LITTLE HORN GOLD

The 19th Century Anglo-Celt took a 19th Century attitude toward the Mexicans (Remember the Alamo!) and the Indians (Damn redskins! They killed Custer!). The 20th Century Anglo-Celt is an enlightened 20th Century bundle of complexes and he is so loud in confessing his past sins against those two defeated peoples that he can’t hear the historians tell him that there’s guilt enough to go around. That maybe the Mexicans and the Indians should have their share of the sackcloth and ashes.

For if many 1880 Americans believed that the only good Indian was a dead one and that the children of Coronado should live on the downhill side of the railroad tracks, the Mexicans and the Indians had their paraphrase of that opinion.

The pioneer Mexican believed that the only good Indian was an enslaved one, or one whose scalp festooned the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. The frontier Indian believed the only good Mexican was one tied to a wheel of his set-afire wagon or a tied-down one whose bones had been picked clean by the voracious, venomous black ants of the Sonoran Desert.

Despite this mutual hostility, the three groups adjusted uneasily to one another in frontier Arizona and they achieved a precarious sort of co-existence. It was so precarious that a thoughtless word or act, or sometimes deliberate ones would bring the ancient feuds back to flash-point.

The on-again, off-again truces and vendettas marked many of the lost mine stories, like this one of the Little Horn Gold.

Juan Bautista Alvarado had been a California governor in the days of the Spanish colonization. During California’s troubled transition from a colony of Imperial Spain to a state in the new Republic of Mexico, the titles of his estates became clouded and his heirs sought new lands. In 1878 one of them, Jose Alvarado, was a prosperous rancher at Palomas in the Gila Valley of Southwestern Arizona.

The warrior tribes of the Colorado River often camped on his lands and despite their hit-and-run warfare with the white settlers, Mexican and Anglo, they became friendly with Alvarado. One of the Indians believed he was in Alvarado’s debt (the rancher had taken the Indian’s desperately-ill son to a priest, who baptized the boy. The boy recovered. “You white men value gold,” the Indian said, “I will take you to a rich gold mine.”

Alvarado by then was old and crippled, but for gold he could endure a hard ride into the mountains. He and the Indian set out for the mine. Alvarado brought along two friends and there was immediate trouble.

The two friends, both Mexicans, made no secret of their hostility toward the Indian and their contempt for him. To them, he was only a servant and guide and not fit dinner company for gentlemen whose ancestors had brought the scarlet and gold banner of the Spanish king to America.

The Indian was a proud sub-chief of a warrior tribe and to him the two Mexicans were parasites, free-riders. He went to Alvarado and told him he would put an end to the unpleasantness. He would kill the two.

Alvarado talked him out of it. But the expedition, by then only a few miles from the promised mine, was over. If the Indian was not good enough to eat with the two Mexicans and associate with them, he was not good enough to share his gold with them.

To prove to Alvarado that he had not lied about the gold, the Indian slipped away that night and returned at dawn with a rock heavily laced with gold.

Alvarado did not live to try again. On his deathbed at Yuma he told his son, Jose jr., of the trail, as he had followed it and as the Indian had told him of its last miles.

The gold-hunters left Palomas and rode in the northwesterly direction, the old man recalled, and kept to the west of the Palomas and Tank mountains. They followed an old road into the Kofa mountains, turning east through Engesser Pass and north again to Alamo Springs. Alamo Springs was the end of the trail, as Alvarado had followed it, for it was there that the Indian refused to go farther.

To find the mine from there, Alvarado said the Indian later told him, “go east toward the next mountains {the Little Horns). The trail crosses an old river bed. Go down the arroyo for maybe 50 paces and there are rocks in the wash, put all together in a circle to catch rain water. Soldiers put the rocks there a long time ago. Go on another mile and a half to a side arroyo. In there are many rocks, all full of gold.”

The younger Alvarado had family responsibilities and a thriving dairy business. He had no time to go gold hunting. Many years later , when he tried, he found the trails and maybe his memory of the story too dim.

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Ed and the Dirty Jackass

This is a story I came across while doing research on the Harquahala Mine a few years back. There is probably a moral to the story but is escapes me. An old time miner by the name of Ed and his burro, Millie, got along pretty well. Ed knew when Millie was tired and wanted water. Millie knew when Ed was discouraged and needed to be nuzzled a little. Together they traveled the west looking for gold.

