Fourth of July Creek Mining Camp

During the Klondike-Alaska Gold Rush of 1898, many stampeders searched Alaskan rivers and creeks after finding they had arrived too late to secure gold claims on the Canadian side of the border. One of those creeks was named Fourth of July Creek by patriotic prospectors. The first gold seekers on the scene held a miner’s meeting and established some rules: one man, one claim, and use of power of attorney to claim for other people was prohibited. Entrepreneurs founded two towns, Ivy City (which quickly faded) and Nation City, located not far from the mouth of Fourth of July Creek. Nation City boasted a dozen cabins, a small store, and a roadhouse that served as the Yukon River supply post for miners working between 10 and12 miles up the creek.

For many years Fourth of July Creek produced only minor amounts of gold, and although more than 100 claims had been staked, most miners left by 1900 to seek their fortunes in Nome or by 1902 to follow the strike on the Tanana River. The few who held on, or who moved in after the exodus, struggled with transportation issues and frequent water shortages. In 1906, a dozen miners made $6,000 using drift mining and open-cut mining techniques much like those used on nearby Coal Creek and Woodchopper Creek. Frequent droughts caused low-water levels in the streams needed for sluicing and seriously inhibited mining. Nevertheless, a miner named James Taylor thought he had a solution. On September 16, 1909, the Tanana Leader reported: Another up-river creek which redeemed its former dubious reputation is Fourth of July. . .Taylor, the operator there, went to Rampart last season and took observations of Frank &Graham’s splash-dam work on Little Minook, after which he returned and installed a dam on Fourth of July. The result was highly remunerative.

The “splash-dam” (also called a “boomer dam”) harnessed the power of a stream by damming it and then releasing the water in a flood that carried away layers of gravel and topsoil to provide access to richer ground below. Taylor also began work on a lengthy ditch to deliver water to the vicinity of his claims.

By 1911 Taylor had decided to try a more mechanical approach and invested in an 86-horsepower “steam donkey” built by the Sedro-Woolley Iron Works in Washington State. The steam donkey was a kind of traction engine designed to haul heavy weights with steel cables pulled by powerful winches mounted on the front of the machine. Steam donkeys were primarily used in the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest to pull logs out of the forest and onto railroad cars.

Taylor and his men planned to use the cables to pull a large bucket with teeth called a Bagley scraper to excavate gold-rich gravel and move it to his sluice box operation. However, his first challenge was to transport the machine from the banks of the Yukon River where it arrived by steamboat. To move it the 10 miles to his mine, Taylor used the machine’s unique ability to drag itself by sliding on wooden skids. By digging holes at regular intervals in the frozen ground and burying a large hook to serve as an anchor, Taylor maneuvered the machine, one cable length at a time, through a brushy uphill valley at a rate of half a mile per day.

It is unknown how effective the steam donkey was at increasing profits at Fourth of July Creek, and the mine was worked only sporadically over the next four decades. As the operation changed hands and miners came and went, the camp accumulated examples of most kinds of early placer mining technology, including picks and shovels, sluice boxes, hydraulic pumps and nozzles, hydraulic ditches, and a bulldozer dating from 1949. The camp also included a blacksmith’s shop and forge. Over time parts of the steam donkey went missing—like the drum-shaped winches and the whistle—and the skids rotted away, but the rest remains as mute testimony to the fierce determination and ingenuity of early gold miners along this section of the Yukon River corridor.

Barney Tibbals Cabin

In 1884, South Pass City became part of Fremont County. At that time several placer claims encompassing the area including South Pass City were established and owned by the Federal Gold Mining Company. These included the Wolverine, Lucky Boy, Victory, and Jeanette Lode claims. The Company permitted people to build on the land without buying it. Thus, if there were any records at all of these buildings they were contained in the records of the tax assessor.

In 1902, the Federal Gold Mining Company made a third plat of the town. This plat covered the area of the Wolverine Placer Claim which included approximately the western two-thirds of the original plat of South Pass City. The Company arranged with the owners of the buildings on the Wolverine Claim to give them the land upon which their buildings were located in exchange for one dollar, thus preventing any future court challenge. The Company sold the same plot of land to several owners in some instances. In addition, they changed the names of the streets in South Pass City.

George McGregor Cabin

Long before he built this cabin, George McGregor was a miner on Woodchopper Creek. He was at Woodchoppper by 1923. In 1926, he and his partner Frank Rossback staked the discovery claim and several others on Mineral Creek, a tributary of Woodchopper. From 1928 to 1935, McGregor staked five claims on Woodchopper.

Five miles from the Yukon, Mineral Creek, the scene of some placer mining, joins Woodchopper Creek from the south. Though Mineral Creek was staked as early as 1898, actual mining did not begin until several years later. In 1906, 18 men were engaged in mining on this creek and more or less work was done on seven claims. Most of the work was done by “shoveling in” methods, but one small hydraulic plant was used for stripping and three steam hoists were operated. Most of the mining was done in winter with the aid of steam points. The total production for 1906 is estimated to have been $18,000, of which four-fifths was taken out in winter.

