AZentertain: Arizona Gold Rush: Gold Rush

The rush for gold in pre-Arizona

Legends are thicker than fact

By Robert Zucker

The Conquistadors took it. The Spanish Jesuits hid it. The Spanish Franciscans found it. Gold dripped from the mountains.

One thing is certain, thousands of pounds of the precious gold was extracted by the Americans since the late 1880s. (1)

The famous legends of the Santa Catalina mountains claims that the Spaniards forced the natives to work gold mines in the mountains. The location of the mines was lost in time, but some parts of the legend gives additional clues.

That is what spawned the Lost Escalante mine and Iron Door Mine legends that brought prospectors to Arizona's Santa Catalina mountains. There, they discovered gold. Lots of gold. Some of it may still remain.

1500s: The Conquistadors may have found the gold first

The expedition through North America by Coronado to find the Seven Cities of Cibola, lead the group through what is known today as Arizona. (more to be added)

1700s: New Spain was rich in gold and spawns the lost mine legend

While silver and copper mining was conducted by the newly settled Spaniards throughout Pimeria Alta in the late 1600s, gold was also a sought after commodity. Pimeria Alta is the name given to the land which eventually became Arizona.

Several accounts mention that the Spanish Jesuits operated the mines- which would place it in the early 1700's when Father Eusubio Kino established the first Spanish settlements from central Mexico north to the Tucson valley. Kino help build the San Xavier del Bac mission southeast of present-day Tucson. At the time, only rancherias dotted the valley. The natives outnumbered Spanish settlers, clergy and military.

But, no records are available of the gold or other minerals extracted from the mountains. Although one of the reasons Kino came to New Spain was to enforce an edict from the King of Spain that forbid enslaving natives to work in the mines.

Yet, the legend of a Spanish gold mine in the Catalinas is based on some noted discoveries. In the mid 1990's several U.S. agencies published a study of mineral resources in the Catalinas. It extensively discussed the history of gold placers throughout the mountain range based on its own collected literature and samlings. The report makes several references to Spanish gold mining,

"Gold placering in Canada del Oro ("gold gulch") was undertaken in the northern Santa Catalina Mountains by Spaniards as early as the mid-1700's. The canada drainage flows northward from its headwaters in the central Santa Catalina Mountains through about 9 mi of the Forest Unit, then crosses the Unit boundary and turns south, flowing parallel to and mostly outside of the Forest Unit." (1, p. 24).

Read more about The Lost Mine and the Lost Escalante Mine.

1900s-2000s: Gold still in the Catalinas today

While the Spanish Jesuits, settlers or military may have mined the Catalinas for gold, they didn't leave any records. Over the last century several reports of Spanish objects found in the Catalinas are the only evidence.

Reports of finding gold in the Old Hat and Campo Bonito mining districts spurred the Arizona Gold Rush of the 1880s. Thousands of ouncess of gold had been taken from the mines, according to newspaper accounts and mining reports.

A test placer conducted in 1882, by Dave McGee of the Little Hill Mines, Inc., at one of the sites in the Cañada del Oro discovered that

"a reported 230 oz of gold was recovered in that test, which was on placer gravels allegedly near 200-year-old placer sites of the Spaniards (Heylmun, 1989, p. 11. See footnote 2 ). These data suggest that some lucrative gold zones may be found in Canada del Oro with additional prospecting." (1, p. 25)

In 1901, the Mohave Miner reported a story from the Wickeberg News that descried a gold find in the Catalinas:

"Rich gold strikes are becoming frequent In Arizona They are so numerous and so rich that some hesitancy is made in recording them for the public lost it might be thought they were overdrawn But if there are those who entertain doubts all that is necessary to dispel a dlsbellef is to examine the specimens referred to, or better still, visit the mines themselves.

The latest strike comes from Canada del Oro. Mr Charles Bauer, at a depth of ten feet, has uncovered a ledge two and a half feet wide of very rich gold rock The ore has the appearance of honey combed rock having been filled with melted gold; when broken the particles of rock are held together by wire gold, and is, in fact, nearly pure. Mr. Bauer does not exaggerate his property, being content to say that he has taken out only 100 pounds of the precious rock." 3

Pinal County, where the Santa Catalina mountains, was a major gold producing area. At the time, gold was valued at only $20.67 per ounce.

According to the Bureau of Mines:

"Prior to 1932, this county, which ranks sixth among the gold- producing counties of Arizona, yielded approximately $5,474,000 worth of gold of which about $3,120,000 worth came from lode gold mines. Most of this production was made by the Mammoth district, in the southwestern part of the county." 4

Read more about:

  • The Lost City
  • The Lost Escalante Mine
  • Campo Bonito- Americanizing gold mining
  • The Arizona Gold Rush of the 1880s- Rediscovering Gold in the Catalinas

    1. "Mineral Appraisal of Coronado National Forest, Part 5." U Reprinted 1983..S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Mines, MLA 25-94, 1994. Funded by a program between U.S. Bureau of Mines, U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Forest Service to assist the Forest Service in incorporating mineral resource data in forest plans as specified by the National Forest Management Act (1976). USBM_MIA_025-094. 177 pages.

    2. Heylmun, E. B., 1989, Santa Catalina Mountains, Arizona: California Mining Journal, vol. 69, No. 1, p. 11-15.


    3. Arizona Lode Gold Mines and Gold Mining by Eldred D. WIlson, J.B. Cunningham and G.M. Baker. Arizona Bureau of Geology and Mineral Technology, a Division of the University of Arizona, Tucson. Bulletin 137. Revised, 1967 Originally issued in 1934. p. 13

    4. ibid, p. 167


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