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Thread: Pegleg's Black Gold Nuggets

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  1. #1
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    Pegleg's Black Gold Nuggets

    Greetings everyone,
    In response to the request for more legends that might be suitable for a new forum, here is one of the most famous lost mine legends in the southwest - the famous Pegleg Smith's lost mine of black gold nuggets.

    The story goes that Thomas L. Smith, better known as Pegleg Smith, (born 1801 died 1866) a real person who was a mountain man, prospector, horse thief and fur trapper in the misty period of before the California gold rush of '49, accidentally found a deposit of gold and was never able to relocate the site.

    Pegleg Smith told people that he lost his leg in a fight with Indians in New Mexico, however Cyrus Alexander stated that Smith was accidentally shot in the knee by a drunken reveler at a mountain fur rendesvous, which resulted in his getting a wooden peg leg. The loss of such a vital limb did not even slow Smith down. Some time in the late 1820's or early 1830's (most sources date the journey to 1829) he took his train of mules loaded with furs to csell in the Spanish settlements of California. While crossing the Mojave desert in southern California, somewhere near what is today the Salton Sea (which was dry at the time) he lost his bearings. Spotting three flat-topped hills nearby, he decided to climb up the nearest one and try to get his bearings again. When he reached the top of the relatively small, flat topped hill, he noticed the ground littered with black pebbles. Almost absent mindedly, he picked up a few and they were surprisingly heavy. Thinking they may be copper, he put them in his pocket and started gazing around for a recognizable landmark. He did spy a landmark he recognized and headed back down to continue on his journey.

    The story goes that Pegleg made it to Los Angeles and sold his furs for a great profit, so in the mountain man way went on a drinking binge. While in town he did learn that the black pebbles were really a desert varnish coating solid gold nuggets! He made such a ruckus that he was booted out of town. Pegleg spent many years searching for those three flat topped hills but never managed to relocate the site. Smith sold maps to the lost mine as well as claims to other prospectors for years before his death in a San Francisco hospital in 1866.

    In the 1920's railroad man and treasure hunter John Mitchell happened to be in the same region when a meteorite was spotted. He got a mule and directions from the local witnesses to go and find the meteorite. While out in the desert, he got lost. In the same way as Pegleg had done, Mitchell climbed a flat topped hill and found that he could see a railroad junction in the distance, and that the ground on top of the hill was littered with black pebbles. He picked up a few and thought they were remarkably heavy for their size so filled a sack for future possibilities, kept a few in a pocket and headed for the railroad junction. He did find the meteorite and went on his way. More than twenty years later, he happened to hear of the tale of Pegleg's black gold nuggets and decided to hit one of the pebbles he had kept (he had stashed the bag full in the hills, not wishing to haul it out along with the meteorite) with a hammer, and sure enough the black crust came off revealing a gold nugget!. Mitchell was too old at the time but passed on his story, and added that the hill he had climbed was also covered with brown hematites (a natural iron, often causes a false hit with metal detectors and known as a "hot rock") and that the three hills were not to be seen.

    In the 1960's a man contacted Desert USA magazine and claimed to have found the famous Pegleg mine. He said that the mine was within twenty miles of the Salton Sea, and that the flat topped hill was one of two, not three. He even sent in several black gold nuggets to the editors of the magazine to prove he was not telling a tale. According to him, he recovered ALL of the gold nuggets and made a fair but not huge fortune, traveling to Nome Alaska to sell the gold without revealing the secret of where he had found it.

    There are related stories as well, which I will add later - incidents where different individuals found black-crusted gold nuggets in the area but were unable to return to the site. A similar lost mine exists in Arizona, somewhere north of Yuma and an old corral; a cowhand throwing pebbles to herd cattle found some of the black pebbles to be very heavy and these later proved to be gold. Desert varnish is a very real phenomenon and it will form a crust over even gold. The black gold nuggets sent in to the editors of Desert USA magazine were real - though there is even a "Pegleg Liars Contest" the fact is the story is based on a real gold location; perhaps someone will find it again!

    I have personally hunted for this lost mine, and believe it does exist. I found brown hematites in the Chuckwallas and the Orocopia mountains, along with at least a dozen flat topped hills, but none of them had any black pebbles. Many Pegleg hunters have sought the flat topped hills in the Anza-Borrego park, as the editors of Desert USA magazine were convinced that was the true location, but no one has yet found the gold there either.

    I hope I will not get in trouble for borrowing this image, here is a map showing the area where the famous gold is:


    More articles online at:
    http://www.desertusa.com/magnov97/gold/nov_gold2.html

    The man who found Pegleg's gold:
    http://www.desertusa.com/magdec97/gold/pegleg.html
    http://www.desertusa.com/magdec97/gold/pegleg2.html

    Pegleg Smith's monument:
    http://www.roadsideamerica.com/attract/CABORpegleg.html

    Great details on the life of Thomas L. Smith
    http://experts.about.com/e/t/th/Thomas_L._Smith.htm

    I will add more links in future.

    Where is Pegleg's lost mine?

    Oroblanco
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    "We must find a way, or we will make one."--Hannibal Barca

  2. #2
    Charter Member
    om
    Jan 2006
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    Re: Pegleg's Black Gold Nuggets

    Hey Oro,

    Know the story quite well. I'll give you a little update on it. The Black Gold Nuggets have been found in about five places. All five of those places were within the thirty-five (35) mile SouthWest Radius of the Salton Sea.

    Myself and a good friend have been researching and hunting those nuggets for a long time (him more than me). Anybody in SoCal who seriously wants to look for PegLeg's Black Gold Nuggets, be VERY careful who you share information with! Here's why:

    One man found nuggets, could go back any time and get more. He was old, however, when he first found them. He owned a little rock and gem shop in San Diego. There is even one B&W Pic of the nuggets he found. That is with my friend. I'll post it when I get it back.

    Another man (A Russian), who was the son of a geologist, was researching information on the black nuggets for a book. The first man had showed him the nuggets and nobody knows for sure whether he told him the exact location (but probably not).