In the mid-1930s, McGregor sold out to Ernest Patty, who represented Alluvial Gold, Inc. Alluvial Gold, the sister company of Gold Placers, Inc., which bought up claims on Coal Creek, acquired the active claims on Woodchopper and established a camp near Iron Creek, about 1 1/2 miles up Woodchopper from Mineral Creek. There they introduced a dredge, bringing methods to placer mining that small-scale miners could not afford.

When McGregor relinquished his mining interests, he turned to trapping. Because he needed dogs to use as transportation for trapping, he fished in the summers to provide dog food. McGregor built this cabin in 1938 and used it as his fish camp. He also used it as his base of operations in the winter, but had several other cabins on his traplines. According to his diary, he built a cabin at an unspecified location and another one at Andrews Creek in 1946.

In the summer, McGregor had a fishwheel and fished to provide food for his dogs, as well as to sell. Art Reynolds, who lived over on Sam Creek, recorded buying fish from him and Louise Paul, whose husband worked for Patty at Woodchopper and Coal creeks, also remembered buying fish from him. When the fish were running, McGregor’s diary recorded only the number of fish per day.

Although McGregor lived alone, he was obviously part of a community. About a dozen people appear regularly in his diary, often identified only by first name. He sold fish to his neighbors and was visited regularly. In the summer of 1954, McGregor moved to Eagle. He served on the common council from 1955-57 and 1961-63, and as election judge from1955-58 and 1960-61. In 1963, he left Alaska.

Tourmaline

The gemstone tourmaline occurs in a wide range of different varieties and color. Tourmalines form in granite and and pegmatite, as well as some metamorphic rocks and alluvial deposits. They are commonly found in association with beryl, feldspar, quartz and zircon.

Top quality tourmalines are among the world’s most precious gemstones. They may be carved into figurines, cut en cabachon, faceted, or sliced into cross-specimens. Some specimens are so beautiful that they need no improvement and are displayed in their natural, uncut state.

Although generally categorized as a distinct mineral, the exact composition of tourmaline is so variable that it is more accurately described as a group. Tourmaline is a hydrous fluoroborosilicate of sodium, calcium, lithium, magnesium, aluminum and ferrous and ferric iron. Within this broad definition there are many different types. This is because several of these chemical elements are interchangeable within the structure of the mineral.

The most valuable tourmaline is elbaite, a lithium-rich form that may appear in a variety of colors. These include achroite (a colorless stone), dravite (colored brown by magnesium), indicolite ( dark blue), and rubellite (red). The black iron-rich variety of tourmaline is known as schorl. Some forms known as watermelon tourmaline, are particolored, with clearly delineated zones of green and pink.

Crystals of tourmaline conform to the trigonal system of symmetry. Externally, they appear in prisms, often with striations. The crystals are pleochroic, so they may appear darker in color when viewed down their long axis then when looked at from the side. This property may be enhanced by judicious cutting.

Although tourmaline crystals are abundant worldwide, only a few occurrences are reported in B.C. Pegmatites at the headwaters of Skookumchuck Creek and St. Mary Lake north of Cranbrook, the Slocan Valley north of Castlegar, and Midge Creek west of Kootenay Lake have reported some tourmaline crystals.

Dioptase

Dioptase is a stunningly beautiful gemstone. Originally mistaken for emerald due to its vivid green color, it is seldom used as a gemstone because, with a Mohs scale rating of 5, a specific gravity of 3.3, and perfect cleavage, it is much softer and more brittle than emerald. Usually only very small stones can be cut from this mineral.

Dioptase forms in parts of copper veins that have been oxidized by air or water and in some of the surrounding cavities. It is often associated with azurite, calcite, cerussite, chrysocolla, dolomite, limonite and wulfenite. Crystals of dioptase are transparent, and it is from this property that its English name is derived. It is taken from the Greek prefix dia, meaning “through,” and optazein, meaning “visible.”

Some specimens of dioptase are weakly dichroic. This means that they appear to change color, depending on the direction of the light source and the angle from which they are viewed. Although cutting may enhance this effect, it is rarely attempted because the mineral is fragile and the effort is unlikely to be rewarding. However, some specimens of dioptase are highly prized for their rich emerald-green color, sometimes with a bluish tint. When the color is particularly vivid, the stone becomes translucent rather than transparent.

Dioptase is one of the few silicate minerals that crystallize in the trigonal system of symmetry. The others include dolomite and willemite. As a result of this peculiarity, dioptase crystals may take on rhombohedral external forms. Their prismatic faces are sometimes so dark and reflective that the basic green color may appear cloudy and even black.

Historically, the most abundant source of dioptase was in Kazakhstan. Specimens mined in this country were wrongly identified as emeralds and sent to the Russian Tsar.

The main sources of dioptase are Chile, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Kazakhstan, Namibia, Russia, Aizona and California.

