“A man so finely tuned to the wavelength of gold and precious stones,
he might just as well be a magician!”


During my recent visit to Happy Camp, California, I had the pleasure of being introduced to Jim Swinney. Jim is one of the old breed of mining men and, as such, is a wealth of information. Jim and I talked in his home, where he showed me his specimens of opal, jade, crystal, and gold.

“I started rock-hounding when I was nine,” he said, with an easy grin. “I’ve been at it ever since. One of my relatives was a geologist and when I’d go to the field with him, he’d teach me to identify the different rocks. From there, it was a natural process to become a prospector and jewelry maker.”

I looked across the room at his display case, where multicolored opals bounced sunlight in my direction.

“Did you find those around here?” I asked.

“No. Those are from my opal claim in Nevada. Some of that jade is from this area and most of the gold is too. That’s only a small part of what I’ve found. Some of it I’ve made into jewelry, some of it I sell, and some is in a safe deposit box at the bank.”

“It must be an interesting way to make a living, “I said.

Jim laughed. “It’s interesting all right, but I work for the Forest Service to keep beans on the table. I retire in two more years and between my retirement, prospecting, and being a mining consultant, I figure I’ll do okay.”

“What kind of mine consulting?” I asked, sitting back on the comfortable couch in his living room.

“Gemstone mines, mostly. I go in and tell the owners if I think the claim is worth working or if the mine is safe enough to work, and how to go about getting the gems without damaging them.”

“So you don’t consult on gold mines?”

“Oh yes, but I specialize in gems. I have a friend who’s a gold mine specialist, he does most of the work around here.”

“Is there any pet peeve that you have about the ‘New Age’ prospectors that you want to share with our readers?”

“Yes, now that you mention it,” he said, getting up and going over to the display and taking out a white rock laced with red veins. “I’ve seen inexperienced prospectors pick up a specimen and either lick it or put it in their mouth to bring out the color. They don’t know what it is, or what’s on it. Now if they were to do that with this rock, they’d be dead before help could arrive. This is natural arsenic.”

We talked a while longer, then decided to take our detectors out and stir up a little gold. On the way, Jim told me that Happy Camp was not only surrounded by old hydraulic mining areas, but was actually built on one.

“One woman found a 3/4 ounce nugget by the airport,” he said, as he drove to the place he wanted to check out.

We parked and walked up a medium steep grade, pausing often to let me catch my breath. When we had reached the spot and before I could tune up my detector, Jim said, “Watch it, you’re about to step on that nugget!”

“Nugget?” I asked looking around. “What nugget?”

“This one,” he answered, as he bent down and picked it up.

He put the sub-grain nugget in my hand and said “Look, there’s another one.”

“What are you, a magician?” I asked

He found three small nuggets without even turning his detector on. To say that I was amazed would be an understatement!

Yes, we all found gold that day; and at the truck when we were getting ready to leave, Jim came strolling up with an unusual rock in his hands.

“You carry that all the way from the bottom of that gully?” I asked with a grin.

“You bet! It’s white jade and easily worth a hundred dollars.” “You are a magician!” I said

Summary: I believe that Jim Swinney is one of the finest men that I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. As a prospector, mining consultant, jewelry and custom knife maker, few are his equal. So, should you happen to need any of the above, or if you’re out in the hills around Happy Camp and see a man with iron-grey hair, ask your questions. Then close your yap and listen close. You’ll surely learn something.