Tuesday, August 20, 2019


TURQUOISE FEVER premiered on the INSP network this past Wednesday. The weekly reality series follows the fortunes and follies of the Nevada-based turquoise-mining Otteson clan. The first show was about trying to satisfy the blue-stone needs of a big-time buyer and jewelry designer from Japan, who is very influential in the jewelry markets throughout Asia.  If you missed this one, don’t worry, because there will be other chances. Besides, in a way, episode 2, which airs this Wednesday night, August 21st, is just as good a place to start, as it really focuses on the family, and how the Ottesons became a ‘Blue Gold’ powerhouse.

It all started in 1958, when the family moved en masse from Colorado to Nevada, and patriarch Lynn Otteson staked his first claim. His sons Dean, Danny and Tommy worked with him, and soon there were wives and sons and in-laws in the mix.  Dean would become the patriarch, and during this show’s six-year gestation period, he would pass away, pledging his brothers not only to continue mining, but to take care of his widow, and family matriarch, Donna.

Last week I had the opportunity to discuss the show with one of the younger members of the Otteson turquoise-mining family, Danny’s 22-year-old son, and already a veteran miner, Tristan. He’s both the historian and scientist of the family, and he started out by giving me a verbal sketch of the history of turquoise mining, and the Otteson’s involvement with it.

Tristan: Turquoise in the southwestern United States has been mined since way before any white people got here. The Native American mines in the New Mexico region of Cerrillos are some of the oldest turquoise mines in the entire world. But as for the Ottesons, we got into the mining business about three generations before me. Grandpa Lynn's father, Christian Vern Otteson, had worked a little bit at the Lick Skillet Mine in, Manassa, Colorado in the very early 20th Century. He fought in World War I, and passed away when my grandpa was only three years old. With their father gone, my grandpa would work all sorts of jobs to support his family. His uncle Pete King owned Lick Skillet Mine and (Lynn), worked there. Then, when he was about 18, Pete told him to come out and mine one of his claims in Nevada, the Cloverdale, Nevada Blue Gem Mine; it's now called the Easter Blue Mine, and we mine it still. This was around the mid-1940s, and he really started to fall in love with turquoise.  So he moved his very young family from Colorado straight out to Nevada. I think it was 1958 that they moved out to Nevada permanently. They lived in Haybag Johnson's chicken coop, and from there my grandpa was able to work various mines around Cloverdale. Finally my grandpa was able to put a four-year lease on Lone Mountain Turquoise Mine, which is one of the most famous turquoise mines in the entire world today.

They barely scraped up enough money to get a little tiny mixer, that he would haul all the way out to that mine. They’d bring water in big metal milk containers, and they had this little tub that was about three-foot-wide, that the family would bathe in, and they’d run the dumps that the other miners had mined out. And when they could fill the bottom of that tub full of turquoise nuggets, they’d load everybody up, drive down to New Mexico to sell it to the Zunis. And not only for money. They would trade it for clothes, groceries, saddles, guns, blankets, anything they could get of value. My grandma would always tell my grandpa, “You can't eat a saddle. Come back with money or food.’ Sometimes they were able to sell a whole bunch of nuggets, and put $3000 or $4,000 in their pocket.  Sometimes they only came back with a saddle or two or a blanket.”

From there, my grandpa was able to build up his own operation. He got in with a whole lot of different people over the years where they would front equipment, and he had the mining knowledge. It never seemed like my grandpa got a fair shake out of those deals, but eventually he traded a silver claim he had in eastern Nevada for the Pilot Mountain Turquoise Mines.

Tristan Otteson

Henry: Have you ever considered a profession other than turquoise mining?

Tristan:  Personally? I really haven't. In high school, we all dream of being a different thing. But when it came down to it, I had gone out to the turquoise mines with my dad, my older brothers, since I was real little and I couldn't really imagine doing anything else.

Henry: Except for the DeBeers diamond family in South Africa, I can't think of another family that has so dominated the mining of a single mineral.

Tristan:  You can see them literally everywhere. The Royston Turquoise, that's one of the world-famous mines that we mined. Just recently there was a story on Jason Mamoa, Aquaman. He came out with a big Indian squash necklace, and said he felt like the native American, Mr. T. That was Royston Turquoise in that squash.

Fire in the hole!