Joker Mine

The Joker Mine is located at an altitude of 9,620 ft. about .7 miles directly south of the Rambler. It is situated within the Medicine Bow National Forest near the crest of a gently sloping ridge separating Bear Creek on the north from Dave Creek on the south. Both Bear and Dave Creeks were placer mined for gold in the latter 19th century and were included in operations known collectively as the Albany Placers. The Joker Mine site is presently within a dense stand of pines, and the previous access road is likewise overgrown with tall lodgepole pines. The site can only be reached at present with a hike of about .3 miles through dense timber. This fact, in addition to the scant publicity the mine has received over the years, have likely contributed to its comparatively unaltered condition and setting.

The Douglas Creek Mining District of southern Wyoming is located about 45 miles west of Laramie along the eastern flank of the Medicine Bow Mountains. The district is situated in Albany County within Townships 13, 14 and 15 North, and Ranges 78 and 79 West. Numerous smaller tributaries of Douglas Creek are included in the district, all having been prospected to a greater or lesser degree for gold, copper and other minerals.

Despite accounts of gold discoveries as early as the 1850’s, the first documented find in the area is attributed to Iram M. Moore in the fall of1868. Moore’s discovery, (in the gulch which continues to bear his name), led to active prospecting the following year. The Douglas placer district was quickly organized with Moore elected first president. About $8,000 worth of gold was reportedly taken from the stream gravels of Moore’s Gulch in the spring of 1869. This was carried out by simple sluice, rocker and gold panning methods.

From these humble beginnings, placer mining became a large-scale enterprise by the l890’s, with several companies organized to systematically mine the gold deposits along Douglas Creek and its tributaries. The Douglas Consolidated Mining and Milling Company, incorporated in 1892, emerged as the principal placer mining company in the district. Other notable operations included the Home, Albany and Spring Creek placers.

Early in the development of these operations, it was found that much of the recovered gold was coarse, with nuggets occasionally weighing between .8 and 3/4 ounces and containing a considerable amount of quartz. For many prospectors, this fact led to the assumption that the gold had not traveled far from its point of origin. Attention began to focus on promising quartz veins, and numerous lode mining claims were soon filed.

The first authenticated lode claim in the district, (and also evidently the first within Albany County), was the Morning Star, later known as the Douglas Mine. This mine was claimed in 1870 on the west bank of Douglas Creek. The Douglas Mine portended a common pattern of mine development. While likely located originally for its gold prospects, an ore vein was encountered at the 35 ft. level in the shaft which contained abundant copper in various mineralized forms.

Other important gold strikes followed in the Douglas Creek district and elsewhere within the Medicine Bow Mountains: The Centennial Mine in the Centennial Ridge district (1876), the Keystone Mine in the southern portion of the Douglas Creek district (1878), and the Cummins camp at Jelm in 1879. The Douglas Creek district was reportedly worked by some 200 miners by 1878. Total gold production in the district from both lode and placer mines was placed at about $229,000 by 1893.

Despite this activity and the ongoing promotional efforts of the newspapers and other boosters to extol the area’s mineral wealth to potential investors, gold production generally fell short of expectations. Many of the principal lode mines were closed or languishing by 1900. Then, in that year rich copper deposits were discovered at the 65 ft. level in the shaft of the New Rambler Mine, situated at the northern end of the district. Located many years earlier for its gold prospects, the Rambler’s valuable copper ores brought the mine to the forefront of attention and once again precipitated a mining boom in the area.

While much of the preceding historical discussion has focused on the New Rambler Mine, generally regarded as the preeminent producer in the Douglas Creek district, the intent has been to establish the chronology and significant events in the Rambler’s development in order to establish possible connections with the nearby Joker Mine. The Joker’s own history and mineral production are obscure and not well documented in the available geological reports and historical sources. Therefore, much of the Joker’s history must be based on reasoned conjecture supported by the available evidence.

Bullfrog Mine

In the late summer of 1904, two wandering prospectors happened to meet at the Keane Wonder Mine, on the east slope of Death Valley. Ed Cross, the first, was an occasional prospector who had participated in mining rushes from time to time. Cross, however, was an “amateur” prospector, since he had a home and farm in Long Pine, California, to which he would return between forays. Attracted by the Goldfield boom, Cross was on his way towards that region, and had stopped off at the Keane Wonder to look over the country surrounding that recent discovery.

The other prospector, Frank “Shorty” Harris, was a veteran desert rat. Shorty bragged that he had attended every mining rush in the country since the 1880’s, including those of Leadville, Coeur d’Alene, Tombstone, Butte, British Columbia, and others. Like most prospectors, Shorty had, as yet, nothing to show for his efforts. He had already been through the initial Tonopah and Goldfield booms, but had gotten there too late to
locate any close-in ground. Now, like Cross, Shorty Harris was determined to give the Goldfield territory another look, and the two men teamed up.

Like countless other prospectors who were scurring around the deserts, Cross and Harris dreamed of finding another bonanza like those of Goldfield and Tonopah. As the two men trekked across the Amagosa Valley, that dream loomed large before them, for they were about to make the discovery which would initiate the great Bullfrog boom, and which would change forever the history and territory of southwest Nevada.

