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These are the fellows who have the best chances to find prizes, but canoeists are generally too busy to think of such things.

Freshwater Pearl Hunting
By John Bernard O'Sullivan
This article originally appeared in the June 1916 issue of Forest and Stream.

Step into your jeweler’s, ask the price of a marble-sized fresh-water pearl, free from flaws, and you will come to realize the treasure trove that is beneath the surface of almost every stream east of the Rocky Mountains.

Although we have gathered almost the very last unit of fur, fin and feather, combed the mountain and the bowels of the earth for metals and jewels, and exhausted other horns of plenty, we have, figuratively speaking, traveled a path of pearl to a goal of jade.

The fresh-water pearl is a mystery. Some authorities claim it originates from a grain of sand, or other foreign matter, becoming fast in the mantle—a thin strip of meat lightly fastened to the inside outer edge of each half clam-shell— but this is very doubtful.
The streams of America harbor five hundred
varieties of clams or mussels, and nearly all
produce pearl to some extent.

In some parts of our country, notably along the Mississippi and its tributaries, pearling has long been an industry of importance, but the treasure beds yet to be prospected are the shallow streams that are too small for the professional pearler, for in these it is impossible to use boats to take the cleaned shells to market.

The shells bring as high as thirty dollars per ton for certain kinds, but it is not the easiest thing in the world to collect them along small streams, on account of the numerous fences, poor roadways and hostile landlords.

The writer has hunted pearls off and on for thirty years, both as a pastime and for the remuneration it is sure to bring to anyone supplied with an average amount of luck, determination and elbow grease.

Let us suppose we are going into a fairly shallow stream to search. We will suppose a stream of several feet in depth winds across the meadows and fields and is paved with mollusks, commonly called clams.

We must dress for the occasion. As it is June, July or August, slip on an old pair of overalls, a has-been shirt, a pair of all-in shoes and a thousand-mile hat.
In your pockets you should have a small cloth or leather pouch to put your finds in, a jack knife and a dozen rabbits’ feet—if you believe in them.

Now go out to the buggy-shed, get the garden rake and we are all ready for the stroll to the creek. Roll your trouser legs up and ply the rake to and fro on the deep side of the stream. Unless you’re in a rock-bottomed creek, the rake will jump and ring when you pass over a clam, as the majority of them are buried deep in the sand, little showing but the tip of one end.

When you find a shell, toss it to the shallow side; then, just before you begin to open them, gather them into a pile and sit on the bank while reaping your harvest.
Your very first mussel shell may yield a gem
worth a king’s salary; but it is not uncommon
for pearl fishers to find nothing of value
in a whole summer’s toil.

Insert the knife blade in each end of every shell and thus sever the muscles that hold them closed. Now, pull the big, hard, center meat out and look for gems in the thick ends of the inch-wide strips of animal matter you will find on the inside outer edge of every half shell.

Very simple, is it not? Your very first mussel shell may yield a gem worth a king’s salary; but it is not uncommon for pearl fishers to find nothing of value in a whole summer’s toil.

It seems to be a fact that small rivers and creeks turn out more pearls per ton than the same grade of shell yields from the great streams; and, right here is a chance for thousands of men and boys to make money during the hot season, when trapping is a thing impossible and many of us have time to throw at the wilds.

In all the world there is no more fascinating work than pearl hunting, not even gold mining offers the fascination and profit that comes to those who look for the queen of gems. When the White River of Arkansas was found to be full of beautiful and valuable pearls in 1879, the people for miles around turned out en masse to look for the mystic gems.

About $400,000 worth of them were taken out and turned to cash that very summer.

In deep waters, clams are brought to the surface by dragging a dozen or more three-pronged hooks on the bed of the stream from a boat that is drifted down stream crosswise of the current. When clams feed, they open toward the up current and stand on end, being only partly buried in the sand or mud.
Freshwater pearl hunting is like everything
else—a dash of work, a caddy of elbow grease,
and a thousand tons of luck!

When a prong of a barbless hook enters a shell it closes thereon like a vise, as you’ll readily agree should you ever be so unfortunate as to have one hug one of your digits.

Dozens of pearls are found every summer that bring $500 each, while the number that bring $50 each will probably run into the thousands. The perfect pearl should be perfectly round, free from pits, knobs, discolored spots and dull sheen. The only thing I can compare a fresh-water pearl to is the moon, when it is full, and rides in the cobalt heavens, like a bubble from a fairy child’s meerschaum.

No one but an expert can tell whether your find has value or not. When pearls attain a certain size they die, rot and crumble. It sometimes happens that a fisherman will get hold of one that is just beginning to die, then his hopes of a valuable find receive a trip-hammer caress amidships.

For the sportsman in poor health, pearl hunting offers recreation, health and wealth, and when we learn that the half million dollars’ worth of gems taken from American rivers, creeks and lakes can easily be made to reach ten times that figure, we can see the possibilities for revenue that are almost in our back yard.

Why, a friend of mine banked eleven hundred dollars made from pearls he found last summer!

And this in his leisure time. Others there are that found nothing; it is like everything else—a dash of work, a caddy of elbow grease, and a thousand tons of luck!
 
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There was a special on one of the local TV channels a while back about men who fished for muscles. There used to be a lot of them around here. They showed a guy shucking them. They asked him what he did with the shells. He told the TV guy that he sold them to a company up north that made buttons out of them.
 

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I shucked a case of oysters, about 36 dozen or so; they got bleached and tossed into the dirt part under my pole barn/carport. When I lived in Houston, oyster shells were used as road base back in the day like caliche......
 
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I shucked a case of oysters, about 36 dozen or so; they got bleached and tossed into the dirt part under my pole barn/carport. When I lived in Houston, oyster shells were used as road base back in the day like caliche......

Here in East Tennessee, basically around the Knoxville area, late 1970s into the 80s and 90s it was the fad to have a Tennessee Pearl piece of jewelry. I bought the wife, and both daughters one each. In less than 6 months later, they were all LOST ! When I refused to replace them, everyone thought I was the meanest Dad and Husband ever. All the ones I saw in that time period were very irregular shaped. The stone in my wife's ring was set parallel to her finger. It was basically shaped like a twig. 3/16" diameter and about 5/8" long and the ring and setting was 18 carat yellow gold. I want to think, at the time, I paid between $100 and $150 each for them.

In order, youngest daughter was showing it to a friend of hers while visiting. When she took it off she dropped it and it bounces down the Heat/AC vent.

Oldest daughter took hers off to wash her hands when she was working at the hospital. They had an emergency and she ran out of the ladies room and forgot it. An hour later when things subsided she remembered it. She went back but it was not there.

Wife was at the foot of our bed taking her jewelry off. She dropped it and it was never found.

I'm wondering if they are all cursed.
 
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