    The first man (with the rock and gem shop) died suddenly. His shop was robbed and all the black gold nuggets, and all his research papers were stolen. Never recovered.

    The Russian was then speaking to George Mroczkowski (famous TH'er) to get more information. The next day, he never showed up. Turns out he had been killed by a hit and run driver (never caught). His car had been stolen, and every bit of his research paperwork gone.

    When you have a tale that has been around as long as this one, with so much potential payoff, there are people who are crazy for the treasure. Like the Lost Dutchman Mine. I know there are people who have been searching the desert for 60 years looking for those black gold nuggets. If they think they are close to the location, and see somebody else looking, some of them will have no problem shooting you if they think you are encroaching on their spot. Some places in Anza-Borrego Desert, I have been followed by some desert rat looking characters. I always assumed they had some small mining operation (or a Meth Lab), and were watching out for it.

    Actually, there is one more place the black nuggets were found. I can't swear to the validity of the story, but a body was found in the area of the Bullion Mountains (near Twenty Nine Palms, Ca). The story goes that he had a bunch of the nuggets in his pockets.

    Mike
    Check out 1ORO1.COM

  3. #3
    mx
    Nov 2004
    Alamos,Sonora,Mexico
    10,698
    1474 times

    Re: Pegleg's Black Gold Nuggets

    Hmmm Gentlemen: Black Gold is not rare, nor are stories of it being found then lost.

    West of Sonoita, the highway in Mexico parallels the Border. It seems that a few years ago an American appeared in town looking for a guide for the region next to the US border. He had a map, which he would not show to anyone.

    He eventually found a guide, so they set off in a vehicle. After a period of time the American was found staggering along the hi-way almost dead. He was taken to the local hospital where he insisted that they go back to look for his guide.

    After an extensive search the guide was found, dead. The vehicle apparently was never found again.

    According to the American, they found what he was looking for, a shallow dry lake bottom. Scattered across the bottom were the black heavy rocks.

    They gathered quite a quantity of the black Gold rocks, but with the provisions and water running short, they decided to head back to civilization for a rest and new supplies.

    Somewhere on the return trip, the vehicle broke down, so they decided to leave it, so carrying water and a few Gold specimens, they set out.

    The American always claimed that after a few days his guide gave out, so it was decided that he would go for help and return for the guide.

    It always was a point of speculation as to why an experienced guide, used to this area, would give out before a citified American, but---.

    To back up his story, the American showed a handful of the Black Gold rocks.

    He shortly disappeared and was never heard of again, possibly due to rumors that he was going to be charged with the murder of his guide.

    That is a very barren, dry, lonely country.


    Curiously, except for terrain, location, and the source of the gold, that story fits almost perfectly the lost Mission north of Arivaca.

    In this case the Sheriff's posse combed the area, but never did find the jeep or the Mission, only the dead guide.. This was widely reported in the Tucson newspapers at the time.

    In this case the American had Polaroid pictures of the Mission and gold bars which were published.

    Someday I have to do a Google of both areas, who knows?

    Tropical Tramp
    "I exist to live, not live to exist"

  4. #4
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    Re: Pegleg's Black Gold Nuggets

    Greetings Gollum and Hola! to my friend Real de Tayopa,
    Thank you for the update and info on other black gold nuggets. I should have included a tip to any newbies heading out to hunt for Pegleg's mine to beware of running into other people.

    I am listed here as a "newbie" but have been a member for a number of years, lost my password and changed servers so had to re-join. Fortunately I was lucky enough to get my old member handle - if you can search through the old archives of Treasurenet you are sure to find posts put in by me. Anyway I am not really a newbie to this pursuit, have been at it for close to thirty years now and even "paid my dues" as most Dutch-hunters would say; suffered through sleeping in wet sleeping bags in a shredded tent during nasty winter storms, hiked over many mountains etc; nearly died of thirst once (the spring I was counting on had gone dry) except for the luck of finding a natural rock with a puddle of water teeming with tiny critters, lost jobs, had gear stolen and have run into more than my fair share of the crazies. I don't like having guns pointed at me, and when the guy doing it looks wild-eyed and even more of a desert rat than I do, discretion is the better part of valor and I choose to retreat. No treasure is worth dying for, it does you no good if you are dead. The water incident I really should credit to my old prospecting dog Deamon, as he found it and led me to it. When you head away from the beaten trails you are literally on your own.

    For all that disclaimer, I want to caution all those who decide to go search for one of these lost mines, especially a famous one like Pegleg's; first, carry a firearm. Chances are you won't need it, but don't let our modern date of 2006 fool you into thinking that you are taking a walk in the park, the back country is nearly as dangerous today as it was in the "old west" times, though the outlaws are of a very different character - more likely to be drug smugglers, dope growers, illegal alien smugglers and the like, they are dangerous in the extreme and you should avoid all strangers the moment you come in sight of them. I have met some of the nicest folks on the planet out in the back country but there is no wisdom in taking un-necessary chances. Besides, it is far better to carry a weapon and not need it, than to need it and not have it. Second, let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back, and to be sure to let this responsible person know the moment you are back - if, God forbid, some accident were to occur or you were to become lost, at least someone could notify the authorities where to look for you. Third, carry a cell phone or walkie talkie with you as well as a small portable AM radio for weather alerts; the phone and walkie may not work if the emergency arises but they might, and could be a life-saver. Obtain the very best and large scale topographic maps of the area you plan to explore, the USGS 7.5 minute maps are the best in my opinion, and learn to read them. A good quality compass is absolutely necessary and a good GPS is a great boon, but learn to use the compass correctly before heading into the tall tules, as like all electronic "gee whiz" equipment, a portable GPS can be damaged by a fall or by getting wet or batteries fail etc and just crap out on you at the worst possible time. A well stocked first aid kit is also a necessity, and be sure to carry enough food and at least a gallon of water (even if you know the location of every spring and natural tank in the region) as a reserve. I have hiked in a number of miles to what I believed to be reliable water sources that were fine the last time I visited them, only to discover they had dried up or worse been polluted with dead animals. Always boil all water you use from natural sources, even though this can be a pain in the neck and it looks crystal clear, it is better safe than sorry. I could add many more suggestions here but if you have never gone on a hunt for a lost mine, take the time to read a book on survival methods, perhaps take a class on it, learn first aid and CPR; for you will be very far from any kind of assistance including police or ambulance. Most of the southwest is home to venomous snakes, scorpions, black widow spiders, and in some areas gila monsters (though these are rarely the cause of bites to humans) so you need to be cautious with every step and even sitting down. It is a place of great beauty but is as unforgiving as it is beautiful, and despite the fact it is now home to a quite large number of people, when you are away from the roads and civilization it is a different world altogether. Lastly, do NOT go telling strangers you meet, no matter how friendly, what you are looking for, what sorts of maps or information you may have etc. People have been murdered for what was perceived as maps to lost mines (including one a few years ago in Apache Junction) so this is not a joke - keep it all as secret as if your life depended on it - because it MIGHT! Really for your first trip it would be best to join up with an experienced treasure hunter who knows the dangers well. If you feel you are too "macho" to want to join up with an experienced TH-er, either forget the whole idea or think of it as a class or on-the-job training and take advantage of his knowledge and experience to learn the tricks of the trade.

