YOGO SAPPHIRES - THE REST OF THE STORY
Human history with the Yogo dike began in 1879, when more than 1,000 prospectors flocked to Yogo City, one of the last major gold booms in Montana. Going west from Hobson, Montana, the road follows the Judith River to Utica, a little cow town that was painted into history by Charles M. Russell. Eleven miles farther west, by the banks of a clear mountain stream called Yogo Creek, the miners found little gold, but they did notice small translucent blue pebbles that sank to the bottom of their sluice boxes. Interested only in gold, the men threw these stones away. Two years later, the boom was over, and Yogo City emptied out.
Then in 1894, locals Jake Hoover and S.S. Hobson began looking for gold again. Legend has it that the next year, Hoover lent a schoolteacher friend a bucket of gold dirt to show her class. When she returned the dirt, she asked if she could keep the pretty little blue stones that she had found mixed into the dirt. Old Jake never found much gold, but he started America’s greatest adventure in mining native precious gemstones when he filled a cigar box with pretty blue pebbles and sent it to jeweler Tiffany & Co. in New York for appraisal. There, America’s most prominent gem expert at the time identified them as “…the finest precious gemstones ever found in the United States.” Tiffany sent Hoover a check for $3,750 and a letter explaining the sapphires were of “unusual quality.” In 1886, Hoover, Hobson, and two others bought claims on the eastern end of the dike and started digging in earnest for the sapphires. They realized, though, with no American gem-cutting facilities, rough stones were hard to market. Hoover sold his share of the claims, paid his debts, and joined the Alaska gold rush.
In 1923, an intense storm flooded and destroyed most of the above-ground mining structures. By the latter half of the 20th century, the mine had changed hands numerous times. Many attempted mining this perfect stone, but high operating costs, no domestic cutting facilities, and poor marketing caused them all to fail. Then in 1984, four local hikers made a new discovery at Yogo—a side vein to the original mine. Those men staked a total of 14 new claims, called themselves “Vortex Mining”, sunk a 265-foot shaft, and operated successfully for several years. Unsatisfied with production and profit, the owners closed the Vortex Mine in 2004.
The future for Yogo Sapphires looked very dim until the spring of 2008, when Mike Roberts, a second-generation hard rock gold miner from Alaska, acquired the mine and its claims. He successfully commercially mined underground in areas overlooked and not explored by previous miners. Tragically, in March of 2012, Mike Roberts died in an accident while working underground alone in his mine. Underground mining immediately ceased and the entire operation was closed down. As of the summer of 2012, Roberts Yogo Sapphire Company, now operated by Mike’s wife and family, still owns and hopes to continue mining the claim after all safety checks and updates to the mine are performed. The mine will remain closed until it is brought up to MSHA standards (Mine Safety and Health Administration) in anticipation of resumed production. When the mining will begin again is still to be determined.
RESOURCES: YOGO THE GREAT AMERICAN SAPPHIRE by Stephen M. Voynick, 1985
YOGO SAPPHIRE MINE, MONTANA, HISTORY OF A WORLD-CLASS GEM DEPOSIT
by Lee A. Woodward and Jerry D. Hanley, 2013