The Truth about Lost Mine Legends

A big Dakota HOWDY pards!

I hope you are having a great day, and will try to keep this short and sweet.  As you know from reading my blather, hunting for lost mines is my personal favorite thing to do, and in researching lost mines I have found that despite what the skeptics will say, the great majority of these stories are based on actual facts.

A popular example is the Lost Dutchman gold mine of the Superstition mountains in Arizona.  Skeptics have all sorts of excuses as to why this can not exist, but a little research will turn up that there was indeed a real Jacob Waltz (the Dutchman, actually from Germany) and he was a successful and experienced prospector; he was seen selling small amounts of gold in various places, and in three instances larger amounts, as for example when he was able to dig up gold he had hidden on his farm to help out his friends Julia Thomas and Reinhard Petrasch her adopted son.  On his death a candle box of gold ore was found under his bed, which ore was very rich indeed.  The fellow who ended up with it, Dick Holmes, had to sell it to finance his search for the gold mine, but he did have some pieces made into jewelry and a match box (often mistaken for a lighter) and this ore is unique – it is unlike any gold ore from any known source in Arizona.  This is solid evidence that Waltz had a source for very rich ore in Arizona, and not very far from Phoenix.  The fact that he was able to get to the mine and back in three days (in the 1800s) and even pointed at the Superstitions while telling his friends where the mine is located, certainly supports that the mine is there somewhere.  It is however well hidden, and at least two other mines have gotten mixed into the stories so that has helped make it even more difficult for anyone to find today.

Well the skeptics may well say, this is just one example, and is one of the most famous if not THE most famous so it is not true for the many thousands of other lost mine legends.  Many lost “Mine” legends by the way, are not really mines but lost ledges or rich placers, which were never actually mined but were discovered (often by accident) and then lost again.  So I flipped open Terry’s state treasure atlas (for South Dakota) to find a lost mine legend sort of at random, one that is more obscure, to do some research on just to prove the point.  I ran across Bailey’s lost silver ledge of Custer Peak.

A search through the newspaper archives, the Lawrence county courthouse, and a couple of genealogy sites online and I was able to find that indeed there was such a man named Bailey whom arrived in Deadwood in 1876, had brought in some almost incredibly rich silver ore to an assayer in Deadwood, and then was not able to find that ledge again.  he staked a land claim by pre-emption near Spearfish and apparently made a number of return trips to Custer Peak but never did find it again, and while I have a copy of the actual assay I have misplaced it and can’t find it again but it was well over 1000 ounces of silver per ton and a little gold too.  The point here is that these stories of lost mines and rich ledges are most often based on real events and real places, not fiction made up to sell treasure books.

In the re-telling of these stories, details get garbled, the richness gets exaggerated, sometimes innocently by the author multiplying a value at an early date by the value in his own day, even completely different and unrelated lost mine stories get mixed together, again sometimes innocently by someone who ASSUMES the two stories are the same when they are not.

The skeptics love to howl that no mine could ever be lost, when in truth that happens all too easily.  Most of these lost mine stories date to a time period when there was NO GPS, few accurate maps, and few people on the wild frontier even had any map at all.  They were lucky if they had a compass.  Now add in that the finder may have had outlaws, claim jumpers and dry gulchers to watch out for, maybe hostile Indians too, and there were no highways and few settlements and you start to get the picture.  Even if he (or she) marked off the site, Indians may have found it and then erased the marks, torn down any structures or burned them, and Nature herself can conceal a mine incredibly fast by the action of storms, landslides, and growing brush!

So dear reader take heart, pack your backpack, pick, shovel, gold pan and metal detector, get the best maps and all the versions of the lost mine story you can find, and go find it!  If you have a GPS bring that too, and be sure to bring a notebook to document your search and what you find.   You WILL find something!

Good luck and good hunting amigos, I hope you find the treasures that you seek.


To whet your appetite, here is a sample of rich silver ore: <maybe like Bailey’s ledge?>

Native silver!

PS almost forgot, here is a link to buy Thomas Terry’s treasure atlas set:

~ by Oroblanco on March 31, 2015.

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