One summer they settled in a lush area atop the Harquahala Mountains. Ed had a small stash of gold that kept them in beans and bacon for several weeks. When the pouch began to flatten, he figured on taking a job on the railroad for a while.

Then three government scientists came up the trail to the mountain top. “We’d like to set up an astronomy observatory here,” they explained. “Well sure,” Ed agreed, a little bewildered. “Only I ain’t got a lot of grub here. I was just thinkin’ about gettin’ a job on the railroad.” “Tell you what. We’ll share your mountain and we’ll share our grub, how’s that?”

That was fine with Ed. The scientists brought up their equipment, and sometimes Ed and the youngest man would take an afternoon off and amble around the mountain, talking about geology. Ed had as much practical experience as the scientist had book-learning. They enjoyed each others company.

When the men were called back to Washington, Ed and his friend took one last walk. “I guess me and Millie will do some more prospecting when you fellers leave,” Ed remarked. “Not up here,” the young man said. “You’d be better off trying someplace else like…see…over there. That shiny spot on the other side of the canyon? That’s where you might find gold.” “Yeah? Well if I do It’s half yours” “No you keep it. Call it payment for your and Millie’s hospitality.”

So a few days later, Ed and Millie set off to explore the spot that had been lit up for a brief moment. Not once had the setting sun illuminated the spot again. But he had the location firmly fixed in his mind. The gold was there, all right. Ed posted his claim, loaded some ore onto Millie, and set off to spend the winter in town

Realizing he wasn’t getting any younger, he took in three partners who could do the actual mining while he collected his share of the profits. In the spring they set out for the Harquahala’s again, full of plans. But on the way up, one of the men called Millie a “dirty jackass.”

Ed ordered his partners to get lost. No one was going to insult his burro and get away with it. He’d mine the ore himself, he would, and they could forget it! Stunned, the men trudged back to town and reported that Ed thought more of that burro than he did of working a gold mine.

And no one ever saw ED or Millie again.

While the story of it’s discovery is a bit foggy, the Harquahala Mine is fact. It produced an estimated $1.6 million between 1891 and 1894, and continued to turn a profit until 1908 when operating costs drew even with the value of the gold mined. Today, the Harquahala Mine is known chiefly for the tale of it’s discoverers – the crusty prospector and his beloved burro.

Bicycle Parts in the Desert?

I really don’t know what made this pop into my head, but likely it will help make a point about tracking the old timers some. Years ago in the Yuma area a friend and I were following a lead looking for a spot that had produced nuggets in the late 1800’s and our luck had not been to good all day checking washes and benches with our detectors.

I was working my way back to the truck and was in a new wash when I began finding odd stuff, first a bicycle pedal, some spokes, then I saw a rim with no tire sticking out of the bank. Curious I began excavating what I expected to be an old bike left in the desert for some reason, but why?

As I dug this old relic up it started to be quite apparent it was what was left of an old homemade puffer drywasher and was made from a tricycle since there was one small wheel on a camshaft also hand bent for the bellows and one large with a crank attached to a pedal stem for the owner to make the assembly work. Where the pedal I found had come from I figured. Wish I could have seen it working.

Looking back I wish I would have taken photos, but not having cell phones a camera was not always to hand. After finding this cool old drywasher I slowed down my hunt and after finding some more parts I hit a nice penny weight nuggets in the bank. This are produced some pretty nice gold over the years and still does to those that hunt low and slow.

Guess the point is the trash you find can be a very good indicator of those that passed before and though at first an odd find it turned out to slow me down knowing the old timers were working here too even though time had erased almost all the tailings they had left in the wash instead of on the bank in this steep sided gulch.

Pay attention to what the desert tells you my friends….

Greenstone and Gold

That old Ford truck was sure a good old truck, but on some roads it could sure beat me and ol’ D.J. (my loyal mutt) to death. This particular road in Southern Arizona was longer and dustier than many areas I like to hunt and a tad on the rough side as well. I’d guess it takes about an hour to travel the 30 miles into the small placer area although I have never really timed it. Interesting thing is that you travel through several different geological environments and if you are into that sort of thing (I am) it is a very interesting drive and I have stopped several times to just hike and explore some without my trusty metal detector.

