10 Lost Gold and Silver Mines of Arizona

The Lost Virgin of Guadalupe Mine

If you believe the stories, Tumacacori Mission was a hotbed of successful mining during the Colonial period. There’s the Tumacacori Mine, the Pimeria Alta Mine, the Alto Mine, the Mine of the Bats, the Mine with the Iron Door, the Ópata Mine, and the Virgin of Guadalupe Mine. The only problem is that there is no documentary evidence dating from the colonial period that any of these mines existed. Let’s look at the last mine on the list, the Virgin of Guadalupe mine. According to the story, the mine had been worked by the Indians when Coronado seized it in 1540. 

Coronado established a mission named after the patron saint of Mexico. (The Virgin of Guadalupe did not gain national prominence until the 19th century.) The mine is said to be 1800 varas from the San Ramon River, which is not on any map from any period whatsoever. A clue to its location is said to be the marking COD-TD on the underside of a black rock. The evidence for this mine is contained in a manuscript, of which only copies remain, said to have been written in the 17th century by Micaela Walloria De Molina, an ex-nun from Madrid. The late Donald Garate, Park Historian at Tumacacori National Historical Park, who had many years of experience working with colonial documents, analyzed the form, spelling, and wording of the manuscripts. His conclusion was that they could not have been written during the colonial period, but instead probably dated from around 1900. 

Interestingly enough, a man living at the mission during that time was one of the early promoters of the Guadalupe Mine story. The document may well have been his work. This information has not stopped the believers in the treasure. I have read on the Internet that Garate’s work was simply a scam designed to keep the treasure for the Federal Government. Once again, how do you prove that something doesn’t exist? But according to the Treasure net forums the mine is easy to find, however it's on federal land. Besides, the mine isn't the real treasure anyways, it's the lost Jesuit artifacts and mystery gold that you'll really want to discover. The land is part of The Coronado National Forest, and is administered by the BLM. There are a few people who can walk you right up to the buried entrance of the "Virgin de Guadalupe", but that's not the place you want to find. What you are looking for is what was called the "Library Tunnel". That shaft has a copper lockbox in it. Inside the lockbox are maps of the Jesuit Mines of the area. They were hidden there when the expulsion happened in 1767. You also want to find the Cache Tunnel. This is where the final hoard of gold and silver trade bars were hidden as they didn't have time to get rid of them before being kicked out of Mexico by the Spanish. The actual Virgin de Guadalupe Mine has been mostly dug up but the other two shafts have yet to be be found.

The Lost Pure Conception Mine

You would do better looking for the "Pure Conception." It was found twice already. When the second guys found it in the 40's, they pulled out about 800 gold and silver bars. They left much more in the dynamited shaft. In the area of the Pure Conception Mine was a vein of almost pure silver. On the opposite side of the mountain from the mine entrance, you could find chunks of almost pure silver in nugget form up to about 125 pounds.
Lost Escalante Mine

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.

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.

The Lost 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 $500. The mine produced $100,000 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 $70,000 from the mine is said to have been hidden across from the Cerro Colorado entrance on a small red mountain named Cerro Chiquito.

The Lost Esmeralda Mine

The story of the Esmeralda Mine is only one of the dozens of lost mine stories that seem to glom onto the imagination of prospectors, legend buffs, and treasure hunters. The mine was reported to be 6 miles southwest of the mission. The mine had tapped into a rich vein of silver that Father Kino, a highly educated Jesuit priest, was introduced to in 1700.  

Legend has it that like other silver mines in the general area (Tumacacori Highlands) between Tucson and Nogales, also known as the Pimeria Alta, the silver ore was mined, then smelted at San Xavier Mission with the precious metal beaten into adornments for the church. The Subsequent Jesuit leadership of the Papago, who are today the Tohono O'odham, was not accepted as readily as Father Kino's. The harsh treatment of Indians by the Spaniards resulted in a revolt in 1723 by the Pima and the Papago tribes. Priests at the mission decided to save the mission's altar valuables by hiding them at the Esmeralda Mine. Loyal natives helped transport silver and gold objects to La Esmeralda. This was the first instance of the stash being hidden, a stash valued in excess of $50,000. 
The Lost Caretta Canyon Mine 

Fifty-five miles southwest of Tucson, Ruby Road winds through the rugged Atascosa, Cerro Colorado and Pajarito mountains. It may seem like just another dusty, washboard way through granite, scrub mesquite and dry washes, but it is also a journey into the past of abandoned mines and speculative history that has unearthed stories promising a wealth of missing and hidden treasure. 

