#Lookback: History of Jade in Wyoming

A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community

brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

Nephrite Jade was first discovered and identified in Wyoming in by Bert and Verla Rhoads in the late 1930s along the north slope of the Crook Mountains close to Jeffery City. Bert collected a green wind-polished stone and put it in his canvas collection bag while out on the desert hunting for agates. A few months later, he took out the small greenstone, and using his lapidary saws determined the stone was not an agate. Bert sent the stone to the University of Wyoming for mineral analysis. The report that came back identified the stone as Nephrite Jade. This was the first-time jade had been identified in Wyoming. Jade is a semi-precious stone used in jewelry and for carving and is highly prized in the Chinese culture as well as other cultures.

In the early days of jade hunting, there were few roads so jade hunters had to commit to miles of walking through the sagebrush. Verla and Bert spent many weekends hunting for the green treasures and found several large boulders of jade that were too heavy to carry back to their vehicles. They often had to carry heavy rocks miles up and down hills to retrieve their treasures. They found jade from the size of pebbles to boulders weighing over 2000 pounds.

Usually larger pieces of jade are covered in a chalky coating they called bark, so jade is not readily recognizable without a rock hammer to crack them open. Jade is found in many colors from light green to almost black. Small amounts of jade are found in the colors of red, brown, orange, yellow, lavender, blue-grey, and creamy white. Jade can be found by rock hounds on the ridges and the ravines and scattered across the desert floor. Ice, wind, and rain moved the smaller pieces of jade from their original site in the Crook Mountains.

In April of 1944, the Rhoads sold their furniture store, so they could concentrate on making jewelry from the jade they had found. They shipped a large piece of jade weighing 400 pounds to China. They contacted Wen Ti Chang and induced him to come to Lander to see a large 3366-pound boulder they had found in 1942. Mr. Chang was very enthusiastic about their jade and would have purchased their entire inventory, but the Rhoads held out for a higher price than he offered.

Mr. Chang imported Chinese jade cutters to cut and carve the jade in Los Angeles. Dr. George, the ambassador from Formosa, (now Taiwan) came to Lander to see the jade the Rhoads had found.

After WWII Bert and Verla filed a claim on a vein of light green nephrite. In 1948 Bert and his son open a jewelry store on Main Street, Lander, and Rhoads Jewelry became a going concern.

There are two distinct types of jade: jadeite and nephrite jade. Both types of jade have been valued as a semi-precious stone since Neolithic times. In China, jadeite is more highly coveted; it was valued as an imperial stone. Nephrite jade is more abundant and easier to work into finished carvings, beads, and jewelry Nephrite jade is the official state mineral of Wyoming. In Chinese medicine, jade is believed to be beneficial for problems with kidney stones. In China objects made of jade were more valued than objects made of gold or silver. Impurities affect the price of jade. Clear jade is easier to work with and to make into a finished piece.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

Fremont County Museums reopened to the public on Tuesday, May 26th. They have resumed regularly scheduled hours Monday-Saturday from 9-5.

Upcoming Programs

June 18th, 6:30 pm at the Riverton Museum, “Family Document, Book & Artifact Preservation”

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

June 20th, 10 am at the Pioneer Museum, “Virtual Lander Petroglyph Trek”

Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series (log on to Pioneer Museum Facebook page on June 20th for a great virtual trek

June 23rd, 6:30 pm at the Riverton Museum “Frenchie Draw”

Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

June 24th, 9 am at the Dubois Museum “Kids Corner: Food, Shelter, Culture of the Mountain Shoshone”

Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

Consider supporting The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander or the Riverton Museum with a monetary donation. The museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide quality programs, collections management, exhibits, and services that have become their hallmark. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.