    For all the warnings, I do believe that most everyone ought to go on such a treasure hunt at least once in their lifetime, it is an experience that is well worth the effort and hardship whether you find anything of value or not. You can then set your grandchildren on your now aged and arthritic knee and have a great yarn to tell them, like "Let me tell you little ones of the time I went searching for the famous lost mine of ___(fill in blank)..." some experiences are just as great a possession as a golden memory as having found a gold mine. After all, memories cannot be taken from you.

    Thanks again, I don't have time to add more at the moment but will soon.
    Oroblanco

    "We must find a way, or we will make one." --Hannibal Barca, Carthaginian general
    SUPPORT THE BEEF INDUSTRY - EAT BEEF
    "We must find a way, or we will make one."--Hannibal Barca

  5. #5
    mx
    Nov 2004
    Alamos,Sonora,Mexico
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    Re: Pegleg's Black Gold Nuggets

    HIO OROBLANCO: You obviously have paid your dues, welcome to the ones that travel the back country alone in search of dreams or just adventure.

    As you have intimated, nothing can compare to the adventure and finding your true worth. This is priceless information and a confidence building event that lasts a lifetime.

    A bit outside of the lead but-----.

    I would have liked to have traveled with you OroBlanco, I believe that we would have gotten along just fine and had great adventures.

    My partner shown in the river drinking, turned out to be almost a deadly liability. Once, when we were days from any civilization, he just threw his pack down on the trail that we were cutting in the jungle and said "It's no use, we are done for, we are going to die here". I was stopped, we had full canteens of water, food for a few days , were in perfect shape - had been carrying the #65 packs for weeks while cutting trail - and were on schedule.

    Nothing would convince him to move, so playing upon simple psychology, I said "ok, see you. I'll tell your family", and continued cutting trail. Shortly I heard him calling yelling "where are you Jose, wait for me" I never answered him, but after he caught up with me he never suggested such a silly thing again. hheeh.

    So you gentlemen that wish to follow OroBlanco, or his stories on the adventure/treasure trail, listen very closely to him, as said, he has paid his dues and I salute him..

    Tropical Tramp

    p.s What he says about firearms is all too true unfortunately. I always carry a pistol, and know how to use it. I have had to resort to it few times, why I am still here.
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    "I exist to live, not live to exist"

  6. #6
    pw
    Apr 2003
    New Mexico
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    Re: Pegleg's Black Gold Nuggets

    Good posts, Oro and Tramp. Here's my checklist for newbies wanting to explore the canyons and deserts:

    1. Buy the best gear available - especially footwear.
    2. Obtain USGS quads and learn how to orienteer with a compass.
    3. Pack a GPS to mark waypoints (especially your vehicle).
    4. Carry a sidearm and know how to use it.
    5. Pack a communication device. Cell phones are OK but have limited coverage. Ham radios are much, much better.
    6. Carry more water - leave unnecessary items at home.
    7. Learn some Spanish.

    The skills you'll need only come with boots-on-the-ground experience.
    "The gods were smiling when you were born. Now they're laughing."​ Chinese fortune cookie

    Karmageddon
    : It's like, when everybody is sending off all those bad vibes, right? And then, like, the earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.







  7. #7
    mx
    Nov 2004
    Alamos,Sonora,Mexico
    10,698
    1474 times

    Re: Pegleg's Black Gold Nuggets

    =Springfield ]
    Good posts, Oro and Tramp. Here's my checklist for newbies wanting to explore the canyons and deserts:

    1. Buy the best gear available - especially footwear.
    2. Obtain USGS quads and learn how to orienteer with a compass.
    3. Pack a GPS to mark waypoints (especially your vehicle).
    4. Carry a sidearm and know how to use it.
    5. Pack a communication device. Cell phones are OK but have limited coverage. Ham radios are much, much better.
    6. Carry more water - leave unnecessary items at home.
    7. Learn some Spanish.

    The skills you'll need only come with boots-on-the-ground experience.
    *************
    AMEN!

    Tropical Tramp
    "I exist to live, not live to exist"

  8. #8
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    Jan 2005
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    Re: Pegleg's Black Gold Nuggets

    Hello again,
    Excellent posts Real de Tayopa and Springfield, and thank you for the kind words. I agree, we would have gotten along fine, and I would have had a chance to see the real Tayopa with you! I do think we have crossed paths more than once over the years, perhaps closer than we ever realized - I usually avoid anyone I see in the backcountry after a few bad experiences and as a result may have missed meeting you. I do regret that!

