When Bob Stuart and his childhood chum, Charlie Bray, first saw the old miner, the Medford Senior High School students were fishing on the Little Applegate River.
"We went over to talk to him — I've always liked geology and wanted to see what he was doing," recalls Stuart, now 81, of Medford.
"Well, I was impressed with him," he adds. "He had these 4-foot round boulders — about eight or 10 of them. He put some sticks of powder down there with 18-inch fuses, lit them and ran like gangbusters to get behind a tree."
That was a year or two before Stuart graduated from high school in 1949.
He hadn't thought about Orville Snavely for years until he saw an article last Sunday in the MT that mentioned the miner who had owned the old Federal mine on the Little Applegate. The mine once was owned by Gin Lin, one of the few Chinese miners allowed to own a claim.
The article focused on material Snavely had given the Southern Oregon Historical Society in 1952, which included 10 human teeth and funerary items that largely included shells or beads. He reportedly told SOHS that he had "found this grave while mining" on private land along the Little Applegate about two miles upstream from its confluence with the Applegate River.
In keeping with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the items will likely be given to the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde later this month. They lived in the region before being forcibly removed following the Rogue River Indian Wars in the mid-1850s.
The article was the first Stuart had learned of the material. Nor would he condone tampering with any human burial sites.
"But you find a lot of things when you work in the ground," he observes.
In fact, while working for his family's gravel and cement company over the years, he recalls discovering Indian stone bowls as well as parts of a mastodon tusk.
He explains that Snavely's placer mine employed water from a mining ditch dug by Chinese miners. From a point some 250 feet above his mine, the miner funneled the water into metal pipes leading down to a "giant" with a 6-inch nozzle.
"That pipe got smaller as you went down the hill," Stuart says. "Orville would set that giant up and blast the rocks with the water."
After the two youngsters struck up a rapport with the miner, he invited them to come out and do a bit of panning on his claim.
"We respected him and his property," Stuart stresses. "He was a pretty good old guy. But if he caught someone on his property who wasn't supposed to be there, he could be real tough.
"I remember Orville as pretty elderly, kind of baldish," he adds. "He grew a big red beard once in a while."
The miner lived in a painted house across a foot bridge from the mine.
"When we went out there, we'd go to the mine and look up at the house and wave," Stuart says. "Pretty soon he would come down and talk to us."
The old miner let the youngsters pan in areas where he had already mined.
"We worked the cracks and crannies," Stuart says. "We panned, and even had a little sluice box we made.
"When you worked a pan, saw some black sand, then saw that little flake of gold and the flakes got bigger, your heart would start pounding," he adds.
The work was not easy, he says.
"We got about an ounce of gold altogether," he says. "That was when it was worth about $35 an ounce."
It would have been just about enough to pay for a visit to a chiropractor, he quipped of the back-breaking labor.
Yet Stuart had seen what lured Snavely and others to work long hours at their claims.
"Orville once showed us a quart milk bottle that was full of gold — I hefted it," he says. "There were some nuggets in there the size of golf balls."
He recalls that Snavely quit mining for three years, leaving the area after buying a laundry in Los Angeles.
"But he came back to the Applegate — he couldn't stay away from mining," he says.
Stuart, who served in Korea while in the Army, lost touch with his old friend over the years. The last time he talked to him was when Snavely was serving as a caretaker at the closed Sterling Creek mine decades ago.
"I don't know what happened to him," Stuart says. "I know his wife had passed away. I think I saw his obituary a long time ago."
Whatever happened to the gold Stuart mined at Snavely's claim back in the day?
"I've got it in a little container in a safety deposit box," he says. "It's pretty stuff to look at."
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at email@example.com.