The Discovery of Black Gold Nuggets in the Imperial Valley Area

aw11mr2

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Thomas L. “Pegleg” Smith is associated with two lost gold deposits. One occurred near the confluence of the Virgin River with the Colorado River during the 1826-27 trapping season. The second gold discovery was allegedly somewhere in the Southern California desert during the 1828-29 trapping season. The reason I say allegedly is because researchers have difficulties verifying that Thomas L. Smith entered California via a Yuma to Los Angeles route in 1829. That is the reason why there are so many alternative theories about the time and place of the gold discovery. To add to the confusion, there are stories that two other men known as “Pegleg Smith” finding gold in the Imperial Valley area.

Sardis W. Templeton extensive research of Thomas L. Smith’s life could not establish Pegleg Smith’s whereabouts between March 1828 and Spring of 1829. So, Pegleg Smith could have been in California in 1829.

According to stories, Pegleg Smith led two groups of people (in 1850 and 1853) into the Imperial Valley desert to search for the black gold nuggets. Pegleg Smith became disgusted with his grubstakers and aborted both attempts.

In Chapter VI (OVERLAND – SMITH and PATTIE – FOREIGNERS. 1826-1830, Page 172) of The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Volume XX - History of California, Volume III. 1825-1840, The History Company, San Francisco, 1886, H.H. Bancroft states - “Thomas L. Smith, commonly called ‘Peg-leg’ Smith . . . owes his position on this page to a report that he came to California in 1829, a report that I have not been able to trace to any reliable source. Engaged in trapping in the Utah regions, he came to California to dispose of his furs. He was ordered out of the country, and departed, he and his companion taking with them, however, a band of three or four hundred horses, in spite of efforts of the Californians to prevent the act." Bancroft’s referenced sources are: the San Francisco Bulletin, Oct. 26, 1866; Nevada Daily Gazette, Oct. 25, 1866; and others in Hayes’ Scraps, Cal. Notes, ii. 300-12.

In Ewing Young In the Fur Trade of the Far Southwest, 1822-1834, Joseph J. Hill states on page 27: “Other expeditions to California during the absence of Young. While Young was out on this expedition two other companies from New Mexico and possibly one from the Great Basin made their way to California. The two from New Mexico were led respectively by Antonio Armijo and William Wolfskill. We are unable to say who was the leader of the one from the Great Basin but “Peg-leg” Smith was a member of the party.”

000 00da Trapper Rendezvous.jpg

Thomas Smith spent the Winter 1827 and Spring 1828 recovering in what would later become southwestern Wyoming or northeastern Utah. The Mountain Man Rendezvous was held at Bear Lake in June 1828. Jedediah Smith spent 10 days at the rendezvous after returning from his second trip to California. Thomas “Pegeg” Smith might have been inspired to travel south trapping beaver and sell the furs in California.

000 00db Temple Bar map.jpg

The red dashed line indicates a portion of the possible route Pegleg Smith might have traveled on the way to California.

000 00dd Colo River.jpg

Looking west from the southbound Willow Beach Scenic View on Hwy 93.

(35° 52’56.24”N 114° 37’03.25”W) Black Canyon, located below the Hoover Dam was too narrow for the trappers. They had to travel parallel to the river where the land is not steep and rugged.

000 00de Willow Beach.jpg

When the Jedediah Smith (no relation to Thomas L. Smith) party traveled through this area, the only places his men and horses could reach the Colorado River was at Willow Beach and Cottonwood Cove.

000 00df Detrital Wash.jpg

Fortunately, a couple of miles east of the river is a wide, fairly flat valley.


 
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aw11mr2

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000 00dg Pegleg Route.jpg

Traveling south along the Colorado River to the confluence of the Colorado and Gila Rivers, Pegleg Smith was traversing the same area he traveled in 1826-27.

000 00di Raremapsgallery.jpg

This map prepared in 1850-53 shows how little was known of the geography. Note that in 1829, Fort Yuma and Warner’s Ranch did not exist when Pegleg Smith traveled this route in 1829.

000 00ea yuma crossing.jpg


(32° 43’40.75”N 114° 36’54.28”W) This view overlooks the Colorado River as it flows between the bluffs.

000 00eb Colo Crossing.jpg

In the 1800s, the confluence of the Colorado and Gila Rivers was located about where the arrows are pointing.

