Museum Volunteers To Return Metzger Mine Artifact

The moving of an arrastre mill, similar to this one designed to crush ore during the Gold Rush days, to a museum ended up costing three Big Bear Lake volunteers a $1,000 fine. They were also ordered to move the artifact back to its original location in Holcomb Valley. (Photo by U. S. Forest Service)

By Michael P. Neufeld

The Metzger Mine is located in Holcomb Valley. (File Photo)

San Bernardino, CA – An arrastre dating back to Gold Rush days will be returned to Metzger Mine in Holcomb Valley.

But for the three volunteers who originally moved the arrastre, a device used to crush ore to remove gold, to display it at the Big Bear Valley Historical Museum, the artifact came at a price. And now they must return it to its original location at the Metzger Mine under the supervision of a U. S. Forest Service archaeologist.

Big Bear Lake residents Donald Schaub, Jean Karwelis and David North recently entered guilty pleas in federal court to misdemeanor counts of removing historical artifacts from the San Bernardino National Forest. They were fined $1,000 each and directed to move the artifact back to its original Holcomb Valley location.


In August, U.S.  Forest Service law enforcement officers discovered that Schaub, Karwelis and North had removed the arrastre from the Metzger Mine. Once the artifact was located at the museum, the three men were charged with removing, a prehistoric, historic, or archaeological resource, structure, site, artifact, or property from National Forest Service lands.

On December 4, Jerry Yang from the US Attorney’s Office prosecuted the case before the federal magistrate in Riverside, and the trio pleaded guilty and were ordered to each pay the $1,000.  In addition, they must return the arrastre stones and replace them in their original location.   This task will be completed under the guidance of a Forest Service archaeologist.

This sends a clear message that it is not okay to loot archaeological sites,” Dr. Bill Sapp, Forest Service archaeologist stated in a media release.  “Once it is gone it is gone forever.”


During the 1800s, the arrastre provided a crude and inexpensive method for grinding hard rock ore, particularly ore containing free gold.

Scores of arrastres, some dating from the gold rush of 1860, once dotted the forest landscape, but most have been destroyed or vandalized, according to the Forest Service release.

The arrastres (ore grinders) generally consisted of a  round rock wall surrounded a flat circle of flat, level stones. Miners utilized harnessed donkeys or mules attached to a center post who walked an endless circle in the arrastres, pulling a heavy drag stone to crush the ore.  Historical accounts of arrastres indicate it took 4-5 hours to process just one load of ore.


Volunteers are being sought to help preserve the past as Forest Service Site Stewards. The stewards help to protect the past, by monitoring historic sites and reporting looting and vandalism to forest officials.

The press release explains that site stewards also encourage others to be stewards of the past by treating remains of past cultures with respect, treading lightly, and leaving artifacts in place.

For more information on becoming a site steward, contact Dr. Bill Sapp at (909) 382-2658 or billsapp@fs.fed.us



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