The Old Spanish Gold Mine – Part 5 Timeline

Before I get too far into my other research I want to establish a timeline to illustrate just what was going on in the Southern Arizona area for the past couple hundred years, plus this will help me put the pieces together and see how they relate. There was a lot going on in this area!

Fray Marcos de Niza was sent from Mexico to investigate reports of large cities of wealth (The Seven Cities of Cibola). Niza wrongly assumed Zuni Pueblos of Hawikuh were these cities of wealth, and though the report was incorrect it sparked Spanish interest in the region.

Legendary Spanish explorer Francisco Coronado travels into Primeria Alta passing by present day Tucson and continuing North and then East to New Mexico and beyond.

German Karl Jedler is appointed administrator-general of homeland Spanish mining. Later Germans were recruited to serve in Mexico because of their expertise in mining operations. This demonstrates that the Spanish were serious about acquiring mineral wealth from Mexico.

Father Eusebio Kino arrives to Primeria Alta and is appointed missionary to the Pimas. He is responsible for establishing missions to convert the Upper Pimas including the Sonoyta (Sonoita) mission.

Spanish colonization of present day southern Arizona begins.

Father Kino dies and many of the missions in Primeria Alta remain neglected until 1730.

Planchas de Plata, or balls of Silver are discovered West of present day Nogales by Yaqui Indians. This sparks intense interest in the mineral wealth the area has to offer. One common claim  is that a chunk of silver was found weighing 2,700 pounds, while other sources say it weighed as much as 4,000 pounds!

A royal order closes down the nearly exhausted mines of Planchas de Plata. No one really cares, since the mines are all but played out already.

Pima Indians revolt against the Spanish. Sources I found claim the reason for this revolt is unknown but I believe it was in part due to poor working conditions in the mines, as the Spanish used the Indians for the hard labor.

The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) is expelled from the Spanish colonies because it is considered a political threat to King Charles III. Franciscans take over as the religious authority in Primeria Alta.

Father Garces establishes the first route from Mexico to California following the Gila to the Yuma Crossing. Over time several other routes follow the same basic path to get to California.

The mission of Sonoita is found deserted.

1800 (Early Years)
Apache Indians launch attacks against the Mexicans and Spanish in the region. This forces the Spanish to abandon missions and mining in Primeria Alta (southern Arizona)

The Maricopa Indians come to live with the Upper Pimas near the Gila River.

The Mexican War of Independence begins as Mexico wants to be free from Spanish rule.

The Mexican Revolution ends and the end of the Spanish in Mexico begins.

1830’s – 1850’s
Following the end of the Mexican Revolution and the adoption of an unrealistic treaty, the Apaches start attacking Mexican settlements again.

Trapper Pauline Weaver carves his name into the ruins at Casa Grande, near the Pima Villages on the Gila river. Chief Six (James Surviate) claimed that Pauline Weaver was the first white man he had ever met.

US Congress officially declares war against Mexico due to skirmishes in Texas.

Arizona has an estimated population of 600.

Under the direction of General Kearny, Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke, blazes a trail from New Mexico to the West Coast to again create a secure route to California.

Jesse Roscoe writes, in Some Western Treasure Trails, about a story entitled Spanish Bullion Plant. The story says Indian and Mexican miners were working rich mines along the Gila. Rumors flew that the Americans were coming to take over the mines (remember the US just declared war on Mexico), so they cached much of the ore they had mined. However one of the Miners by the name of Joaquin loaded up pack mules to take back to Mexico. The rest of the story you know from John D. Mitchell’s Don Joaquin’s Lost Gold Mine. The story was published in 1964, so this was likely a spinoff of Mitchell’s story.

1848, February, 2nd
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is signed giving the US control of the land North of the Gila. Remember that the Estrellas are just to the South of the Gila River, so they were still under Mexican control at this time.

John D. Mitchell wrote, in Lost Mines of The Great Southwest, a wagon train was travelling from El Paso to California for the gold rush. They made there way to the Estrellas where they traded with the friendly Pima Indians and stopped to camp at Montezuma’s head. They carried an iron chest with $50,000 in mineral wealth, and it was buried each night for safekeeping. In the morning a band of Apaches heading back north came across the group and killed all of them. Supposedly the treasure was never found. Published in 1933.

The California gold rush sparked the need for good trails to get from the heavily populated settlements in the East to the wild West of California. Many routes emerged but one popular option was to head from New Mexico into Northern Mexico following the Gila to reach California. Similar to Cooke’s route.

The US realizes that the area South of the Gila contains significant mineral wealth and offers better routes to California for the gold rush. The Gadsden Purchase costs $10 million dollars and sets the boundaries for Southern Arizona that we know today.

Charles Poston is one of the first to begin work to find and reopen Spanish mines. His focus is on the area of Tubac and later the Superstition mountains. There is no reference to him visitng the Estrellas.

James B. Leach’s Federal Wagon Road runs south of the Estrellas through Pima villages. This was a freighting route that connected New Mexico to California.

The Butterfield Overland Stage route is developed following nearly the same path as Leach’s Federal Wagon Road. However, the Butterfield Route was far more popular for freight and people.

