Cowee Cowee Valley





See last update, June, 2014 at bottom.

   The Cherokee and Jacobs  mines along Caler Creek, a  tributary of Cowee Creek near Franklin, North Carolina, were sources of some of the finest rubies ever to be found in the United States.  A few rival the best Burmese rubies in color and clarity, and this is probably why Tiffany and Company explored the mines' potential for their jewelry (more historical remarks to be added later).   It is one of only two places in the country I heartily recommend for my friends to recover their own gem corundum (the other being Gem Mountain in Montana)


     Doubly terminated gem crystals are extremely rare.  Those that do exist may resemble tabular Yogo sapphires except for their color (or rarely may be elongated prisms).   However, unlike the Yogos, a few huge Caler Creek rubies have been found (some descriptions to be inserted later).. 
    I first visited the Cherokee Mine on May 30, 2007.  The night before, I found a level place to park (see left photo above), figuring I could find out how to get to the mine after daylight   It turned out to be easier than I thought it would be....

Ray Montoya at Tiffany drift

 h In a second visit to the Cherokee Mine on May 29 and 30, 2008, I met owners Ray, Maria, and Tony  Montoya, who were extremely hospitable and interested in our observations.  We spent a couple of days exploring together, and I left most impressed by their sincerity and commitment to preserve the authenticity (see comment on sign above).  For them, it a passion, and if you are in the area and don't mind pickled fingers, see what you can find.  Even if you don't score big, you will enjoy the experience!  Here's a URL:

This'll cost ya $2.50 a bucket

      There is a small shed in front of you when you descend from Ruby Mine Road to the creek level, and the flume is on the edge of the "Parking Lot" below the point where the gravel access descends to the creek (see right photo above - the creek itself is just behind the flume and the pitchpiles).  You pay your entry fee ($7.00 in 2007) and start screening buckets, which cost $2.50 apiece (in 2008).  The suggested technique is not to jig and flip as most do in the Montana mines, but to look at every rock in the screen.  This is because there are other less dense minerals (e.g., sillimanite, rutile, kyanite, pyrope and rhodolite garnets, and moonstone) that may be garnered from the gravels.  I rummaged through six buckets and found one small, pale blue sapphire crystal (no rubies, but a film an full of the other stuff).  However, because my eyes were not trained, I probably missed something.
    The imported material (see buckets in right photo above) comes from a  riparian bench up the drainage from the wash site, and I think the rubies are  from at least two lode sources.  Apparently, there are some local lodes, as there are old drifts and shafts in the surrounding hillsides.  However, we do not know af any mineable lode sources (that's for 2009 and beyond).
   The "Parking Lot" is actually worked and reclaimed ground.  Alas, it was within these riparian benches where some of the very finest crystals seemed to accumulate under large boulders resting on bedrock ; and they were mined out (and just about all were turned into cabs or faceted) many years ago.    It was hard to find even one of them in a private or museum collection (until now)!  Before May, 2007, I had seen only one; and it was not for sale!
     The Jacobs Mine site is just below the Cherokee Mine.  Though it is not open to the casual passer-by, there is a possibility to operate a private flume (left photo).  Contact Carl Bates, owner of Bates' Cabins.  Cabin #1 is adjacent to the flume which needs some minor repairs to operate, but I bet Carl would help you get it working if you stayed there.   He has also piled up an ore reserve nearby that you could wash for stones.  The cabins, incidentally, are elegantly crafted out of natural materials by Carl himself (right photo).   Here's a URL:
     In May, 2007, I spoke with one of the old-time rockhounds (Robert Dinnes, owner of Cowee Valley Lapidary on Ruby Mine Road near the Jacobs Mine), who had saved a large number of stones from his youthful exploits at the Jacobs Mine.  After an hour of sorting through them and another hour haggling, I had to settle for only two; but these two were the finest I had seen.   They are now in our collection (see right photos).   

     In March, 2008, I had a chance to acquire twenty-two more., and in May I got another 75 carats of doubly terminated pencil lead and bird seed gem crystals!  Robert also has a matrix specimen (not purchased).  He also donated several fine specimens to the collection, including a couple of brownisgh sapphires.  Pictures of these appear below, along with a lot obtained from another rockhound (Michael McDuffie) which contains some bluer sapphires.

Bob Dinnes' donations

The pile


Matrix specimen

Rubies and sapphires

     June, 2011 update:  In late May and early June, we used a sapphire concentrator jig to do some reserve mapping and test gravels for the visitors to sort through for stones.  As the corundumiferous gravels tend to be under several feet of overburden, an excavator is used to get to and extract the pay gravels.  The material from the pit shown below is proving to be fine!  I got a dark red ruby from a bedrock sample, and recently screeners have been reporting unusually large sapphires ("as large as the last joint of my pinky") as well as rubies and the other popular minerals (sillimanite, moonstone, garnet, rutile).   Alas, I only got movies of the jig in action, but some of my friends may send some to publish later - stay tuned!!

     The yellowish stuff was sitting on bedrock, and it's the good stuff.  The stockpile for the buckets is shown in the third photo.  The next picture clearly shows why I was invited to assist - look at that nose for corundum! 

     The fifth shows Rebecca Scheidt, a frequent visitor to the mine, who is always eager to help others find what they missed.  She has her own website (see URL with lots of information about several mines in the area  She may also be assisting us on this one in the near future.  If so, look for many improvements!

     June 2012 update:  I had a chance to photograph a collection of minerals from the Cherokee Mine belonging to a passionate collector we know as "Tony":  Below are several pictures of his faceted stones and rough recently acquired for his collection.  The stones were cut by Bob Dinnes of Cowee Valley Lapidary, whose shop is a couple of miles below the Cherokee Mine on  Ruby Mine Road.  Bob has a unique knack of reading rough and getting fine cut stones out of innocuous looking rough crystals.  Cleaning them in muriatic acid often reveals fine pastel body color, which can be brought out by a skilled artisan. 

     The first photos show pink and blue sapphires.  Then there are garnets, sillimanite, and moonstone.  The last photo shows two  fine rutile cab.  Stay tuned for more information about recent developments about the mine.  (06/02/2012)


June 2014 Update:  The Cherokee Mine is now selling "dig your own" opportunities for those who don't want to fiddle with the goonies in the buckets brought to the flume line for purchase there.  An excavator is used to remove overburden and stockpile the pay layer alongside the dig site where visitors may load their own buckets, which will be transported to the flume by staff if desired.  If you are nor familiar with the technique or what to look for in your screen, "mine boss" Maria Montoya or one of her friends will be glad to help! 

     If you want to have the experience of getting your own uniquely American gemstone or just want to have some outdoor family fun, I recommend the Cherokee!  Check out their website at .  I go every year!

     The pictures below show different views of three purplish pink sapphires found at the Cherokee in 2013 and 2014.  The first is a neat thumbnail cluster, the second is a tapered prism and the third is a partial crystal weighing over 31 carats.  Several nice corundums were found while I was at the mine earlier this year, including a few blue sapphires and cherry red rubies!