Sunday, July 02, 2017

The Lost Adams - Part One

(Blogger’s Note: As those of you who visit here regularly know, I’m also a fan of tales of lost gold mines and buried treasure and in fact, in 1995 wrote a book cleverly named Lost Gold and Buried Treasure. The first story in the book dealt with the Lost Adams and in the last couple of days, while working on my book about the Socorro UFO landing, I had the opportunity to learn a little more about the Lost Adams. Here, then, is the tale as told in that book, updated with the information that I learned while communicating with Paul Harden, he of Socorro and combined with other information gathered over the years. This is Part One.)

For a time, in the movies, it was known as Mackenna’s Gold, and for a short time in the eighteenth century some called it the Lost Baxter, but most know it under its original and most common name, the Lost Adams. For more than a hundred and fifty years people have searched for what would be the richest placer gold deposit ever found if the original story is true. And, like all good stories, it begins with a mystery man who might have been an Apache or maybe a Mexican, or maybe a little of both, who leads the men to the canyon of gold and then ends, for the most part, with a massacre of those men. All of this because of broken promises and violations of agreements.

His name might have been John, or Edward, but most just knew him as Adams. He was the lone survivor, or maybe it was he and a man named Jack Davidson, who had survived the Apaches. Or maybe it was those two men and another known as John Brewer who had been able to avoid the massacre. And then, of course, there was the German, John Snively, though in some accounts he is identified as Emil Schaeffer, who grabbed some gold, kept to himself and either left before the Apaches arrived, or managed to hide in the small cave that he had claimed for his shelter until the danger passed.

“In the autumn of 1864,” Adams, would tell any who would listen, including W. H. Byerts, who reported it in the February 19, 1916, article in the El Paso Herald, “while freight running through the southwestern part of Arizona, I was camping a few miles from the Pima Indian villages, and while at breakfast, I saw the Indians rounding up my horses.”

He always started the story the same way. A freight trip to Tucson and a rude awakening one morning as the Apaches ran off his horses. Adams said that he had the habit of keeping one horse saddled, so he gave chase, recaptured the animals but when he returned to camp he found his wagons looted and burned. With only the horses he had saved, headed for the nearby Pima Indian reservation where he might be able to replace most of what he had lost, or at least enough to get back to Los Angeles.

Some of the rough area in western New
When he arrived, around noon, he found a dozen or more prospectors excited by what they thought was a major gold strike nearby. According to Byerts, again directly quoting Adams, “While I was there, quite a mining excitement broke out. Men had been coming in with ores and with the use of mineral glasses, gold could be seen.”

According to Adams, “A half-breed Indian, a native of the village became very much amused over the excitement of the prospectors about such small quantities of gold ore.”

The Indian, identified by some as Gotch Ear, might have told the group that he was really Mexican and spoke fluent Spanish, but that the Apaches had abducted him as a boy, raised him and taught him the traditions of their culture. While he lived with the Apaches, they had taken him to a canyon filled with gold. He allegedly told them, “You can load a pack horse in a day.” He said that there were “nuggets as big as hen’s eggs.”

At first no one believed him, but other villagers claimed he was reliable and if he said he could do something, he could do it. The prospectors then questioned Gotch Ear carefully and were finally convinced that he was telling them the truth. He could describe, in detail, the area around the canyon, the trails leading to it, and what could be found once they managed to get there. To further prove his honesty, he told the prospectors that he wanted no gold, only a horse or two and a rifle and a few other things, to be given to him when he led them into the canyon. If he had lied to them, then they could kill him.

Adams told Byerts, “This caused wild excitement among the miners, yet with the good name the man bore, most of them doubted that any such gold…deposits ever could exist and cast it off as a dream or a vision.”

But there were those who couldn’t let the story go and continued to investigate. Finally satisfied with the tale was true, another meeting was held. Gotch Ear was called in, questioned yet again, and when his answers didn’t vary and that he was willing to risk his life to prove his statements, they were convinced. He said he would sign a document that he could be shot if he could not prove that the gold was there. His price, though was a little steeper now. He wanted a hundred dollars, a rifle, a pistol, a tent, two pack horses and a saddle horse.

Adams, it seemed, hadn’t been there for most of this.  He told Byerts, “I appeared in the Pima Village as the organization of this company was being perfected.” Because he knew some of the old-time miners and because he had nothing else to do, Adams joined the party. They left from what is now Casa Grande on August 20, 1864.

The lava bed south of Grants, NM, which was once thought
to hide the Lost Adams. Photo copyright by
Kevin Randle.
Adams later supplied a set of general directions for those that would follow in his footsteps. From the Pima village, the prospecting party headed to the northeast until they reached the Continental Divide. They worked their way down to an open plain and continued for another fifteen miles or so. Then without having seen any prominent landmarks, not even a trail, they turned due north. In the distance were some mountains and keeping them in sight, they traveled another six or seven miles.