000 00eb Yuma prison.jpg

The light brown structure is the entrance and gift shop for the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park. The prison opened in 1876. The dark metal structure behind it is the Southern Pacific Railroad bridge crossing the Colorado River. Approximately one third of the prison was demolished to make way for the present bridge and its foundation.

From a plaque on the site:

“Across the Colorado River is “Indian Hill,” the site of La Purisima Concepçion mission. Built in 1780 by Spanish explorers, it was destroyed in 1781 when native Quechans revolted, killing all European males. Nothing is left of that structure. Today you see the St. Thomas Mission, built in 1922, which serves the Quechan Indian Nation.
Behind the mission is Fort Yuma. It was established in 1852 to protect settlers, border survey crews, and gold miners (49ers) on their way to “boom or bust” in California gold fields.”

000 00ec Yuma Prison.jpg

This diorama of the Old Yuma Prison is located inside the museum. Note the steamboat that brought supplies to the prison.

000 00eeYuma prison hell hole.jpg

This display in the museum gave me flashbacks of a former job working in an office cubicle. . .

000 00ef Yuma Prison Cell.jpg

When visiting the prison, you feel obliged to take a photo of the cellblock.
 
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aw11mr2

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000 00fa NW from Yuma.jpg

This is an aerial of the Imperial Valley, hovering southeast of Yuma, Arizona and looking northwest towards Los Angeles, California. In the 1800s, the Salton Sea and the green agricultural fields did not exist. The Algodones Dunes were a serious impediment to vehicle travel up the early 1900s.

000 00fb Gold Districts of CA.jpg

This map shows the Mining Districts identified by the California Division of Mines and Geology.

000 00fc Desert_Feb_1948.jpg


Some people think that Pegleg found the gold in the Cargo Muchacho Mountains. The description of how the Cargo Muchacho District got its name is interesting. “The District received it name of Cargo Muchacho, or Loaded Boy (shortened Spanish of cargado muchachos), when two young Mexican boys came into camp one evening with their shirts loaded with gold.” William B. Clark, Gold Districts of California, Bulletin 193, Calif. Div. of Mines and Geology, 1970, pp. 153-55.

From Geology and Mineral Resources of Imperial County, California, Page 46:

“The first mining ventures in Imperial County followed the establishment of a Spanish community at the site of Yuma in the autumn of 1780. Placer mining activities are reported for less than a year thereafter in the vicinity of the Potholes adjacent to the Colorado River about 10 miles northeast of the community.

No further development of these deposits was attempted until after the establishment of the Republic of Mexico in 1823. Between that time and the end of the war with Mexico in 1848, Mexicans worked the placer deposits at the Potholes and in the Cargo Muchacho Mountains.”

000 00fd SPRR.jpg

The Southern Pacific Railroad tracks were laid and completed in 1877 between Los Angeles, CA and Yuma, AZ. This photo was taken near Ogilby Road Offramp from Interstate 8 (32° 45’41.44”N 114° 50’13.05”W). The Cargo Muchacho Mtns are in the background. Some people think that Pegleg traveled along the west side of the Chocolate Mountains, paralleling the Southern Pacific Railroad.

000 00fe Tumco2.jpg


Ogilby Road (S34) turnoff to the former mining camp of TUMCO (32° 52’57.80”N 114° 50’21.35”W)

“Tumco is an abandoned gold mining town and is also one of the earliest gold mining areas in California. It has a history spanning some 300 years, with several periods of boom and bust. Originally named Hedges, the town was completely abandoned in 1905, victim to speculative over-expansion and increasing debt. Renamed Tumco in 1910 -- after The United Mines Company -- another attempt to go after the gold proved just as costly. By 1911, the diminishing prospects of the mines forced the miners and their families to return to Yuma, signaling the end of Hedges/Tumco as a community.”

Source: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management – Tumco Historic Mine
Tumco Historic Mine | Bureau of Land Management (blm.gov)




 
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aw11mr2

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000 00fg Chocolate Mtn.jpg

This is a view of the Chocolate Mountains, taken near its northwest end, and looking toward the southeast. Some Pegleg hunters think that Pegleg Smith traveled along the western edge of the Chocolate Mountains and exited the Imperial Valley over the San Gorgonio Pass to San Bernardino. The Chocolate Mountains are also believed to be the source of gold nuggets found by one of the other Pegleg Smiths roaming region in the 1850s through 1860s.

000 00fh Choc Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range.jpg

Most of the Chocolate Mountains are off-limits.