    Would you believe that I had a similar experience with a partner? This was not too many years ago in the Superstitions and we had made it out to a trail - could have been out to a road in a day if needed but he just quit and sat down, threw his detector (which was actually mine!) and pack and said he quit, he didn't care if he died and would not go any further. I cajoled him into at least walking out to the road but that was the last time for him and me as partners. Deserts have a way of really testing your mettle, and friendships too; far more than similar expeditions in the north country.

    I wanted to add a note here for anyone out looking for Pegleg's gold; metal detecting in Anza-Borrego state park is illegal and they will confiscate your equipment and give you a hefty fine. I suppose that is not too much of a handicap but the area has zillions of desert-varnished stones over about every hill and valley so just doing it by the feel of the stones would take a long time. Besides, based on personal experience and the statements of others, that is not the right area, just a red herring tossed in by the fellow who found black nuggets to throw people away from the real area where he found it.

    I had heard a tale years ago of a dry lake near the border with Mexico that was covered with black nuggets! Dang it, didn't think it was true at the time. I did not put too much faith in it as I heard it in a bar and with only one "source" I was hesitant to pursue the matter any further. Besides, you hear some of the most far-fetched tales in such social gathering stations as taverns that I was biased to start with. If memory serves, the version I heard was similar to one passed around southern California, where the lake was so vast that men had died trying to walk out of it carrying gold and so on. Now I don't know ALL the topography along the border like the back of my hand, but such a huge dry lake as this inebriated fellow described would show on even small scale topographic maps. However if it is a SMALL dry lake, then that is quite a different story! I will have to dig out the old topos, curiosity has me going now.

    Just a gripe here but the USGS started literally erasing back country water sources like springs and even some old roads from the published topographic maps some years ago, with the excuse that it was to "protect" the resources; so if you have the older ones (pre-1980s) they are worth keeping. Might save your life.

    Also, absolutely right on the footwear - one thing they harped on in the Army back when I joined was that you need to keep your feet in good working order and proper foot gear is an absolute must. Nothing stinks quite like having your boot fall apart when you have to hike 18 miles across rocky desert to get back to civilization, though having your feet blister up while far out there is pretty darned close. I wish I knew more Spanish, it really is extremely useful to be able to ask more than "quanto dinero" or "cerveze fria"! I get by through my wife when Espanol is needed, she is pretty fair at it.

    Oroblanco

    "We must find a way, or we will make one." --Hannibal Barca
    SUPPORT THE BEEF INDUSTRY - EAT BEEF
    "We must find a way, or we will make one."--Hannibal Barca

  9. #9

    Feb 2004
    Colorado
    GS5 X-5 GMT
    1,195
    25 times

    Re: Pegleg's Black Gold Nuggets

    Wasn't one theory about Pegleg's gold was an argument that it was massacre gold. Spanish travelers carrying gold were wiped out by the Indians and this is what had been found. Did not the writer to the Desert USA who had found the nuggets mention that they were 10% copper? As their composition was unlike any being mined in the region this would support their reasoning. Wasn't there a Spanish artifact found also?

    Sure makes for some interesting reading.


    George

  10. #10
    Charter Member
    om
    Jan 2006
    SoCal
    Modded SD2000 / XTerra70 / Fisher Gemini /
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    All Types Of Treasure Hunting

    Re: Pegleg's Black Gold Nuggets

    Here is the original story from Desert Magazine:

    It's pretty long, but very interesting.

    The Man Who Found Pegleg's Black Gold


    It is time, once and for all, to end the mystery, the speculation, and the controversy. Almost 10 years ago I found what has been known since 1852 as the "burned black gold of the Peg Leg." Without pinpointing the discovery on a map for reasons that are obvious, I will say only that it is less than 30 miles from the Salton Sea and within the confines of the map on page 10 of the November 1946 issue of Desert Magazine.

    I've gone back to the location an average of twice a year since the first discovery, and, according to my records, I've brought out and sold a total of $314,650 worth of Peg Leg's black gold nuggets. This amount is not the "millions" usually associated with lost mines and treasures, but it is a fortune to me. The money has been wisely and quietly invested. Within a year after first discovering the gold, I retired from the work I was doing and have been enjoying life ever since.

    Why, then, should I break a 10-year silence and write about the discovery now? Perhaps the answer lies in a remark made by a former editor of Desert Magazine in describing the men who came to Desert's office looking for information about lost mines and treasures of the desert. His parting words to all of them were, "Good luck and if you find it, be sure to write a story for Desert. So far we haven't had such an article, but there's always a first time."

    For all these years I've intended to keep the discovery an absolute secret for the rest of my life, but those words "so far we haven't had such an article" and "there's always a first time" kept going around and around in my mind. Somehow I'd always assumed that more than one lost mine or desert treasure had been rediscovered and the riches claimed. Apparently this is not true, unless someone has found something and kept it quiet as I have.

    Perhaps it is time also to give hope to those hardy souls who have spent months and years of their lives searching for lost bonanzas. There have always been Doubting Thomases who claimed that lost mines and treasures of the desert were nothing but figments of somebody's imagination. Well, now it is time to prove that at least one lost desert bonanza has been discovered and not lost again, for I know exactly where it is.

    At this point let me qualify myself. I've lived most of my life in the Southwest and have always loved the desert. I've been a subscriber to Desert Magazine for many years and although I've enjoyed reading the articles about the lost mines and treasures, I never had any burning urge to search for them. A story on where to find a field of desert wildflowers in the spring or a map showing where to collect mineral specimens was just as interesting to me as a story about lost gold.

    Secondly, now that almost 10 years have passed since I first found the Peg Leg gold and I am retired for life with a comfortable income to do as I please, the passion for secrecy is no longer important. Finally, I've already found all of the gold that can be easily collected without actual mining operations. With the surface gold gone, I don't think anyone else is going to find the Peg Leg for the simple reason that whatever gold is left is well underground.
    The Discovery

    I'd driven to that part of the low desert in my Jeep for a weekend of fresh air, good weather, some exercise, and a bit of rock hunting. Fortunately, in view of what transpired, I was alone on the trip. Saturday afternoon I drove the Jeep as far as I could go up a sandy wash and camped for the evening. Sunday morning, after a leisurely breakfast, I took off for a long hike, carrying only a canteen, a rock hammer, and a small sack to bring back specimens. Intending to come back to the Jeep for lunch, I walked about two miles through uneven terrain, stopping now and then to pick up rock samples, none of which, as I remember, were of any particular interest.

