AZentertain: Arizona Gold Rush

The Lost Iron Door Mine of the Santa Catalinas

By Robert E. Zucker

Treasures of the Santa CatalinasThis information is found in the comprehensive book on the legends and history of the Catalina Mountains– "Treasures of the Santa Catalina Mountains." Read sample pages and download free PDF of the book!

The legend of the Iron Door Mine of the Santa Catalina Mountains, north of Tucson, Arizona, is one of those stories that may have some base in fact and history. While tales of buried treasure in the Santa Catalinas have been told for generations, there have been no archaeological excavations in the area to disprove the legends.

However, there have been pieces of evidence and documentation to point to some possibilities that could have spawned the lost Iron Door mine legend.

The Santa Catalinas have been prized by early American pioneers for its placer deposits of gold and silver, often found in ledges along the Canyon of Gold (Cañada del Oro). Part of the Iron Door Mine legend is that the early Spanish settlers in the late 1600s and early 1700s also discovered the hidden riches in the Catalina mountains.

Lost Iron Door Mine

Claims of secret mining operations, a lost civilization that once inhabited the great Cañada del Oro basin near Tucson, Arizona, the gold rush of the 1800s and the famous Mine with the Iron Door book and movie still spur the imagination o the legendary Iron Door Mine.

During the late 1880s through the 1930s, countless newspaper articles in the Arizona newspapers publish stories of people who claim to have found either a lost city, the lost mine or other great treasures in the Santa Catalina Mountains, north of Tucson, Arizona.

But, the exact location of either the lost city or lost mine with the Iron Door has never been fully disclosed or documented.

Either it has never been found, or the secret has been taken to ones grave. Or, the secret has been passed on by word of mouth. Maybe a few might still know of its actual location.

The real hidden treasure may have already been discovered and carted off. But some remnants of this "rich mine" in the Catalinas may still be buried away. Some of the naturally occuring gold deposits may still be undiscovered.

Today's technology can define once and for all whether the legends have any substance using metal detectors, ground penetrating radar, re-exploration of the area to unravel the mystery.

There are actually two mysteries.

The legend of the Lost City in the Santa Catalinas is in a different location from the lost mine, made famous during the 1920s as the Iron Door Mine, or Lost Escalante Mine. This section examines the Lost Mine legend in detail.

Some of legends name an Escalante who was an associate of Father Eusebio Kino, the missionary who founded Jesuit missions from Mexico through Arizona and California. This time period is about 1702.

The legend says that the mine was located deep within the Santa Catarina mountains somewhere along the Cañada del Oro.

Accordingly, this Escalante had worked this mine using the local natives as slaves in the mines. There was a Sgt. Escalante who accompanied Father Kino through some of his journeys, but he was not a miner (although he did later retire to become Mayor of a Mexican mining community).

But, archeologists have confirmed there was some type of settlement near the Cañada del Oro that sustained its inhabitants and may also have served as a mission. This may be the long, lost city of the Catalinas, called Santa Catalina.

The mine produced vast quantities of gold- much of which was taken to Spain.

When the Jesuits were expelled in 1767, they left behind their riches. The bars of gold were hidden behind an "iron door." Thus, the Mine with the Iron Door.

Areas deep in the interior of the Cañada del Oro basin, could have been in operation up until the time the Jesuits were expelled in 1767, or later, from Pimeria Alta- as this land was called by the Spanish. The U.S. Bureau of Mines conducted a mineral study of the Santa Catalina and Coronado National Forest and reported that:

"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).

1700s: The Escalante Mine is the Iron Door Mine

The legend of the Lost Escalante Mine, also known as the Iron Door Mine, has survived for hundreds of years. Read more about the Lost Escalante mine.

1880s: Rediscovering the lost mine

After more than one hundred years, the mine became lost in memory, except for a few remembrances and newspaper articles to keep the legend alive. Read about the rediscovery of gold bearing quartz in the Catalinas that re-energized the hunt for the Lost Mine during the 1880's.


"Treasures of the Santa Catalina Mountains" is
available in print and Kindle on

Content on this web site about the Iron Door Mine is from the book "Treasures of the Santa Catalina Mountains."

Read select sections and download a FREE PDF sample from the new book "Treasures of the Santa Catalinas: Unraveling the History and Legends of the Iron Door Mine, Lost City and Lost Mission," by Robert E. Zucker.

A new book, called "Tucson Gold Rush 1880," will be published soon to cover the possible story behind the Iron Door Mine discovery in 1880 by two prospectors and the activity of Tucson businessmen mining interests.

Author Available to Share Legends and History

Robert Zucker, author of "Treasures of the Santa Catalina Mountains," is available to speak to your group or organization about the history and legends of the Catalina Mountains, including a presentation on the famous Iron Door Mine legend of the Catalinas. To arrange a presentation book talk, call 520-623-3733 or email [email protected]

Arizona Gold Rush Index


Read the original newspaper articles digitized by the Chronicling America Newspaper Project, a National Endowment for the Humanities project of the Library of Congress. Select a link to open the newspaper page in a new window. Choose from several viewing formats from PDF to JPG.

1. "Mineral Appraisal of Coronado National Forest, Part 5." U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau ofMines, 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. "Spain in the West a series of original documents from foreign archives, volume III," "Kino's Historical Memoir of Pimeria Alta," Kino, 1683-1711. By Herbert Eugene Bolton, Ph.D., published 1919, The Arthur H. Clark Company. Vol. 1 page 364. more versions of this document:
3. "Lost Mines of the Great Southwest, Including Stories of Hidden Treasures," by John D. Mitchell and "Lost Mine With the Iron Door," in Desert Magazine, July 1952.

The Tucson Gold Rush

Treasures of the Santa Catalinas

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