000 00fhhDesert magazine june 1947 pg 29.jpg

This map is unusual in showing the probable location of a lost silver vein in an area mined for gold in placer and lode. Note that the Mary Lode Gold Mine was discovered in 1939 and Randall Henderson wrote an article about the find in Desert Magazine, August 1939, pp 3-5.

000 00fi Mesquite Mine aerial.jpg

This is an aerial view of the current Mesquite Gold Mine. It is an open pit mine with ore processed by heap cyanide leaching using a CIC (Carbon-in-column) processing circuit to recover gold. One of the pits has been converted to a landfill by Imperial County.

000 00fj Equinox Gold.jpg

33° 01’02.67”N 114° 59’24.42”W
000 00fk Mesquite Mine1.jpg


000 00fl Equinox Gold tech report.jpg

You can download a copy of the Technical Report by visiting their website at Equinoxgold.com

Mesquite Mine received regulatory approval to begin mining operations on July 2, 2007.

Equinox completed the acquisition of Western Mesquite Mines, Inc. from New Gold Inc. on October 30, 2018. From 1985 – 2018 Total production of 4.5 million ounces of gold. In 2019, the mine produced 125,736 ounces of gold.

From the Equinox Gold Technical Report: “The gold mineralization at Mesquite Mine was deposited in an epithermal setting, within 500-1,000 ft of the surface. The majority of the economically attractive mineralization is found in the biotite gneiss and hornblende-biotite gneiss, while the mafic gneiss and intrusive rocks are generally less mineralized. Gold mineralization is found both disseminated and vein hosted within these units. The majority of the veining is controlled by faults and fault junctions, which have moderate to steep dips.”

Some background history of the site is provided in the Technical Report (Chapter 6 - History, Page 6-1): “Gold was first discovered at Mesquite Mine by track crews building the Southern Pacific Railroad around 1876. The first strike and claims in the area were staked at this time by Felisaro Parro. During the 1920s and 1930s, small-scale subsistence placer mining was conducted in the district by jobless men searching for gold in the Chocolate Mountains and surrounding foothills. Larger placer and lode mining were reported in the area from 1937 through to the mid-1970s. Attempts at lode mining on the Mesquite Mine property were initiated during the 1950s and continued through the late 1970s, with no significant production recorded.”

000 00fm Glamis Dunes.jpg

Looking in a westerly direction on the Ben Hulse Hwy 78, west of Glamis, as the highway crosses the Alogones Dune field. The structure on the top of the dunes is the Hugh T. Osborne Lookout Park. (32° 59’37.48”N 115° 06’32.91”W)

000 00fn AlogonesDunes.jpg

Looking south from the Hugh T. Osborne Lookout Park.
 
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aw11mr2

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000 00ga Desert Magazine Jan 1950.jpg

Butterfield Overland Mail and Stage carried mail between Saint Louis, Missouri, and San Francisco, CA, from September 1857 through March 1861. It followed an ancient Indian trade trail that led to the Pacific Ocean. It was known as the Gila Route from Sonora, Mexico to California and the Southern Emigrant Trail from approximately 1848 to 1857. Note that there were water wells located along the route. The route avoided the active Alogones sand dune field by traveling around the southern edge. Most stories have Pegleg Smith and Maurice LeDuc crossing the dunes by traveling either due west or north-northwest.

000 00gb Buttercup Pass.jpg

A recent archeological investigation postulated that there might have been a pass through the dunes where Interstate 8 is located (Buttercup Pass). As mentioned before, Pegleg could have traveled northwest between the Alogones dunes and the Chocolate Mountains, paralleling the tracks of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

000 00gc Plank Road.jpg

The remnants of the Plank Road are shows how treacherous the sand dunes were to vehicle travel. The Old Plank Road, approximately 7 miles long collection of boards, was built in 1915 for motorized vehicle travel over the Algodones sand dunes and connected San Diego, CA with Phoenix, AZ. 32° 42’36.96”N 114° 55’24.19”W

000 00gd Plank Road.jpg

This section is replica of the second generation of planks.

000 00ge Plank Road.jpg


The first generation of the plank road consisted of two 2-feet wide planks attached to cross planks.

