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INTERVIEW WITH SWEETWATER CLYDE FOSTER
LIFE IN THE
OLD DAYS REMAIN A SWEET MEMORY FOR GOLD MINER
Post News Service
Herald-Tribune, May 31, 1988
Ridge- Mariposa, California.
Clyde is 50 years behind the times.
He drives a
faded white, rusted, beat-up 1937 half-ton Mack truck.
the Sweetwater Gold mine his dad bought in 1933 with the same mining
equipment that his father used.
mine has been worked continuously since 1862. Never
abandoned. A few got rich here. A lot went broke. I've donE
both, hit it a few times and other times it's been a long time between
drinks," recalled Sweetwater Clyde, whose real name is Clyde Foster.
77. His father was a lifelong California gold miner. So was
his grandfather, and so is he. For 55 years he has worked the
Sweetwater Mine, except for time out for a couple of wars. He was
an Army sergeant in the South Pacific in World War II and later in
swap this life for anything. If I struck it rich, I'd never
leave. I'd just keep digging deeper and deeper and further into
the mountain plowing all the money into the hole looking' for
more. It's the lure of gold that keeps me goin', and the thrill
of findin' it," he explained, his sharp blue eyes brightening with
Clyde has a solid copper tombstone among the clutter in his 1896 gold
miner's shack of weathered boards and corrugated tin roof. The
inscribed tombstone, ready for the moment he gasps his last breath,
Foster. Sweetwater Clyde. 1911-Not Yet! It wasn't the gold he
wanted so much as just finding the gold. Future miners, as
this place you pass, turn down an empty glass."
will chisel off the 'Not Yet' and bury me under the lilac bushes over
yonder." said the 5-foot-6, 150 pound miner. "But I'm no leaving
soon. I've got 20 years of planning already roped out for
developin' the mine."
that the Sweetwater's best years were in the 1880's and 1890's, when
more than $500,000 in gold was recovered. His own best years, he
recalled, were the early 1950's, when for four years straight he pulled
out more than 1,000 ounces of $35-an-ounce gold.
only $35,000 a year then, but it would be $450,000 a today;'s
prices. I'd like to do that again," he mused with a mellow grin
and dreamy eyes.
Clyde took a 15-ounce bar of gold (worth $650 ) from one of his pockets
and told how it was a recent recovery from 30 tons of crude.
To get to
his mine at the 4,000-foot level in a remote region of the High Sierra-
about 10 miles from the tiny town of Midpines in Mariposa County
requires navigation of three miles over a bumpy, one-lane dirt
At the entrance to his 10 claims on 200 acres is a sign proclaiming :
"SWEETWATER MINE. SHOOTING WILL BE RECIPROCATED."
been there 20 years. Nobody shot a hole in it yet. I
haven't had to shoot back at anybody, " he said.
shaft is a horizontal hole half a mile into the mountain with
2,000-foot shafts branching in four directions. He enters and
leaves the mine in his tiny ore train. Some of the track leads
out of the mine and over a 40-foot-high, 125-foot-wide trestle he built
out of trees to carry his waste materials to a dump site.
Clyde has his own sawmill for cutting shring timber. He processes
what he digs from the mine through a 90-year-old machine called a
Chilean jaw crusher. Its three stone wheels, each weighing 3,00
pounds, grind a ton of crude to fine sand. The crusher is driven
by a 1926 Studebaker engine.
flag flies from the porch of his sturdy old shack, which is heated by
an ancient potbellied wood stove. He cooks his beans and other
grub on a 1925 gas range. His floor is covered with a layer of
filth dragged in over the years an never swept away.
old mining equipment is all over his diggin's. "I don't throw
anything away. Never know when I'm gonna need it," he said.
(transcibers note, 2012-
scavengers and looters have removed the old artifacts from the
property. At the time of Clyde's death promises were made by the
Sierra National Forrest and the local Clampers to keep the property
guarded from theft. The Chilean mill has been removed to
the Mariposa History Center. Not sure if items from the
Sweetwater Mine on displayat the Calfiornia State Mining and
Mineral Museum were stolen in a recent robbery. Information on
what was stolen has yet to be released. Currently five suspects
are in custody for the robbery.
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