    About 11 a.m. I sat down on top of a small hill to take a drink from the canteen and rest a bit before starting back. The hill I was sitting on was covered with a crust of smooth water-worn pebbles, the sand and dirt having been partly blown from them by the wind. After drinking I leaned over on my left elbow and idly began to flip the smooth pebbles down the slope with my right hand as I would shoot marbles, hardly paying any attention to what I was doing.

    The eighth or tenth pebble I picked up was heavy so heavy I retained it in my hand and sat up to examine it closely. It was black and rounded on the edges and about three-quarters of an inch in diameter. Hefting it two or three times, I quickly realized that for the weight of its small size it must be metal and heavy metal. Quickly I brought out my pocketknife and scraped the surface of the pebble with the edge of the blade. When I saw the yellow glitter I dropped it then picked it up again with a trembling hand. I'll never know how long I sat there paralyzed with that first black gold nugget in my hand.

    I'd read the Peg Leg story in Desert some years before, but had forgotten all about it. As my numbed brain started to function again, it all came back to me and I realized the area I was in was part of the Peg Leg country described in the story. This was it! I'd found the black Peg Leg gold! The next thing I remember was scrambling wildly on my knees among the pebbles, picking them up by the handfuls and hefting for heavy ones. In the next two hours I found seven more nuggets, which later weighed out from a half ounce on up to one that went nearly two ounces.

    My hands were getting raw from handling the pebbles so I sat down for awhile to gather my wits and to do some thinking The first thing was to make sure that I knew where I was and could come back to the same place again. If the black nuggets of metal in my pockets really were gold, then I was damned if I was going to rush back to the Jeep half cocked and end up not being able to find my way back like so many others have.

    Forcing myself to stay calm, I retraced my route to the Jeep by placing stone markers every 50 feet or so It was late in the afternoon when I arrived at the Jeep, but without even realizing my acute hunger, I rolled up my sleeping bag, snatched a couple cans of food, and headed back to what I already had named "Peg Leg Hill." It was there, exactly as I had left it. I unrolled my sleeping bag on top of the hill, cut open the cans, and ate the cold food.

    It wouldn't be fair to say that I slept that night, for I didn't. I lay there wide awake, my mind racing. During that sleepless night I arrived at three absolute decisions. (1) I would go back to the Jeep a second time and be positive that I could find my way back to the hill again (2) I would mark the spot where the Jeep was, turn it around and measure exactly by the speedometer the distance to the next road and the main highway, and draw myself a map and mark the distances on it. (3) I would go home and find out if the black nuggets really were gold.

    At first light in the morning, I sorted more pebbles with my tender hands, more slowly this time, and added two more black nuggets to the seven already in my pocket. Then I rolled up my sleeping bag and headed back to the Jeep There were many questions churning in my mind. Should I announce the discovery, provided the nuggets turned out to be gold? Should I call a newspaper and tell them about it? Should I confide in my friends? The first obvious answer to these questions was a resounding NO! The best thing to do, I decided, was to keep the whole business absolutely secret and tell no one and do nothing until I'd had a lot more time to think things over.

    On the drive home another thought occurred to me. The story of Peg Leg's black nuggets was well enough known that it wouldn't be a good idea to show anybody a black nugget while trying to find out what it was. I'd scraped through the black varnish or coating with my pocketknife, so maybe there was a way to remove it so I could show something that wasn't black. After some trouble I finally removed the black coating from one nugget and took it to an assay laboratory. They ran a spectroscopic assay and it was, indeed, gold.

    I later learned that the so called black desert varnish or coating on the nuggets was simply copper oxide. Most gold found in its native state, particularly in California, is usually alloyed with silver, which averages 10 to 20 percent. The Peg Leg black nuggets contain about 70 percent gold, 20 percent silver, and 10 percent copper. It was the copper molecules that oxidized and gave the nuggets their black color.

    Later, I will explain my theory of the origin of the Peg Leg gold, but at one time or another all of the nuggets were either uncovered by the elements and exposed to the heat of the sun and the oxygen in the air for long periods of time which allowed the copper to form into black oxides, or, at some time, perhaps millions of years ago, after the nuggets were alluviated (i.e., had their sharp edges worn off by the abrasive action of sand and water), they were exposed to either volcanic heat or the internal heat of the earth's crust, which caused the copper molecules to oxidize and turn black.

    Let me say here that I am neither a mining engineer nor a geologist, and there may be a more precise, scientific explanation of the black nuggets, but during the past 10 years I have read a great deal about gold and gold mining and do have a fair knowledge of the subject. Had these nuggets been in a running stream all of these years, like those found in California's Mother Lode country, then the action of the water and sand would have kept them clean and shiny with perhaps some oxidation in the pits or cavities in the nuggets.

    The point is this: Pure 1000 fine gold, or even gold with 10 to 15 percent silver alloy, will not tarnish and will stay golden in color under almost any circumstances. It is possible that a coating of some kind may build up on the outside surface, but in the case of the Peg Leg nuggets it is the copper that turned them black.

    As to the origin of the Peg Leg gold, my theory is that millions of years ago, gold was present in a lode or vein that was embedded in a mountain. As the mountain slowly eroded away, the gold, being heavier than the surrounding material, gradually worked its way down into the lower areas. It is known that the Salton Sea basin was part of the Gulf of California and probably at one time received quantities of rain. The action of the water and sand on the nuggets alluviated or rounded the sharp edges off of them and ultimately most of the gold in the lode or vein made its way to the bottom of the watercourse.