Could Pegleg and LeDuc get disoriented by a sand storm and get lost? A passage from Wild Life in the Far West; Personal Adventures of a Border Mountain Man by Captain James Hobbs (Wiley, Waterman & Eaton, Hartford, Conn., 1875, Chapter XIV, Page 217) recalls a situation he encountered in 1851: “From Fort Yuma we started again, going by way of New River and having to pass through a desert of sand sixty miles across, with water only at one place, and that a small pool hardly fit to drink. In passing through this desert we came upon the remains of an emigrant train, which a month previous had attempted to cross this desert in going from the United States to California. While passing over the desert they had been met by a sand-storm and lost the road by the sand blowing over it, and had wandered off into the hills. They had finally got back into the road; but by that time they were worn out, and they perished of fatigue and thirst. In their wandering off the road they had gone to one side and past the little pool of water, as we could see by the wagons they had abandoned. The missing of the water was fatal to them, as they had been two or three days without water, and had yet thirty miles to go before reaching a fertile region. We could see where they had lightened their loads by abandoning goods, but still their cattle had been obliged to yield to terrible thirst. There were eight women and children, and nine men. . . . Some of the bodies were in the road and others at a distance, as if they were returning to the road and they had all sunk down together exhausted, and lay there in the same position as when they fell.”

The lack of water was likely due to the numerous gold seekers crossing the desert and diminishing the meager water sources.
 
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aw11mr2

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000 00h Desert Magazine November 1946 page 10.jpg

Now that we are on the western side of the Imperial Valley, let me introduce you to the map Desert Magazine often printed showing the suspected search area for Pegleg Smith’s lost black gold nuggets.

000 00ha Desert Magazine Nov 1946 pp8-10.jpg

This is an excerpt showing an example of articles in Desert Magazine that evaluate the Pegleg Smith story.

000 00hb SaltonSeaNW.jpg

This is an aerial view of the Borrego Desert and surrounding mountains. Carrizo Wash was the route of the Butterfield Stage Road shown in a previous map. San Felipe Wash winds its way from the Salton Sea, around Borrego Mtn, and through a gap in the mountains (called the “narrows”). Also note the location of the Pegleg Smith monument.

There is a significant problem with searching for Pegleg Smith’s lost gold. The majority of land use comprises the Anza Borrego State Park, federally restricted areas (e.g., military bombing sites, wilderness and ecologically sensitive areas), private property, and off-highway vehicle areas (where the desert surface has been disturbed/churned). Please be aware of any rules and/or restrictions prohibiting trespass or collection of specimens.
 
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000 00hc Superstition Mountain.jpg

This is map showing the Superstition Mountain Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Area and surrounding land use.

000 00hd Near Superstition Mtn.jpg

Some of the signs seen along Huff Road to Superstition Mountain OHV Area.
000 00he Eastf Sup Mtn.jpg

000 00hf East of Sup Mtn.jpg


000 00hg El Centinela.jpg


Photo taken looking south from Huff Rd just before the Wheeler Rd. turnoff to Superstition Mountain OHV Area (32° 55’03.34”N 115° 48’22.13”W). El Centinela in the distance (32° 37’13.92”N 115° 42’38.08”W), located just across the Mexican/USA border, was called Signal Mtn on older maps. This is a prominent landmark visible south of Superstition Mountain. If Pegleg Smith was anywhere south of Superstition Mountain, it seems reasonable that he would have been able to use Signal Mtn as a geographic marker to find his way back.
 
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000 00hi Superstition Mtn OHV sign.jpg

The Superstition Mountain Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

000 00hj Superstition Mtn.jpg

Looking at the southern slope of Superstition Mountain 32° 57’39.17”N 115° 49’52.66”W

000 00hk Superstition Hills CHS-1976.jpg

People have been looking for the Pegleg Smith gold deposit for a long time. It was lost almost 200 years ago.

000 00ia Near Kane Well shining mtn.jpg

Photo taken looking west-northwest from Hwy 86 near Kane Spring (32 06’35.54”N 115 50’08.91”W).

The arrow is pointing towards Warner’s Ranch and Palomar Mountain which are located out of sight beyond the mountains bordering the Borrego Basin.

000 00ic Desert March 1949.jpg

This photo humorously shows the disagreement of searchers about the location of Pegleg Smith’s gold deposit. These guys are sitting among the boulders where rocks will be piled at the Pegleg Smith monument. I believe 1949 was the beginning of the annual Pegleg Smith Liars Contest held at this location.

000 00id2 Pegleg Smith Mont2.jpg

The Pegleg Smith Monument in 2021 (33° 17’44.18”N 116° 17’54.25”W). Note how the rock pile has grown since 1949.

000 00ie Pegleg Smith Mont.jpg

California Historical Landmark No. 750

000 00if Online_Archive_of_California_img.jpg

I found this photo online. Note that the wording on the sign to the left was changed in the current sign.