Stopping suddenly, Gotch Ear pointed to a faint wagon trail and told them, “Mark this spot well. You will have to come back to this point. Turn east to find Fort Wingate. Remember this spot well.”

They continued on for several miles, still moving in a northerly direction, and then dropped into a deep canyon. They followed it for several miles, winding back and forth until the trail widened out onto a small plateau or mesa about five hundred feet above the surrounding territory. The plateau had been cultivated by one of the local tribes and the prospectors found the remains of corn, beans, onions and pumpkins. This would be the pumpkin patch that Adams often mentioned and that became an important part of the legend.

On the other side of the plateau they entered an arroyo, followed the dry creek bed, and then a zigzag path through the cliffs. They climbed to about a thousand feet and then stopped again.

Gotch Ear pointed and said, “In the distance are two rounded mountains. The gold is in a canyon at the foot of those peaks. We’ll be there tomorrow.”

Just ahead of them was a beautiful, tree-lined, grass-covered valley with a stream bubbling through the center. At the far end was a waterfall. The prospectors led their horses to the water and as the animals began to drink, one of the miners noticed gold nuggets in the stream. Hundreds of them were mixed in with the sand along the bank. Gold seemed to be everywhere and they still hadn’t reached the motherlode, at least according to Gotch Ear.

For a few minutes, they were grabbing as much gold as they could find, but then they were laughing, slapping each other on the back, and screaming their excitement. They had found as much gold as anyone of them could ever use, ever spend and it was just laying around all over the ground, waiting for them to pick it up.

When they finally settled down, they told Gotch Ear that he had fulfilled his promise though he told them that this was not the canyon he had described for them. It was farther away, though not that far but the prospectors were satisfied and they were going to stay where they were. There were trees and water and the gold that was easy to get. They didn’t have to go any farther. Gotch Ear was given his horses, his rifle and the other items and he disappeared… from both the canyon and the story.

That night, they began planning for their assault on the gold. They decided that they would all share in it equally, but not all would be working the placer deposit. While one group worked to build a cabin, another would do the mining and a third would go for supplies, but the largest group would be working the mine.

All seemed to agree except for a German, John Snively. He was afraid of the Apaches and asked to be left out of their agreement. He would gather what he could, keep that for himself and then leave when he thought he had enough. He just didn’t want to be killed by the Apaches. Besides, no one cared. There was more than enough for everyone.

The next day, the provisioning party of six and under the leadership of John Brewer, left taking a few nuggets to pay for the supplies. In some accounts, Snively went with them while others suggested that he stayed in the canyon but camped in a small cave away from the rest of the prospectors. There is some evidence that he left the canyon with about $13,000 in gold nuggets.

Just as Snively had feared, the Apaches did find the miners, but there was no attack. Instead they warned the miners not to venture beyond the waterfall at the far end of the canyon. If they remained where they were, they could take away as much gold as they could find and carry out with them.

But, the warning was ignored. A couple of the men remembered what Gotch Ear had told them about where the major gold strike was and wondered just what was above the falls. Now their curiosity was aroused and then didn’t think it would hurt to take a look. They returned with a tale of even more gold in bigger nuggets, these the size of turkey eggs. If their fellows thought that the nuggets they were picking up were large, they should see what was scattered above the falls. The nuggets there were two, three times as large as those they had been collecting.

Things seemed to settle down into a routine. They had more supplies coming, they were picking up thousands of dollars in gold each day, and a cabin was being built for their shelter. They had nothing to worry about… except they had forgotten the warning given them by the Apaches. Had they listened, the tale might have ended differently. As it was, it became another clash between cultures.

Next: The Apaches return.

Here is a map of the general area of the Lost Adams based on the research I had done decades earlier. It is based on what Adams told Byerts and reported in the El
Paso Herald. The penciled area is closest to the location of the Lost Adams, at least as I thought about it in the 1970s.

Leaving old Fort Wingate, go to the point of the Malpai Mountains, tens miles westerly from the point, thence a sharp course northerly, which would bring you to a deep arroyo. This is to be ascended about five miles, thence ascend the right bank of the canyon and come upon a table land, or mesa, level and beautiful, but not large and adjoined against the foothills. Here the Indians were raising pumpkins, corn, onions, etc.: here Adams says he found shallow water, cottonwood trees and willows. Here they camped overnight. In the morning, the guide led into a shallow arroyo on the west side of this table land and followed up the creek wash into rocky formation. This canyon runs zigzag like the letter Z, and in the sharp apex of one of the angles the guide passed through a narrow box canyon which soon opened up into a larger canyon. This they followed until about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The last of this canyon was a rather difficult climb, yet a good trail and at the head of this canyon the Adams guide again called his party around him, showing them two small round mountains about 20 miles distant, close to which this ledge passed and in this ledge, is where the gold is the richest…

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