A bright yellow glimmer caught Charlie "Digger Chuck" Ward's eye as he panned. His eyes had fooled him in the past, so he reached in the pan to feel the weight of the clump. Ward handed it to his prospecting partner, Byron Janis, and asked "Is this what I think it is?"
The 2-¼ inch by 1-1/2 inch by 1 inch rock was exactly what Ward thought it was:
It turned out to be the largest undisputed gold nugget found in the Black Hills in the past 120 years. (A larger nugget has been found, but its authenticity has been called into question).
"We were really excited," Ward said. "We could hardly stay in our skin."
On Thursday, the public will have a chance to see the nugget up close during its unveiling at The Journey Museum in Rapid City.
Ward and his partner, who call themselves the "Ice Box Mining Company," sold the precious nugget for an undisclosed amount to Chris Johnson, owner of the Clock Shop in downtown Rapid City, which often buys gold from prospectors.
"We paid a generous amount for the nugget," Johnson said. Based on current gold prices, the "Ice Box nugget" intrinsically has about $5,000 worth of gold in it. But because of its rarity in the Hills, Johnson could only speculate what someone might pay for it.
"Its value as a specimen far exceeds the gold content in there," Johnson said.
A mixture of quartz and gold, the nugget weighs 5.27 troy ounces, but a gravity test at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology determined its specific gold content was 3.96 troy ounces, Johnson said.
Other nuggets of comparable and larger size were found during the Black Hills gold rush but did not remain in one piece, according to Johnson.
Ward and his partner decided to sell their rare find because, as prospectors, they prefer the hunt and making money to holding onto what they find.
"You either work for money, or you work for gold," Ward said. "It's more about the romance of prospecting and going out and finding than having everything around."
The prospectors would not reveal where they found it but said it is within 20 miles of Rapid City on a dry site Ward and Janis have worked at for about eight months. The two take their diggings from the dry site and then take it to a stream to separate any gold.
Johnson said the nugget isn't for sale, and he expects to keep it on display at The Journey Museum for about a month.
"For the time being, we're just enjoying having it," Johnson said.