This story was published in three parts in True West magazine in 1958 by Milton F. Rose. It was titled simply I Found a Lost Mine and is by far the most detailed and realistic account of the mine.
From several old time prospectors in Phoenix I heard the story of the lost mine in the Sierra Estrella Mountains located south and west of the city. There was one hitch to hunting the lost mine; it was believed to be situated on the Pima Reservation and the Pimas would allow nobody to look for it, or even to prospect on the reservation. The story told in and about Phoenix was that two french men had gone to search for the mine, found it, and been killed by the Pimas. It was known that the two French men did find the mine and did bring a lot of rich silver ore to the local Assay office and cash it. Then, one day, the French men failed to return and no trace of the men or the mine was ever found. Though the tale was well known, no others ever searched for the mine; the threat of the Pimas effectively discouraged any ambitious prospector.
In the summer of 1930 I bought some topographical maps of the area south and west of Phoenix and Buckeye. Examining the mp disclosed an exciting fact- only the most southern part of the Estrella Mountain range was inside the Pima Reservation. The range has a southeasterly course, and the line of the reservation cuts across the mountains in an almost true north direction. Thus, fully two-thirds of the range was outside the indian land. Armed with this information and the maps, my father and I started to prospect the west side of the mountains on weekends.
In order to reach this area, one had to go around the south end- called Montezuma’s Head- and then work north between the main range and the smaller range to the west. Montezuma’s Head is covered with many pictographs carved there by the Pimas depicting events in tribal history. The largest group of pictograph shows the Indian killing both the Spaniards and Apaches. It was near this point in 1750 that the Pimas had caught a number of Spanish miners and killed all but a few.
My father and I started from the point to hunt the mine or mines. (We were to learn later that there had been one silver mine and three gold mines worked by the Spanish.)
One Sunday, on the way home from a fruitless hunt, we noticed a sign before a small house proclaiming watermelons and cantalopes for sale. We were hot and thirsty, and decided at once to stop the car and get a drink of water. An old Indian was sitting on the porch in the shade. We called to him, asking if we could get a drink of water. “Of course,” he replied curteously. “Come in out of the sun and I will have my wife bring you glasses.”
His wife promptly came out bringing two glasses which we filled from an olla hanging from the rafters of the porch. While we were gratefully drinking the cool water, the woman went back into the house and returned the chairs for us. The old man had spoken to her in Pima, saying that we were not only hot and thirsty but very tired. Obviously, he was curious about us and what had caused us to be so pooped. He sensed all this, as he was blind.
After several glasses of water and a few casual remarks about the heat, I gave him a brief resume of what we had been doing and why. Suddenly remembering that we had not introduced ourselves, I told him our names. In return, he said that his name was James Suviate, Chief Six, of the Pima Tribe, and that he liked our voices and our manners. We had thanked him for the water and thanked his wife for the glasses and the chairs.
I asked him if he had heard of the Spanish mines that were supposed to be in the Estrellas. He admitted he had heard of such but professed to know nothing about mines or mining. After more desultory conversation, we bought some melons from our host, thanked him for his gracious hospitality, and promised to stop by the next time we were out.
Later I told dad that we might have something here. Chief Six liked us and, though he had been noncommittal about the mine, I felt sure he knew something about it. I had noticed a fleeting slime cross his face when he spoke of it and at the same time professed ignorance of mines and mining. I had become accustomed to reading my blind brothers mind by watching his face when talking to him, and was dead sure that the amused expression on the leathery face of the Chief indicated that he knew a lot about the Lost Spanish Mine.
We visited the Chief and his wife again and again, bringing them small gifts each time. This cemented the friendship between us, but failed to elicit any information on the mine. During all this time, Dad and I searched the mountains for several mines North of Montezuma’s Head. Each time we stopped to talk with Chief Six he always wanted a report on where we had gone ad if we had found anything. Patiently, I gave him a careful account of our search.
One day while describing a strange rock formation, I had the unmistakable feeling that the Chief had an accurate mental picture of that same formation. I stopped short, remarking casually that some people even if blind could see quite clearly with the eyes of the mind. “My blind brother was that way,” I added-and waited for the Chief to speak.
The silence grew almost intolerable as Chief Six turned his sightless eyes toward me. There wasn’t a vestige of emotion on that wrinkled, mask like face for nearly a minute-then suddenly the old man chuckled and said softly, “Tell me about your blind one.”
Quietly I told him about my brother. He listened intently, and when I had finished nodded his head. “Yes, it is true. The Great Spirit makes up to us sightless ones by giving us inner eyes. It is good that this is so.”