    Undoubtedly, there was shifting of the earth's crust and probably what was once a stream bed was lifted up or possibly buried completely. The original mountain carrying the lode was totally eroded away so the gold was simply buried in a pocket of what had once been a stream bed. In the case of the Peg Leg nuggets, I believe the continuing erosion of land that finally turned into a desert exposed the nuggets again on the surface.

    Within 10 days of the first discovery I was back at Peg Leg Hill, this time with a metal detector and a small shovel. I stayed there six days and brought out 720 ounces of nuggets that later netted me a little more than $20,000. Now that I knew exactly how to get there, the problem became one of hiding or concealing my trail so that no one could follow me. This is the main reason why I went there only two or three times a year. I was very careful to fill up all the holes I dug to recover nuggets located with the metal detector and to replace the pebbles and make the surface look as undisturbed as possible.

    There were other questions that came up. I thought seriously of going in to file a claim, but after careful thought, I discarded the idea. The minute I filed a claim, then at least one other person would know the location. Obviously, I wasn't going to mention the gold, but the very fact that I filed a claim on a particular spot in the desert might just make somebody curious enough to talk and someone else curious enough to go snooping around.

    The worst fear here was the fact that the nuggets could be found on the surface or close to the surface, and even if I filed a legal claim, I couldn't spend the rest of my life standing guard over it with a double-barreled shotgun. Or, if I hired someone to guard the claim, what was to prevent him from picking up nuggets or telling someone else? Once the word got out, nothing on earth could ever have prevented a stampede of people from overrunning the claim. Nothing could have come out of it except trouble in one form or another. No, the gold had been there all those years. I decided to take my chances and play it alone and in secrecy. Time has proven me right.

    The next most important thing was how to sell or dispose of the nuggets. The thing that bothered me most was the fact that black gold nuggets would arouse or provoke curiosity anywhere and talk would be rampant. Sooner or later the cat would be out of the bag, especially if I tried to sell any sizable quantity of black gold nuggets at one time. The first problem, therefore, was the matter of removing the black color.

    After serious study and a good deal of experimentation, I finally devised a method to accomplish what I wanted. By dipping the nuggets into a hot chemical bath, all of the copper oxide was dissolved and stripped off, leaving the bright yellow gold nuggets. Certain solutions, I discovered, would strip off most of the copper but still leave the nuggets with a reddish tint that was quite natural. This was desirable in view of the plan I had to dispose of them.

    The first thing I decided was to never sell or display any of the nuggets anywhere in the Southwest. What I did that first summer was to fly up to Nome, Alaska, taking the nuggets with me. The gold dredges were still operating there and gold nuggets were rather plentiful around town in the various curio and jewelry stores. I soon got on friendly terms with some of the prospectors hanging around, learned the jargon of placer mining, and went up the creeks myself to "prospect."

    Actually, I just camped out, did a bit of hunting and fishing, enjoyed my vacation thoroughly, did some "panning" with my gold pan, and generally went through the motions of placer mining. Back in Nome, I let it be known that I had worked hard, had found a little "color," but nothing to get excited about. I then sold the gold, a few ounces at a time, to various stores, jewelry makers, private parties, and anyone else who was interested, but never more than 15 ounces at one time.

    Why all the secrecy? Well the strategy worked in that I've kept the discovery of Peg Leg a secret these 10 years, and undoubtedly could for 10 more. Actually, there were two areas at Peg Leg Hill that contained nuggets -- the hill itself and a large mound about 60 yards to the west. During the six days of the second trip I covered the whole countryside for several miles in all directions, searching carefully for nuggets and using the metal detector everywhere. It was the detector that located the nuggets in the mound, as all of them were underground from about four inches down to two feet, where I discovered some of the largest nuggets. The three hills of the original Peg Leg story were not in evidence.

    In any event, I've covered the ground so thoroughly that I believe I've found every nugget both on the surface and underground within range of the most powerful and sensitive detector. In short, I've found all of the easy gold. I've got my share of the Peg Leg black nuggets and then some. I've wondered whether I should reveal the location now that I've cleaned out all of the easy gold, but if I did there would still be a wild stampede and I would always feel some sense of responsibility for all of the hardship and struggle of those who failed to find the gold.

    I'm sure there are more nuggets underground, probably great quantities of them along the ancient watercourse into which they were washed ages ago. They may be anywhere from four feet to thousands of feet underground, or wherever the twisting and faulting of the earth's crust has exposed or buried them. There may even be other places where they can be found on the surface as I found them on Peg Leg Hill and the mound, and they may be miles away.

    I've also thought about going in to file the claim now, but again I discarded the idea. Why? To go after more of Peg Leg's black nuggets would require the expense of forming a mining company, taking in partners or associates, the purchase of expensive equipment, the expense of moving it to the site, and the bother of 1,001 other problems that would arise. I'm happy now and I've got all I can spend in a lifetime. My time is my own with no problems of any kind. I'm healthy and there really isn't anything else I want.

    Besides, I'm reminded of the stories the Alaskan prospectors told me about the men who found a rich pocket of gold and, after having cleaned it out, they still were not satisfied and spent it all digging deeper trying to find more. Greed is one of man's weaknesses.

    No, I'll say it again. I've got my share of the black gold and I'm satisfied.


    What do you think?

    Mike
    Check out 1ORO1.COM

  11. #11
    gr
    Jul 2006
    L-Rods & MineLab
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    All Types Of Treasure Hunting

    Re: Pegleg's Black Gold Nuggets

    Thats a nice story, sounds true to me. Every wise person could take the same precautions if he was in his position. Lucky guy he is, and I wish him the all the best.
    The point is that since he collected the top let say layer of the pebbles, there must be something remaining down there, even at a depth.
    I wonder why the peddles should stay on the top, since they are heavy, they should go down first. And with time past, they should be (most of them) at a considerable depth.
    Perhaps the guy who found them, was happy with the quantity he found, say the easy recovered gold.
    Sounds natural to me that there is some more underneath.
    Another point, is that I heard some time ago, if mercury touches gold, it turns it black, outside offcourse. I don't know if its true, please someone with more knowledge, help - Gollum and SolomonKey - every time I bump on you two, on a page, it seems to me that you both know EVERYTHING !!!! Bravo - the most important treasure is knowledge, for me.
    Digman.

