So stories and timelines and everything else aside what does all of this mean for the Old Spanish mine? Is it old? Is it Spanish? Was it rich? It is time to draw some conclusions!
Who built it and when?
The first published account of the mine site was by Ray Howland in 1935. It even included a picture of the stone house, so we know without a doubt that the site was constructed before 1935.
Now we can limit our search to the groups in the area from the 1500’s to 1935. That includes the Gila River Pima Indians, the Jesuits, the Spanish, the Mexicans, the Franciscans, and finally the prospecting white man.
First let’s look at the mine site a little deeper. We have a small cabin constructed out of stacked stones, large sections of stone stacked walls throughout the area, a spring dug into the creek, and all this in Pima controlled territory. The fact of the matter is no group or individual could have possibly constructed that level of infrastructure without significant resources and without the knowledge of the Pima Indians. The Estrellas are a line of mountains, and as soon as you leave the the cover of the mountain you enter large, flat expanses of desert: Pimas could easily spot any groups coming or going from several miles away. No one would have been able to sneak in, setup a mine, and sneak out with ore.
Secondly what prospecting white man, or small band of Mexican miners, would put the effort into all of that infrastructure when that time effort could be used to start mining. They would just as soon pitch a couple tents for shelter and get to digging instead of building a stone cabin. I searched book after book looking at shelters used in mining camps throughout the American Southwest and though some had more effort put into them than others, none even approached the level of work that would be required to construct the vast array of walls and the stone cabin at the mine site. This was no small operation! It would have required a fairly large labor force to complete and operate.
So that eliminates the small bands or individual Mexican or white prospectors from the list. Another one we can eliminate from the list is the Pima Indians. Although they may have helped with operations at the mine, they would never have started the mine by themselves. The only records of any mining done willingly by Indian Tribes were for salt. Indian tribes across North America had no interest in mineral wealth, and even after the Spanish showed up, who did have a lust for the shiny stuff, harsh treatment in Spanish mines lead tribes to destroy and hide placer deposits and veins containing gold and silver to avoid being forced to work in more Spanish mines. They wanted nothing to do with gold or silver!
Now Jesuit involvement in mining remains a controversial topic. Many so called trade bars of gold and silver have been found with names of Jesuit Priests, like Father Kino, molded into the bars. Some sources claim that this alone is not proof that the Jesuits were actually involved in the operations. For each case of supposed Jesuit mining there was a mission or Visita in an area where the Jesuit priest could base his operations. In the case of our mine site the closest Jesuit religious structures were over 100 miles away! There are records that Father Kino, a very prominent Jesuit priest, visited the Gila River Pima Indians on several occasions, however it is doubtful that the Jesuits were in charge of the mine operations when they had only Father Kino who contacted them on occasion, and no local mission or Visita to oversee operations of the mine.
The Jesuits were expelled in 1767 and Franciscan Friars took over as the religious leaders in Primeria Alta. Up to this point, however, work at the missions was degrading. Resources were limited and after the death of Father Kino in 1711 many of the missions and Visitas became abandoned. When the Friars took over many of the missions in the North (still 100 – 200 miles South of the mine site) were completely abandoned. With their limited resources they operated only a few missions in the South. There aren’t even any records that the Franciscan Friars contacted the Gila River Pimas much less lead mining operations on their land a couple hundred miles North of the nearest functional mission.
The process of elimination leaves us with one option, the Spanish; and it is definitely not hard to conceive of. Spain’s lust for wealth caused them to expand from their settlements in South America after Marcos de Niza brought back word of cities virtually paved with gold in 1539. In 1594 Spain enlisted the help of Germans, who were experts in mining operations, to aid them in their quest for wealth. Early Spanish exploration by Coronado and Niza went way East of the Estrellas and continued North. The first recorded contact with the Gila River Pimas was by Father Kino in the late 1600’s. Between revolt of the Pimas, the deterioration of Jesuit operations in Primeria Alta, Apache attacks, and eventually the War of Mexican Independence, the most likely time period the mine was constructed is between 1690 and 1750.