Accounts of the next few days vary wildly, as romantic tales of big discoveries are wont to do. Both Cross and Harris repeated their versions in later years many times over, and it is difficult to find any two versions which agree. Apparently Shorty persuaded Ed to make a detour on the way to Goldfield, in order to examine some rock outcroppings which he had noticed on an earlier trip. There, on the east side of the Amargosa Valley, the discovery was made. Both men knew at first glance that they had found something big, but how big would have to be determined by the Goldfield assayer’s report. Quickly locating a claim, staking the ground, and naming the mine the Bullfrog, for the distinctive mottled green ore, the two men set out north for Goldfield, to record their claim, have their samples assayed, and to celebrate.

The rock samples indicated that the mine had ore worth over $700 to the ton, truly bonanza stuff. News of the discovery soon spread through Goldfield, and by morning the rush to the newly named Bullfrog District was on. In the meantime, Ed Cross went north to Tonopah to record the claim there in addition to Goldfield, since no one knew whether the mine was located in Esmeralda or Nye county. By the time Ed got back, Shorty was half-way through a six day drunk, sometime during which he sold his share of the Bullfrog mine. Cross later claimed several times that Shorty got no more for his share than $500 and a mule, although Shorty once claimed to have received $1,000, and thirty years later said he got $25,000. At any rate, Shorty Harris was out of the picture. Like most old-time prospectors, he had spent most of his life looking for a gold mine, and had sold it for a pittance when he found it.

Ed Cross was more business-like, as he reported to his wife. After several deals fell through, Ed sold his share to a group of mining promoters for cash and a share of the stock in a company formed to exploit the mine. Ed later claimed to have received $125,000 for his share of the mine, but that figure is probably inflated. But whatever the exact amounts, both Cross and Harris had sold out–one for drink and the other for stock certificates. Which would prove to be the better deal was yet to be seen. It is certain, however, that neither of the two prospectors who started the great Bullfrog boom made much profit from their discovery, but that is nothing new in the history of mining.

By early fall, the Bullfrog boom was in full bloom. Tents, towns and prospectors surrounded the area of the Bullfrog Mine, as prospectors and promoters rushed to get in on the ground floor. In short succession, mine after mine was discovered in the vicinity, and the Bullfrog District became the talk of the west coast. In the meantime, the Original Bullfrog Mines Syndicate, organized to operate the original discoveries, was incorporated by the Goldfield promoters dealing with Ed Cross, and actual mining was started. The company advertised a capital stock of 1,000,000 shares, with a par value of $1 each, but they did not say how much actual cash was placed in the treasury to finance the development efforts. As events proved, it wasn’t enough. Ed Cross was given a seat on the board of directors of the company, as befitted the owner of one sixth of the mine.

Initial development through the fall and winter of 1904 were promising. The company reported ore assaying as high as $813 to the ton, and began sacking high-grade ore for shipment to the Goldfield smelters. On March 23, 1905, the Original Bullfrog Mine made the first big shipment out of the new district. Ore estimated to be worth $10,000 was escorted through Rhyolite by five armed guards and the Rhyolite band. The Original Bullfrog Mine, symbol of the entire Bullfrog district, was now a shipper and a producer. More good strikes were made in the shafts and tunnels through May and June; sixteen men were employed at the mine; a 15 horsepower gasoline hoist was ordered to enable deeper sinking; and the mine superintendent expressed the hope that shipments of high-grade ore would pay for all development costs, thus saving a strain upon the company’s treasury. By August of 1905, the superintendent estimated that the company had between $750,000 and $1,500,000 worth of ore in sight.

By 1907, the Original Bullfrog Mine had already seen its best days. By 1910, when it was becoming apparent that the entire Bullfrog District was dying. Nothing is harder to kill than the mystique of a name, especially a name such as the Original Bullfrog, with its intimate connections with the glorious boom and bust of the Bullfrog district. Time and again, throughout the following years, miners, prospectors, promoters and even movie stars were attracted by the prevailing mystique of the Original Bullfrog Mine. Surely, they thought, there must be something there, if this was the mine which started the whole thing. Their efforts were met with various degrees of middling success.

So lived and died the Original Bullfrog mine. Considering its history, which saw only insignificant production and small-scale mining efforts, the mine itself would hardly be worth remembering. It was, however, much more than just a mine–it was and is the symbol of the entire Bullfrog mining district, and all that that entails. The Original Bullfrog Mine was the spark which lit the Bullfrog boom, and that boom was in turn responsible for several other booms, the building of two towns, Rhyolite and Beatty, and the transformation of the entire history and economy of a large portion of the southwestern Nevada region.

And what of the two lonely prospectors who made the discovery? Shorty Harris went on, as most old-time prospectors did, to hunt again for gold in the desert. Amazingly, Shorty found gold a second time, at Harrisburg, on the western rim of Death Valley. Again, however, Shorty was unable to capitalize upon his discovery, and he died in 1934, alone on the desert, still looking for gold, and with little but his burro and his blanket to his name. Ed Cross, after giving up on his lease at the Original Bullfrog, returned to his home and farm in California and died at his daughter’s house in 1958.