Henry: I know there're many different grades and types of turquoise.  Can you give me a sense of the range of value?

Tristan:  We generally sell our turquoise by carat weight.  To put it in perspective, gold's at $1400 per ounce, right around eight or $9 a carat. Our turquoise ranges anywhere from one to $2 a carat for the not as rare stuff, all the way up to $80 to $100 per carat for really special stuff. So turquoise it can be worth 10 times its weight in gold.

Henry: Do you ever have trouble with claim jumpers?

Tristan:  Yuh. Over the years, there's been a lot of times when people come out on our claims, and try to scoop up the vein you're digging on. And with the way the turquoise is, if you don't know how to get it out of the ground, if you see a vein sticking out of the wall and try to go at it with a hammer, you're just going to destroy it. We've had it where you show up to work the next day and your vein is just a whole bunch of chips on the ground.

Henry: Of course, it's not like gold; you can't reform it. It's just gone.

Tristan:  Exactly it. They could have just destroyed a $40,000 pocket of Turquoise and not even know it.

Henry:  I was fascinated to learn how popular turquoise is in Asia. How much of the turquoise business is outside of the U.S., and what other countries are involved?

Donna shows a buyer from Japan their best stones.

Tristan:  In the United States, they want the unique stone. But in other countries, that hasn't caught on except for Japan, that romanticizes Native American jewelry. In other countries, straight blue stones is what they look for. So there's huge turquoise mines in China, over in Egypt, and in Iran. It's kind of a pattern; the high desert places around the world all have turquoise mines. They call it Persian turquoise and Egyptian turquoise; it's really beautiful stuff, along with the Chinese. And they more or less dominate the markets outside of the United States, except for those like the Japanese market that focuses on Native American jewelry.

Henry: When you're prospecting for gold, you look for quartz because they're found together. What sort of indicators do you have when you're looking for Turquoise?

Tristan:  There's two different kinds of formations. What you’re looking for is mineralized ground with iron outcroppings or a black chert (note: chert is a hard, fine-grained sedimentary rock composed of quartz crystals).  And there’s a kind of a tan rock, dominated mostly by quartz, but not the kind of crystal quartz that you think of. My dad has walked literally thousands of miles, prospecting for turquoise, and tried to teach me and Lane how to read the differences in the minerals.
Henry: What is the process that makes turquoise form?

Lonely out there!

Tristan:  Well, this is still largely up for debate. Pretty much the only thing people can really agree on is it's an aluminum copper phosphate. Water goes through the ground, through the cracks, and where the right kind of phosphates are. There's debate on whether the water was going down through the rocks or up through the rocks.

Henry: Do we know how long it takes for turquoise to form?

Tristan:  They tested some turquoise down in Arizona and dated it to over 10 million years old. And other people have theories that puts it clear back to the Mesozoic era.

Henry: I get the impression that turquoise is getting harder to find. Do you have any sense of when turquoise will be mined out?

Tristan:  That's speculation, but the huge producing mines don't exist anymore. I would put a shelf life on the southwest and American turquoise to maybe 150, 200 years until it could literally be all dug up. Turquoise forms in two different ways;  it's either in veins, through the rocks, or it can get into a clay and actually make nuggets of turquoise where it formed and bubbled up.

Don't drop it!

Henry: I know your son is just a baby, but when he grows up, would you want your son to follow in your footsteps in the turquoise mining business?

Tristan:   If he wants to mine turquoise, he should. The thing is, it's hard. It's not easy if you weren't brought up in mining turquoise. Honestly, the biggest future in our business are the children that we have that come out to the mines with us, that are constantly learning from us. So I would kind of expect them to mine turquoise. But if they don't want to, that's cool too.

Henry: What is the most important thing to know about turquoise mining?

Tristan: The most important thing about a turquoise mining is appreciating the stones that you're digging up, and appreciating the ground that they come from, and having a good reason to dig them up, which is for your family.


Oxford University Press – Hardcover -- $34.95

First let me go on record as saying that I am not a musician, and I have three years of guitar lessons to prove it.  But I love music, and I love movie soundtracks. The first soundtrack I ever owned was Monty Norman’s score to DR. NO. I was eight years old, and I begged for it, not because of the music, but because there was a photo of a nearly nude Ursula Andress on the back of the cover. But I listened to the music while I stared at the picture, and I became fascinated.

