In the next few installments I’ll include some of the stories and articles about the mine. They provide some interesting considerations into it’s origin and what the real story was. One better-known treasure tale about the mine and stone house was written by John D. Mitchell, an author of many books on hidden treasure and fantastic tales. This was published in his book Lost Mines & Buried Treasures Along the Old Frontier.
Deep in the heart of the Estrella mountains, south of Phoenix, Arizona, stand the tumble-down ruins of an old rock house. The walls are several feet thick and the loopholes around the top are mute evidence of the purpose for which the house was built-to protect the occupants against Apache Indians. In the bottom of the wild rocky canyon nearby are the partly caved workings of an ancient gold mine.
There is a tradition among the Pima and Maricopa Indians now living in the vicinity of the St. Catherine mission on the east side of the mountains, that their ancestors worked in the mine and that it belonged to an old Spainard by the name of Don Joaquin Campoy, from Guadalajara, Mexico, and that he left a great treasure buried in a nearby cave.
According to the stories told by these Indians, the mine had been worked for a number of years when, in 1847, Indian scouts raced their ponies from village to village with the startling news that the American Army of the west was headed down the Gila river toward the Pima Villages.
Rumor had it that these tall strangers had designs on the mines of the country and that honesty was not one of their characteristics. Becoming greatly alarmed at these wild and unfounded rumors, Don Joaquin decided to abandon his mine and flee to his beloved Guadalajara. He could return north again when strangers had been driven from the country and resume work at his mine in peace and safety.
After a sleepless night he made plans to discharge the crew, start the Mexicans on their way to Guadalajara and the Indians back to their homes in the valley, then bury the treasure in some secret place in the mountains until he could return in safety for it.
In his possession were 50 bars of gold recovered from the ore taken from the vein, and 30 bags of gold nuggets from the placer operations in the canyon below where the rich vein outcropped. Who among his villainous crew of miners could be trusted to help him bury the gold and where should he hide it?
When the crew had been sent on their way, Don Joaquin chose an old Maricopa to help him load the 3,000 pounds of gold on the back of 15 mules. When the last pack was in place and all was in readiness, the mules were headed up the steep trail toward Butterfly peak where they hoped to strike another trail leading down the high ridge past Montezuma’s Head, which is near the south end of the range.
Late in the afternoon the pack mules, groaning under the loads of gold, came to a halt on the summit, and as the the tinkling bell of the lead mule died away, the two man sat down to rest. Far below them to the west at the bottom of a deep box canyon, at the end of a zig-zag trail, lay the old rock house and mine workings. Below them to the east lay the green valley crossed by the salt, Gila and Santa Cruz rivers that shown like silver threads in the setting sun. Far beyond the valley to the northeast the hoary heads if the Four Peaks stood silent guard over the upland plains.
The little pack train made its way slowly down the winding trail toward Montezuma’s Head and when about half way down turned off the trail to the west and entered a short box canyon. They presently came to a halt in front of a cave. After the treasure had been unloaded and packed into the cave, the old Indian silently dug a deep hole in the soft dirt and guano that had accumulated near the back end.
The sun had long since gone down behind the ragged edge of the western world and the canyon lay dark and shadowy ahead. This was to be the last resting place of the treasure. The hole completed, the heavy bars were dropped in first and then the leather bags of placer gold. When the last bag dropped with a thud the old Maricopa fell forward into the hole on top of the gold-struck dead by a club in the hands of Don Joaquin.
Hurriedly filling the hole with bat guano and dirt, the old man paused to view his work with grim satisfaction, and then, after marking the spot on a map that he carried with him, headed the pack train down the trail past Montezuma’s Head and out onto the flat country at the south end of the range.
Don Joaquin overtook the miners at the little butte that stands in the valley only a short distance southeast of the Estrellas where they had gone into camp for the night. As they sat around the campfire a feeling of confidence unmingled with remorse seemed to comfort the old man.
At sunrise the next morning Don Joaquin was found dead in his blankets. The body was laid to rest at the foot of the little butte and marked with a cairn of stones that may be seen there today.
Pima and Maricopa Indians claim that the map fell into the hands of the Mexican miners upon the death of Don Joaquin and that about 30 years after the signing of the Gadsden Treaty, this Mexican miner, then an old man, came north with the map in an effort to relocate the mine and treasure. Owing to the fact that the Apache Indians were then on the warpath and the Maricopas and Pimas refused to lead him to it, he returned to Mexico without accomplishing his purpose.
Many people including the writer have seen the old rock house and the mine workings in the canyon below it. The vein is a true fissure cutting gneiss with a strike north 30 degrees and east and dips 40 degrees to the southeast. Some free gold was observed in the 18-inch vein at the top of the shaft. From all the indications on the spot work must have been carried on over a long period of time both in the shaft and open cuts and in the placer operations in the canyon below the mine.
It is believed that some of the older Indians know the locations of the cave, but because one of their tribesmen was killed there, they refuse to go near it or direct anyone else to it. However, they say that two young Indians, riding after cattle many years ago in the wild lands around the southern tip of the Estrellas, suddenly were overtaken by a storm and were forced to seek shelter in a nearby cave. The storm raged on and the wind howled down through the hills from the north.
The two cowboys decided to spend the night in the cave to protect themselves from the cold. About midnight the storm abated and they were startled by a rustling noise just outside the entrance and by a weird white light that suddenly appeared from the floor near the back of the cave. The noise outside ceased and the light disappeared as suddenly as it had come.
The Army of the West, after trading with the friendly Pimas, passed down the valley and over the hills. Don Joaquin in his lonely grave by a little butte sleeps on. The mine in the deep canyon at the end of the zig-zag trail is still unworked and the treasure lies undisturbed in the cave.
The striking thing about this tale is how many of the details describing the site and the location are accurate. It is evident that Mitchell definitely found the site. As for the rest of the story, well I’ll save that for another installment.
As always, get out and explore!