The Last Gold Rush

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Jack wrote this in August, 2005:

Probably some of you younger blog readers aren’t aware that pre-lottery Americans had their own dreams of finding a way out of the monetary strait-jackets.  Around the turn of the last century thousands of men with guts and a shared dream rushed to Alaska following the discovery of gold in the Yukon.  During the 1920s and ’30s they rushed to Oklahoma and Texas in a rags to riches (for a few) wildcatting-for-oil frenzy.

Mostly the minerals became a lot more difficult to locate, prices of gold and silver declined, and major consortiums  bought up the most promising oil leases.  The dreams didn’t die, but the tools for making those dreams come true became a lot more cunning and elusive.

During the early 1950s, however, the US decided there were a lot of places that still needed bombing.  They’d whetted their appetites on New Mexico, Japan and some islands in the Pacific, but there were places in Nevada that were crying to have a hydrogen bomb or two set off on them, and the potential for bombing the bejesus out of a lot of Russians seemed to be a good bet.

The US needed uranium for a generation of nuclear weapons, and nobody’d yet paid much mind to where it might be located.

Uranium was the new gold.  Find it, file a claim, you’re a wealthy man, came the news.

The two men in this picture, along with thousands of other Americans, responded to the call, were preparing to do so while they posed for this photo.  They’d bought a WWII jeep, loaded it with WWII surplus gear, Geiger-counters, picks, shovels, and soon afterward headed off into the wilds of northern NM and Utah for several months.

By the time they returned to their hard-scrabbled farms in Eastern New Mexico, the world knew there’s plenty of uranium, no problem, no major value.

But, they had an adventure, my granddad and Charlie Nelson.  They were part of the last gold rush.  They had the courage to follow a dream while Americans still allowed themselves to dream.



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