How I Accidently Discovered
My First “Million Ounce +”
Gold Deposit in the Amazon
As I have been thinking a lot lately about times in my life when I have made extremely exciting discoveries, I recall one experience in particular this morning. I was living and working as a full-time gold prospector in the very remote, northern region of Mato Grosso, Brazil. This was back in the very late 1970’s and I was in my naïve, mid 20’s. Our small camp was very rustic and only accessible by single-engine airplane. We were far away from the nearest outpost town… Stan
At the time, I was managing about a half-dozen Brazilian, artisanal prospectors who would each go out in different directions to search for gold each day. At the end of the day, over dinner, we would discuss the day’s discoveries and look at the gold samples that each prospector had collected.
One evening, one of my guys told me that he had been panning up a tiny stream in the jungle north of our camp, about a 3-hour hike away. His samples were growing richer and richer as he worked his way upstream. Each pan produced an ever thickening, solid line of fine gold. Then, all of a sudden, the gold quit; his pans were completely empty, there was nothing. He remarked that he had never seen anything like this before. He was puzzled.
The moment I heard his story, a blast of light exploded in my brain. I restrained my internal excitement and acted as nonchalant before the group as I could. I simply said, "Oraldo, maybe I’ll go with you tomorrow to have a look and see what is going on with this thing." I hardly slept a wink that night.
The next morning, we ate breakfast at 5 am and were off at the first glitter of dawn. The walk through the primary rain forest was nothing less than spectacular.
We walked over ground that was completely virgin. There had likely never been another soul that had ever walked that way. There were colorful birds and animals everywhere that I had never seen before. There were sounds that kind of freaked me out. The howler monkeys made it sound like we were under an alien attack.
The hours passed as we wandered through different environments that were quite surreal to me. I had never even dreamed that such landscapes existed on earth. I was awestruck and excited as we got closer and closer to our objective.
Finally, Oraldo said, "This is where I first started seeing gold in my pan yesterday." We stopped and he quickly worked down his first pan of the day. Sure enough, a beautiful, one-half inch line of gold appeared along the edge of his completed batea (wooden gold pan). There was very little black sand.
I was pretty amazed at how much fine gold there was in such a small stream. The water was only 6-inches deep and the stream only 3-feet wide. Where was all of this gold coming from?
We walk another 100 yards or so. Oraldo said, "If you thought that last pan was interesting, you should see the gold right here!"
I quietly replied, "Well, let’s have a look Oraldo." Secretly, I was nearly trembling with anticipation.
Within about three minutes Oraldo stood up and showed me his results. This time, I could not hide my enthusiasm any longer. “Holy Mother of a Sacred Butterfly!” I shouted out (not my exact words).
The gold was unbelievable. There was about a quarter ounce of gold in this single pan! I nearly had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
Then Oraldo’s face became more serious. He had a disappointed look on his face. He sadly reported, "This is nice and all, but unfortunately, there is no more gold beyond that rusty-looking boulder up stream."
I quickly looked upstream and, sure enough, I could see the large rock to which he referred. The very moment I saw that huge, rusty-looking, rock outcropping, I knew that I was about to have my mind blown...
There I was with Oraldo, looking upstream at an apparently rusty rock outcropping, just 20 yards away.
Once again, I asked Oraldo, "Are you sure there is no more gold beyond that rock?"
Oraldo responded, "I am sure. This is the weirdest thing I have ever seen."
You see, Oraldo was mostly an uneducated, diamond prospector. He had only begun prospecting for gold a few years earlier. He was slightly experienced with alluvial gold and not at all familiar with hardrock gold sources.
We now turned our focus to that rock outcropping. It took only a few minutes to get there. As I reached out to touch the rock, a 3-pound piece easily broke off into the palm of my hand. As I brought that specimen in for a close look with my loupe...
What I saw is what many gold prospectors only dream of. The gold sparkle was so strong, I had to lower my loupe immediately. The specimen was a decomposing, milky quartz filled with oxidizing iron... and visible gold, lots of visible gold! The gold was quite evenly distributed throughout the entire vein structure.
Then I looked at the large quartz outcropping. It was the same. Gold was shot everywhere throughout all of the rusty quartz. I must have been looking directly at several millions of dollars of gold ore, just on the surface.
The quartz outcropping turned out to be an 8-foot wide quartz vein running perpendicular to the small stream. The erosion of the stream had exposed the vein for a length of only 5 or 6 feet. I began to clear the jungle back on both sides of the stream. The vein continued beneath the jungle floor in both directions. Who could guess at the entire length and depth of the vein? (I’ll tell you more about that in a minute)
I took 4 samples from the vein and carefully stored them in sample bags. I placed the bags in my backpack and we began the long trek back to camp. As I look back at that experience, I only made one mistake that day... but it was a doozy! I missed the "gleam" in Oraldo’s eye.
Several days after my discovery, the plane flew into our camp with our weekly supplies. I flew out as my 3-week jungle shift had come to an end. I was back at my home base in Atlanta, Georgia in a couple of days.
After showing the quartz samples to my boss, he had me immediately take them to three different assayers around the city. By the way, nearby Dahlonega was part of the first gold rush in America in 1829. A few days later, as I spoke with the assayers about the results from my samples, they all nearly accused me of submitting fraudulent material to them.
Their overwhelming observation was that they had never seen such rich gold ore before. The samples ran in the range of gold values between 7 and 50 ounces to the ton of free-milling gold! We had a real-life bonanza on our hands.
My boss (below) was excited to cut my vacation time short and get me right back to Brazil in order to begin developing the deposit.
You may imagine the thoughts going through my head on my flights back to camp. At such a young age, I had begun my gold prospecting career with a real bang. Let me tell you now about the next bang I heard...
Upon my return to camp, I found only a skeleton crew present. I asked the few remaining company employees where everyone was. I was told that they were out gold mining. What? Gold mining? Where?
"They are working the "veta" (vein) in the jungle", I was told.
The veta was on the legal company gold concession and no one was legally able to jump our claim. Oh, how naïve I was back in those days.
Sure enough, upon my arrival back at the "veta", I encountered about 75, mostly unknown men, busily at work on our concession. And this was in the middle of nowhere! How did they even know about this discovery?
The place was an absolute beehive of activity. They had dug more than 30 feet down in places and had opened up more than 100 yards of the length of the vein. The deposit was already enormous and still growing in size!
I immediately protested their mining activities. I carefully explained how this was a legal concession and that they were mining illegally. I was met with loud laughter and a "F... You" attitude. I persisted protesting a while longer and then the guns came out.
Several blasts were shot above my head and the message was crystal clear. Yes, I was starting off my gold prospecting career with a real big bang indeed.
I learned an important lesson that day. I guess I don’t really have to explain it much further to you. In essence, “Keep your frigging pie hole shut!”
What an exciting experience my discovery had been, in so many ways.
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