Mike Ryan has spent years working with his partner and co-author, Phillip Chambless, studying the magic blue stone that has been the hallmark of Indian jewelry in the Southwest.
Mike became interested in the stone because of his interest in Native American jewelry. The story of the stones fascinated him, and he began collecting turquoise from different mines. Then he met Phillip who has spent a lifetime prospecting, mining, and cutting turquoise.
Chambless had been working on a book for years. Mike, in his previous life as a financial advisor, had written a couple of them. The two collaborated to write The Great American Turquoise Rush 1890-1910 and Turquoise in American Part Two 1910-1990.
The early miners were a hardy bunch, but so are the miners of today.
I have been lucky to know a few turquoise miners in my life and they are a different breed, much like the old gold and silver prospectors.
These are not corporate type mines. They are worked with a lot a sweat and muscle. A good example was a friend who I’ll call Dan. He worked for Ernie Montoya, one of the country’s largest turquoise dealers and the owner of several mines.
One day at a show in Albuquerque, Dan told me he finally understood “Turquoise Fever.” I asked him what he meant, and he told me that he was working one of Ernie’s claims in Nevada the year before and nearly died.
They would use a bulldozer, scraping into the surface of the ground while spraying the blade with water. When they saw blue, they would stop, and dig through the rock to find the turquoise that had been dislodged.
The sun was going down and Dan’s co-workers had headed to the trailer where they were staying, but Dan decided to finish going through their latest efforts.
“I kept finding nice pieces of turquoise,” he said. “I was finally laying down on the ground, which was muddy and wet from where we had been spraying water and I kept clawing through the muck and rocks finding the great small stones. I just had to keep looking for one more.
“My headlight started to give out and I decided to head to the trailer, but I couldn’t move my legs and I was shaking.
”Dan had hypothermia and was not able to walk or think clearly.
“I crawled on my elbows towards the trailer. I couldn’t yell or make any real noise. I was scared,” he said.
His buddies had been drinking beer and fixing dinner in the trailer and finally came out to tell him the food was ready.“They carried me into the trailer, or I would have died,” said Dan, “The first thing the next morning we were back at that same hole, digging in the muck. We found some great turquoise!”
Ryan has interviewed over 70 turquoise miners and dealers, and he knows the stories and the history.