Meanwhile, BLM officials have called for a peaceful, administrative solution to the dispute.
The Shasta Lantern reported April 12 that BLM officials accompanied by Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel had issued a cease and desist order to the mining claim owners on March 18, which stated that the miners had until April 25 to shut down mining operations and comply with the order.
“The order has given the miners until April 25 to remove all equipment, buildings and supplies from the mine. It has been reported local BLM officials have threatened to burn the buildings down if they are not removed by the date,” Shasta Lantern reporter Red Smith wrote in the article.
But activity at the mine has been rather uneventful since the the Oath Keepers showed up, said Kerby Jackson, a recorder for the Galice Mining District who has mined in the area since the 1970s.
“It’s been pretty mellow, but the BLM has a publicity nightmare on their hands,” Jackson said.
However, Jackson said “there was some excitement,” when an unexpected helicopter landed on the mine site.
“The BLM said it wasn’t their helicopter,” Jackson said.
The mining operation consists of six lode claims—on five of which the miners have surface rights—totalling about 120 acres, Jackson said.
Sugar Pine Mine history
According to information posted on the Sugar Pine Mine website, “The Sugar Pine Mine was the first hardrock mine discovered in the State of Oregon and is located on the North Fork of Galice Creek. It was discovered in 1858 by Cassidy, Simms and White, but gained notoriety after the mine was obtained by George and Dan Green in 1876. One of the Green Brothers served as county sheriff of Josephine County and a State Representative. Up until 1900, the Sugar Pine was the most productive hardrock gold mine in Southern Oregon.”
The miners claim that the current title to the Sugar Pine Mine, the oldest active mining claim in Oregon, originated on Feb. 9, 1876.
“It was originally recorded as entry #196 on page 134 of the Mining Record of the Galice Creek Mining District, which is currently housed in the vault of the County Clerk of Josephine County. It was later transcribed into official Mining Records of Josephine County, in Volume #3, page 76. It has been continuously owned since,” the website states.
According to the claim owners, the mine has an unbroken chain of title that dates back about 140 years. Under federal law, mining claims that have chains of title that predate July 23, 1955 have surface rights, unless the owner relinquished them, or conveyed them back to the government, as outlined in the 1955 Surface Resources Act, also known as the Multiple Use Act. (30 USC 612).
“In November, 1969, BLM was required to obtain a right of way easement across the Sugar Pine Mine, because the agency does not have any surface management authority,” the website states. The site also refers to to Volume #17, page 461 in the Josephine County Mining Conveyance Records.
The miners, Rick Barclay and George Backes, claim that the title to the Sugar Pine Mine predates the formation of the BLM by more than 70 years and the formation of U.S. Forest Service by nearly 30 years.
“BLM claim that they actually control the surface of the Sugar Pine Mine, despite the fact that they have refused to produce a single legal document to prove their surface rights authority when sent a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request,” the site stated in April.
Backes told the Pick & Shovel Gazette April 17 that 14 FOIA requests had been sent to three BLM offices in Oregon and the had been stonewalled by the BLM for more than six weeks in getting a reply.
Since then, the BLM has produced 50 pages of documents, which have only served to cast more doubt on the BLM’s position, Jackson said.
The BLM’s position
BLM Public Affairs Specialist Jim Whittington said in an April interview that the BLM has a letter that refutes that the Sugar Pine mining claim owners actually have surface rights.
“In this case, there was a pre-1955 claim, and in the 1960s they went back and gave folks option of either writing a letter to BLM to maintain surface rights, or if they didn’t respond meant you gave surface rights back,” Whittington said.
The BLM claims that a previous owner of the claim initially sent in a letter stating that he wanted to retain surface rights and then later sent the BLM another letter that relinquished his surface rights, Whittington said.
“So, that withdrawal in 1961 essentially gave the surface rights back to BLM. There was some negotiation, and he sent in a letter saying, ‘OK I withdraw my letter saying that I want to keep them,’ and so rights went back to BLM.”
Whittington alleged that the miners had violated regulations related to surface rights on the mining claim.
“Inspection of the area in January found they were in non-compliance, particularly with some surface rights stuff. [We] sent them a couple letters and we’re waiting to hear back from them with whether they’re going to appeal or take some other course of action, all of which are administrative in nature, Whittington said.
