History of Wyoming Jade

Jade Deposits

History of Jade

Minor prehistoric jade artifacts have been reported from Wyoming but have not been verified by archeologists. (Former) Assistant State Archaeologist Danny Walker (personal commun., 2010) examined carved prehistoric objects of various types from Wyoming, but although green in color, all have been steatite or serpentine rather than nephrite jade. The well-known early Wyoming Jade hunter, Allan Branham, spent many years hunting in central Wyoming for both artifacts and jade, and never found any jade artifacts. He concluded that the knowledge and skill to make use of jade was not present in the native inhabitants of central Wyoming as it was in other parts of the world such as New Zealand and Central America. The only prehistoric use of Wyoming Jade appears to have been for weighing down the bottom edges of buffalo hide teepees.

Anecdotal Accounts of Jade in Wyoming

Some of the earliest accounts of jade in Wyoming are anecdotal and were reported by Lawrence J. Bergsten in 1964. Bergsten talked with an old-time resident of Lander, Bill Marion, who related to Bergsten that prior to 1900, he had been accompanied on a prospecting trip through some rugged country by a Scottish geologist who picked up a rock and declared it to be jade.

Bergsten (1964) also related information given to him by Harvey Samuelson, a lapidary in Salinas, California, with 60 years of experience. While working in Portland, Oregon, as a lapidary in 1908 and 1909, Samuelson purchased apple-green Wyoming Jade from cowboys who had traveled west to spend their winters. The cowboys sold it for whatever they could get. Since there was no demand for the jade in the United States, most of it went to England. Bergsten accounted Samuelson’s story as reliable. Years later, about 1958 or 1959, Bergsten talked with a woman at a mineral and gem show in Indio, California, who had purchased jade jewelry from The Old Curiosity House in London, England, in 1909; the proprietor had told her at the time that the jade came from Wyoming.

Robert Hill, Sr. stated in a 1979 article in Gems and Minerals magazine that the first jade strike in Wyoming was in 1913, but provided no supporting data. In consideration of Bergsten’s anecdotes, it is possible that the existence of jade in Wyoming was known to at least a small number of individuals in the early 1900s. The jade strike in 1913 reported by Hill may have been a delayed reiteration of jade brought to Oregon four or five years earlier. However, there are no known early written records to substantiate this.

James L. Kraft, in his 1947 book "Adventure in Jade," related two stories concerning the discovery of Wyoming Jade that he had heard from local jade hunters. Kraft, the president of the Kraft Foods Company of Chicago, Illinois, had a great interest in jade, was one of the early purchasers of Wyoming Jade in about 1938 or 1939, and later financially helped Allan Branham open one of the first jade shops in Lander. Kraft’s jade hunting and personal contacts in Lander gave him the opportunity to hear the local stories concerning the discovery of jade in Wyoming.

One of these stories relates that a man named Corbin came to the area from Oregon on a bicycle to collect agates in the Sweetwater area (Sweetwater agate) in the early 1930s. During his search along the riverbanks, he picked up a chip of dark-green rock that he identified as jade. When cut and polished, it was exceptionally clear, and he showed it to a local gem collector, Biford Foster, so that Foster would know what to look for and maybe find more. Foster was a Lander lapidary, and he was considered a master craftsman in fashioning jade into jewelry. Corbin left the area for Oregon and did not return.

The second story relates that a sheepherder, working in the Crooks Mountain area in 1931, brought a sizeable piece of dark-green stone with quartz crystals to Lander that he had found. The stone turned out to be nephrite jade, which after identification, he sold to a museum. The story stirred up local interest and inspired local people to hunt for jade. This story was retold with less detail by Branham in 1941 and again with details by Russell P. MacFall as part of the introduction to his self-published collection of articles, "Wyoming Jade: A pioneer Hunter’s Story." That collection (publication year unknown) is dominated by articles written by Allan Branham that were reprinted from articles published in the Lapidary Journal in 1965 and 1966.