He called to his wife, asking her to bring him his sticks. She came out, bringing some thin, long sticks that had many small carvings on them. This was the first time I had seen the Indian history sticks. The Chief picked up several of the sticks and began running his knarled fingers over them. He found the one he wanted and began to talk.
“Many years ago in the time of my Father’s Father, the Spaniards came and started prospecting the country. All the tribes around were friendly to them. The Pimas, Papagos, Maricopas, and even some few Yaquis who lived not far from here. The Spainards found several gold mines and one silver mine in the mountains of the Stars. At one mine they built a stone cabin and a long stone fence to corral their mules. There was a spring near the cabin. It was the only spring in the mountains, and on the rock above the spring they carved a cross. Across the wash from the cabin, there was a high white knoll of rock, shot through with red streaks. This the Spaniards called Oro. They chiseled off the rock, loaded it onto the mules, and carried it to the river Gila where they has an Arrastre. The Chief and the Padre lived in the cabin. The other men built brush shelters not unlike those of the Apaches.”
The Chief’s story droned on and on, but this is the gist of it:
The Spaniards had also found a silver mine farther down the mountain, at the confluence of two mountains. At this mine, there was a pit and two tunnels into the side of the mountain. The dumps in front of the tunnels “were very blue.” All the material from this pit was removed and hauled to the river.
There was also a gold mine in the area South of where the Pictographs are carved on the rocks, quite away out into the desert. This was the richest mine of all, according to the Chief, as the “yellow iron” (gold) could be easily seen in the rock. In fact, there was more “yellow iron” than there was rock! This shaft was well hidden by the Pimas after they had killed the Spaniards. Heavy ironwood logs had been cut and placed across the top and then dirt was piled high then smoothed down, so that in a short while not even those who had done the work could find it. “If I could see,” said the Chief, “I could take you to the near vicinity, but could. not find the place even then.”
THE trail at the foot of the mountain to the silver mine had been erased, but nothing was done to cover up or hide this mine. The chief remembered or thought he remembered-that the mine was full of water. The trail led down the side of the mountain, branching off up a canyon filled with boulders as large as houses on its way to the silver mine. Thence, the trail led along the foothills to the Gila River where there was an arrastre, and to another gold mine in the foothills back from the river. The mine at the river and the one at the cabin were not as rich as the one out in the desert, so the Spaniards had quit working those two mines. The chief estimated the total depth of these two diggings as being about the distance from his front porch to the fence gate, or about seventy-five feet. The tunnels to the silver mine, he said, were about half that distance, and the pit at the silver mine was about the depth of four tall men, or about twenty-five feet.
The muy rico mine was as deep or deeper than the depths of the other two mines combined, and had tunnels running off at several levels. “It is so well hidden,” went on Chief Six, “that no white man or Indian will ever find it. All gold along the surface had been completely removed. The Pimas labored many days carrying dirt to cover the place over to the depth of several feet, and to make the ground as it had been in the beginning. Cactus and mesquite had been planted in the ground to help conceal any trace of disturbance.” (I made a mental note at this point as to what to look for to find this mine.)
Ending his story abruptly, the old Indian rose and asked us to take him out to a spot where he could see the length of the Estrellas. We had but a short distance when we could see the entire length of the mountains by slightly turning our heads. There we stopped.
“Do you see some dog-toothed peaks on the top ridge of the mountain?” asked the chief. I told him that I did. I did not, however tell him that I could see several sets of dog-toothed peaks.
“The silver mine is below the dogtoothed peaks,” said the chief slowly. “The gold mine at the cabin is half-Way between the peaks and the south end of the mountain.”
At such a spot in the terrain, I could see two small peaks shaped like dog teeth. Further north there were two more such peaks at what I would guess to be the distance of the silver mine. As my eyes looked farther north, I could see two more dog-toothed peaks and still two more even farther north. The silver mine could be below either of the three sets of peaks.
We then went back to the porch to sit and rest and talk. The chief read further from his sticks relating to the bad acts of the Spaniards and why the Pimas had attacked and killed them. The battleground had been all along the way from the river to far out on the desert, as the Pimas chased the Spaniards trying to kill them all. Only two of them escaped, the chief of the party and the mozo who waited on him. The chief and his man servant had good horses and armor. Those on foot and on muleback had been caught and killed. The pictographs tell the story, the chief said.
I asked the chief how old he was. He replied that he did not know and could not tell, but that he was of warrior age before the white man came. I asked him who was the first white man he had ever seen. He told me that he had gone to the Casas Grande to see his first white man—that one that had carved his name on the walls.
“You mean Pauline Weaver, the scout,” I told him.
“Yes, that is the one,” he nodded “How old were you then?” I persisted.
