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Placerville, California

El Dorado County


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P. O. Box 950
Placerville, CA 95667

(530) 676 - 2472

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Stifle Claim/Traverse Creek Area
History of Stifle Claim

The Stifle Memorial Claim
Situated on Traverse creek, 1.3 miles from Georgetown Road (Highway 193) is the Stifle Memorial Claim, which is now part of the Traverse Creek Special Interest Area. At one time, it was owned by the El Dorado County Mineral and Gem Society but was relinquished to the U.S. Forest Service in 1995. It is maintained for the enjoyment and collecting interests of all rockhounds and students of the county's geology.

The Stifle claims were deeded to the Society as a memorial to William Louis Stifle by Byrl A. (Jack) Stifle, a second cousin. The claims are essentially a serpentine deposit, but contain many other mineral formations such as  chrome, clinochlore, grossular, diopside, idocrase, psilomelane, and tremolite.

William Stifle was not the simple prospector ordinarily association with hard rock claims. He was born in 1862 and raised in Crawford County, Illinois. Rumor has it that Stifle's earliest ancestor in the United States was a Hessian soldier who came over as a mercenary at the behest of George the Third of England, and who evidently thought more of the States than he did of returning to the old country. Stifle's grandfather was a farmer in Crawford County and one of the earliest providing oil wells was on this farm. (William Stifle's Cabin is seen in painting)

William graduated from Merom Bluff College in Indiana, taught school in Illinois for some time, and then came to California where he first tried his hand a selling real estate in Los Angeles. This not proving to his liking, he moved north. While working on the estate of a prominent San Francisco financier, he made up his mind to try prospecting. He went to Georgetown, bought a burro and equipment and prospected in the vicinity.

While it is not know as to just why Stifle was attracted to this locality, later newspaper clipping refer to his panning for gold on a serpentine belt running east and south of Georgetown, and having assay tests showing nickel ore with some silver present. Gold colors can still be obtained by panning in Traverse creek on the claim. Jack Stifle recalls tales by old timers of Chinese miners having a cabin and sluicing above the junction of Traverse and Rock Canyon creeks (site covered by the present Keystone claim). The Chinese were later victims of smallpox, and stones marking their graves near the site of the burned cabin could be seen as late as the 1940's.

El Dorado County records show that the original Stifle claim was recorded November 4, 1918.

In a letter to a friend in North Bloomington in 1924, Stifle complains that a man whom he took along as a partner to do assessment work on claims in Chocolate Mountains in Nevada had not proven to be much of a prospector. He continues that, he had stopped off in Los Angeles on the way back to sell some of his emeralds, and that he was going back with some more just as soon as he dug them up. He wanted to find a partner as he felt that it would take some cash, but felt that they would make a handsome return as they had the only emeralds in the United States outside of North Carolina. "Can get fifty men with money, as partners, but they don't want to work" was how he stated it.

Articles in Georgetown, Stockton and Placerville newspapers of December 1924 state that emeralds of commercial value were found by Stifle at a depth of 8 to 50 feet. "Pockets containing about a pint of crystals were found in hornblende schist veins, cutting the serpentine, principally in a 175 tunnel on the Stifle claim. Stifle claims to have found and sold some 4,000 carats of these crystals, pronounced by San Francisco experts as being genuine emeralds."

Adolf Pabst, University of California geologist, mentions small crystals of vesuvianite being sold by mineral dealers in 1925. His report in Volume 21, Report of California State Mineralogist, states "Veins exposed in numerous pits and prospect holes. Veins in main gem pit on West Hill (small hill west of Traverse Creek and north of Bear Creek Road) 3 inches thick, worked to a depth of 15 feet for 50 feet in strike. Most common crystals are yellow green. Violet and purple crystals are rare and found only in patches lining vugs". He also mentions finding colorless grossularite crystals from main pit.

In Volume 22 of the California State Mineralogists Report, reference is made of emerald beryl being found near Georgetown, but re-examination of material indicates it is a green pyroxene rather than beryl. (Small vesuvianite crystals may still be found in an area above the mine tunnel on the original Stifle claim. Jack Stifle and some of the early club members have sizable green crystals in their collections).

Sometime around 1926, Stifle was contacted by a man who had either worked for or represented the Cornwall Tin Mines of Wales, who was sure than tin ore would be found on the property. No records exist to substantiate this, but Jack Stifle recalls that a man who was supposedly a partner of William Stifle's was killed in an automobile accident in 1929.

Jack Stifle became aware of the Stifle property when he first visited his cousin on Thanksgiving Day in 1929. In later years, a need for lumber to complete housing projects in San Leandro caused Jack Stifle to purchase the Bird Ranch several miles east of the claims. Bird was an old sea captain, who in early days had homesteaded the ranch and developed a thriving apple and pear orchard. Sawdust piles on the Bear Creek Road still mark the site of the mill that Jack Stifle built to get out the lumber.

William Stifle was strong in both body and mind. His cousin remembers him as a tall, white-haired man, who at the age of over 70 was still vigorous and active around the claims. A clipping left in the cabin after his death indicated his interest in the humanitarian ideas of the time. Those of the life and philosophy of Abraham Lincoln dominated his files. A card in his handwriting states "Wishing a Happy and Prosperous New Year to every man who swings a pick. Take courage miners we are living in a wonderful country."

William Stifle had confided in his cousin, Jack, his disappointment in not having accomplished anything for the good of his fellow man. For this reason, when the claims were deeded to Jack's daughter upon the old man's death, Jack Stifle had discussed with Mrs. Amy Drysdale of Georgetown about deeding the claims to the University of California School of Mining. For some reason, the University had shown little interest. When George (Bert) Young learned of this from Mrs. Drysdale, he told her he felt sure the Society would be glad to take them over.

In July of 1954, Jack Stifle arranged for the Society to take over the claims by means of a quit claim deed and bill of sale for the cabin and tools and furnishings.

In 1957, two members of the Society (Bert Young and H.N. Schultz) resurveyed the original Happy Hills Claims (10 claims of 20 acres each located between 1918 and 1928) and filed on the present five claims of approximately 100 acres.

Prior to relinquishing ownership to the U.S. Forestry Service, the El Dorado Mineral & Gem Society held a special use permit for two acres containing the site of the Stifle cabin and outbuildings for use as a private Society Clubhouse, issued by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, on a year-to-year basis, for a yearly rental fee.

Research by Harley Bareuther.  Reference credit gratefully acknowledged to Mr. and Mrs. Jack Stifle, Mr. George "Bert" Young, and Mrs. Beverly Cola of the El Dorado County and Gem Society.


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