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Norm Dawson

Norman Elwood "Norm" Dawson, an early collector and specimen miner in the Pala area of San Diego County, California, was born in Morgan Park, Illinois on July 8, 1909, the son of Roy and Grace (Thompson) Dawson. He met a nice girl named Violet Eldridge in the 5th grade, and they were married in 1930. Norm had developed an interest in minerals in early childhood, as far back as he could remember, but it was difficult to build his collection while living in the heavily urbanized Chicago area. After he moved to California in 1933 he discovered he was living in mineral heaven! He discovered evidence of minerals in the riverbed in Pala, and became acquainted with local collector George Ashley.

In 1947 Norm and George Ashley decided to join in partnership and acquire four mining claims in the Pala area. As his finances permitted (while raising six children), Norm eventually bought out Ashley's interest in the Fargo, the El Molino and the White Queen claims, and somewhat later (in 1965) the Vanderberg claim. He mined on weekends, strictly as a hobby. His two sons, Ken and Bob, and his son-in-law Roger Helsel began to help him as well, and became part owners with him in the Vanderberg claim. Eventually they inherited most of the claims.

Norm began work at the White Queen claim in 1959. After tunneling for about 25 feet along the pegmatite he encountered a pocket that, once excavated, was large enough that "a grown man could stand within it and observe numerous quartz crystals of large size descending from the ceiling" (Sinkankas, 1976). This pocket produced numerous fine specimens of morganite and much gem rough, along with many large, seemingly opaque quartz crystals. When sawn length-wise and polished, these quartz crystals revealed very intricate and attractive inclusions of pink and tan montmorillionite clay. Sinkankas (1976) states that this pocket produced an estimated 5,600 kg of quartz crystals and 80-120 kg of morganite. Other minerals found included dark blue fibrous tourmaline, columbite-tantalite group minerals, phosphates including apatite crystals and massive lithiophilite and amblygonite, and very attractive clusters of albite (var. cleavelandite). Several smaller pockets of similar composition were found during the mid to late 1960's. In 1973 another large pocket was found which yielded approximately 6,000 kg of quartz crystals and 30 kg of morganite.

Norm served as President of the local Escondido Desert Club and also President of the San Diego Gem and Mineral Society. He often spoke to school groups and clubs about the minerals and mines around Pala, bringing along mineral specimens from his collection to show.

Norm retired from the Escondido School District, where he had worked for 23 years as superintendant of buildings and grounds, in 1961. He had also maintained orchards for Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, and had worked for the Homer Heller Ford Agency (an auto dealership). Following his retirement from the school, he and Violet went full-time into selling at gem and mineral shows all across the country as "Dawson Minerals." They were among the first dealers to sign up for the now-legendary Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in 1956, and they became well-known for their honesty and their high-quality specimens. Wherever they went they won numerous awards and ribbons for their displays.

Norm and Violet retired from the mineral business in 1979, selling their gem and mineral stock to Mark and Jeanette Rogers. They moved to Anza, California and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August of 1980. Sadly, Violet was killed in a head-on auto accident just a year later on August 18, 1981.

Unfortunately the Dawson mining claims were on the Pala Indian Reservation, and when this fact was discovered in Sacramento by the Pala Tribe in 1991, the Dawson family received a notice from the Bureau of Land Management requiring him to forfeit the mines. George Ashley had patented his claims, so they were safe, but not the Dawson claims (when Ashley died in 1992 his claims were purchased by the Pala Tribe). A lawyer was hired to write a letter of protest but it was rejected. Requests to lease the claims back from the Pala Indians were denied, so they now sit idle. During the years in which the Dawsons mined their claims, geology professors and students of mineralogy were permitted to visit and learn from the unusual pegmatite, so the closing of the claims was a regretable loss to the mineral world.

Norm died January 28, 1999 in Murrieta, California. His large collection of minerals ("too many to count") was inherited by his children; some specimens have been sold over the years and some are still in the possession of family members. Norm's son Bob has purchased a patented claim on Hiriart Mountain, and is enjoying carrying on his father's tradition of pegmatite mining as a hobby.

FISHER, J. (2002) Gem and rare-element pegmatites of Southern California. Mineralogical Record.
HELSEL, Carol (2007) Personal communication. Social Security Death Index.
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WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
Mineralogical Record
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The Mineralogical Record - Norm Dawson Violet and Norm Dawson at the 1973 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.
The Mineralogical Record - Norm Dawson 23 x 70 mm
The Mineralogical Record - Norm Dawson 24 x 68 mm,
The Buena Creek address is for the same house as the Route 1 address (above), but later.
The Mineralogical Record - Norm Dawson 25 x 70 mm,
Label for a specimen from Norm Dawson's personal mineral collection.
The Mineralogical Record - Norm Dawson 23 x 70 mm,
Label for a specimen from Norm Dawson's personal mineral collection.
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