In his book Lost Mines and Buried Treasures Along the Old Frontier, longtime Arivaca resident and prospector John D. Mitchell describes with conviction the people and events that led to sites of silver and gold still waiting to be rediscovered. Many of these lost riches he attributes to the mining by Jesuit priests from the Tumacacori mission. In one tale, Mitchell quotes a Spanish document, "La Purisma Concepcion mine was located four leagues (about 12 miles) south of the Tumacacori mission." Mitchell goes on to state there is a "mass of evidence to indicate that this old mine is located in the narrow pass between the west end of the Pajarito mountains and El Ruido." 

He adds to the story a Nogales saloonkeeper who later grubstaked an oldtimer to search for gold and silver from the abandoned mine. Six weeks later, the prospector returned to the saloon with two silver-loaded burros. Alas, after a night of celebration, the old timer was found dead from exposure and the mine remained a mystery. Mitchell's account concludes that Jesuit padres at Tumacacori worked multiple gold and silver mines near the mission until 1767, when King Charles III expelled the Jesuits and sent them on a long, hot walk to the coast, where they were shipped back to Europe. Some have speculated that the king's motives stemmed from a tiff over padres who failed to send a proper 15 percent cut of all silver mined to the crown. This rift between Charles and missionaries served as the basis for yet another story, the lost treasure of Carreta Canyon. Legend has it that the mountains south of Arivaca hold a lode of abandoned and undiscovered silver. According to Mitchell's book, one of these deposits is somewhere in the Atascosa Mountains that flank Ruby Road to the east. Mitchell reports that during the Pima Indian uprising of 1751, Jesuit padres fled Tumacacori with a cart full of silver. 

Supposedly, they stashed their treasures in a silver mine in the area referred to as Carreta Canyon, which is probably what is now called Peck Canyon, and covered the entrance with a heavy wooden door. The missionaries escaped to the coast but were never able to return for their fortune. Mitchell concluded, "The contents of the old carreta (cart) from Tumacacori and the eight jack loads of treasure from the Altar mission are still stored away in the old tunnel up there in the hills near the head of Carreta Canyon, guarded by the skeleton of the old Opata ..." 

The History of Arizona 1884 from Wallace W. Elliot and Co. states that "in 1710 there were eight missions in a flourishing condition within the Territory of Arizona. They possessed herds of cattle, sheep, and horses, cultivated a large area of land, which yielded cereals, fruits, and vegetables. Many rich silver mines near the missions were worked extensively, and, with the rude reduction facilities at hand produced large quantities of the precious metals. This was the most prosperous era in the history of Arizona missions."

Elliot also cites a Spanish work entitled Apostolic Labors of the Society of Jesus that gives an the following account of silver and gold in the Santa Ritas: "In the year 1769 a region of virgin silver was discovered ... on a mountain ridge which hath been named by its discovers Santa Rita." The Apostolic source goes on to state that troops were sent by the commander of the Presidio of Altar, and the treasure was seized as property of the Crown. Later, the king gave the decree that the silver pertained to his royal patrimony and that the mines should be worked for his benefit. The discovery is two years after the expulsion of Jesuits, but Franciscan priests were back working the missions by 1768. In addition, Elliot notes, "There are mines of gold, silver and copper which have been worked 200 years by the Spaniards and Indians in their own rude style." Prospectors and dreamers continue to scour the area. 

The Lost Mine of Don Joaquin 

Deep within the Sierra Estrella Mountains exists an old gold mine and rock house. There are some who believe it is Spanish in origin, dating to around 1740. The following information is from John Arthur at the sierraestrella website:  

In John D. Mitchell's Lost Mines and Buried Treasures Along the Old Frontier there is a chapter entitled "Don Joaquin and His Gold Mine" that describes the mine and stone house fairly accurately, and adds a few elements of pure fantasy. In short, Mitchell writes about a mine deep in the heart of the Estrella Mountains there was a mine worked by Indians and belonging to a certain Joaquin Campoy of Guadalajara, Mexico. In 1847, as the American Army approached the Maricopa region, Don Joaquin decided to grab his gold and run, supposedly loading 3,000 pounds of gold on 15 mules. Heading south, he buried the gold, killing his sole companion, an old Maricopa Indian, to guard the secret of his buried treasure. 

Soon after this Don Joaquin was himself murdered and a map - there has to be a map, of course - fell into the possession of a miner who took it to Mexico. No one ever returned to claim the treasure and it still lays under a thin layer of soil in the back of a cave near Montezuma's Head. If the little stone house was built early in the 18th century, then it is probably the third oldest standing structure built by the Spanish in Arizona, after the missions at Tumacacori, in a state of ruins, and San Xavier del Bac, still standing magnificently. That would probably make the little house probably the oldest non-religious building surviving from that era - and within a few miles of Phoenix. Is it possible? Only in the Sierra Estrellas. 

