Co-written by Dave Mathewson and his daughter, Christina
I know someone who was told he would never walk, then spent his career hiking the mountains of Nevada and Alaska….someone who has known exactly who he is, and has known it since he was about 6 years old…a person so decisive he usually knows the solution while others are still thinking about it…a person addicted to the exploration hunt, he doesn’t celebrate his finds, because he’s already focused on the next prospect…a guy whose 50-year-career shows no signs of stopping…a person who has overcome unimaginable adversity. Each challenge, set back, and impossibility makes him work that much harder…someone you might call fervent, principled, persistent…and relentless. My Dad, Dave Mathewson.
When he was 5, Dave and his family moved to Cleveland (ask him about his love for the “Indians and the Brownies”). Dave and the neighborhood kids would run and play in the neighborhood streets. Little, determined, Dave would outrun and outplay everyone. Fastest kid on the block. August 24, 1950. The parents of athletic and energetic 6-year-old Dave received devastating news, “your son has polio” the doctor stated. At the time, this 5 letter word carried with it a reign of terror for parents across America. Dave was immediately hospitalized, they didn’t know at the time that it wasn’t contagious, so he was quarantined into a hospital ward comprised of other children who suffered from the same diagnosis. Over the next few months, two worried parents heard things like “he may never walk again” and “we just don’t know enough about it”. Dave stayed in a crib, in a gymnasium-sized room with other kids too-old-for-cribs, for five months. He spent Christmas there and was only able to be visited by his parents, as siblings were not allowed in. He can still remember some of the other kids dying around him during his time in the ward. Now, even at such a young age, Dave had determination beyond his years. No one, not the nurse, not the doctor, not his own body could tell him he would not walk again. And he walked. After five months, he walked out of the hospital on crutches with leg braces. He had to use crutches for almost two years, and went through countless muscle transplants along the way, but never slowed down.
Not too long after this ordeal, my parents began to detect my interest in exploration and all things geological. As a kid, almost every day I would sneak off into nearby woods to explore and bring home everything imaginable in my overall pockets, including interesting rocks, bugs, and snakes. I absolutely loved to be alone and discover new things. Starting at about age 7 or 8, I began getting geology books for Christmas and birthdays and studying them adamantly. Our family moved out West and we took several long cross-country road trips. Being persistent as always, I would talk Mom and Dad into visiting the all the geological sites along the way. Among other places, we went to the Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, Carlsbad Caverns, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and giving my parents little choice, we stopped at almost all the rock shops everywhere we went.
My sixth grade teacher in La Habra, California, Mrs. East, noticed that I had two strong interests…science and art. She would sneak mineral specimens to me from her husband, who was a local geologist. That same year, 1956, I built a Geiger counter for a science project; I was able to detect surface nuclear explosions set off in China 3-to-5 days after the radioactive blasts…very impactful.
At age 12, I made my first significant discovery. On a summer day, a friend and I rode our bikes into La Habra heights. We found and dug on a narrow gypsum stringer that opened up into a vug-filled with nice selenite crystals. With lots of work extracting, carefully cleaning off the gummy surface clays, washing, drying, and packaging, we took these specimens to a local rock shop to see if we could sell them. The rock shop liked them and we sold the crystal clusters to them for nickels and dimes. The rock shop then sold the crystals for dollars as local habitat specimens…the advantages of retailing!!!
My senior year of high school, our family moved to Massena, New York. I was on crutches from yet another muscle transplant operation at the time. Two nearby Universities had excellent geology programs: Queens in Canada and St. Lawrence University. I chose St. Lawrence. The SLU geology program required lots of chemistry, which I had always struggled with, so for a brief time, I became a math major just to avoid the chemistry courses! However, the department head of geology, Dr. Robert (Doc) Bloomer, noticed my passion for geology. He told me that I “reminded him of himself and that I was cut out to be a geologist.” I promptly changed my major to geology.
St. Lawrence was a tough, curve-based college. My GPA struggled and I was wearied of academics, so I decided to quit school and consider what else the world might have to offer. Through a contact to the Chief Geologist of Alcoa, I secured a job in Surinam, South America. I went for it and was soon exposed to bauxite mining around Paranam, then Moengo, and then exploration in the heart of the bush country near Moengo. In the bush camp, only a couple people spoke English, so out of necessity, I learned Taki-taki, the native language of Surinam. Surinam jungles are some of the harshest in the world with big and deadly snakes, and all kinds of hazardous critters and plant-life. I loved it!!! Some of my favorite foods were fish-head soup, sautéed sloth in hot peanut sauce, wild boar, the local fruits, and especially Parbo beer. I had a little difficulty with monkey meat, however. After a year of this incredible exploration experience, I returned to the academics of St. Lawrence with renewed vigor and success.
Considering graduate schools, one of my geology professors encouraged me to attend his alma mater, the University of Indiana. I evaluated it by looking at a wall-scale geologic map of the United States. There were only two formations at that scale in Indiana. Upon further examination of the map, I was attracted me to an area of diverse and complex geology of northern Idaho; so I went to the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho for my MSc in Geology. After reviewing the U of I major professor candidates, I settled on Dr. Rolland R. Reid, a notable and rigorous structural geologist. My Master’s thesis was “Structural Analysis of the Osborne Fault, Coeur d’Alene Mining District, Idaho.” My first job post-graduation was with Asarco in the Galena, Page, and Coeur mines as an underground geologist. I was hired to go to Peru, but never made it because of the Peruvian nationalization that occurred in early 1969. Instead, I transferred to Asarco’s Denver uranium exploration group, and in 1970, joined the newly created Norandex Inc. exploration group based in Spokane, Washington.
