are to shy to tell theirs. Thanks for sharing yours maybe you broke the ice.

I think that I have a couple of pieces of Nephrite in my fireplace surround. As soon as I burn the woodpile down a bit I'll take a picture and post it.

oldmanriver said...

Happy New Years to y'all from Indiana where there is no nephrite. However, I have talked to several of my kin who have arrowhead collections, one found a few tomahawks. One had a basement lined with cabinets full of Indian relics.
I also found out that I am related to John Augustus Sutter who exploited most of his California Indians to build his small empire from 1830-50.
He also had trusted Indians and Kanakas (Hawaiians)in positions of responsibility. And Hawaiian "consorts" though his wife was back home in Pennsylvania. There were three Suter brothers who came over from Europe, he changed his name to Sutter, one brother spelled it Suiter and another Suter.. the latter two brothers ending up in southern Indiana. A descendant of a Suiter confirmed the childhood rumor.

I am delighted that you found out nephrite is as valuable as you remembered from childhood Ernie...
I have several nuggest of Eel Nephrite at that I will gladly take your best offer for. How much will you pay per gram?

I used to make crystal balls of quartz with a superior polish in the early eighties. Lower quality lapidary work from Asia and S. America for cheap made it difficult to get my time and expertise appreciated. Jade was far too hard and time consuming to work with.

ps. Yes OMR is back, when you die a blogdeath you have to spend time in a blog purgatory state... in my case I have to write out every typo (dang) 1000 times and that has taken me a long time. I was told that I had to return to the blogosphere because I had more lessons to learn. I can't imagene what?

Anonymous said...

Hi Ernie, Enjoyed your blog. This is Sam Gitchel. I confess I am a hopeless wanderer. We walk through the wilderness finding raw treasures and finishing them into fine jewelry and art. Our mining operation is simply picking up stones after the storms as we do not dig. I'm hoping for some big storms to return to our area and bring a new crop of stones to find. The market for our jades is beginning to develop and I hope to market our local jaspers and other pretty rocks too. If you are ever on Hwy 128 in the Anderson valley stop by the Rock Stop and check out what we are doing with our local jade resource. We are closed for the winter but open back up in March. Do a web search for "California Jade" to learn lots more too. Happy and Healthy New Year!

Josh Ing said...

Jade production can hardly keep up with demand. We of the Society to Protect and Restore Precious Jade Sites wish to see sections of the Eel River restored to its former jade beauty. We welcome donations of jade; it does not have to be from the Eel River and can even be a worked piece and it does not even have to be jade-any precious mineral will do. Send your donation to SPRPJS Box 86886 Fort Bragg CA 95437

Jimi Hopper said...

I started collecting river Jade in 1988 when I was 14 growing up in piercy at resting oak village. I would wake up on the river daily. And i had a buyer for the rocks. It was a great time, that I will never forget. I recently bought Donald dupras book, and I am getting back into my childhood hobby. I knew that covelo was a main source of Jade by looking at those huge boulders of serpentine when I was a kid that are in the river along covelo road. Having alot of fun re-discovering my favorite childhood adventure.