The mining industry is an “up and down,” “make or break” business that attracts a lot of colourful characters. It attracts people who wouldn’t fit well into other sectors. One such individual who stands out in my memory is Arturo Campos.
A lot of exploration drilling had been done at the San Francisco Gold Property in Sonora, Mexico. Most of it around an abandoned shaft that led to a warren of derelict tunnels. The known reserves were close to the shaft but Peñoles, the Mexican company we were buying the property from, had also found gold on some close by claims. This separate property called “La Chicharra”, was about one kilometer to the west. It had been under option from a third party, however, Peñoles had dropped the option. So, the claims reverted to the original claim holder, who, according to the records, was one Bertin Arthur Fields. Our company was working on a feasibility study for the project when it became apparent that without the additional La Chicharra reserves, it was going to be impossible to reach the critical mass required to justify the initial capital investment to build the mine. So, I set out to find Mr. Fields. Unfortunately, it seemed that he had disappeared off the face of the earth.
I asked around but it appeared that no one knew anything about any Bertin Arthur Fields. Finally, I tracked down the Peñoles geologist who had managed the drilling program a few years earlier and asked him.
“Oh,” he laughed. “You mean Arturo Campos. That’s the name he goes by when he’s in Mexico. The Spanish translation of “Arthur Fields.” Good luck finding him though. He’s a crazy old prospector who goes off by himself into the mountains or the desert, sometimes for months at a time. No one has seen him in years. Probably dead.”
I hoped he wasn’t dead, and I asked the geologist to check Peñoles’ records to see if he could track down any way of contacting him. A week later, I received a fax with the name and phone number of the lawyer in Hermosillo that Mr. Fields had used when he first made the option agreement with them. I called the lawyer and explained who I was and asked if he could give me an address or phone number for Mr. Fields, or Sr. Campos or whatever name he was going by.
“I don’t have any way to contact Mr. Fields,” he answered. “He would come by my office once a year to pick up option payment cheques from Peñoles. But I haven’t seen him since they dropped the option. He might well be dead by now.”
There was that “dead” thing again, and it didn’t sit well with me. “Why did people keep saying that?”
“Was he sick?” I inquired.
“No, not that I was aware of. But travelling through the hills alone like he did can be dangerous. People grow marijuana up there and don’t like unexpected visitors. Prospectors have been known to disappear.”
“So,” I asked just in case, “if he were dead, what would happen to his claims?”
“They would be passed on to his heirs.”
“Would you know who his heirs might be?” I asked.
“No señor. But I remember he had a young Mexican wife. Unfortunately, I have no idea what her name is or how to contact her. Sometimes I run into a young man who knows Mr. Fields. If I see him, I’ll ask.”
It didn’t sound too positive. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking. Our agreement with Peñoles required us to complete a feasibility study on the project by the end of the year. And it was already September. I had instructed the engineering company doing the study to continue their work under the assumption that La Chicharra was part of the project, but if I couldn’t get a deal with Mr. Fields, we were screwed.
I followed a few more leads and came up dry. It seemed that most people could care less if he were alive or dead. And even if he were alive, didn’t care if they ever saw him again. Then I got an idea. Make them care. Offer a reward.
So, I made up a fax and sent it around. $200 Reward Offered For information leading to contact with Bertin Arthur Fields (Arturo Campos) If you have any information that might help please call collect to John Paterson in Canada at 416 555-5555
I knew it wasn’t a very big reward but didn’t want to look desperate. A couple of long weeks later we still hadn’t heard anything, and I was thinking it might be time to increase the size, when one day, the phone rang.
“Hello John?” the gravelly voice said. “This is Bert Fields calling.”
The kid that the lawyer knew in Hermosillo had tracked him down and Bert had called me from somewhere in Northern Mexico. I explained that I would like to talk to him about making a deal on his La Chicharra claims. He said he was heading up to the U.S. and suggested meeting in Tucson on the weekend to discuss the issue.
Bert picked me up at the Tucson Airport around noon on Saturday. He looked pretty well as I imagined he would. Tall, thin, weathered, perhaps around sixty years old. Seemed like an okay guy if you didn’t pay too much attention to the slightly crazed look in his eye.
So, I got in his old pickup truck and we headed off to find some lunch. We found a restaurant where we could keep an eye on Bert’s truck from our table and ordered something to eat. It didn’t take me long to realize that Bert loved to talk. Perhaps he’d spent too much time alone in the desert and was trying to catch up. Maybe it was why no one else went prospecting with him. Anyway, I had a return flight booked for Sunday morning so needed to work out a deal today. But every time I tried to get him focused on business, he would go off in another tangent.
“You like Mexico?” he asked.
“Of course,” I answered. “Great people, great food. Great place to do business.”
“Yes,” he replied. “And great women too.”
He told me he was on his way to California where he had a young Mexican wife. When he explained that he’d had several young Mexican wives, I started wondering if he was some sort of weirdo or was making up stories.
“I marry them when they are teenagers,” he went on to explain. “I find someone who’s ready for a change. They may not love me, but they marry me so they can leave their life in Mexico and get a “green card” in the U.S. Eventually they leave me too, but then I just marry another.”