He thought a long moment. replying. “I had been a warrior several years,” he answered, holding up his hands with all fingers extended. “Maybe this many years, maybe a little more or less. Perhaps this much.” He folded two fingers down.
Pauline Weaver had visited the Casas Grande in 1832, as his name and the date carved on one of the inner walls attest. That would make Qhief Six at least 120 years old at the time we were talking to him about the lost mines. He died a few years later, in either 1935 or 1936, at the age of 126 or thereabouts.
THE next weekend after the chiefs story, my father and I went down the edge of the Estrellas to where we estimated we were about the spot where the first set of dog-toothed peaks would be on the crest of the mountain. They could not be seen from the side we were on. At this spot we were close to the edge of the mountains and had come out on a rather flat spot. The mountain presented what seemed to be a solid well or front. This proved to be an optical illusion, as we soon found the beginning of a built-up trail about two feet wide.
The trail led us gradually upward and around a point of the mountain. Just around the point we came onto a stone fence that stretched in a great circle and could be followed for a considerable distance with the eye. Hearts beating fast, we followed the dim trail on up. Finally we came to a rock cabin with a dirt roof.
The cabin was built against the steep wall of the canyon, and had one small window with bars in it that looked out to the other side of the canyon. One side of the cabin was made of solid rock. The trail passed under the window, which was three feet higher than my head. On the south side of the cabin a door opened only a few feet from the canyon wall. Old rotten pack-saddles and hand-wrought mining tools were lying about. The floor of the cabin contained more pack-saddles, mining tools and the peculiar straw hats the Spaniards had used as ore buckets.
These Spanish ore hats are worthy of description. They have crowns about two feet tall and are small-brimmed, with a heavy lining or band inside. The Spaniards pushed these crowns down inside until they rested on the tops of the heads of the wearers, forming pockets in which the broken ore was placed. The inside tip had a pad to reduce chafing. This method of ore-carrying left the hands free to grasp the rungs of the chicken ladders that they used to get up and down in the mines. A Spanish mine ladder, or chicken ladder as the gringos called it, was made of a length of solid pole. At about step distances along the pole, short cross-pieces were fastened to the pole with green rawhide thongs. The thongs were wetted and the ladder laid out in the sun to dry. The green rawhide would shrink or draw up tight, holding the cross-member to the pole very solidly.
After inspecting the inside of the cabin, we followed the trail on up. It crossed the wash, and there underneath a large rock was the shaft opening. I looked down into it. It slanted downward and was dug out in steg fashion, the steps being from six to eight feet high. There was a chicken ladder on each step, that looked to be as sound as the day they had been installed. You never take chances in old mines, so I got a firm hand-hold on the big rock and kicked the top ladder. It crumpled into a rotten heap.
Other means of getting into the mine would have to be devised, but we would worry about that later. Carefully, I studied the edges of the shaft. The small quartz vein came up the side of the shaft topside. My eye followed it on top of the ground for a few feet and then it was no longer there. I realized that a large body of quartz rock had been removed between the edge of the shaft and steep edge of the canyon wall. From pieces of ore I found in the worked over area, I later learned that the rock ran $90 in gold, at the then twenty dollar per ounce price, to the ton. At least several hundred tons had been removed, and no doubt some of it had been richer than the above quoted price. It was clear that the Spaniards had found themselves a bonanza here, even if they hadn’t lived long to enjoy it.
IT is a strange and thrilling experience to step suddenly from the twentieth century back into the musty corridors of time by discovering a mine dialing back to the days of the Spanish padres on our continent. We were awed and excited, but primarily we were practical gold seekers and so we wasted no time on dreamy retrospection. There was work to be done and we got at it.
First, we erected a discovery monument, put up other markers to outline the claim, and inserted the filled-out claim paper in the discovery monument. While outlining the boundaries of the claim, I found the spring and the cross carved above it on the rock-—the same kind of Jesuit markings as appear on the silver bars in the photograph. I also found evidence that the Spaniards had worked a lot of placer from the wash below the mine; in fact, they had completely cleaned out the placer gold. There was no trail to the upper part of the mountain from the cabin, so there were no other diggings in the vicinity or higher up on the mountainside.
The next day I brought a long manila rope from the car, as well as carbide lights, sample sacks and a prospect0r’s pick. Thus equipped, I went down into the mine.
The shaft was about seventy-ﬁve feet deep. The six-inch-wide quartz vein, which I sampled at intervals, carried on down to the bottom where it changed course abruptly. The air smelled stale at the bottom, so I unrolled and wadded up a bunch of newspapers I had brought with me. I placed the wad of newspapers on the bottom of the shaft and set them afire. The smoke rushed upward and the good air came down, completely changing the air in the place.I breathed deeply of the fresh air, then went on to explore and sample the workings.