  12. #12
    gr
    Jul 2006
    L-Rods & MineLab
    170
    All Types Of Treasure Hunting

    Re: Pegleg's Black Gold Nuggets

    Credits also to Mark, I received recently an e-mail, (I believe everybody in TH has) introducing to the google earth, a magnificent tool. Although mine is the free version and its not so clear, it is still a wonderfull tool for those who have some details, where approximately is the place.
    I am sure Nasa has a filter to see undergroung gold.
    Post any co ordinates if you wish. At least we could possibly see a treasure from the sky !!!
    Digman.

  13. #13
    Charter Member
    om
    Jan 2006
    SoCal
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    Re: Pegleg's Black Gold Nuggets

    Here ya go Digman,

    Here's a screen capture from Google Earth. The Lat and Long are at the bottom left of the pic. Just in case you can't make it out, they are:

    33* 00' 27" North

    116* 00' 34" West

    That is about the center of a 35 miles radius SouthWest of the Salton Sea. A lot of that on the Western side is in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. I think somebody has already said it before, but it is important enough to repeat:

    It is illegal to use Metal Detectors in a California State Park! If caught, not only will you lose your metal detector, not only will they probably press charges against you for it, but they can (and will) get a search warrant and raid your house. Believeing that you are in the business of stealing historical artifacts, they will take any and all research materials you have (including your computer and books). They may even be able to take any other metal detecting devices you have at home in order to bolster their case against you.


    Mike
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    Check out 1ORO1.COM

  14. #14
    um
    Nemo me impune lacesset

    Jan 2005
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    Re: Pegleg's Black Gold Nuggets

    Quote Originally Posted by gollum
    Hey Oro,

    Know the story quite well. I'll give you a little update on it. The Black Gold Nuggets have been found in about five places. All five of those places were within the thirty-five (35) mile SouthWest Radius of the Salton Sea.
    <snip>

    Mike
    Greetings Mike and everyone,
    I beg to differ here on the radius being centered southwest of the Salton sea. The first location I will point to is the lost "Cowboy" mine which is across the Colorado river and to the NE (in Arizona) from the Salton sea, where the cowhand accidentally found black nuggets. This location is keyed on an old and long abandoned adobe corral, of which very little may remain at this point.

    Then there is the report of John Mitchell. Some Th'ers prefer to discredit Mitchell such as the attacks on the Molina document, but others support his descriptions as very accurate including Ron Feldman among others. By following his directions I was able to find a less-famous lost mine personally, and unfortunately the mine is completely collapsed. I did get some really interesting silver ore samples from the nearby ore dump though. Anyway if memory serves, Mitchell found two hills topped with the black gold nuggets, far to the northeast of the Salton sea near the Chuckwalla or Orocopia mountains. That area does not fit within the radius depicted on the Google Earth view shown above.

    [A side note here but Mitchell spent his life working for the railroad and searching for treasure in his free time, and when he died he was a wealthy man - he apparently found the coffee pot full of gold stashed near the Adams diggings, based on his own writings, and we can be sure that he never got rich on the pay he got from the railroad. He certainly did not get rich by writing about his adventures or the lost treasures, despite what the National Park Service would have you believe, the pay for writing these articles is not enough to make you wealthy by a long, long shot!]

    Indians traded black gold nuggets at the Fort Yuma trading post, but refused to reveal where they had found them. An Indian squaw staggered into a Southern Pacific RR work camp during the construction of the railroad heading east, loaded with black rocks loaded with gold, she was lost and spotted the smoke of their camp; the RR workers searched for the location where she had found the gold but failed to find it.

    Around the turn of the century (1900) a prospector known locally as "Crazy Ike" and an Indian partner came upon the skeleton of an Indian northeast of Indio and a cache of black-encrusted nuggets nearby. Traveling farther on, they found a volcanic cone rising amid a maze of jumbled boulders the size of a small hill. The sides of the hill were literally covered with these black gold nuggets. The pair loaded a store of nuggets on their mules and headed back, their water supply running extremely low. They finally made it out alive with $65000 in gold (1900 prices, $20.67 per ounce) but never returned to the location. Ike retired near Redlands on his newly-acquired citrus grove, where he died several years later. As we all know, Indio is located well north of the Salton sea.

    A mule driver desperate to find water released his mules to find some, as mules can literally smell water and lead you to it; on getting his water from a natural tank the mules got away from him and he had to chase them. While searching for his now-lost mules (and similar to Pegleg and Mitchell) he climbed a small nearby hill to see if he could locate them; on top of the hill he noticed the ground littered with black pebbles, and brown hematites. Picking one up he noticed the strange heaviness and put a few in his pockets, then spotted his mules and went after them. After getting into town he remembered the black pebbles and took them to a mining friend, who thought to hit one with a hammer and the black crust came off revealing gold. The mule driver went looking for the hill but could not locate it again - this location somewhere in the hills on the EAST shore of the Salton sea, close to the Chocolate mountains! The path taken by the mule driver excludes any other region.

    There are a half dozen other fairly reliable reports of the finding of black gold nuggets from a region which includes the Salton sea, but I would not center the area to the SW of the lake - too many reports from the north and north east in my opinion. That being said, even if the "man who found Peglegs gold" did remove all the gold from the surface and within detecting depth of the machines of his day, (1950s) several points should be considered:
    • He found the site by accident while rock hounding - locations popular with rock hounds could be a clue.
    • He could not have removed ALL of the gold, and metal detectors of today are measurably more sensitive.
    • His description of the site does not fit with Pegleg's description, it seems logical that he found a DIFFERENT deposit.
    • The fact that black-encrusted gold nuggets (covered in a desert varnish, NOT a coating of mercury) have been found in so many different locations but all within a general area is a key indicator that more than ONE location is rich in the same type of gold deposit;

    So it is logical that we ought NOT to simply accept it as "given" that some person has indeed found Pegleg Smith's mine and removed ALL the gold, so none remains for us to find today - in fact far from it! There is every reason to believe that there are at least six or seven of these type deposits in a region SURROUNDING the Salton Sea and extending well to the northeast. For that matter, John Mitchell left behind several bags of the black crusted gold nuggets, which he later estimated would be worth at least $12,000, a tidy cache to locate!