“Oh shit,” I thought. “Am I going to spend the whole day listening to this sick son-of-a-bitch go on about his deranged love life?” I just wanted to make a deal and assumed so did Bert. But it seemed that he wanted to share the tales of his exploits first. Some guys are like that. He likely realized that he had a captive audience and was prone to exaggeration. So, he talked, and I listened through lunch and into the afternoon. It turned out that besides young girls, he also liked dogs.
“What about you? Do you like dogs?” Bert asked.
“Of course, love dogs. We have two at home,” I answered, thinking that this could be a subject with which we might have more in common. But I turned out to be wrong again.
“I like to build a strong bond between myself and my dog,” he explained.
He said he would take a newborn puppy from its mother before its eyes were open and feed it milk from a baby bottle. When the puppy opened its eyes, it would think Bert was its mother and go through life that way. There seemed to be a troubling pattern forming here between Bert’s fondness for young women and young dogs. I wondered how much more of this I would have to listen to. I desperately wanted to do our business and be on my way. But I didn’t want to say anything that would piss him off and jeopardize our deal.
I had booked a couple of rooms at one of the hotels along the airport strip and suggested we check in, thinking that a change of scenery might also lead to a change of subject. On the way to the hotel, when I thought that our conversational subject matter had reached an all time low, he surprised me once more.
“You have a dog now?” I asked.
“Until recently,” he said. “Went with me everywhere. Followed me through the hills. Protected me at night when I camped out. Best friend a guy could have. Better than any human. But got old like dogs do and died a couple of weeks ago.”
“Sorry to hear that,” I said, while Bert looked out the windshield and seemed to be somewhere far away.
“Part of the reason I’m heading back to California,” he continued. “Couldn’t bear to bury the poor beast in Mexico where I wouldn’t be able to visit the grave, so I cremated him on a barbeque and am bringing his ashes back home.”
At this point I could see the “wacko meter” needle going into the red. “Who cremates their dog on a barbeque? And carries the ashes around in the box of his pickup truck? What did he tell US Customs when he crossed the border at Nogales?” If it wasn’t so critical that I got this deal done, I would have told him, “Either we do the deal or not, but I’m not listening to one more of your weird ass stories, you crazy old man!” I used to think sixty was old when I was in my thirty’s.
Anyway, I checked us in and paid for the rooms and we parked around the side of the hotel near the entrance to our rooms. I only had a small overnight bag, but he had all his prospecting gear and said he was afraid to leave anything in the truck in case it was stolen. So, we hauled it all up to his room on the second floor. Including his dog’s ashes. Which were in a knapsack which weighed about 30 pounds. Which I carried up for him thinking that it must have been one big dog. Hopefully a dog, not an ex-wife or some unfortunate hitchhiker he talked to death.
Well, if this was a test, I guess I passed, because now Bert was ready to sit down and talk business. Peñoles was obligated to pay him $100,000 to complete the purchase of the property before they decided to drop their option. So, I told him we would make the same payment, but in three installments, $10,000 today, $40,000 in six months and $50,000 in one year. Our company didn’t have the money for the next two payments, but I figured we could raise it if the feasibility study was positive. I didn’t complicate things by sharing this detail with Bert. He said that those terms were fine with him, so, I quickly wrote up an agreement before he had a chance to change his mind. We both signed it and I wrote him a cheque for the $10,000. The whole deal went as smooth as silk.
We ate dinner together that evening and he told me about numerous other prospects around Mexico that might be of interest to our company. This conversation was much more palatable than the ones earlier in the day. I think he liked doing the deal for $100,000 and was now working on how he might repeat the process. Bert insisted on driving me to the airport in the morning and even coming in to see that my flight left on schedule. He probably had some more stories up his sleeve in case of a delay. After carting all his gear and ashes back down to his truck, we headed back to the airport.
In those days, 1992, you could walk through security without a boarding pass to see someone off. So, he took his .22 calibre pistol out of his pocket and put it in the glove box. He made sure that I noticed he had been carrying a gun all this time, and grinned as he gave me that slightly crazed look again. He walked with me to my boarding gate and fortunately, my flight left on time.
I don’t think I ever saw Bertin Arthur Fields/Arturo Campos again. Now, like they would say almost thirty years previously, he’s probably dead. But, over the next few years, our geologist went on numerous burro expeditions into the hills looking at Bert’s other prospects throughout Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Durango. The geologist must have had a lot more patience than me.
With the addition of the La Chicharra reserves, we were able to produce a positive feasibility study and get the San Francisco Mine financed and built. Our study anticipated a five-year mine life but with the discovery of a huge low-grade deposit below the one that had been drilled, it is still in operation today and has provided a livelihood for hundreds of families. Good thing we were able to track down and make a deal with crazy old Arturo Campos.
John Paterson and his wife own and operate a small off-grid nature lodge and coffee farm in Costa Rica. They generate their own electricity with a micro hydro plant and protect 200 acres of rainforest. When not busy with the lodge, John enjoys writing and has published two novels and written several creative nonfiction essays.