This little area was discovered with the help of a fellow I met in my travels named T.J. (not to be confused with D.J. the dog) that told me that he used to go and dry pan for nuggets with his Grandfather and get several each trip. Now believe you me that got my attention, but quick!

I had found him standing beside a old Dodge two wheel drive pickup truck with a hole in a radiator hose out in the boon-docks out of water and in need of a hand. I used duct tape and Shoe-goop to patch the hole then added a hose clamp to keep the patched area from bursting while he played with D.J., my dog. I then left his radiator cap lose to lesson the pressure and followed him to his old camper trailer parked at a small RV park about 30 miles up the highway to make sure he made it home ok.

It was after getting him home safely that I was told all about his prospecting trips with his grandfather when he was young. T.J. had lost his parents to the measles when he was about 9 years old and was taken in by his Grandfather who spent his life prospecting in Arizona and Nevada. He would work long days with him dry panning and drywashing for gold to keep them in food while living in the desert. At night he would get what schooling the old man could give. This went on for 3 years and then the Grandfather and T.J. hit a pretty good pocket of gold in Arizona allowing them to get a better truck and T.J. was taken back East to an Aunt’s house for proper schooling to his total dismay.

When T.J. was 17 years old he got word that his Grandfather had died just a year before he had planned to reunite with him to again search the Southwestern deserts for gold. This was very hard on him and T.J. left school and joined the Army. He fought in a couple wars from what he said and learned enough about people that he understood why his Grandfather lived like he did hunting alone in the desert for gold. T.J. left the army with a pension and vanished into the Nevada desert to hunt for gold…Alone. He had been living off of the gold he finds in Nevada and Arizona ever since. I was just fascinated by this real life prospector and his life story and listened to him long into the evening before crawling into my truck to sleep.

Anyway when we ran into each other T.J. was searching for the area where he and his Grandfather had “hit it big” back when he was a boy and he knew he was in the right patch of desert, but his truck was not 4 wheel drive and would not make it into the area. Mine would though and after a pot of very strong coffee we drove back to where we had met and resumed the search for his placer area.

Now over the years I have been told many a story and followed many a lead some good and some bad, but this time the teller of the magical tale wanted to go with. Now this was a new twist and yes I had a detector T.J. could use and I would teach him to use it to find the nuggets he was so sure would be lying there just waiting for us. It was with him that I made the first trip into the area and was seriously wondering at times what the heck we were doing so far back in no-man’s-land looking for an area he remembered from boyhood. T.J. was by the way about 75 or so and has some pretty serious medical problems at the time which added to my concern.

T.J was having absolutely no problem remembering the way in and was pointing out cactus, rock formations and other things he remembered from trips in as a boy. He told me how he and his grandfather would give things names as they traveled as kind of a game and the landmarks I use today are the same with their names the same as I learned them on the way in that day. These names are not on any map except for perhaps one or two of them, but good names just the same. Then I too began to get more excited as the rocks around me began to change. Geologically I mean and things were looking real good for prospecting with all the tell tale metamorphic material along with exposed Shist and Granite bedrock here and there and then I saw the first mine shaft on a hillside.

We were there! “just up the road a bit you will see a piece of cable sticking out of the ground and just past it a old trail, take it” T.J. said. Yup the cable was there and with the ol’ heart beating fast I turned the truck onto a very faint trail down a small hill. I was really believing there was something to this story now as T.J. had directed me in as though he was there last week, not 60 some years ago. “ok slow down and look for a pile of rocks like a claim marker and a old fire pit.” say’s T.J. We went about 2 miles through some real nasty stuff when he said “missed it”. So we turn around and go back, but he didn’t miss it I did, it turns out it was on my side and I didn’t see it, but he was sure it was on the other side of the road. That was the only mistake he had made in his directions, not bad!

As soon as I stepped out of the truck and looked at the wash we were parked near I saw the drywash tailings, lots of them, very old with only small mounds of the larger coarse tails from the grizzly with the fines pile being long gone. T.J. pointed out a wide area in the lower end of the wash where someone had run every inch of ground through a drywasher.

