- Dec 4, 2008
Lost MinesEvery mining camp has its story of romantic discovery. Those of us who have shared the bivouac of the prospector or the warmth of the stove in a frontier hotel have heard of men that won wealth at a stroke. The poor prospector that went out as Bill or Dick is promoted to Mister or Colonel. As one old fellow expressed it: "A man can hustle, and starve may be, while trying to find a mine, but let him make a strike and they'll want to give him an oyster supper when he ain 't hungry."
There is scarcely a mining community in the West but has its mythical "lost mine." There was the Blue Bucket in Oregon, the Lost Cabin in Idaho, the N----r [the “N-word” has been removed — Ed.] Ben in Wyoming; there were others even more famous, such as the Breyfogle and Gunsight, both lost mines in the Death Valley region ; but the most famous of all was the Pegleg, which was said to have been found by a prospector called Smith. He had lost a leg and stumped around actively enough by aid of a wooden substitute. His "stamping ground," as they say, was among the sand dunes and rock ridges of the Colorado desert, in Imperial county, California.
According to the story. Smith was journeying from Yuma to Los Angeles when he was overtaken by a wind that drifted the sand across the trail. When the storm had passed he climbed to the top of one of a group of three small knolls in order to ascertain his way. When he reached the top of this knoll he was astonished to find the surface covered with pieces of dark-blue quartz so rich in gold as to be nearly solid metal. So astounded was he by his discovery that he forgot to take his bearings and hastened down the hill to make his way as quickly as he could toward Warner's pass.
As soon as he could get a burro and some supplies he returned to his treasure-trove, but it was nowhere to be found. For days he searched the desert unsuccessfully. The days became weeks, the weeks lengthened into months, the years slipped by, and yet he failed to find that golden crested hillock. He made many journeys, varying his direction, changing his area of search. Finally, he lived in a dug-out and mated himself to an Indian squaw at the foot of the hill now called Smith mountain. He never found his mine and died with his quest unfulfilled. In his last days he became garrulous and told the secret to other prospectors, who, in turn, started on a still hunt for the golden treasure. They too failed. The newspapers of the West have retailed the story in various guise.
Scores of men have searched for the Pegleg mine and many have died in the effort; for example, four men in one party that went out from San Diego in 1895.
Perhaps you would like to know where it is, as described by Smith's squaw long after Pegleg had found a resting place in the one prospect-hole to which every man comes at last: 30 miles southwest of Smith mountain not far from the Butterfield trail, which is the old overland route between Yuma and Los Angeles, at the summit of one out of three little knolls. But two of those knolls may have been sand-dunes that the wind shifts as it lists.
~ Mining and Scientific Press (450 Market Street, San Francisco, California) 10 November 1917 [Volume 115]
Good luck to all,
The Old Bookaroo