Bert Rhoads, an early and persistent jade hunter, found his first piece of Wyoming Jade in 1936. A Denver Post article, dated Feb. 1, 1948, credits Rhoads and his family with making known the gem potential of Wyoming Jade. On May 15, 1936, William L. Marion, a Lander hardware dealer, and Lloyd B. Curtis, a Lander science teacher, found both olive and intense-green and black jade in an outcrop north of Jeffrey City. However, Allan Branham later credits the Abernathy brothers with finding and mining the first primary, or in-place, deposit of Wyoming Jade.

A 1945 unfinished draft report on jade deposits in central Wyoming by U.S. Geological Survey geologist J. David Love stated that jade was discovered in the area about 1935, with unverifiable credit claimed by at least a dozen individuals. That statement probably reflects popular perception in 1945. However, Love correctly concluded that it will probably remain a mystery who or when the discovery of Wyoming Jade was made.

Jade boulder
A 1,000-pound apple-green jade boulder on Crooks Mountain. [Credit: Bert Rhoads, 1944, from the J. David Love collection, WSGS files]

The Wyoming Jade Rush

The rush for Wyoming jade actually began in the late 1930s on a local level, but suffered an early setback due to WWII rationing of gasoline and a lack of automobile tires in the early 1940s. This kept most jade hunting local rather than hosting a large influx of people from other areas. However, many local people just couldn’t imagine that those green stones they had seen for years were worth picking up. Their attitudes changed when James L. Kraft, the wealthy cheese manufacturer and jade collector, visited Lander and purchased jade.

The early 1940s were busy times in the jade hunting areas of central Wyoming. Alan Branham in 1944 noted that when a large piece of jade was found, someone had to stay in the field to guard it until their partner returned from retrieving a wrecking car in Lander. Since no one had a large enough saw to cut it, the piece generally ended up staying in the backyard of the founder. Large jade boulder finds filtered down through the local grapevine and generally precipitated another influx of jade hunters to the jade fields.

An article titled “Green Gold of Wyoming” by Gold V. Sanders appeared in the February 1945 issue of Popular Science magazine and aroused interest across the country. Sanders’ article talked about “Fortunes lying loose on the ground,” and many citizens giving up their jobs to hunt jade, ... “Some have already become fairly wealthy.” The easy pickings, easy fortune tenor of the article published at the close of WWII set off the rush for Wyoming Jade.

The jade rush was similar to that of any gold rush. Some jade hunters were successful in making a small fortune in the jade fields and many found jade. Most jade hunters worked honestly, but those of a more unscrupulous character chose other methods to enrich themselves. Claim jumping, conflicts, legal challenges, and a few nighttime holdups led to secrecy concerning jade hunting areas. However, secret hunt areas rarely remained secret for long, and the easy pickings of detrital jade slowly dried up during the 1950s and 1960s.

After the Rush

Interest in Wyoming Jade never really ended; the rush slowly wound down and was gradually supplanted by more earnest work-related efforts to make a reasonable livelihood hunting for or mining jade. Jade mines, focusing on in-place deposits in the central Granite Mountains, began as early as 1936 and operated into the 1980s. Production from these mines began slowly, peaking in the late 1970s. Wyoming newspapers in the 1960s and 1970s occasionally focused articles on various jade businesses, touting their economics. Rock collecting and related clubs were also active during this period. It appears that both amateur and professional interests contributed to the designation of Wyoming Jade as the official gemstone of the State of Wyoming on Jan. 25, 1967.

Jade excitement tapered down during the 1980s, after which only small amounts of jade were mined on an erratic basis. Interest in Wyoming jade slowly revived, beginning about 2005. This partially reflected an increased interest in jade carving in China, California, and in other parts of the world. As of 2018, at least two sites have been the focus for small-scale jade mining operations, and numerous jade claims have been staked or re-staked in central Wyoming. A review of literature related to Wyoming Jade suggests that more jade has been derived from detrital sources over the years than from in-place deposits. However, the total amount of jade produced in Wyoming is unknown, as is actual production from either mines or from surficial deposits.

