AZentertain: Arizona Gold Rush: The Lost Mine

The Escalante Mine is the Iron Door Mine

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 more pages and download a free PDF sample of the book.

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

Over those years, both names have been used to describe the nefarious activity supposedly conducted behind the towering Santa Catalina mountains in the 1700s.

Claims of secret gold mining operations and a lost civilization that once inhabited the great Cañada del Oro basin still spur the imagination. A mineral study conducted by the U.S. Mines in 1994, though, had stated:

"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."

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 might also still be undiscovered.

The very existence of a lost mine in the Catalinas has been debated for centuries as well. Read more about rediscovering the Lost Mine.

Dos Escalantes

The Escalante name is somehow attached to the Lost Mine legend. There were several Escalante who lived during the time the Lost Mine was said to be in operation- sometime between 1700 and 1800. Since these two Escalantes lived about 70 years apart, this adds to the confusion.

The two of them lived between the time that the first reports of newly settled Spaniards were mining in the area and after the Jesuits were expelled and the Franciscan Order took over the missions, including the nearby San Xavier del Bac in 1767.

The first Escalante was Alferez J. B. de Escalante who assisted Kino from January through, at least, May 1700, according to dated letters preserved from Father Kino. 2

As a lieutenant, Juan Bautista de Escalante founded the city of Hermosillo, Mexico, also in 1700. As a military man Escalante worked closely with the missionaries to provide protection as the Spanish missionaries forged their way northward along the El Camino Real- the Royal Road- from Mexico, to Arizona and California.

1700s: Father Kino learns of rich mines near Tucson, Escalante provide protection

The legend of the lost mine might have started when Father Eusebio Francisco Kino began his missions along the Santa Cruz River, not far from the Catalina mountains in the late 1690s.

Kino came to the Americas in support of his Breve Relación of May 3, 1698. The royal cédula, issued by the King of Spain, was used to convert the natives and promise that they would not be forced to work in the mines if they converted to Christianity.


"that all the tribes of heathen Indians which may be found in the district and jurisdiction comprised in the government of each audiencia and government district, may be reduced and converted to our holy Catholic faith, each one providing, in so far as concerns him, that from now on their reduction and conversion be undertaken with the mildest and most effective means that can be employed and contrived, entrusting it to the ecclesiastics most satisfactory to them and of the virtue and spirit required for so very important a matter, giving to them for the purpose the assistance, favor, and aid that may be necessary, and encouraging them in it in the best manner possible, and promising in my name to all new converts that during the first twenty years of their reduction they will not be required to give tribute or to serve on estates or in mines, since this is one of the reasons why they refuse to be converted. And I charge my ministers to notify me at once of the receipt of this dispatch, of what may be done in virtue thereof, and of the condition which this matter may be assuming, so that upon receipt of this information the orders most important for its continuation may be given, because I desire that all time possible be gained in a matter of such importance and so serviceableto God and to me. Done at Buen Retiro, May 14, 1686. I, the King."

As Kino made this way up through present-day Arizona, called Pimeria Alta, he brought along the Spanish military, settlers and lots of livestock. Some of the cattle and wild horses roaming Southern Arizona today are decended from Kino's initial herds. When Kino helped lay the foundation for the San Xavier del Bac mission near present day Tucson, in 1702, he described in his diaries about

"certain news of the treasure and rich mines which have just been discovered near here at Quisuani, Aygame, San Cosme, etc., and very near to the new conversion or mission of San Francisco Xavier of the Pimas Cocomacaques of Pimeria Baxa."

According to several legends associated to this period, the Spanish Jesuits forced the local natives into slavery to mine the gold from the Catalinas among other areas. The details, though, change with the different versions.

In one version, the mines were managed by one of Kino's assistants named a Father Escalante.

History does record a Captain Juan (Baupptisa) Baustita de Escalante who served as governor of Sonora in 1700. This Escalante was a military man, not a Jesuit priest.

There are no records of Capt. Escalante being involved with any mining ventures, but Capt. Escalante did assist Kino in routing out rebellious Apaches that threatened the missions and settlers, according to Kino's letters.

Escalante often would capture Indians and turn them over to the Fathers. In one instance, he helped Kino to rescue an Indian prisoner from death. In his journal, Kino included a 1701 letter from Escalante about his attack against the Apaches:

"I went on the campaign which our beloved and loving Pimas made against the enemies of our holy faith, in which it has gone very well with us; for our friends, three hundred and thirty-two in number, set out with only the provisions which they could carry in their bags.

..after having marched some days we attacked a rancheria of Apaches, where seventeen of the enemy were killed. We captured sixteen persons, of whom the Pimas are taking twelve and have sold us four, because I told them that whatever was captured should belong to the captor, in order to rouse in them a stronger desire to display valor. And such was the case, for they, being many, captured fourteen, and we two. This has been of great importance as a means of showing the opponents of this new nation the falsehood and the error in which they have been, unless it be that partisanship closes the eyes of their reason."

"Manje (Luz de Tierra Incógnita, libro ii, 66) states that it was Alférez Juan de Escalante, who, with Manje and twenty soldiers, went to certify to the deaths. He states that for seven leagues they followed the battle-march, counting sixty dead, and that it was reported that one hundred and sixty-eight died of poisoned arrows. He says nothing of Kino's part in spreading the news nor of his going to count the dead. Jironza tells us that he sent Escalante with twenty-five men to view the signs of the victory and to enlist the Pimas to pursue the enemy. The Pimas made excuses, and he did not urge them, since there were "recent allies" (letter of May 16, 1698). Kino took advantage of the victory above recounted to appeal for ten or twelve new missionaries. Indeed, this was the purpose for which the Breve Relación was written."

Whether this Captain Escalante had a secret mining operation in the Catalinas, it has not been recorded. But, it is most likely that this is the Escalante that the mine was named.

No mention is made about what happens when the edit expired 20 years after the natives converted.

1760s: Father Escalante the Franciscan

There was a Father Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, a Franciscan missionary and explorer who helped lead expeditions throughout the West in the 1776. But, this was years after the Jesuits left San Xavier del Bac mission in 1767. This Father Escalante may have passed through the area, but there are no records of this Father Escalante's visit to the Tucson area or any mining activities either.

In an often referenced article, John D. Mitchell says the Escalante mine was worked for many years by Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante, a Jesuit priest who at the time was an assistant to Father Eusebio Kino.

In a 1952 magazine article, he further says that according to church records, the Escalante Mine was in full operation in 1767 when the Spanish King Charless III issued the edict expelling the Jesuit Order from Spain and all possession.

To add to the confusion, author John Mitchell states that:

"According to old church records, the Escalante Mine was in full operation in 1767 when Spanish King Charles III issued the edict expelling the Jesuit Order from Spain and all her possessions."

If this were true, the mine had to be named after the first Captain Escalante since Silvestre Escalante didn't cross Arizona until 1776. Those church records haven't been located.

But, Mitchell also stated in the same article that the mine had "is believed to have been found and worked for many years by Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante, a Jesuit priest who at one time was assistant to Father Eusebio Kino at Mission San Xavier del Bac near Tucson.

Silvestre Escalante was a Franciscan and went on his expedition over 65 years after Kino died in 1711.

So, was the Escalante mine found by either Escalante- hence the Lost Escalante mine. Or, was it a mine by the name Escalante that became lost?

As time passed, the whereabouts of the Spanish mining operation had faded from memory, except through the legends until it revived during the Arizona Gold Rush in the 1880s.

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NEXT: Rediscovering the Lost Mine during the Arizona Gold Rush of the 1880s

Lost Mine of Santa Catalina Mountains

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