In a story by Thomas Penfield in A Guide to Treasue in Arizona, published in 1973, two Frenchmen set out from Phoenix to the Estrellas to find a lost Spanish mine. They made two trips bringing back silver bullion each trip. They left for a third trip to the mine and never returned.

The US establishes the Pima-Maricopa Indian reservation on the Gila river.

1863, February 24th
The Territory of Arizona was incorporated into the United States by the Union. Before this Arizona was considered a part of New Mexico, and as of 1961, belonged to the Confederacy.

In a story by Thomas Penfield in A Guide to Treasue in Arizona, published in 1973, two prospectors reportedly traveled from Mexico to the Estrellas in search of gold. They mined and cached $50,000 worth of gold before Pimas warned them to leave, when they refused one prospector was killed. The other escaped only to be killed before he could lead a party back to the site.

1912, February 14th
Arizona becomes the 48th state!

John D. Mitchell publishes Lost Mines of the Great Southwest with the help of Milton Rose, yet there is no mention of the Estrella Mine. There is a story about a wagon train that buries a cache of gold near Montezuma’s Head in 1849 (see 1849 above).

1935, February
Ray Howland publishes The Lost Mine of the Stars in Arizona Highways and includes a picture of the Stone Cabin and the supposed cave where he found the map to the mine site. No date of actual discovery was published.

John D. Mitchell publishes The Ghost of the Estrellas article in Peoples Magazine of Arizona. This is the first variation of the Don Joaquin and His Lost Gold Mine story. No date of actual discovery was published.

1943, May
John D. Mitchell publishes Don Joaquin and His Lost Gold Mine in the Arizona Mining Journal and is reprinted in Desert Magazine.

John D. Mitchell publishes Lost Mines of the Great Southwest including Don Joaquin and His Lost Gold Mine.  No date of actual discovery was published.

Milton Rose publishes I Found a Lost Mine in True West magazine and is reprinted in Gold. Even though Milton’s story is published last, based on the details in the story and his close friendships with John D. Mitchell and Ray Howland, Milton Rose was probably the first of the three to find the mine and stone house.  No date of actual discovery was published, but from date references in the story he likely discovered it in the early 1930’s.

Byrd Howell Granger publishes a Motif Index for Lost Mines and Treasures. In it is a story about The Lost Treasure of Montezuma’s Head. As the story goes, Spanish priests coming to America settled on the Gila river and mined gold with the help of the Pima Indians. Under pressure from the Apaches, one of the Priests took the gold and buried it in a cave under the chin of Montezuma’s Head. No date of actual discovery was published.

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6 Responses to The Old Spanish Gold Mine – Part 5 Timeline

  1. hooch says:

    After years of searching back there I’m starting to think that John D. Mitchell was full of BS. So many people have tried to mine the old stone house site in the 30s it’s crazy. I met an old indian dude back there in 06 or 07, sat down with him at the bookstore at Frys in Copa. Guys name was Joe in his late 70s. He said he’d lived there all his life and knew many indians that brought gold out of that place, only problem was, he said all the stuff the Mexicans and Indians mined back in the day where on the east side of the mountain. Also told me that the original ranchers sons on the west side of that mountian built that stone house in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Also told me that when he was younger he went into a cave with his uncles that had fresh water in it, it was a real cave as well and not some little animal Den. Also told me of another cave behind the ape head on top of Montezumas on the south end. Been trying to get back in touch with this guy for a few years now not sure if he’s still alive.

    • Matt Brady says:

      If you find anything else out let us know!

    • Don Yoakley says:

      Around 1960 or so, my Dad was contracted to help an old prospector find the mine. Dad was the manager of Anderson Aviation at the Phoenix airport. He and the prospector took to the air to find it. After a few flights they found it and marked it with flour bags to aid in finding it by foot.
      My Dad and his new friend staked a claim and we mined it for a short spell. The lumber and pipe for winching us up and down the shaft are still there as I see in recent photo.
      I was about 8 years old and went in the mine several times. I remember it was about 100 to 150 feet down then branched into two tunnels, one about 30 feet and the other 100 ft or so only large enough to crawl.
      I had forgotten about it over the years and just today decided to Google Don Joaquin gold mine to my surpirse it is well known.
      Anyone interested in my story can contact me at

  2. Bill Bauer says:

    Don, if you ever want to hike there let me know. I live close to the site and hike the Seven Mile Mountain area almost every weekend. Thanks.

  3. Hooch says:

    the mine was backfilled out the bottom, last time we went down on ropes there were some snakes at the bottom, no tunnels were accessible, it was all filled in at the base. Snakes had to come from some other entrance though because we could feel cool air blowing at the bottom.. Always made me think that there must have been another entrance somewhere up the wash.

    • Bill says:

      To Hooch: How long ago was that approximately?
      I’ve been up there three times in the last two years and it was only about 15-20′ down and looked filled in. Plenty of snakes in that area too.
      This fall/winter I plan on hiking up past the cabin/mine up to the ridge. There is supposed to be a faint trail up to the ridge. A chance to explore farther up at the same time.

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