Laws of the State of Wyoming
Laws of the State of Wyoming passed by the Thirty-Ninth Legislature designating jade as the official gemstone of the State of Wyoming.

Wyoming Jade References and Recommended References

Further information about Wyoming Jade can be found in the following WSGS publications:

For a complete listing of WSGS materials, go to the Online Catalog.

Jade References

Bagdonas, D.A., 2014, Petrogenesis of the Neoarchean Wyoming batholith, central Wyoming: Laramie, University of Wyoming, M.S. thesis, 120 p., 1 pl.

Barnes, L.C., Flint, D.J., and Dubowski, T., 1987, World review of nephrite jade—Geology, production, and reserves: South Australia Department of Mines and Energy, Rept. Bk. No. 87/116, 48 p., 12 tables, 6 figs.

Bauer, Max, 1969, Precious Stones: Charles E. Tuttle Company, Rutland, VT, and Tokyo, Japan, 647 p.

Bergsten, L.J., 1964, History of the Wyoming Jade region: Lapidary Journal, September 1964, Reprinted in MacFall, Russell P., ed., undated, Wyoming Jade—A Pioneer Hunter’s Story: Self published, 56 p.

Bishop, D.T., 1964, Retrogressive metamorphism in the Seminoe Mountains, Carbon County, Wyoming: Laramie, University of Wyoming, M.S. thesis, 49 p., scale 1:24,000.

Branham, A., 1941, Jade found in Wyoming: The Mineralogist, v. 9, no. 3, p. 79–80.

Branham, A., 1965 and 1966, Several articles in MacFall, Russell P., ed., undated, Wyoming Jade—A pioneer hunter’s story: Self published, 56 p.

Chamberlain, K.R., and Frost, B.R., 1995, Mid-Proterozoic mafic dikes in the central Wyoming Province—Evidence for Belt-age extension and supercontinent breakup: Geological Association of Canada—Mineralogical Association of Canada annual conference, Abstracts, v. 20, p. A-15.

Chamberlain, K.R., Frost, C.D., and Frost, B.R., 2003, Early Archean to Mesoproterozoic evolution of the Wyoming Province – Archean origins to modern lithospheric architecture: Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, v. 40, no. 10, p. 1,357–1,374.

Chamberlain, K.R., Sears, J.W., Frost, B.R., and Doughty, P.T., 2000, Ages of Belt Supergroup deposition and intrusion of mafic dikes in the central Wyoming Province—Evidence for extension at ca. 1.5 Ga and 1.37 Ga and potential piercing points for Rodinia reconstructions: Geological Society of America, Abstracts with Programs, v. 32, no. 7, p. A-319.

Dake, H.C., 1942, Jade in Wyoming—New discoveries: The Mineralogist, v. 10, no. 9, p. 275–276.

Frost, C.D., Frost, B.R., Chamberlain, K.R., and Hulsebosch, T.P., 1998, The Late Archean history of the Wyoming Province as recorded by granitic magmatism in the Wind River Range, Wyoming, Precambrian Research, v. 89, p. 145–173.

Frost, C.D., Fruchey, B.L., Chamberlain, K.R., and Frost, R.B., 2006, Archean crustal growth by lateral accretion of juvenile supracrustal belts in the south-central Wyoming Province: Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, v. 43, p. 1,533–1,555.

Fruchey, B.L., 2002, Archean supracrustal sequences of contrasting origin—The Archean history of the Barlow Gap area, northern Granite Mountains, Wyoming: Laramie, University of Wyoming, M.S. thesis, 178 p., scale 1:24,000 and 1:3,000.

Grace, R.L.B., Chamberlain, K.R., Frost, B.R., and Frost, C.D., 2006, Tectonic histories of the Paleoarchean to Mesoarchean Sacawee block and Neoarchean Oregon Trail structural belt of south-central Wyoming Province: Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, v. 43, no. 10, p. 1,445–1,466..

Harlow, G.E., and Sorensen, S.S., 2001, Jade: Occurrence and metasomatic origin—Extended abstract from International Geological Congress 2000: The Australian Gemmologist, v. 21, p. 7–10.

