As a Texan and the daughter of a cattle rancher, my family album is peppered with photos of men – and a couple of women – with their arm slung over the dusty saddle of a horse, deep in the wilds of Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, the Amazon, or Mexico. Such exploits ceased to amaze me by the age of five as I had my picture taken virtually every weekend with a 10-foot alligator or a gigantic fish pulled in from the Gulf. A few minutes into my conversation with Wyatt Yeager and I realized that he could stand with any of these daredevils. Yet, nothing prepared me for the real Wyatt Yeager. Far from being a “geologist type,” Yeager is an eclectic breed of tweed and fearless, aptly named after the historic cowboy, Wyatt Earp.
Yeager will be the first to tell you that diamond-mining exploration is nothing like the iconic Indiana Jones depiction of the intrepid gentleman hero, jewel in hand and angry natives at his back, poised on the edge of the precipice between extinction and extravagant wealth. However, a few minutes into our conversation and I’ve uncovered that he’s escaped from riots, been stabbed in Venezuela, bitten by piranhas, and met people who have never seen a white man before.
Nicknamed “The Wolf” by his colleagues, Yeager is an undisputed wunderkind. “In my late teens, I became obsessed with diamond exploration and mining after finding a few small stones in our California alluvial mining operation,” he informed me when asked how he chose such a profession. Arguably, “Diamond Mining 101” is not listed as a college credit course. However, Yeager refers to himself as an “explorationist” – one who, by trade, explores and mines for diamonds in Africa and South America.
Turns out, the small stones he unearthed in California fueled a passion that has yet to diminish. Yeager reveals how his upbringing prepared him for the diamond trade, “I was raised working the Alaskan, Central American, and Californian goldfields with my grandfather and father who were both consulting engineers and mine owners.” With a family that originally came west to the California Gold Rush of 1849 and then later to the diamond fields of South Africa, it would seem that mining is in his blood.
On the subject of his work, Yeager contends, “I consider myself to be a part of the old school colonial exploration crowd.” By this, Yeager means that he differs from the upcoming geology grads who would rather sit behind a computer screen and interpret maps and geologic reports. At 36, Yeager is considered the youngest and one of the last to be doing real “old fashioned” exploration work with a pick and shovel. As he fiddles with his pen, he shares how fortunate he was to grow up in the mining industry, trained by the “old cranky geologists.” You can tell he relishes fieldwork and would consider it a punishment to be tied to a computer.
Those interactions with the old school South African geologists must have made an impression on him. Yeager’s quest for a diamond pipe has led him far from technology and deep into some of the most inhospitable places on Earth-places that even the bravest men might give a wide berth. Even following his travels as a blue dot trail on a map is scary. During his early twenties, Yeager found himself neck deep in the piranha-infested waters of the Venezuela jungle. However, this was more than a short-term reconnaissance. Yeager, who is also an academically trained anthropologist, had a knack for ingratiating himself with the native people, building a hospital and a school in the remote areas he inhabited as he searched for diamonds. More compelling, he seems to have won the loyalty of even the most seasoned of warriors and adventurers as he moved through Venezuela to Africa and beyond, which says more about the man than he will ever say about himself.
Throughout our interview, Yeager is humble. I’ve seen this before in men such as Yeager. They rarely open up because even their average exploits are so mind-blowing that they sound far-fetched to the rest of us regular folks. I know that with a little (or a lot) of Cognac and some goading, I’ll have the outline of a great adventure novel. When I ask for facts and stories about his life, Yeager shrugs; he suggests other people, other interviews as a source of information. I’m left digging for more information on diamonds because that is something that he will talk about.
It turns out that Yeager has his eye on the United States for his next project. Though he still chases diamond prospects in Africa and Brazil, gold in Mali and Sierra Leone, and sapphires in Tanzania, it is here that he has begun his latest search for “exceptional” diamonds. Yeager states, “I’m known as “fixer” in the field. For years I continually have been contracted to fix, run and make other companies mining operations profitable. After all these years, I want to take the time to work on my own operations.” The increasing demand for diamonds, coupled with the slowing production rates has raised the stakes for discovery. And why not? We’ve seen oil wells blossoming once more in the United States-more than even the Saudis have to offer. Why not diamonds, then? There have been very few new diamond sites uncovered globally in recent years. In fact, Yeager foresees deposits in the United States that may create a paradigm shift in global diamond production.
Having escaped civil wars, stabbing, ambushes, and angry natives, the United States looks tame in even its roughest, most remote regions. If diamonds can be unearthed here, Yeager is the man to do it. Like the Indiana Jones of legend, Yeager has an academic and mathematical acumen coupled with the spirit of a risk-taker that has fueled his success. As a valued advisor for programs throughout Africa and South America, Yeager established a new standard for diamond exploration and mining techniques. He’s known for creating engineering and fabricating mineral recovery equipment that’s considered some of the best in the field of mining.
Yeager’s extensive field experience, combined with his technical knowledge may make him the first of his kind to open diamond mining up in the United States. Like the wildcatters of old, Yeager may well be on his way to legend. One thing is certain though, given enough Cognac and a recording device, he could easily cash in as the newest contender to Clive Cussler.