#Lookback: Sweetwater Agates

    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.

    As early as the 1870s men would fill gunny sacks with Sweetwater Agates and haul them down to the Union Pacific railroad and sell them to tourists.  Charles Countryman, who operated a curio shop and general merchandise store in Laramie, made a trip in 1884 to the agate beds on the Sweetwater River near Split Rock.  He had a four horse wagon he used to retrieve the agates.  The trip was destined to change his life. He saw the fertile grassland and the abundant water and soon closed his shop and became a cattleman in the Sweetwater Valley.

    Sweetwater Agates are more correctly called Moss Agates, a form of Chalcedony with inclusions of manganese oxides which form star or flowerlike patterns in the rock. Sweetwater Agates are considered to be semi-precious stones. Under a black light Sweetwater Moss agates glow green-yellow or even orange due to inclusions of hydrous uranium arsenate.

    In the early days, Tiffany’s, the famous New York jewelry store, sent a man into the Sweetwater country to collect as many stones as he could to be made into jewelry. At the time there were hostile Native Americans roaming the area, and he would hide from them and then return after they had departed. The early collectors found stones as big as hen’s eggs strewn through the sagebrush.  

    The largest and best Sweetwater agates occur in gravel beds of the Split Rock Formation. They are not common, as they have been collected for 150 years by rock hounds.

    It is best to hunt for Sweetwater agates in the spring after the snow has melted but before the grass has grown tall.  If you want to try your luck, check out these locations.  Please be sure to check a map to ensure you are hunting on public land or have permission of the landowner to trespass.  

    The Pioneer Museum has a nice new agate display that shows many of the kinds that can be found in the area.

    Location 1

    Near the top of the hill north from the Sweetwater Station Rest stop.  Gravel beds contain Sweetwater agates on the East side of the highway. There is also an area north-east of Jeffrey City; a gravel road meets the highway about 7 miles east of Jeffrey City and will lead to the agate beds.

    Location 2

    Agate Flats: A 100 square mile area north east of Sweetwater Station Rest Stop is called Agate Flats.  Both the Oregon and Mormon trails crossed this area.  The BLM has constructed a two lane, all weather, improved gravel road.  Remember, if the agates are worth digging up, then the holes are worth filling in.  Please practice Leave No Trace.     

    Happy Hunting

    Next up for the Fremont County Museum

    March 3, 4-6pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Celebrating Women’s History Month” Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

    March 14, 7pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Wyoming State Flag History” Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

    March 27, 6pm at the Dubois Museum, “Bruce Blevins: Mapping Yellowstone” Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

    Call the Dubois Museum 1-307-455-2284, the Pioneer Museum 1-307-332-3339 or the Riverton Museum 1-307-856-2665 for detail regarding their programs.

    The Wind River Cultural Centers Foundation has been created to specifically benefit The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum.  The WRCCF will help deliver the long term financial support our museums need to flourish.  In the current economic environment, the museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark over the last four years.  Please make your tax deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Wind River Cultural Centers Foundation at PO Box 1863 Lander, WY 82520 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.  

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