At NYU Film School I got turned on to Ennio Morricone by fellow student and later screenwriter, the late Ric Menello (TWO LOVERS, THE IMMIGRANT). He made me buy an Italian import album, I, WESTERN, a collection of music from a fistful of Morricone Westerns, and I was hooked.

So, I love film music, I know a fair bit about it, but like the guy who doesn’t want the magic trick ruined by being told how it was done, I am an audience member, not an insider.  All of this is my roundabout way of saying that I absolutely loved reading ENNIO MORRICONE IN HIS OWN WORDS, and I probably understood about 10% of it.

The book represents a year of discussions between fellow-composers De Rosa and Morricone, and De Rosa’s encyclopedic knowledge of the maestro’s work makes him a perfect interviewer. If you aren’t signed up for Spotify yet, you’ll want to be, because there is an official cut list, and there are frequent music cues throughout the book, to give voice to the music they are discussing.

You’ll learn about the start of Morricone’s musical career, as a trumpet sideman filling in for his father during World War II.  You’ll learn about his classical education, ‘paying his dues’ in radio, and his early scores, including a pair of Spaghetti Westerns he scored before being approached by Sergio Leone for THE MAGNIFICENT STRANGER (later FISTFUL OF DOLLARS).  Much space is appropriately devoted to the Morricone/Leone collaborations, and Morricone describes both the inspirations and the frustrations – as when Leone used a piece from Dimitri Tiomkin’s RIO BRAVO score on a temporary music track, then fell in love with it and didn’t want to part with it. He did eventually – he had to part with the recording, or with Ennio.  

His other Euro-Western collaborations are not dealt with in similar depth – directors Sergio Sollima (three Westerns together) and Sergio Corbucci (seven Westerns together), each receive just a single reference, but as Corbucci’s was in a list of directors who did not get involved with the scoring, that may be why.

Morricone has much more to say about his work with Brian De Palma, Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci, John Carpenter, Terence Malick, and many others. As an audience member, I was thrilled at the insights, and surprised at how much I learned. I can only imagine how much more I would have learned, had I been a musician.


It was on September 15th, 1949, that Clayton Moore first tied on the black mask, mounted the great horse Silver, and thundered into TV history as THE LONE RANGER!  On Tuesday, September 17th, join us at 11 a.m. at the Wells Fargo Theatre at The Autry to celebrate the 70th anniversary of television’s first Western series, and one of the most beloved.  It’s too early to post a guest attendee list just yet, but Clayton’s daughter, Dawn Moore, is taking part, and Rob Word always gets wonderful guests for his events.  I’ll have more details as the event gets closer.  In the meantime, here’s a link to my interview with Dawn Moore: http://henryswesternroundup.blogspot.com/2014/09/daughter-remembers-clayton-lone-ranger.html

Dawn and Clayton Moore


GO WEST, a pre-Civil War Western that follows the trek of a diverse group of adventurers heading to California for gold and freedom, has been given a script commitment, as a co-production of Fox Entertainment and CBS.  Writer/Producer Bridget Carpenter shared an Emmy nomination for her work on FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, as well as WGA nominations for her work on LIGHTS, and for season one of WESTWORLD. She was also Exec Producer on 2014’s dark contempo American Indian series RED ROAD.


“Westerns are our way of exploring our own mythology.”
                                                                                    Peter Fonda

The movies’ counter-culture Captain America has died of lung cancer at age 79.  Nominated for an Oscar for ULEE’S GOLD, the son of Oscar-winning screen legend Henry Fonda, and kid brother of double Oscar-winner Jane Fonda, Peter charted his own path. Not always pleased with his mainstream Hollywood films – in a Playboy interview he referred to his 1963 film TAMMY AND THE DOCTOR as TAMMY AND THE SHMUCKFACE – he starred for edgier independent filmmakers like Roger Corman in films like THE WILD ANGELS. Working both in front of and behind the camera, he not only co-starred in 1969’s earth-shaking EASY RIDER, he also wrote and produced it.

Although he didn’t star in a lot of Westerns – his earliest appearances include a WAGON TRAIN and an unsold HIGH NOON pilot where he played Will Kane Jr. – two of the three films he directed were Westerns.  In 1971’s poetic tragedy, THE HIRED HAND, Fonda and frequent collaborator Warren Oates play cowboy drifters who split up when Fonda goes back to abandoned wife Verna Bloom. But obligations force them back together. With strong performances, a wise script by Alan Sharp, stunning photography by Vilmos Zsigmond, and very creative visuals, editing and score, HIRED HAND was an artistic triumph for Fonda.

