“There aren’t any sapphires around Yellowstone. No, we aren’t going that way.”
“…And to our east is Montana! Sorry, there are no sapphire hunting excursions planned at this time.”
“We don’t carry no Montana sapphires, just local stones.” (In response to the question: “What gemstones do you sell?”)
“I have opals, but I am unfortunately unable to get Montana sapphires.” (Different miner, also in response to the above question….)
“I used to have Montana sapphires, but no one mines them anymore. If you go out that way I’ve heard you can just pick them up out of the river.” (Completely unsolicited comment while I was paying for dinner at the double wide trailer that served the county as a restaurant, bar, mining office and gift shop.)
“After you get done collecting gemstones here, you can go get some of those sapphires up north.” (My landlady, who seemed to have inadequate knowledge of the meaning of “study area” – or what I was studying.)
I began to feel that the local mining community (and my fellow geologists!) had an obsession. Or perhaps had joined a secret society to which I didn’t know the correct password. Seeking clarification about the purported sapphires in Montana didn’t yield useful information either.
“There will be plenty of other rock collecting opportunities on this trip.”
“Sapphires? Well, you know, THOSE sapphires in Montana.”
“I told you, I don’t know nothing ‘bout no sapphires. Ain’t my claims.”
“Yeah, THOSE sapphires. Yeah well, the sapphires are in Montana….
They’re real sapphires, you know, like the ones that are gemstones.”
“If you’re interested you can just drive up a way (actually several hundred miles) and pick them up off the ground. I can sell you a map.”
“It only takes a couple of days if you drive north, think how nice your thesis would be with sapphires in it!”
From the above conversations I was able to deduce some important facts:
1. There are sapphires somewhere in Montana.
2. They were mined at one point but no longer seem to be.
3. Mining sapphires in Montana seems to consist of gathering them from deposits on the ground or in gravel, not actual “mining”.
4. No one wants to claim any particular knowledge of the mines or mining claims, or even the part of the state where they are located.
5. The landlady of the hotel thought that my thesis was actually a type of jewelry.
Maybe I was stuck in an Umberto Eco novel? Or The DaVinci Code? (The map can only be read in the light of the moon at summer solstice! At noon on the anniversary of the day Montana was admitted to the Union, the shadow of the Eiffel Tower falls on the building that holds the key to the sapphires!)
Left with short time, a thesis to write, and neither sapphires nor clues on sapphires in Montana, I moved on with my life. Obviously “Montana sapphires” were like aliens in Area 51…. Everyone knows they are there (and has to mention their presence), they aren’t there now, and people get weird and huffy when the topic comes up. Oh, and you can buy maps and guidebooks! I was surprised there weren’t rumors of Men In Black and ley lines.
It was only a few years later when a gem cutting friend of mine showed off the “real Montana sapphires” he had just cut and polished (and now wanted to sell me). I know quite a few gem cutters. Some are reliable sellers of high quality stones. Some sell complete trash. And some have an interesting mix of the good and bad. (One gemstone seller acquaintance in that last category I last heard from when he announced he was going to go drive his colorfully hand-painted VW bus to Argentina and buy more rough stock. And maybe some land. And maybe surf. It’s been almost 7 years and he is still unaccounted for….)
This particular gemstone seller was one of the reliable ones with very nice stock. And highly unlikely to be smoking or drinking anything considered toxic by the average human. And then he showed me his new finds: tiny, tiny yellow-green stones in a little plastic display box. I had to rethink the toxin ingestion theory.
It is true though, Montana has sapphires. In their heyday, Yogo Gulch sapphires (one of the Montana mines), were world famous. Montana still has other sapphire deposits, the mined sapphires range from a beautiful perfect blue, to light green, yellow, or clear.
I carry all colors of Montana sapphires in my shop, but if you are looking for a specific type or style, please contact me.