Column No. 56

Wayne Winters’ Battle with the Jolly Green Giants

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

For more than half a century, Wayne Winters was a printer and both editor and publisher of a number of small country newspapers in the west, including the Tombstone Epitaph. Winters was also a miner, so knowledgeable that he wrote successful books about mining. Here is the story of Winters’ battle with the Jolly Green Giants, the name Winters gave to the U.S. Forest Service.

In the 1960s, with southern Arizona’s borderland Montana mine shut down and its Ruby mining camp rapidly becoming a ghost town, mining in the rest of the Oro Blanco area struggled to stay alive. The struggle was particularly difficult for miners with unpatented (no title to the land) mining claims on Coronado National Forest land.

In the early 1960s the U.S. Forest Service took notice of all the individually held mining claims and associated buildings that peppered federal lands. Supposedly concerned that this hampered effective forest management, the Supervisor of the Coronado National Forest, Clyde Doran said that, “Most of the miners are just looking for a free summer cabin on National Forest Service land.” The Forest Service’s premise was that many miners had no intention of mining their claims.

According to federal law of the early 1900s, a miner could stake a claim on federal land, but he must work the mine enough to show that he had a “valid” claim, defined as having enough minerals to cause “a reasonable and prudent man” to expend his time and money developing the mine.

By the mid 1960s the U. S. Forest Service had mounted an aggressive campaign to challenge many of the unpatented Oro Blanco claims; drive “invalid” mining claim holders off their properties, and bull-doze and/or burn all man-made structures thereon. The Forest Service also sealed mine shafts. Rationale for these controversial actions included "safety" and to discourage settlement by transients, during America’s “hippie” period. The Forest Service literally kicked small miners off their claims if they couldn’t prove that they had a moneymaking mining operation.

The battle between the Forest Service and small miners in the Oro Blanco Mining District makes for fascinating reading in the newspapers of Southern Arizona in the 1960s and 1970s.

Wayne Winters, at the time the editor of the Tombstone Epitaph, owned the Oro Escondido (hidden gold) placer mine about three miles south of Ruby, just a mile north of the international border with Mexico. The Forest Service claimed that the mine could never be a moneymaking proposition. Winters fought the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management for years in the courts and in his newspaper. He charged the Forest Service with a “systematic policy of harassment against small mining operations on forestlands.” In article after article in his Tombstone Epitaph, Winters ridiculed the efforts of the Forest Service and variously referred to them as the “Greenies,” “Boys in Green,” “The Green Plague,” “Chuckling Green Giant,” “Jolly Boys in Green,” and “Brutes in Green.” Never losing his sense of humor during the long litigation, Winters relocated his gold mining claim, renaming it Doran’s Folly, after the head of the Coronado National Forest.

But the courts eventually decided in favor of the Forest Service. In a final “nose thumbing,” Winters wrote into his will instructions that his body be cremated and his ashes be spread over his former mining claim. In a 1984 interview with Sam Negri, Winters said “I’m going to be there when the Forest Service is not,” relishing the feel of this posthumous victory.

Wayne Winters was born on October 16, 1915 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He graduated from high school in 1934, but had no interest in attending college. His father helped him get a job as a printer’s apprentice on the Council Bluffs newspaper. Winters became a talented journalist and taught journalism in Florida.

Moving to the southwest in 1946, he bought and published the Douglas Budget in Wyoming. In 1949 Winters sold the paper and arranged a contract to set up the mechanical plant for the Casper Morning Star, also in Wyoming.

In 1950 Winters bought the Grants Beacon in New Mexico. In Grants, Winters’ interests broadened from journalism to mining. Tombstone Epitaph reporter Edina Strum wrote, “He taught himself all there was to know about mining, then started buying mines and writing about the industry. … His best selling book, ‘How to Pan for Gold,’ sold 250,000 copies.”

After he left Grants, Winters hooked up as editor of the Prescott Daily Courier and later spent six years in the composing room of Tucson Newspapers, Inc.

Finally, in 1965, Winters moved to Tombstone and became editor of the Tombstone Epitaph. It was during this period that he had his battle with the U.S. Forest Service over mining in the Oro Blanco area. When he left the Epitaph in 1975, Winters founded a monthly newspaper, Western Prospector and Miner, which he published out of his home in Tombstone for the next decade, while continuing to write books about mining.

Wayne Winters died at the age of 81 on December 7, 1996 in Sierra Vista after a long illness. Winters was remembered by his wife Viji “as a man with a great sense of humor who was kind and generous.” A tall, slow-talking man, Winters enjoyed working alone, looking to avoid controversy, but managed to attract adversaries, like the Forest Service. In his 1984 interview, Sam Negri wrote, “He is accustomed to direct action and believes in retribution.”


This is one of many newspaper “appeals” for information on Forest Service harassment of small miners. (Photo courtesy of the Tombstone Epitaph, 1967)

For more than half a century, Wayne Winters published small country newspapers in the west, including the Tombstone Epitaph. (Photo courtesy of the Tombstone Epitaph, 1985)

(Sources: Arivaca Briefs; Tombstone Epitaph; Arizona Republic; Arizona Daily Star; Sam Negri, “Strong-willed Tombstone Publisher,” Arizona Republic, 1984; Edina Strum, “Epitaph Editor Remembered,” Tombstone Epitaph, 1997)

Next Time: George B. William’s Life-Long, Long Range Love Affair with Mining

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