In his second, 1979’s much more light-hearted WANDA NEVADA, Fonda is a modern-day gold prospector who wins 13-year-old Brooke Shields in a poker game.  For Fonda, who described his relationship with his father as, “fraught,” one of the great thrills of that production was the chance to direct Henry Fonda, and to afterwards receive a letter from him about the experience. “It was a five-page letter.  And at the end, ‘In my forty-one years of making motion pictures, I have never seen a crew so devoted to the director.  You are a very good director.  And please remember me for your company.’  Now a company is a word we normally use in stage.  But in John Ford’s time, he carried a (stock) company of actors with him from one film to the next.  Ward Bond was one of them.  John Carradine was another.  Great characters that he would have as his company.  And the fact that my dad wanted to be part of my company… How cool is that?”

Fonda’s later acting career would get a considerable boost after his strong supporting role in 2007’s 3:10 TO YUMA. Fred Olen Ray, who was making AMERICAN BANDITS: FRANK AND JESSE JAMES, told me, “He was somebody we were really looking forward to having, because he’s very iconic. We had made the deal, I had spoken to him in France, and coming back on the plane, he fell on the jet-way. He busted his jaw open, and he had to have stitches. And (his people) were saying, he can’t be there on this day, and he could probably be ready in a week.

And that’s a week after the movie shoot had ended. So we thought, let’s not get ourselves caught in a tough spot here. Let’s go ahead and film these scenes anyway with a different actor. And a few days later, after the movie had wrapped, we heard, ‘Okay, Peter Fonda’s ready!’ So we shot the scenes over again with (Peter Fonda), and those are what we used in the movie.” 

Ron Maxwell enjoyed directing Fonda in the Civil War home-front drama COPPERHEAD. “Oh, he’s a lot of fun; he’s an icon.  There’s one scene where he meets Abner, and they speak about the issues that are dividing the town.  And that first shot, when you first see him, is an exact replica, to every detail, to his father playing YOUNG MISTER LINCOLN in John Ford’s 1939 film.   The only difference is that film was in black and white, and ours is color.  After we finished filming that scene, Peter looked up in the sky and said, ‘Dad, I hope you’re proud of me.’”  There is little doubt about that.


When, in the song-of-the-summer, OLD TOWN ROAD, Lil Nas X intoned that timeless lyric, “Wrangler on my booty,” the sales of the long-time denim favorite sky-rocketed. It’s kind of the reverse of when the 1934 equivalent of Lil Nas X, Clark Gable, in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, removed his shirt to reveal no undershirt: sales of the undergarment plummeted. Scott Baxter, honcho of Wrangler’s parent company, Kontoor Brands, says they didn’t see it coming.  "We knew nothing about it, and then it just took off.  It's introduced Wrangler to a more diverse group of folks, and that's where we want to be as a brand." Which is why Wrangler is partnering with Lil Nas X on a line of t-shirts (apparently not learning the Clark Gable lesson).

I don’t quite get the popularity of OLD TOWN ROAD myself. I have nothing against it – I love the opening western stuff, I love Chris Rock in anything, and the contemporary stuff is at worst innocuous, and sometimes amusing, but the song just seems repetitive; it doesn’t grow after the first few bars, and just peters out.

Actually, the big fashion-effect I was expecting this summer is related to ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, and the swoon heard ‘round the world when Brad Pitt took off his shirt. If only they could sell that like they can sell a pair of Wranglers. But then, they couldn’t figure out how to sell it in Gable’s day either.


Please check out the September TRUE WEST MAGAZINE, on newsstands now, featuring my article, STAGECOACH – THE LEGEND AT 80!

Speaking of which, I was amazed recently to look at Henry’s Western Round-up – I write it, but I don’t read it that often – and realize that I hadn’t put up links to any of my True West articles in about a year! There are about twenty new ones now, and I’ll update the links to my movie reviews very soon.  I don’t understand why the size of the type on these links keeps changing – the Rifleman one is huge, and others are tiny – but at least they work!

Happy Trails,
All Original Content Copyright August 2019 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

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