Intrigued by this information, a group of Friends decided to attempt to locate this piece of Arizona history. Additional internet searching found reference to an old rock house ruin on the Estrellas western slope below Montezuma Head, the range's highest peak. We decided to first hike Quartz Peak, about 3 miles to the northwest as the crow flies. Quartz Peak is always a challenge, and is well written up elsewhere on HikeArizona. After everyone completed the hike and ate lunch, our mine search began. The roads to the base of Montezuma Head are accessible by high clearance vehicle, but be prepared for new pinstripes! Additionally, one can drive further using a 4x4, but heck, we ARE hikers! Parking at a wide area at the mountain's base, we followed an old mine road which was put in during the 60s to the ravine below Montezuma Head. Here a faint trail can be found heading east. 

Questions enters our minds; Does this lead up the mine site? If so, how far is it? Following the old path up the south side of the wash, one must pay close attention, as it fades in and out. You can tell it's an old trail, but it's overgrown in places. Just keep working your way up the hill. The further you go, the more faint the trail becomes, leading to more questions; How much further is it? Will we run out of daylight? Will the beer still be cold when we get back? Further up the path we climbed, scrambling around brush and rock. Finally we found the remains of an old rock wall. Is this one of the clues mentioned at sierraestrella.com? We continued further up the faint path, finally reaching a point to where I said 'I think Don Joaquin's mine remains lost!' But one of my companions said he was going another 75 yards or so, then yelled 'Well, here it is!' 

The old stone house is practically invisible until you are right on top of it, and is about 1 mile up the trail, located at 33.18082,-112.21182. A small structure of about 5x6 feet, it's roof is mostly missing, but it's walls remain strong. Inside there is a small glass jar with a note pad inside to sign. Note the pad's about full, and needs replacing. Better yet, an ammo box! Outside the stone house is the remains of an old water cistern, lined with rock. Yet further up the wash is the mine itself, tunneling straight down into the ground, located at 33.18123,-112.21182. Does the stone house and mine date back into the 1700's or 1800's? Who knows. Perhaps someday an expert from ASU will study the site. Until then, it will remain the Legend Of Don Joaquin's Lost Spanish Mine.  

The Lost Opata Mine

In the year 1766, a huge discovery of silver was made very close to the Tumacacori Mission. The Spaniards’ intentions altered a little as now they not only wanted the Indians to convert to Christianity but also wanted them to work the silver in various mines around the area. As compared to the rest of the mines, there was one mine that the Indians were specifically drawn to. As this mine was extremely productive, the missionaries allowed the Indians to continue mining there. This mine was known as the Opata mine. Towards the back of this mine there was a huge covered space which was used for the storage of all the silver produced. Little did the Spaniards know, that even after their tremendous efforts of converting the Indians to Christianity, the Opata’s continued to practice their own rituals in the same room that was used for storing the silver. 

However, it seemed that the Indians were somewhat influenced by the teachings of the missionaries, as when they heard about the wanderings of a Mayo Indian princess alone in the desert, they were sure of her being the next Virgin Mary. As a result of their strong faith, the Indians abducted the princess and kept her in captivity tied around the huge heap of silver behind the Opata Mine. They insisted her to marry their chief in order to provide him with his savior child. However, to their dismay, the princess refused to do so and preferred dying rather than marrying the chief. Out of anger, it was decided by the Chief and the Indians that they would sacrifice the princess to the gods they believed in. The princess’ hands were cut and were rubbed with poison. They told her that as soon as the sun rays fell on her poisoned wound, she would die. As soon as the sun rays beamed into the room, the men began to dance and sing around the princess as a part of their ritual. On hearing the loud noise coming from the room, one of the Spanish men came to inspect the place and was disturbed to see the dead princess and the Indians celebrating around her. Horrified by the acts of the Opata Indians, the Spaniards forced the Indians out and set the entrance to the mine on fire with the dead body of the princess and the silver still inside. The mine was sealed forever. It is said that one may still find the remains of the princess along with the bulk of silver abandoned at the Lost Opata Mine. The mine is thought to be located somewhere close to the Tumacacori Mission and might now be a part of the Tumacacori National Park.

The Lost Gold Mine of the Aravaipa 

During the early 1870's, the Arizona frontier was in a state of siege. The Apache Indians were on the rampage, raiding even within the city limits of Tucson. Of course, not every Apache band was engaged in hostilities at this time. In the spring of 1871, the main band of the Aravaipa Apache was camped near old Camp Grant, located at the junction of Aravaipa Creek and the San Pedro River. This peaceful band of Apaches was led by the famous chief Eskiminzin. The soldiers stationed at Camp Grant were commanded by a young lieutenant named Royal Whitman. As the spring of 1871 drew to a close, Whitman and the Apaches came to trust each other. The Apaches traded and worked at the camp and received food and supplies from the camp commissary. The presence of the Aravaipas at Camp Grant did not go unnoticed in Tucson. As Apache d epredations continued throughout the Southwest, it galled the citizens of Tucson that the Aravaipas were allowed to camp near the army post, trading and receiving rations and supplies.