Epidote

As mineral specimens go, epidotes are not as significant as many others and certainly lacks some visual appeal. Indeed there are more colorful, more beautiful, more valuable minerals that rank higher, nonetheless, it is still a worthy specimen to admire.

Epidote crystals appear in various forms. Crystals can be pyramidal, tabular to elongate, acicular, blocky or massive. Twinning is common and relatively easy to identify by a chevron pattern seen on the crystal termination. Fine crystals are also known to appear dark green to nearly black in color. In uncommon cases, epidote can be faceted but, it tends to be quite dark once cut. The yellowish color shows best in thins livers or the edges of gemmy crystals. When massive or fibrous epidote’s color it is most often a pistachio green. Pale green crystalline epidote is found abundantly in cracks and as coatings on faces of host rocks.

Knappenwand has long been the source of the world’s finest epidote found in substantial quantities since the mid 1800’s. For centuries, the Austrian source has been the most prolific producer of epidote, until recently, with discoveries in Pakistan.

The host rock is an epidote schistose rock, the result of hydrothermal alteration during secondary metamorphic action. Epidote is a prevalent rock-forming mineral formed in various localities ranging from medium temperature metamorphic environments to skarns, pegmatites, and contact metamorphic limestone.

The Austrian epidote crystals were found in crystallized clefts in schistose rock with amphibolite rock intruded by aplite, a fine-grained type of granite. Such an environment holds various elements necessary for epidote to form. The deposit was discovered when prospectors were looking for potential ore deposits. Once found, the Austrian epidote crystals set the standard for excellence of this common mineral that was not equaled until Pakistan began producing.

Austrian crystals are elongate, range in color from pale yellow-brown to pale to dark yellow-green. They generally have slanted terminations as one prism face is slightly longer. Crystals frequently show shallow vertical striations and readily develop clusters of sub-parallel growth in lathe-like crystals up to a foot in length.

In addition to Alaska’s Green Mountain, fine epidote has surfaced in Connecticut, Lemhi County, Idaho, Riverside, California and Colorado. The Colorado locality was worked for crystals for a time, but nothing has recently come from these localities. The same is true of Baja California Norte, at Gavilanoes, Castillo Real, Mexico, which produced quantities of single, well-terminated inch long blades with other species. Arundel, Norway and Alla Valley, Italy yielded fine crystals seldom seen today except when a collection is broken up and offered for sale.

Fortunately, when Pakistan started producing fine pegmatite minerals, it also yielded specimens of epidote, which many collectors feel rival the Austrian epidote specimens. Their crystal form, color, elongate crystals and sub-parallel clusters are every bit as nice as Austria’s best.

Epidote Lens

Pakistan epidote specimens first appeared from the Zard Mountains, Kharan, but it was not until alpine fissures were discovered in the Turmiq Valley near Shigar Valley that several deposits were found. The finest examples of epidote were found at Alchuri and Dassauin the Surdu District of Pakistan’s Northern areas.

Epidote is one of those species that offers collectors a nice variety of crystal forms from elongated to blocky crystals, from a lovely yellow-brown to yellow-green to nearly black. Its crystal forms vary, so you can collect a dozen epidotes, and they are all different in color, shape and associations with the added appeal of fine twinning. A suite of epidote crystals from worldwide sources has great eye appeal and is well worth owning.

THE LOST TREASURE OF TUMACACORI

One of the more persistent legends to attract fortune seekers has been the tale of the Tumacacori Mission treasure in southeastern Arizona. The most commonly accepted version of the story places a vast treasure within the walls of a Tumacacori mission, the treasure being abandoned by the Jesuit missionaries when a Spanish king thought they were garnering riches for themselves and expelled the order from New Spain.

To reinforce the legend, there were two Tumacacori missions, and possibly a third that truly is lost. One is now a national monument, San Jose de Tumacacori, with pockmarked grounds bearing mute witness to constant attack by treasure seekers. The other is less well known, Tumacacori de San Cayetano, a structure which has deteriorated into a few barely noticeable humps of adobe. The third is so lost that it bears no special identification.

There have been at least as many people searching for the lost treasure of the Tumacacori Mission as there have been prospectors futilely chasing a rainbow to the elusive Lost Dutchman Mine in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains. Yet recently discovered evidence indicates that the treasure of the Tumacacori Mission maybe “mission impossible.” While the lost mission remains lost, evidence of treasure actually exists. A cache with a reported value of more than $45 million is hidden in the shafts of a series of separate old mines in the Tumacacori Mountains. Even more exciting, the new evidence indicates that the discovery of any one of the old mines will set off a chain reaction by providing a waybill to each of the others, for they are linked together in the words of an old Spanish document, called a derrotero.