Hausel, W.D., and Holden, G.S., 1978, Mineral resources of the Wind River Basin and adjacent Precambrian uplifts: Wyoming Geological Association 13th Annual Field Conference, Guidebook, p. 303–310.

Hausel, W.D., and Sutherland, W.M., 2000, Gemstones and other unique minerals and rocks of Wyoming—A field guide for collectors: Wyoming State Geological Survey Bulletin 71, 268 p.

Hausel, W.D., 2005, Minerals and rocks of Wyoming—A guide for collectors, prospectors, and rock hounds: Wyoming State Geological Survey Bulletin 72, 159 p.

Hill, Robert Sr., 1979, Nephrite, jadeite—jade: Gems & Minerals Magazine, no. 504, p. 62.

Hurlbut, C.S., and Switzer, G.S., 1979, Gemology: John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY, 252 p.

Kraft, J.L., 1947, Adventure in jade: Holt and Company, 81 p.

Langstaff, G.D., 1995, Archean geology of the Granite Mountains: Golden, Colorado School of Mines, Ph.D. dissertation, 671 p., 9 pls., scale 1:24,000 and 1:100,000.

Love. J.D., 1945, Jade deposits in central Wyoming: Unpublished partial draft, 5 p.

Love. J.D., 1970, Cenozoic geology of the Granite Mountains area, central Wyoming: USGS Professional Paper 495-C, p. C1-C154, scale 1:125,000.

Ludwig, K.R., and Stuckless, J.S., 1978, Uranium-lead isotope systematics and apparent ages of zircons and other minerals in Precambrian granitic rocks, Granite Mountains, Wyoming: Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology, v. 65, p. 243-254.

MacFall, R.P., ed., undated, Wyoming Jade—A Pioneer Hunter’s Story: Self-published, 56 p.

Madsen, M.E., 1978, Nephrite occurrences in the Granite Mountains region of Wyoming: Wyoming Geological Association 13th Annual Field Conference Guidebook, p. 393–397.

Peterman, Z.E., and Hildreth, R.A., 1978, Reconnaissance geology and geochronology of the Precambrian of the Granite Mountains, Wyoming: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1055, 22 p.

Rhoads, Verla, 1969, History on Wyoming Jade: unpublished, 6 p.

Sanders, G.V., 1945, Green gold of Wyoming: Popular Science, v. 146, no. 2, p. 112–114, 208.

Sherer, R.L., 1969, Nephrite deposits of the Granite, Seminoe, and Laramie mountains, Wyoming: Laramie, University of Wyoming, Ph.D. dissertation, 194 p., 30 pls.

Sinkankas, John, 1959, Gemstones of North America: Van Nostrand Company, Inc., New York, NY, 675 p.

Sutherland, W.M., 1990, Gemstones, lapidary materials, and geologic collectibles in Wyoming: Geological Survey of Wyoming [Wyoming State Geological Survey] Open File Report 90-9, 53 p.

Sutherland, W.M., 2010, The discovery of Wyoming Jade: Jade State News, v. 2010, is. 2, p. 2–3.

Sutherland, W.M., and Hausel, W.D., 2003, Geologic Map of the Rattlesnake Hills 30’ x 60’ quadrangle, Fremont and Natrona counties, Wyoming: Wyoming State Geological Survey Map Series 61, 28 p., scale 1:100,000.

Wall, E.N., 2004, Petrologic, geochemical and isotopic constraints on the origin of 2.6 Ga post-tectonic granitoids of the central Wyoming Province: Laramie, University of Wyoming, M.S. thesis, 185 p.

Ward, F., 1999, World jade resources: Arts in Asia, v. 29, no. 1, p. 68–71, in Gemological Abstracts, Gems and Gemology, Summer 1999, v. 35, no. 2, p. 163.

Ward, F., 2001, Jade: Gem Book Publishers, Bethesda, MD, 64 p.


Christopher Doorn, christopher.doorn@wyo.gov