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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow A $25,000 footprint

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A $25,000 footprint

The Armstrong Nugget sits front and center in U.S. Bank's gold display that features metals mined from the Baker Mining District, an area that stretches from the Snake River to John Day. (Baker City Herald).
The Armstrong Nugget sits front and center in U.S. Bank's gold display that features metals mined from the Baker Mining District, an area that stretches from the Snake River to John Day. (Baker City Herald).

By LISA BRITTON

Of the Baker City Herald

Among the trays of gold flakes and gravel-sized nuggets on display at U.S. Bank is a heart-stopping specimen that was pulled from a muddy footprint in 1913.

The miner's name was George Armstrong, and he spotted the hunk of gold as he followed his son out of a placer mine near Susanville in Grant County.

The nugget weighed 80.4 ounces — that's 6 pounds — and was worth more than $1,400 at the 1913 gold price of $17.50 an ounce.

That's more than $25,000 in today's dollars.

Fearing for his life from greedy gold-seekers, Armstrong jumped on the train and hightailed it to the bank in Baker City.

He stored it at the bank for safekeeping and borrowed several hundred dollars in advance against the nugget's worth.

"When he found it, he came to town and they had a big party — just drank and drank for two or three days," said Jack Pittman, who retired from U.S. Bank in 1993.

When that initial money disappeared, Armstrong sold the chunk of gold to the bank so he could finance a grubstake, Pittman said.

The nugget is now worth between $27,000 and $28,000, said Terry Karp of Baker Gold and Silver.

Today's spot price for pure gold is $408 an ounce, he said.

Since the nugget is 87 percent pure, the price is determined by multiplying 69.948 ounces (87 percent of 80.4 ounces) by the set price of gold, Karp said.

But that figure is just a guideline.

"Nuggets are worth whatever you can get out of it," he said.

The Armstrong nugget isn't up for sale.

It sits front and center in the bank's gold display that features metals mined from the Baker Mining District, an area that stretches from the Snake River to John Day.

"Years ago they used to box (the nugget) up and ship it off to world's fairs, but it got to be too expensive. And they used to let everybody hold it," Pittman said.

With the push of a button visitors can listen to the history of the display from a CD recorded by Stewart Sullivan, who worked for 20 years as an agricultural representative at U.S. Bank.

"All of these nuggets are just as they came from the ground," Sullivan reports.

The purest gold in the display — at 93 percent — is smooth and flat.

The Armstrong nugget — pockmarked and shaped like an abstract pyramid — has its own story of purity.

"The impurity in this nugget, the geologists tell me, is probably silver," Sullivan says.

The rest of the case contains pans of volcanic rock with tiny traces of gold, hard rock from Cornucopia, ore from the Virtue Mine, and pea-sized gold nuggets from mines located within 65 miles of Baker City.

A placard placed atop the glass cabinet notes that "the bank has a standing offer from the Smithsonian Institute for this nugget."

In fact, the Institute wants more than just the Armstrong nugget.

"They would love us to take this out of Baker and donate the whole thing," said bank manager Colleen Taylor.

That won't happen any time soon.

"No way, not as long as it's on my ship," Taylor said.

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