The evidence first came to light in the spring of 1889 with the arrival in Tucson of a priest from Spain. He rode into town on horseback and immediately asked for directions to the court house. When he was introduced to Judge Bill Barnes there, he explained in English that his superiors in a monastery in Spain had sent him to Tucson to retrieve a chest that contained some old church records. These records had been buried somewhere in the Tumacacori Mountains during an Indian insurrection that took place when the Spanish were settling this part of the New World.

The stranger carried with him a document titled the Derrotero de Tumacacori that described where the chest was buried. Being unfamiliar with the country, the priest was unable to locate the landmarks described in the document. Judge Barnes was asked if he could recommend someone who was familiar with the area and who would be willing to act as a guide.

Judge Barnes smelled treasure. The legend of the Tumacacori Mission treasure had been floating around Arizona for along time. The Judge hastened to assure the good man of the cloth that he did indeed know of such a person. Himself.

The stories of the relationship between the opportunistic judge, his friends, and the mysterious priest, vary. The one told by Judge Barnes until the day he died contends that in spite of their better judgement, he and some unidentified rancher friends accompanied the priest into the Tumacacori range. Legend always had placed the Tumacacori treasure in the Coronado range east of the Santa Cruz River, near the ruins of the Tumacacori Mission. The Arizonians were perplexed when the priest insisted upon focusing his search west of the river, into the unfriendly Tumacacori mountain range.

Consequently, they were not surprised that he recovered nothing more valuable than the old chest of papers that he purportedly sought. Before disbanding, the ranchers concluded that the priest did, indeed, appear to be solely interested in old church records. They immediately lost interest All, that is, except the canny judge. He had glanced at the derrotero earlier in his office. Although the language of the document was an archaic Spanish that he could not translate, he had a hunch that there was more to it than directions to a single chest.

Before departing Tucson, the priest shuffled through the records in the chest to satisfy himself that they fulfilled his assigned mission. He then presented the derrotero to the judge as a souvenier. He never was heard of again.

Such was not the case of the derrotero. Within a few days the Judge found three educated Mexicans of pure Spanish ancestry who agreed to attempt translation of the archaic Spanish document. Working separately, each came up with a different version. The only things the translations had in common was that they contained instructions for finding a series of vast treasures, and each one quoted dates incompatible with Tumacacori mission history as it had been legitimately recorded.

For example, the translations began by stating that between the years 1548 and 1648, a mine called the Virgin of Guadalupe belonged to the Tumacacori. Curiously, however, the earliest known Tumacacori mission, Tumacacori de San Cayetano, was not established until 1698, while the present San Jose de Tumacacori, now a national monument, was not completed until the early 1800’s.

Furthermore, Padre Eusebio Kino, the Jesuit priest credited with founding the first mission in Arizona, did not even arrive there until a half-century after the Tumacacori treasure had been concealed, according to the dates of the derrotero.

It is not strange that Judge Barnes’ translators identified the Tumacacori treasure described in the derrotero with the Tumacacori mission, however. By inserting the word “mission” after the word “Tumacacori” they simply were lending credibility to their translations. After all, everyone in Tucson was familiar with Tumacacori mission ruins rotting away on the outskirts of the city. Published historical data that might have alerted them to the incongruity of the dates was not commonly available in those days.

In spite of this obvious in consistency, treasure hunters today are still conducting expeditions into the rugged terrain east of the Santa Cruz. In 1974, for example, a syndicate led by two major shareholders from Idaho launched a sophisticated treasure hunt almost within sight of the present Tumacacori Mission, accompanied by a documentary television crew and the manufacturer of a leading electronic metal detector. More than $10,000 was spent in triple-triangulated aerial surveys, helium balloons and sophisticated electronic gadgets for detecting metal both from the air and on the ground.

This search, as so many before it, was inspired by a copy of one of the derroteros derived from Judge Barnes’ translations. Such copies are not hard to come by. Each of the three original translators made copies for himself which his heirs re-copied and passed on to their heirs. A number of them have been published over the years, and no two are exactly alike.

Members of the 1974 syndicate are still silent about the details of their adventure, but it is known that they found no treasure. And no wonder. Like so many before them they searched in the wrong place!

It was a California school teacher named Michael Ford who produced the clue that the Tumacacori treasure, and the derrotero that leads to it, is not a fraud. Ford had taken a sabbatical to research early Spanish mission records in Arizona. During advance work in California, he had run across a copy of a translation of the Derrotero de Tumacacori that someone had left between the pages of an historical book long out of print. Judging from its precise script and faded ink, Ford guessed it to be relatively old.

Upon studying it, he was disappointed to find that although its title contained the word “Tumacacori,” it had nothing to do with the old mission. Nevertheless, he shoved the loose pages into his briefcase and later put them in his file at home. There they remained, forgotten, until he happened to read a story about the fabled Tumacacori Mission treasure. As a serious historian, he scoffed at the notion that Jesuits had left any mission treasure at Tumacacori. To emphasize his point, he produced the translated version of the derrotero that he had found and explained that the discrepancy between its dates and the actual date that the Jesuits founded the first mission in Arizona made the treasure legend impossible.