    The black crust is a bit of a mystery, but not if you are familiar with what is commonly called "desert varnish". The AZ Dept of Geology ran a few articles on this in their monthly publication some years ago, it is a natural process and the coating is extremely slow to thicken; the material includes molybdenum if memory serves and it requires something like over 1000 years to form a fraction of a millimeter coating. If struck with a hammer (not just rubbing it) the coating will flake off, and this fits perfectly well with what is reported in the original tale of Pegleg and Mitchell, though they could not have known the scientific basis. The gold nuggets are almost certainly NOT ore dropped by some murdered passersby like 49ers returning east, as none of the gold from the Mother Lode country could possibly have a desert varnish. The reported finding of skeletons have always been apparently unlucky souls who died of thirst or exposure, and is perfectly understandable - a man sometimes cannot think too clearly when he has "struck it rich" and the elements in the Salton basin can be extreme.

    It is tempting to take the same view as the editors of Desert magazine and narrow the area of the search to pretty much the Anza-Borrego park area, and would be more comfortable to be able to say this MUST be the right region. However consider this: the man who reported finding the black gold nuggets to the magazine was quite hazy in his description of where it was, the editors seem to have skimmed over the point that he said,
    Without pinpointing the discovery on a map for reasons that are obvious, I will say only that it is less than 30 miles from the Salton Sea and within the confines of the map on page 10 of the November 1946 issue of Desert Magazine.
    Note that he said, within 30 miles of the Salton sea, not within 30 miles of the SW corner of the Salton sea - this covers a much larger area and includes mountains north and east! Here is the map he referred to, note that the circle is drawn in by the editors of the magazine and does NOT include the region as he described, which would include virtually this entire map:


    In conclusion to this difference of opinion, you are certainly welcome to restrict your search to the Anza-Borrego park area, and there is a chance you may well find something; however considering that the "man who found Pegleg's gold" certainly seemed to be trying to mislead the editors and readers of the magazine into looking in an area where he KNEW there to be no such black gold nuggets, and coupled with so many finds of similar black-crusted gold nuggets to the north, northeast, and east of the Salton sea, it seems to be an error and huge waste of time to search Anza-Borrego region. For my money, the western edge of the Chocolate mountains, right along the edge of the military reservation, holds the greatest promise. The old Butterfield stage road is likely pretty close to the route taken by old Pegleg himself, though it would not have been a road in his day it is one of the easier routes across the region. That covers a lot of ground, and despite the man-who-found-Pegleg's-gold's claim of having searched the entire region for miles around his original find with a metal detector, consider just how much land area a sweep of the detector covers. It takes quite a lot of time to fully search even ONE acre, and his claim is covering quite a number of square miles, and one square mile is 640 acres! He may well have searched exactly as he claimed, but there is no way in h-ll that he could have thoroughly searched such a vast area. Then too, his equipment was quite limited compared with today's wonder machines, I know this because I owned and used the same types as he must have (there were not nearly so many different brands and models in the late '50s and early 60's), compared to today's machines those early models were TOYS. So you go ahead and keep hunting that area around Anza-Borrego, but don't look to bump into me there! (heh heh!) Thar's gold in them thar hills, pal-o-mine!

    As to how such deposits form, I will leave the answer to geologists when I locate it; however it is not that strange for gold to be lying on the top of flat mesas and small hills, which were originally not hills or mesas at all but river bottoms, likely of Tertiary age or even older. The land around has eroded away along with all the lighter materials which originally covered the gold, which being heavy is rather slow to erode away from a flat-topped hill. To get an idea of how this works, find a stump and set a hammer head on it, then cover that with a bucket of dirt and gravel. Then start pouring water over it and see what happens - the dirt and gravel wash away, the dirt first and gravel slowly, but the heavy hammer head remains in place unless you have a Noah flood. The hammer head is of steel which is far less dense than gold which is nearly twice as dense as lead! There are known deposits of placer gold lying on tops of mesas, one area I have prospected and found gold in such an un-likely spot is in Niobrara county Wyoming, which has no known gold deposits but a similar deposit is known to the south of there; over time if this type of deposit were in the southwest it would almost certainly "grow" a coating of desert varnish and be another Pegleg mine. Similar finds on dry lake beds have been formed pretty much the same way, and it is possible that the flat topped hills are the remains of ancient dry lake beds too rather than river beds. I will sure let you know more geological details as soon as I find one of these deposits, that is as soon as I have enough of those black gold nuggets to keep me safe from the bill-collectors a few years!

    Oroblanco

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  15. #15
    Charter Member
    om
    Jan 2006
    SoCal
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    Re: Pegleg's Black Gold Nuggets

    Hey Oro,

    You are mistaken. I could walk you to within 2 miles of where Black Gold Nuggets were found inside my circle. The black coating on teh nuggets is a mixture of some copper content, and natural desert varnish. When I was wandering on one hill inside the Naval Gunnery Range, my friend and I found an entire hilltop COVERED with black coated rocks. We almost lost out minds. Metal detectors didn't hit on a thing. Turns out, the copper content doesn't need to be there for anything to turn black. It only needs to get that lovely desert varnish, and sit in the blazing sun for 300 years. They all turn black.

    That in mind, I believe that any gold placer nuggets that sit in the desert sun, untouched for hundreds of years, will turn black, and hence there could be black gold nuggets in many locations.

    Mike
    Check out 1ORO1.COM

 

 
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