The Lost Sublett Mine

One of the most fascinating and puzzling lost treasure mysteries of the West is that of the so-called Lost Sublett Mine in West Texas’ Guadalupe Mountains. The mine reputedly once yielded great quantities of almost pure gold since the time of the early Apaches. When Ben Sublett located the mine in the 1880’s he extracted from it rich gold ore that exceeded the dreams of most men. That Sublett found gold is not disputed. Indeed, many have actually seen the very ore the old man claimed was picked up from the floor of some unknown canyon. What has been, and still is, disputed is the actual location of the mine.

William (Ben) Sublett was a man almost as mysterious as his goldmine. Treasure hunters continue to comb the slopes and canyons of the majestic Guadalupe Mountains in the hope of finding Sublett’s long lost gold.

William Caldwell Sublett grew up in Tennessee, working at a number of different jobs. He eventually traveled to Missouri where he met and married Laura Louise Denny. A short time later the couple moved to Colorado, but poor luck at finding employment opportunities caused them to consider going to Texas. By the time Sublett and his wife arrived in the West Texas town of Monahans, they were out of money and too exhausted to continue. They set up housekeeping in their wagon and a tent just outside of town, where Sublett worked at a variety of odd jobs in town while his wife took in washing.

When Sublett was not busy mopping out saloons or whitewashing buildings, he undertook prospecting trips into the rugged Guadalupe Mountains, located about one hundred miles west of town. Although Sublett was warned of the hostile presence of Apaches in the range, oblivious to danger, he went anyway.

Due to his shabby dress, unshaven face, poor ways, and eccentric behavior, Sublett quickly earned a reputation as “crazy.” His continued ventures into the Apache-filled Guadalupe’s simply added to the image, and he was soon regarded as just another demented prospector. He was soon known throughout the area as “Old Ben.”

Years passed, and Ben and Laura Sublett had three children, two girls named Ollie and Jeanne and a boy, Rolth. As the children grew up, Old Ben and Laura were concerned that the rough environs of Monahans was not a proper place for them to be raised. This concern, along with the fact that Sublett had difficulty holding down a job, provided the impetus for the family to pack up and move to Odessa some twenty-five miles to the northeast. Odessa was a growing center of ranching activity, economically viable, and provided a suitable climate for raising children.

During the year prior to the move to Odessa, Laura Sublett began suffering from tuberculosis. Only six months after relocating, she died. Ollie, the oldest daughter, took over the washing business and the responsibility of raising the two younger children. As Ollie earned a rather meager living for the family, Old Ben continued his prospecting forays into the Guadalupes. The move to Odessa did nothing to improve his reputation. With his decrepit appearance and his shoddy wagon pulled by two poorly fed mules, he became the target of cruel jokes.

Sublett’s only friend in Odessa was an elderly Apache. Like Old Ben, the Indian was constantly down on his luck and lived a hand-to-mouth existence working occasional odd jobs and taking handouts. One afternoon as the two were whitewashing a building, the Apache told Sublett he knew the location of a rich gold placer mine in the Guadalupe Mountains. Old Ben pressed the Indian for details and was soon able to sketch a rough map of the location.

Possessed with the information, Sublett’s trips to the Guadalupe’s became more frequent, and did his desire to find the gold mine. Sublett’s extended searches caused him to further neglect his family. Eventually, several prominent townspeople encouraged authorities to place the children in the custody of others where they could be properly cared for.

One week after efforts were undertaken to move the Sublett children to foster homes, Old Ben returned from the Guadalupe’s. He pulled his old, creaky wagon up to Odessa’s Mollie Williams Saloon, strode inside, and dumped a leather pouch filled with large gold nuggets onto the bar. Ordering drinks for everyone he announced to one and all that he had just found the richest goldmine in all of North America. Regarded as a crazy prospector only one week earlier, Old Ben was now a wealthy celebrity.

Making arrangements for the care of his children, Sublett returned to the Guadalupe’s three weeks later. After a few days in the mountains, he returned once again with several pouches filled with rich nuggets. An Odessa resident described the gold as being so pure that a jeweler could hammer it out with very little effort.

Sublett continued to make frequent trips to the Guadalupe Mountains, always alone, always returning with pouches filled with gold. On several occasions, attempts were made to follow him or pry information about the secret location of the mine from the prospector, but Old Ben remained aloof and silent. After two years of returning from the mountains with gold, Sublett, who normally kept to himself, became acquainted with another old prospector known as Grizzly Bill. Old Ben had very few friends, and as the two men had much in common, they became close. One day Sublett told Grizzly Bill that his secret mine contained more gold than he could ever use in a lifetime and that he wanted to share it with someone. He gave his new friend detailed directions to the mine and told him to harvest all he needed. Grizzly Bill subsequently found it and in a short time filled several ore sacks with large, gleaming gold nuggets.

Sublett revealed the location of the gold mine to yet another friend named Mike Wilson. Old Ben showed Wilson several sacks of nuggets and, apparently in a generous mood, provided directions to the mine. Wilson, like Grizzly Bill, found the mine, filled his saddlebags with gold, and returned to town to celebrate. This time the celebration lasted for three days, and by the time it was over Wilson discovered his gold was almost gone. On a subsequent trip to the mine Wilson became lost and disoriented and was unable to find it. He returned to Odessa, sought out Old Ben, and asked for the directions once again. Sublett, upset with Wilson’s carelessness, berated him and refused to give him any information. Wilson spent the better part of the rest of his life searching for the mine he had once located. Eventually he died in a small cabin in the foothills of the Guadalupe range.

On a number of occasions Old Ben showed his mine to his young son, Rolth, but at the time the child was unaware of its importance. Years later as a grown man Rolth tried many times to relocate his father’s mine, but he went to his grave without ever finding it.

Geologists maintain that the weathered limestone that makes up the range is not conducive to the formation of gold ore. Gold, they state correctly, forms when hydrothermal solutions under pressure penetrate into the rock surrounding an underground pocket of molten material. No such activity has been linked specifically with the Guadalupe Mountains, but it is possible that somewhere deep within the limestone beds of what was once an extensive algal reef, some evidence of ancient volcanic activity may yet be found, a possibility that is quite likely. Within only a few miles of the Guadalupe Mountains are several other ranges that are volcanic in origin, and a 1987 geographic expedition into the Guadalupe range noted the existence of igneous intrusive rock on the southeast-facing slope near where many people believe the lost Sublett mine is located.

Whatever the source of the gold, there is no doubt that Sublett had access to it in great quantity. Today, well over a century later, treasure hunters come to the Guadalupe Mountains to search for Old Ben’s lost gold.

2 thoughts on “The Lost Sublett Mine

  1. In 1987, me and a friend were hiking in the Guadalupe mountains in New Mexico. We found a large hole that had been dug in by pick axes and was very old. It had mostly filled in with silt and we weren’t equipped to dig it out. We left to get supplies but when we returned, we couldn’t find it again. I’ve often wondered what it was dug for.


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