000 00ig HarryOliverPhantomranch.jpg

This illustraton is from the Harry Oliver Fandom Center (www.phantomranch.net). From Wikipedia: “Harry Oliver (April 4, 1888 – July 4, 1973) was an American humorist artist, and Academy Award nominated art director of films from the 1920s and 1930s. Besides his outstanding work in Hollywood, he is now best remembered for his humorous writings about the American Southwest, and his publication (1946–1964) of the Desert Rat Scrap Book, an irregular broadsheet devoted to the Southwest.” The Desert Rat Scrap Book “was devoted to lore, legends, lies and laughs of the American Southwest region, especially featuring prospectors and other desert rats.”

000 00ii The Narrows borregodesert.jpg

This photo is looking northeast across the San Felipe Wash from a turnout (33° 08’36.50”W 116° 16’29.23”W) on Hwy 78 east of the Narrows.
 
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aw11mr2

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000 00ij borrego Springs Overlook.jpg

This is a simulated 3-D view looking east over the Borrego Basin.

000 00ik Borrego Desert.jpg

This is a recent view of the Borrego Desert. 33° 12’47.73”N 116° 25’24.77”W
000 00il Borrego Desert.jpg


000 00im Au Prospects west of Salton Sea.jpg

I searched Mindat.org and pinned the locations of gold prospects and mine near the Borrego Basin. Most were small exploration excavations or tunnels following thin quartz veins. The only location that might have produced significant quantity of gold is the Montezuma Mine. The quantity is unknown because the amount of gold produced was not documented. Other than Pegleg Smith’s gold find, there is a tale of the Henri Brant lost gold mine in the Fish Creek Mountains, south of the Superstition Mountain. The story is in Golden Mirages (pp 64-70) or Desert Magazine, “The Secret Canyon of Hank Brandt,” October, 1964, pp 26-30, 34), and the possible discovery of the worked-out mine in Desert Magazine, “Close the Door on Hank Brandt,” July 1966, pp 8-9.
 
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000 00in Warners Ranch1.jpg

The Warner Ranch House is located 3.3 miles southwest of the junction of Highways 79 and S-2 (San Felipe Road), at 33° 14’32.03”N 116° 40’00.27”W.

John Turnball Warner became a naturalized Mexican citizen in 1844 and changed his name to Juan José Warner. From Anza-Borrego Desert Region, 6th edition (page 53): “The old ranch house here, built in 1857 by José and Vicenta Carrillo, was used as the Butterfield stage stop (1858 – 1860), but it was not the Warner’s home. His home, built in 1844 was burned in a Kumeyaay uprising in 1851, was located just behind the present house, overlooking Buena Vista Creek.”

Since Warner did not receive the land grant until 1844, you have to question any story that says Pegleg Smith passed by Warner’s ranch prior to 1844. Prior to 1844, the area was occupied by Indian rancherias. According to Golden Mirages (page 39) and The Lame Captain (page 217), Pegleg Smith used Warner Ranch as a staging area prior to attempts to find the lost gold deposit in 1850 and 1853.

000 00io Warners Ranch.jpg

000 00ip Warners Ranch.jpg

California Historical Landmark No. 311

000 00iq Palomar Mtn1.jpg

Looking west across Warner Valley, Palomar Mountain does not look impressive to be a landmark for Pegleg Smith. Aquanga Mountain (as named on U.S.G.S. and current maps), a spur off of Palomar Mountain, was locally called Smith Mountain. According to Golden Mirages (page 89): “The fact that Palomar, some fifteen miles northwest of Warner Hot Springs, was once called Smith Mountain has caused more confusion and wasted energy than any other piece of misinformation. That Smith Mountain (Palomar) was not named for or by Pegleg Smith. It was named for a San Diego County pioneer, Long Joe Smith, who lived there in 1859.”

000 00ir 1906 Topo map James.jpg

This is the only map I found that showed Smith Mountain.

000 00is Wonder of CO map.jpg


000 00it George Wharton CHS-4322.jpg

Here is a “selfie” that Dr. James Wharton James took during his trip.
 
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aw11mr2

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000 00ja Maurice Le Duc article.jpg

Many of the stories have Maurice LeDuc accompanying Pegleg Smith on the trip across the Imperial Desert in 1829. There might be a memoir or interview filed away in some library or historical society that could verify that this trip actually happened.

000 00jb Fort Le Duc.jpg
 

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