In 1973, I left Norandex and joined forces with a Greek-born, Canadian prospector working in northeastern Washington. I found that to be fun, and challenging, but not an easy way to make a living. During this downturn in the mining business, I went back to school to learn “everything I ever wanted to know about mineral deposits” at New Mexico Tech in Socorro, NM. I had the privilege of studying and working under geochemist, Dr. Richard Beane, who was an exceptional teacher. I completed almost everything for a Ph.D., but again got antsy, so in 1977 I took off with my new family to Alaska with Union Carbide. Alaska was fantastic. I couldn’t believe having a helicopter at my disposal to go almost anywhere I wished to look for mineral deposits. I loved the Igipak, Arregetch, and Noatak in the western Brooks Range, thoroughly enjoyed the Chicken-Eagle region, and even greatly enjoyed the Kuskokwim region in spite of a tragic plane crash and the at times miserable, almost-intolerable, black gnats. As a result of the unfortunate, egregious, mindless, and unnecessary land withdrawals by the Feds, Carbide shut down their Anchorage office and I transferred to Nevada. I left the declining Union Carbide group and went to work for Sergio Pastor with Seremin, a subsidiary of BRGM of France, then after those doors closed, Mother Lode Gold Mines in California. I came to realize that Californians don’t understand, don’t support, and don’t want mines in their State. Back to Nevada, I joined Tom Nimsic’s Belmont Resources in a noble attempt to revitalize the, appropriately named, Wonder Silver District.
The exploration dynamics, or perhaps I should say lack of exploration dynamics, of big mining companies has almost always left me uninterested in working for such companies. In early 1984, I founded and ran a company called Athena Gold that acquired and explored the Talapoosa prospect. We discovered the oxide Bear Creek Gold Zone. There was limited funding, and unpaid, I could not support my new family.
Late in 1984, I interviewed at a company that contacted me via a headhunter. I met my prospective exploration manager for the first time. Among many questions I was asked was “what I thought was the primary reason most companies fail in exploration?” There was my opening to strongly express “that primarily poor management leads to failure!” I was certain that I had verbally opened my mouth too wide and put my foot in it… normal for me, and that I had destroyed my shot at the job. As I was walking into my house, the phone was ringing, the headhunter effusively asked “what I had said to the interviewer/manager for him to want to immediately hire me?!” That company was Atlas Corp. and that manager was Dave Shaddrick. Atlas was a very successful company under Dave’s management. To this day, I believe strongly that successful exploration is a bottom-up process, and the primary function of management is to support the boots-on-the-ground-explorers and provide them the necessary resources.
In early 1989, I went the way of so many in Richard (Dick) Weaver’s Atlas. I joined Newmont’s Elko-based, generative exploration team working with Bruce Harvey and Bob Cuffney. I left Newmont in the fall, 1990, partly for the reason that is problematic to big companies, and for personal reasons. Bruce Harvey told me that he “was determined to change the exploration culture of Newmont”… and he did! I rejoined Newmont in January 1992, worked with the very successful Carlin Trend team until 1995, then managed the Great Basin Genex team and later the Carlin Trend exploration team until early “retirement” in 2001.
What most of you may not know, is that for a short time starting in late 1990 my Dad gave up exploration altogether. When he was going through a custody battle for me, he was advised by his lawyer that he would need a seemingly stable, 9-to-5 type job. Without hesitation, he decided to become a high school Chemistry teacher to appease the courts. Chemistry! The same topic that nearly kept him from studying geology to begin with! He taught for a short time at Hug High School in Reno, and once the custody battle was over, he promptly went back to his exploration career.
Upon “being retired in 2001” I concluded that my two favorite functions of the business were staking claims and drilling. Within this business down-turn, there was opportunity. The always entrepreneurial Dave Knight and I formed a partnership called KM Exploration and out of our pockets, we proceeded to stake and lease everything we knew about and considered prospective, about 15 prospects. The exploration business came back and we found homes for all the properties, about half of them in a Vancouver-based company we founded, Tone Resources, later taken over by McEwen’s US Gold. In 2009, after two junior company mislatches, I helped found Gold Standard Ventures Corp and managed the exploration program until mid-2014. Gold Standard acquired the Railroad project on the Carlin Trend, and three other district-scale projects in Nevada. In the Railroad program, we applied the same geological concepts and geophysical methods that I helped formulate and develop, and that worked to discover the Northwest Rain, Tess, Saddle, South Emigrant, and BJ Hill gold deposits in Newmont’s Rain District located just to the north. In 2010, we discovered the blind, large, North Bullion gold deposit at Railroad.
Exploration has provided me a helluva career. Yes, the exploration business is cyclic and, at times, very rough on personal and family life. Yes, there are risks, demands, and challenges, but oh my!!!...the rewards!!!! Had I had the opportunity to pre-design this career of a lifetime, in the absolutely perfect form and fashion that was subsequently unveiled to me, I could not, and would not have done it any differently!!!
John Winton Erwin*
Erin L. Hart
Greg T. Hill
Joseph Kizis, Jr
Brooke J Miller
Justin and Ajeet Milliard
Mia (Cowgill) O'Neal
Shea Clark Smith
Roger C Steininger