Although his theory made sense, the word “Tumacacori” originated with the Indians, rather than with the Spanish missionaries. Long before the Spanish had arrived in Arizona, it had been the name of both an Indian village and a mountain range. The Spanish had adopted it for the mission because Indians from the Tumacacori village attended the mission.

These facts, previously unknown to Ford, piqued his interest. He promised to look up the other versions of the derrotero when he arrived in Tucson, and see how they compared with his own. The primary difference between his version and the others was that they referred to Tumacacori as a mission and his referred to it as a mine. This struck him as important. Theoretically, it provided an explanation for the inconsistency in dates. The mines were there before the missions. Treasure hunters of the past had made their mistakes by attempting to follow directions stated in the derroteros, using one of the two known Jesuit Tumacacori missions as a starting point. This obviously had been the wrong approach. The missions, named for the Tumacacori Indians lay in the Coronado range. The treasure lies in the Tumacacori range.

In addition, Spanish conquistadores were in Arizona as early as 1590, a date that fell well within the derrotero’s account of mines worked between 1548 and 1648. Moreover, while those early Spanish colonizers were exploiting the wealth of the land with Indian slave labor, they were supporting a small number of friars of the Franciscan order to administer to their religious needs.

A partially translated memoir of a Spanish soldier named Ramon Martinez was discovered in an old historical journal. Having started north with D. Juan de Ornate’s army of 800 men in 1596, Martinez became entranced one night with an old soldier’s campfire story. The veteran warrior claimed to have guarded a supply train that was taken up the west coast of Mexico some years earlier to a rich mine worked illegally by a company of Spaniards. A born opportunist, Martinez quickly realized that any plunder he might come upon with Ornate’s army would have to be divided some 800 times. It would be more rewarding, he figured, to persuade several comrades to steal away from the army and join him at a rendezvous they had passed earlier on their trail. They then could work their way westward into what now is Arizona, overcome the mine owners described by the old soldier, and claim their riches for themselves.

After much hardship at the hands of Indians, only Martinez lived to reach the green valley fringed by foothills that the old soldier had described. By this time however, he had shed his dreams of plunder. All he desired now was to be welcomed as a friend. In his journal he described attending his first mass at Tumacacori de Cerritas, a church near the mine. There he was absolved of his sins and assured by the priest that his miraculous survival indicated that it was God’s will that he be spared.

This is the earliest mention of a church located at, and named for, the Tumacacori mountain range. Its priest would have been a Franciscan, not a Jesuit, and the church was a chapel rather than a mission. This reinforced that the Tumacacori in the derrotero was a mine located in the Tumacacori Mountains and that the Franciscan chapel adjacent to the mine gave birth to the legend of the Tumacacori treasure that was passed on by Indian slaves. The Spanish traditionally instilled fear in their slaves of ever betraying the storage places of “God’s gold.”

Ford’s derrotero describes six mines, giving the distances in Spanish varas and leagues of one from the other. It also gives geological descriptions which are clues. For example, the silver of a mine called the Opeta is described as being in a lime contact which eventually cuts into pure silver. This could be an area in the Tumacacori Mountains about fifteen miles west of Nogales where the caliche is a lime contact that hosts silver. It is shown on modern maps as an extension of the Pajarito Mountains of the Atasa range. Here, in a caliche outcrop in a pass between the Pajaritos and El Ruido is a likely place to start looking for the Opeta Mine described in the derrotero.

Once that one is found, or any of the others for that matter, the derrotero gives directions from each mine to the others. They will not be found easily, however. There are no roads, only blind trails that wind through a confused mass of rocky crags, peaks and flat-topped bluffs with vertical sides and steep dykes. Gold and silver veins are numerous, with placer gold collected in the canyons, but it is hard to find it under the tangled covering of oak, juniper and manzanita.

One league north of the Opeta, according to the derrotero, is the Tumacacori mine. In it likes a key to all of the others, for this mine, marked by the letters “PSR; and dated the 8th day of February,1548, contains a covered box. In one corner of the box is a screw. You take out the screw and there is an iron bar. Pullout the bar and open the box. In it are all the maps of the great treasures of Tumacacori!

Each a league-and-a-half in opposite directions form the Opeta, lie two mines called the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Pure Conception. Guadalupe holds 2,050 bars of stamped silver and others of gold, amounting to a value of $45,000,000 at the time the derrotero was translated in 1889. The Conception is host to from three to five cartloads of virgin silver in slabs.

More slabs of silver are stored in the San Pedro mine located one league from the Guadalupe mine. The sixth mine, San Isabel, lies one league from the San Pedro, but the derrotero neglects to give an inventory as to what is stashed in it. Some of these mines doubtlessly have been found, but the great treasures in the Guadalupe and Tumacacori remain unclaimed. That is, unless the church records gathered by the priest from Spain were the treasure maps of the Tumacacori.