 It was also suspected that the Aravaipas were harboring Apache raiders from other bands. Consequently, a small civilian army made up of 6 Americans, 48 Mexicans, and 94 Papago Indians descended on the Aravaipa camp and worked a slaughter on the Indians. The attackers killed 132 Apaches, most of them women and children. It was a great loss for the Apache nation. But the Aravaipas lost something else to the white men that year - the secret of their hidden gold mine. Only in this case, the white men had very little time to enjoy it. It had been rumored for many years that the Aravaipas possessed a rich gold mine.

Sometimes the Indians used gold nuggets to pay for goods at the local trading post. One day a white squawman known only as "Yuma" learned of the Aravaipa treasure while trading with some Apache Indians. Yuma eventually bribed one of the Aravaipa chiefs to show him the mine, even though it would mean death for both of them if caught. The Apache eventually led the squawman to a "crater-like depression" within a deep arroyo. The bottom of the depression was littered with pieces of shale. As the Indian scraped away the loose shale debris, a rich vein of gold-bearing rose quartz was revealed. It was a dream come true for the old squawman. When Yuma eventually returned to Tucson, he took on a partner named Crittenden. The two returned to the mine, which apparently lies within a day's ride of old Camp Grant, and recovered a large amount of gold ore. They sold the gold in Tucson for a fortune. Yuma was killed by Papago Indians soon after. Apparently Crittenden tried to return to the mine but was never seen again. 

One account of the story places the lost mine on the western slope of the Galiuro Mountains. Another account has the mine located just west of the San Pedro valley, in the rugged Tortilla Mountains. The nearest mining district to the area of interest is the Mammoth District, located about 10 miles south-southeast of Camp Grant. Nearly a half million ounces of gold were recovered from the Mammoth mines.

The Lost Gila Bend Mine

The emigrants and 49'ers who passed through the GilaBend region during the mid-1800's also encountered a hostile land and people. In 1851, tragedy struck the family of Royce Oatman who were on their way to California. While camping near present-day Gila Bend, the Oatman family was attacked by Yavapai Indians who killed both parents and two of the children. Two other girls, Olive and Mary Ann, were abducted by the Indians. Mary Ann died in captivity but Olive was eventually ransomed from the Indians and returned to civilization. The settlers who carved out their ranches and farms from the land also encountered hostile Indians. One such attack in 1869 led to the discovery of a fabulously rich deposit of gold-bearing quartz in the Gila Bend Mountains of southwest Arizona. It was in that year that the Gila Bend farm of Abner McKeever was raided by hostile Apaches. The Indians kidnapped his daughter Belle and headed north into the Gila Bend Mountains. Several scouting parties went out in search of the war party; one group in particular penetrated deeply into the Gila Bend Mountains.

This party was made up of three soldiers, a sergeant named Crossthwaite and two privates named Wormley and Flannigan. The three men soon lost their way and found themselves wandering through some low hills. In a depression filled with water they discovered nuggets of pure gold. Above the pool of water were two veins of gold-bearing quartz, one 5 inches wide and the other an incredible 16 inches wide! The soldiers filled their saddlebags with gold and headed southeast in search of the Gila River. Eventually they were forced to separate in a desperate attempt to reach water. Unfortunately, Crossthwaite died in the wilderness. Wormley made it back to civilization but was mentally never the same again. But Private Flannigan managed to reach safety with his saddlebags full of gold! He mounted many prospecting expeditions into the mountains but never found the pool of gold. Finally, in 1881, his body was found in the desert of northwest Yuma County. He had been carrying his saddlebags with him when he died - they were full of gold nuggets again. No major mining districts occur near the Gila Bend Mountains, but many of the surrounding ranges and the Gila Bend Mountains themselves, contain mines and prospect pits. The Gila Bend Mountains are host to several mines and prospect pits - these occur on the northern flank of the range, near Gillespie and the old site of Crag. The Idazona Mines, the Harcan Mine, and the Buckeye Copper Mine are all found within 5 miles of each other along the northern front of the range. Seventeen miles east of the Gila Bend mines lie the little-known Dad's Creek placers. These placers occur at the foot of the Buckeye Hills, on their southern flank. A small amount of gold was recovered from the gravels in 1935.

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