This was where they found their small fortune many years ago while working down the small wash and getting good color all the way. They got into the large natural bowl shaped area and found it to be very rich with gold winking at them from every riffle of their old hand pump bellows drywasher when T.J. stopped his Grandfather from working to come look. T.J. didn’t recall how much gold they recovered from that spot, but it was “several bean cans full” he said!

Heck even the dog was excited this area looked so good. I could hardly wait to get after some gold, but first I had to help T.J. learn to use a Fisher Gold Bug. Well he took to it without any trouble and he found his first nugget within 5 minutes of walking into the wash. It was about a penny weight and very rough laying right on top of a tailing pile at the edge of the wash. After a bit of hooting and grinning I went back to the truck for my Gold Bug 2 and I’ll be darned if T.J. didn’t nail another one before I could get back. This was a very nice nugget weighing in at a quarter ounce, again in a header pile from his Grandfather’s drywasher.

After sitting and chatting again for a bit and admiring the very crystalline nugget I headed down the wash to try my luck. I began working the bank and immediately got into a spot where there were signals everywhere over a small area. I excitedly began recovering targets, but they were not nuggets they were nails, lots of them in 3 different sizes and all very old even perhaps hand made. Possibly where the old drywasher roted away after being left by T.J.’s Grandfather. I moved out of the nail pile and immediately got a signal in a header pile and yes this one was a small nugget again very coarse weighing about a gram or so. After hunting the area for a couple hours and getting 4 more small ones I headed back to see how T.J. was doing.

When I got to the truck he was sitting there with a smile and 3 more small nuggets to show me and after that long drive in it was already getting late afternoon so we spent the rest of the day setting up camp and making a good ol’ steak dinner over a desert camp fire. We got to know each other that night, but we talked like we had known each other for all our lives. T.J. told me that there were several other small washes that had gold in them, but he couldn’t remember how to get to them.

The next day was interesting in that we just couldn’t get another nugget from that first wash or it’s banks up or down and I finally decided to take a hike looking for new areas or perhaps where that very coarse gold was coming from. Walking up a small tributary to the main wash we had been working I nailed another small nugget and slowed down. The little feeder cut through a area with an unusual amount of Greenstone scattered about mixed with quartz fragments and the soil was very red. I began hunting the flat that was covered with this material and immediately got a fairly deep signal and dug a half ounce nugget from about 8 inches deep. Before I was done I had well over an ounce of shiny rough placer nuggets.

I decided to go and get T.J. and let him in on the new patch and on the way noticed another small area with the same type material showing through the desert varnish that covers everything in this area. Yup you guessed it, within a few swings I hit a nugget, then another, and yet another. What a moment it is when you realize that you are in an area that could really produce and there is no evidence of anyone having been there for perhaps 60 years or more. We stayed there for two days and found several ounces each and became really good friends. What stories I got to hear around the camp fires that weekend and what plans we made for future trips.

Two weeks later I pulled into the trailer court where T.J. was staying to pick him up to find his trailer was gone. I couldn’t believe he would just leave after we found his old hunting area. I talked to a neighbor and was told that T.J. had died in his sleep a week earlier and was buried in the local cemetery. I was in shock to say the least and went to see his grave and say goodbye, it felt like losing family and it tore me up some inside.

I still hunt this range of hills and still find gold in the area almost every trip. I sure miss that old fellow in the bib over hauls smoking camel non-filter cigarettes and telling tales around the campfire and although it was only one weekend it seems like I knew him for many years. I still camp in the spot where he and his Grandfather camped year after year and I never forget to say hello and thank you to T.J. for the gold I have found in this spot. Now as I cruise that long rough ride into my camp site with D.J. (the dog) I smile knowing I’ll get to say hello to an old friend and perhaps find some gold. You know I did find a couple more gold producing areas by walking the hills and my guess it there will be more.

Now you may find this next part a little strange, but while talking around the campfire T.J. mentioned once that “the only thing I am scared of when it comes to dyeing is that there’ll be no cigarettes in heaven”. So each trip in I get him a pack of Camels, remove them from the pack and leave them by a rock he used as a chair when he was a boy. When I return whether it is two weeks later or a few months later the cigarettes are always gone with no remains left. Critters or……?