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Famous stories abound in Arizona regarding lost mines and treasure discovered by men who were hesitant to elaborate on their whereabouts.

Since the 1540 Coronado Expedition involving Fray Marcos de Niza and the fabled seven cities of gold, stone tablets, abandoned arrastras, slag, few authenticated maps and Spanish signs or rock art continue to captivate treasure hunters and historians.

King Charles III of Spain banned the Jesuits from the new world in 1767 for failure to pay the one-fifth “quinta” or Royal Fifth, in gold upon discovery coupled with accusations of hoarding and concealing gold from mines in Arizona, Sonora and Lower California.

Here are some local legends:

Lost Escalante Mine

The Lost Escalante Mine, or “Mine with the Iron Door,” in the Santa Catalina Mountains was named for a strong door covering the surrounding natural iron deposits.

It’s said that a rich outcropping of gold ore, discovered by Papago Indian hunters in 1698, was worked by Father Velez de Escalante and Indian workers and later crushed and smelted into bars. A secret vault behind an iron door was carved out on the mountainside of Cañada del Oro (Cañon of Gold) and used to cache gold bars. According to legend, an Apache raid in 1769 wiped out the mining camp, concealing the mine entrance.

Lost Dutchman Mine

Perhaps near the pinnacle of Weavers Needle in the rugged, volcanic Superstition Mountains, the Lost Dutchman Mine was discovered by the Peralta family of Sonora, Mexico. The family had a 1748 Spanish land grant and its members were notable Arizona prospectors for over a century. Hundreds of gold mines were developed under the Peralta Land Grant, which was recognized by Spain and President Santa Ana of the newly formed Mexican Republic.

Jacob Waltz, the Lost Dutchman, possibly was a former employee and high grader at the Vulture Mine who claimed to have a secret gold mine in the Superstition Mountains. When drunk, Waltz would appear in Phoenix during the 1880s showcasing his rich ore and nuggets while eluding and possibly killing anyone who attempted to follow him back to the mountains.

Legend has it that while prospecting in the Superstitions, the white-bearded Dutchman stumbled upon several Peralta miners working a rich claim, whom he killed, taking over their mine until his death in 1892.

Cerro Colorado Mine

The Cerro Colorado Mine was named by Samuel P. Heintzelman, who discovered it through a Mexican whom he had swindled out of 0. The mine produced 0,000 during its first year of operation.

It was later sold to the Sonora Exploring and Mining Co., organized by Charles D. Poston and his brother John. Considered cursed when 15 Mexican and Indian workers were buried alive in a cave in the mine, it was subject to high grading and banditry leading to the murder of John Poston and several mine employees. Stolen bullion worth ,000 from the mine is said to have been hidden across from the Cerro Colorado entrance on a small red mountain named Cerro Chiquito.

A few others

Additional lost mines in Arizona include the La Esmeralda Mine, allegedly mined by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino; the San José de Tumacácori Mission, once the center for extensive Spanish mining operations that included the Virgin Guadalupe Mine and the Lost San Pedro Mine; and the Bells of the Old Guevavi Mission near Calabasas, northeast of Nogales, which was cast by Jesuits from large silver and copper deposits in the southwest end of the San Cayetano Mountains.

As with other lost mines, the bells and valuable ore disappeared, bearing testimony to the ephemeral, secretive nature of the mines and those who discovered them.

William Ascarza is an archivist, historian and author. Email him at mining@tucson.com

Sources: Eugene L. Conrotto, Lost Gold and Silver Mines of the Southwest, 1996; Jay Fraser, Lost Dutchman Mine Discoveries, 1988; John D. Mitchell, Lost Mines of the Great Southwest, The Rio Grande Press, Inc., 1933; Thomas Penfield, A Guide to Treasure in Arizona, 1973


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