The two letters of non-compliance were intended to start dialogue between the miners and the BLM, Whittington said.
“The idea is to open up some communication ... not to be heavy handed,” Whittington said. “What we’re saying is,‘Relax a little bit, stop your operations until we get everything in line with whatever process you want to pursue.”
Despite the miners accusations that “BLM officials threatened to burn the buildings down,” as reported in the Shasta Lantern, Whittington said that forceful removal is not an option.
“Not even a consideration,” said Whittington, explaining that the BLM has taken routine action with an administrative path for resolution.
Whittington admitted the BLM has burned surface areas for reclamation in the past after a court has decided the fate of a mining operation.
In those instances the BLM will “burn it because it’s more expensive to tear it down and haul it all out,” Whittington said.
In other cases where people are non-responsive and don’t communicate with the BLM, the matter will go to court and the court will decide what happens, but the situation at the Sugar Pine mining claim is “not anywhere close to that,” Whittington said.
Backes said the letter Jack Gordon signed in 1963 (not 1961), is invalid because he was only a caretaker of the claim at the time and didn’t become a claim owner until 1969.
“Our attorney looked at it and laughed,” Backes said. “It’s not notarized. It’s not a legal document.”
Backes accused the BLM of contacting the miners’ attorney and trying to persuade the lawyer to drop the case.
“That is totally illegal. It’s a conspiracy and a felony. They have no reason to contact our attorney,” he said.
He accused the BLM of taking a small mining operation and blowing the whole issue out of proportion over surface rights.
The miners have since filed an appeal with the Interior Board of Land Appeals requesting that no further action by the BLM be taken to remove or destroy their mining equipment or cabin, Jackson said.
Backes said the Oath Keepers remain on the scene to make sure the BLM does not burn the cabin and other property at the mine.
The Sugar Pine Mine website states: “BLM has a long history of BURN FIRST, ask the court later tactics.”
“If I had not been here, our cabin wouldn’t be here. They have a habit of doing that,” Backes said. “That agency is way out of line ... It’s harassment—total harassment. It’s just a land grab.”
The Oath Keepers
As of May 12, the Oath Keepers were still on site at the mine, Jackson said.
Not the long after Oath Keepers arrived on the scene in April, the organization posed the following statement on its website: “The Oath Keepers, a group of active and former police and military activists who have promised to keep the oath they swore to uphold the Constitution, are currently in Galice, Oregon, as guardians of the Sugar Pine Mine.
“Why are they there? They are there because their assistance was requested by the mine owners to protect the mine, their property from illegal search and seizure, and their constitutional right to due process after being served with an illegal Cease and Desist notice by the BLM.
“The BLM instructed the mine owners to remove their equipment, demolish their buildings, fill in their tunnels, and vacate the claim BEFORE they are allowed to file an appeal against the illegal order. This is a violation of the constitution and denies them their right to DUE PROCESS.
“Another reason the Oath Keepers were called in was the troubling attitude of County Deputy Jason Stanton, contracted to the BLM as so-called law enforcement. When one of the miners informed the Deputy that he was a law-abiding citizen and followed the constitution, Deputy Stanton replied that he had “... a problem with the constitution.” Two witnesses have signed sworn affidavits regarding the exchange.
“With all of these violations of federal law, (including the BLM’s non-compliance regarding FOIA requests,) and potential myriad others, the owners felt that they had no choice but to have the Sugar Pine Mine guarded and protected by trained professionals who still take seriously the oath they swore to uphold the Constitution – the SAME oath Deputy Stanton swore, but apparently didn’t really mean it.”
Stanton’s alleged comments raised red flags in the mining community and set the stage for conflict, Jackson said May 12.
“That kind of set the alarm bells off,” Jackson said.
The miners are now planning to sue multiple BLM employees for wrong doing, and are considering challenging he constitutionality of the 1955 Surface Resources Act, he said.
Jackson said support has been growing for the miners, who are now asking on the SugarPineMine.com website for donations to pursue legal action against the BLM.
On May 9, more than 300 people attended a rally at the mine, Jackson said.
Sugar Pine Mine online
For more information about the Sugar Pine Mine dispute and Oath Keepers, go to:
There are also several YouTube videos on Sugar Pine Mine:
Brad Jones is the Managing Editor/Communications Director for the Gold Prospectors Association of America and the Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org