There was a large room at the bottom of the shaft-twelve feet high, ten feet wide and twenty-five feet long. Obviously this had been a large pocket of ore. At the far end of the room, at right angles to its length, there was a drift to the left about twenty-five feet long and to the right about ten feet long. The drifts were barely wide enough for me to turn sidewise. I followed both drifts and sampled the vein in the ends as well as in the top. I could not locate the vein in the bottom due to mud. I later found evidence to show that the mine had been filled with water in the past. I went back into one of the drifts and examined the top, discovering a porous condition that would allow water to pour in. I guessed that the drifts were directly parallel with the course of the wash above. Hence, when it rained and water came down the creek it would run into the mine until the place was filled up to the creek level. My deduction proved to be correct.
As I made my way out of the mine, I found a pocket in the side of the shaft that contained a seven-pronged brass candlestick, more ore hats and handwrought mining tools.
We made our way down to the car, carrying the ore samples, antique tools and candlestick, and our equipment. We decided to stop off at the Chief’s house to tell him the news.
CHIEF SIX was delighted that we had found the mine at the cabin and asked to have the place redescribed to him. He kept nodding his head as I talked, reliving old times. It was amazing to see the animation and interest this old, old man displayed. He asked me if I had seen a large mountain goat on the peaks above the mine. I told him that I had indeed seen such a goat, and that the animal had moved to keep me in sight at all times as though he was extremely interested in what we were doing. The Chiefs leathery face split in a grin. “Ha, that is just what he was doing! That Old One has been there on the mountains for many years. He guards the place, but he will leave now that the mine has been rediscovered. You will see that I am right.”
The old Indian had called the turn. I did not see the goat again, either at that point or at any other place in the mountains. It was sort of spooky. Still, knowing wild goats as I do, I could have been wrong about him not being around. Goats are crafty, cunning creatures and this one may have just been keeping out of my sight but watching me just the same. Oddly, he had shown no fear of men on that first day at the mine. I had got within two or three hundred feet of him, while he stood like a statue and watched me. He followed us down the mountain as we departed and stood motionless atop a ridge two hundred yards distant as we climbed into the car. I looked back several times as I drove away and could still see him standing there until the rough terrain blotted him from view. Just curious? Frankly, I don’t know.
The samples turned out to be very poor, except for the ones taken down the shaft. Three dollars per ton was the assay on the samples we took in the bottom of the shaft, and this of course wouldn’t pay to work it. We did the assessment work and held the claim for a number of years. At one time we leased the mine to other parties, but they only spent their money uselessly.
Upon becoming resigned to the fact of the cabin mine’s low grade ore, we next decided to work on down the mountain to ﬁnd the trail leading to the silver mine. (A prospector is like a gambler, he never quits even if he hits the jackpot.) Months later, we had reached the river without finding another trail into the mountains. At the river we found the arrastre, and after some very diligent prospecting found the second gold mine there.
The mine also had a shaft and the chicken ladders were still in it. The vein was exposed along a ridge for some distance and had many holes dug at intervals along its course. The holes were dug at wide spots in the vein, actually pockets, and varied in size and width. Accordingly, the vein varied in width from two feet to eight feet in places along its course. Samples of the rose quartz vein averaged $25 to the ton.
The shaft was about eighty feet deep. Several drifts had been run out from it —one at about forty feet down and one at the bottom. The drifts extended both to the right and left for some distance. Samples taken from the vein all along the shafts and drifts, both top and bottom, averaged over $20 per ton in free gold which could be milled easily.
This mine could be worked for a profit, so we set out to do just that. By the time we had fixed the shaft and installed timbers and a hoist, the price of gold had risen to $35 per ounce. We worked out and shipped two cars to the smelter. The profit on the two cars was enough to pay for buildings, hoist, timbers, compressor, machine, tools and a small tenton mill complete. We set up the mill near the mine and milled the ore. It turned out to be easily processed and the recovery was excellent. We made good money from this mine.
EVER yearning for the big strike that lies always just over the horizon, I continued to search for the silver mine and the gold mine in the desert south of Montezuma Head. I had no luck, but those two mines are still there waiting for some lucky prospector to find them. I have Chief Six’s word for it and also another piece of corroborating information.
One day a young Mexican boy, about eighteen years old, came to our camp. He was riding a decrepit old burro equipped with an ancient saddle. Aside from the burro and saddle, the lad’s possessions consisted of some extra clothes, a couple of blankets and several cooking utensils. He asked first for food, and then if he could camp awhile with us. He offered to pay, but after seeing his poke I refused to accept any money. Both the kid and the burro were about played out. They had journeyed a long way from the south.