The Spanish would not have worked the mine alone. Many accounts tell of how the Spanish used Indians as forced labor in the mines. Father Kino probably paved the way for good relations with the Pima people, and subsequent Spanish officers took advantage of the relationship to use the Pima people for labor. The relationship started out good enough but poor treatment of the Gila River Pimas, combined with bad sentiment and relations between other Pima tribes was likely the cause of the Pima revolt of 1751.
Was it rich?
This is hard to say for sure. I personally found samples of stained quartz with very small specks of gold, nothing of any real value, but proof gold is and was there, nonetheless. Many of the treasure stories regarding the mine speak of a rich vein of ore, but after all these are just stories. But if we take into account all the work put into developing the infrastructure of the site, that might be some indication as to how much gold and/or silver was pulled out. It is doubtful that so much effort would be spent constructing a spring, walls to hold donkeys, and a stone house for the leadership, for a small vein of ore. Now it could have been that what seemed to be a large vein of rich ore quickly died out as they mined further down, but based on accounts of the mines size and the level of infrastructure to support the mining operations, I believe it did provide a significant amount of mineral wealth.
Are there more mines?
Milton Rose’s treasure story was the only one to mention multiple mine sites, and his account I find to be the most accurate description of the site, and the most realistic explanation for the story behind how it came to be. Again I doubt that so much time was spent into constructing all that infrastructure for a single small vein of ore. They probably had good reason to put time into building a spring, and shelters, and walls. More mines may be out in the Estrellas, and when I get back to Arizona I’d like to check out Milton’s descriptions of the locations myself.
Can it be Substantiated?
Proof that this mine was operated by the Spanish may indeed exist. It was required that all mines in Spanish Territory give 1/5th of their wealth to the King. This meant that detailed records of mines and output was maintained. Now I’m certain some operations went unreported, but judging by the size of the Old Spanish Mine site, I would imagine that this one was on the books. The trick is finding those records. They could be in Mexico, or Spain, or even Rome!
What is the historical value?
If indeed it is, as I believe it to be, a Spanish mine, it illustrates a rich part of Arizona’s history: From occupation of the lands by the native Indian tribes, to early exploration by the Spanish, then work by the Jesuits and Franciscans, and later Mexican independence and the US acquisition of the land in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsden Purchase. It is a standing Spanish and Pima built structure dating back 250 perhaps even 350 years! Verification would also contribute to our knowledge of Spanish mining in Arizona, the reasons for the Pima revolt of 1751, and the possible influence of the Jesuits on mining.
Rose’s Mining Claim 1930’s – Remember Milton Rose’s story? If Milton Rose did setup a claim for the Estrellas it should be on record, the trick is finding it. I’m in the process of working this one out and hopefully I can get some results without too much headache.
The Howland Map – Ray Howland claimed to have found a map leading to the stone house in the back of a cave. In reality Howland was good friends with Milton and Mitchell. They likely all found the site together and went on to write their own accounts. But for the sake of argument, if the map was real, Howland apparently lost all of his possessions in a flood, after which his interest in treasure hunting was washed away as well.
The Cave – Several of the stories regarding the Old Spanish Mine speak about a cave where treasure was hidden, a Pima Indian was killed and buried, or a map was found. Ray Howland even included a poor picture of the cave in his Arizona Highways article. If such a cave exists, it would be an amazing find!
Other Mine Sites – Milton Rose spoke of 3 other mine sties in the Estrellas. If this is true it would tell us a lot about the size of the operations that were being conducted in the Sierra Estrellas.
Placer Workings – Supposedly the Spanish also worked the sand for placer gold at the bottom of the ravine where the mine site is. I didn’t see any evidence of placer working when I went, but I didn’t look very hard either.
Cross by the spring – The stories say there was a cross carved into a rock above the spring. It could have been taken by looters, but some closer examination might yield some more insight into whether or not there was a cross.
Arrastre at the Gila River – Unless the miners were packing out ore to be processed elsewhere, there should be an Arrastre somewhere near the Gila River that was used to crush the ore and separate the gold and silver from the junk. Carrying unprocessed ore all the way back to Mexico would be a waste!