In 1874 an engineer named Hiram C. Hodge came out to Arizona Territory to make a study of Tucson’s early mining and mission history. In writing of a mine 75 miles southwest of Tucson, he described another one six miles south of it that he simply called the “Old Mine.” He believed it to have been worked long before Jesuit fathers arrived. A few miles south of it were the historic Plachas de Plata mines of Sonora, Mexico, with their solid planks of pure silver. And onward into the Oro Blanco range that winds across the high mesa to the southwest of Arivaca on the Arizona side of the border, Hodge described the old Austerlitz mine. It was here in 1870 that miners found indications of much earlier work, including drill holes of an archaic type four inches square along with primitive tools, human skeletons, and two rawhide bags filled with silver ore that assayed to $4,000 per ton. These are all in the area of the Tumacacori range.

It is believed that even if the priest did retrieve the treasure maps, an expedition from Spain carrying enough equipment to exploit the area would not have passed unnoticed. If not all, at least some of the Tumacacori treasure must still await a finder astute enough to disassociate the legend from the mission.

Boulder And Matrix Opal

Prospecting for, and collecting opals can be fun and rewarding. For those that are tech savvy, the internet provides us with the tool to prospect on-line without ever leaving the house.

Most of us are familiar with opal, the beautiful gem that displays an array of spectral colors. Opal, whether black or white, is commonly found in the field without being attached to any other materials, with the minimal exception of some sandstone. But there are times when opal forms in seams within the host rock (the matrix),creating what is known as boulder opal. The host, or parent rock is usually ironstone, mudstone or sandstone, but it may also be rhyolite, basalt or quartzite.

The most common form of boulder opal is “seam boulder opal” also called “vein boulder opal”, when irregular natural opal seams (from millimeters to centimeters thick), run through the matrix host rock. When this material is cut, the opal layer rests on the ironstone layer, usually creating two visually distinct lines.

Matrix opal forms when very thin natural opal seams are penetrating the entire host rock (matrix) and become a mixture of opal and ironstone, often creating dazzling patterns. That type of opal is further more accurately referred to by as “boulder matrix opal”. They both use the term boulder matrix opal in order to differentiate it from the other matrix opal, found in Andamooka, Australia, which is a fine-grained opal mixed in throughout the entire host rock, instead of seams running through.

All the boulder and boulder matrix opals are found in the state of Queensland, Australia. Several of the various locations produce very distinct patterns, which are identified by the location prefix, such as Yowah opal, or Koroit opal.

Boulder Opal

Boulder opal was first found in the “arid regions of western Queensland” around1869. The deposits are found in weathered sedimentary rocks from the Cretaceous age (about 100 million years ago). The town of Quilpie is called the “home of boulder opal”, and more opal fields extend up to Opalton to the north.

Opal penetrates the ironstone host matrix, which is commonly a combination of aluminum oxide, silicon dioxide, and iron oxide, and forms in jagged seams. Sometimes the seams are a couple of inches thick, and other times they may be only millimeters thin.

When the precious opal covers the entire face, it is called “full-face boulder opal”, or “clean-face boulder opal.” Although full-faced opals are considered of higher value, some cutters will purposely leave some of the matrix showing on the face of the opal cab so that the buyer knows that the material is natural and not assembled. Slight marks and protrusions of ironstone are fairly typical.

Matrix Opal

The best-known matrix opal material comes from the Andamooka area in the state of South Australia. This natural matrix opal is a fine-grained opal mixed throughout the entire light-colored limestone matrix

The pinfire of Andamooka opal is very bright, but the matrix is too pale; therefore, it is usually treated to make it look like black opal, which is considered the most valuable opal. There are two types of treatment: In smoke treatment, opals are wrapped in paper or sand and then heated. The other type, carbonization, is carried out by burning the opal with sugar and sulfuric acid. The Andamooka matrix opal material is rather porous, allowing for successful treatment. This matrix opal was originally called “mother opal” by the opal miners, but the term “Andamooka opal” has replaced it over the years.

Boulder Matrix Opal

There are several locations in Queensland that produce boulder matrix opal, and each one is almost identifiable by the formation and patterns in the opal. Frank Leechman gives a great definition of boulder matrix opal as a “dark chocolate brown stone riddled with cracks which show beautiful and brilliant opal colors.”

One of the oldest boulder matrix opal mining locations, and probably the most famous one, is Yowah (pronounced Yáwa), in southern Queensland. The first registered lease of a field there was in 1884. The name, probably of Aboriginal origin ,reflects the nearby Yowah Creek.

Cunnamulla, in the south, and Winton, in the north, are the closest towns to the famous mining areas of Yowah, Koroit and Maynside. Queensland is described as the real Outback, famous for its isolation and remoteness. There are a few year-round miners and many “fossickers”(rock-hounds) that stay in the fields for a few days or weeks in temporary housing, like tents, campers, or old buses.

Mining is labor-intensive in the arid desert. Shafts and tunnels are dug, and automatic hoists are employed to bring the material to the surface. Digging is usually done with picks or power tools such as electric jackhammers. Old claims are re-worked, and tailings are processed again through a rumbler, which is like a barrel tumbler.