The lad brightened up after a meal and a good night’s rest. I asked him what he was doing up here so far from Mexico. I had a strong hunch that he was looking for the Pima. or Padre Mines. My hunch paid off.
He looked at me and smiled; he knew what I was thinking. “Ah, senor, you suspect that I come looking for the mines. Si, it is true. I look for a very rich mine that my great-great-grandfather worked many years ago.”
I rolled a cigarette While I thought that one over. “Look, son,” I said finally, “the mine I’m working now is a very rich one. It may have been worked by your grandfather many years ago-sure. It has also been worked by many other men over the years. But it was lost for centuries and I found it. So it’s mine now. Sabe?”
“Si, senor,” he replied-but I had the feeling he didn’t understand at all; just sat there looking at me with those bug black eyes of his.
“I also own the mine where the stone fence and cabin are,” I continued, “and that place may have belonged to your ancestors. You can have that mine if you want, but it isn’t worth Working.” “I know that, senor,” he smiled. “I have no interest in those two mines.”
“You’re looking for the silver mine, then?” I prodded. “I, too, have looked for it—in vain.”
The boy shrugged. “No, senor, I do not look for that one either.”
By this time the conversation was beginning to nettle me a mite. “Then you’ve come up here from Mexico to find the gold mine on the desert—the mine the Pimas covered up at the time of the massacre of your people!”
At this, he jumped to his feet and his eyes flashed fire. “Si—that is the mine I have come to find! And why not, since it belonged to my people?”
I rolled him a cigarette and poured him a cup of coffee and motioned for him to sit down and cool off. “Take it easy, son,” I said. “N0body’s going to rob you of What’s rightfully yours. Now tell me all you know about this mine and we’ll work out a deal to find it. From what I hear, there’s enough gold there for both of us.”
The kid was quiet for a spell while he smoked his cigarette and drank his coffee. He was composed when he spoke again, and the story he told was interesting.
THE desert mine he sought was rich beyond belief—so rich the ore was wired together with gold. The Pimas had not covered up all the vein, as his great-great-grandfather had returned years after the massacre of his comrades and dug out one burro load of ore from a spot he had discovered shortly before the Indians attacked. (Four men had escaped, among whom was his great-grandfather, who was a youth of eighteen at the time.) This rich spot was in the side of a small, rocky rise several hundred yards from the main workings. It was well marked and he was sure that he could find it. True, he had not found it on his way here, but his directions were from the head of the mountain out to the mine, according to the old map he had.
“One thing you haven’t figured on,” I reminded him. “That mine is on the Pima reservation, and the Indians wouldn’t let you or anybody else work it. You could get hurt if they caught you at it.”
He shrugged again. “Quien sabe? I can but try, senor. It will be as God wills. I need only a little of the very rich oro. Would not Los Pimas allow me to take just what my burro can carry?”
“Not a chance,” I told him. “They’d catch you for sure, take the gold away from you and maybe kill you. The best you could hope for would be to get chased back into Mexico.”
“Nevertheless, I must try,” he insisted. “But I cannot do any searching unless I have food to sustain me. Will you let me have the food and take my money? I realize, of course, that it will not be enough.”
“Okay,” I agreed. “But I’ll only take half your money in payment. Or, if you wish, I’ll take a copy of the map and consider myself well paid.”
“N0, patrons,” he replied firmly. “I promised my father that I would not give the map to anyone nor let anyone see it. I swore that I would defend it with my life. But I did not swear that I would never tell anyone where the mine is located.”
He rose to his feet, turned and pointed. “The rich mine is on the point between two washes just below yonder peak. Now, senor, if you will give me the food, I will be starting on my journey.”
He shook hands with me before mounting his burro. After riding only a short way, he turned in his saddle and called, “Adios, patrone. Muchas gracias y vayu con Dios.”
I never saw the boy again, but I have a hunch that he did find the “rich spot,” removed a burro load of ore and made it safely back to Mexico. He was that kind of kid; tough, game and intelligent. Lucky, too. Naturally, I planned to track him to the desert mine, but I made a bad error in judgment. Mistrusting my own ability as a tracker, I went to get C0met’s Tail, Chief Six’s son, who was an expert at that ancient craft. But Nature came to the kid’s assistance with a heavy rain, washing out his burro’s tracks. Before I got back with Comet’s Tail, the task was beyond even his great skill. If I had tracked him myself, I might have discovered the rich desert mine. But perhaps it was meant to be the way it turned out. Quien sabe?