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Die Rich Here: The Lost Adams Diggings

Die Rich Here: The Lost Adams Diggings

by Ralph Reynolds

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After searching for sixty years for a long-lost gold mine known as the Adams Diggings, Ralph Reynolds tells all he's learned. This is a rousing tale of Apache cunning and Yankee gullibility. And it's a story of lost lives, emptied souls, and misguided senses in a land of magnificent mountains, mesas, and canyons. His book delivers evidence that three or more


After searching for sixty years for a long-lost gold mine known as the Adams Diggings, Ralph Reynolds tells all he's learned. This is a rousing tale of Apache cunning and Yankee gullibility. And it's a story of lost lives, emptied souls, and misguided senses in a land of magnificent mountains, mesas, and canyons. His book delivers evidence that three or more prospecting parties were massacred after they located the diggings and the startling implications of these events. And most rewardingly, it tells how, and most likely from where, the gold nuggets were clandestinely removed late in the nineteenth century and why and where the mother lode may soon be found.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Reynolds' account of a lost-mine legend of the Old West and the gold fever it has sparked. The Old West is a mother lode of colorful nonfiction, truth often obscured by layers of myth. Reynolds taps a particularly rich vein of lore in his riveting recap of "what has become the greatest, most vexing, and persistent lost-mine tradition of North American history." The Lost Adams Diggings are named for John R. Adams, who, in 1864, escorted by "a half-breed Mexican-Indian with a crumpled ear," led an expedition of 21 miners that apparently found nuggets of placer gold somewhere in the remote Mogollon Breaks straddling the border of New Mexico and Arizona. Apache raiders slaughtered 19 of the miners, leaving only Adams and one other man to tell the tale. According to Reynolds, another prospector, John Brewer, was actually the first to find the gold deposit three years earlier. His party, guided by the same "half-breed," also fell afoul of the Apaches. In the 1880s, Reynolds says, he returned to the diggings and mined out what was left, making himself a tidy fortune. But ever since, a parade of gold seekers has been gripped by "Adams fever"; many have met an untimely end in the wilderness. Reynolds memorably chronicles this cast of characters with an eye for detail. The quest of Capt. Mike Cooney ended in November 1915, "his tongue as stiff as a piece of jerky." Hackberry Campbell had "two burros--one carried grub, the other, whiskey. Sidekicks said he often ran out of the first but never the latter." For Reynolds, the Lost Adams legend "helps define the history of the deepest corner of the great Southwest," and he skillfully follows the historical threads, including the Apache wars that coincided with the expeditions of Brewer and Adams. The Apaches, he says, attacked the miners not for their gold, but for their supplies, particularly guns. Reynolds, a native of the Mogollon Breaks, has been researching the diggings for 60 years. While he hasn't found the mother lode from which the placer deposits came, he's struck gold with his tale of "blood and guts, hope and hardship, dust and disappointment." With a memorable cast of characters and telling detail, the author explores the "greatest lost-mine tradition of North American history."

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Trafford Publishing
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6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.35(d)

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The Lost Adams Diggings

Trafford Publishing

Copyright © 2012 Ralph Reynolds
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4669-5225-6

Chapter One

From One Nugget, a River of History

It is just past lunchtime at the Reserve, New Mexico home of Bela Birmingham. Two aging men are comfortably seated and conversing in a front room filled with rare and beautiful antiques. Both men, as they say these days, 'have been around.' The author of this book is a seasoned writer/ editor who, in his younger days, traveled the world observing and writing about agriculture. Bela Birmingham, bright-eyed, sprightly, quick-witted, is the sort of guy that old-timers might have called a 'good scout'. He's actually a retired rancher, an entrepreneur of the range, one who lived the life and lore that people only read and dream about today. Our discussion, however, has nothing to do with agriculture or cattle or his experiences or mine. Instead, our talk is about a shiny little rock weighing no more than an ounce or so. The subject item is a gold nugget said to have been given away by a prospector named John Adams, who at one time had perhaps thousands of them in his possession.

The lineage of Mr. Birmingham spans the Anglo history of this part of New Mexico. His great, great grandfather, R.C. Patterson, came here as a cavalryman during the 19th century to fight renegade Apaches. He established a ranch on the fabled 'Sea of Grass' plains of Socorro County. One autumn day an exhausted stranger visited the ranch, said his name was Adams, and told R.C. he was a prospector who, with some other men, once made a rich gold strike in nearby mountains. The party was attacked and overwhelmed by Apaches. Only two escaped. He gave R.C. a nugget from the mine. R.C., in turn, gave the nugget to his daughter, Mary, who later married an H.J. Maybury. A daughter, Ellen, was born of this union. It is believed she inherited the nugget from her Mother. Ellen, in turn, married Bela Birmingham, Sr., who was, of course, the father of the man with whom the author is conversing. Bela tells that the nugget disappeared before his time, but it was well remembered by the family because of the notoriety achieved by its first owner, John Adams. (This story is at variance with parts of the traditional description of Adams' escape from the canyon that you'll read in chapter 2. It's not necessarily a contradiction, merely an 'amendment' to an old oft-revised story.)

The author is putting the story of 'Mary's nugget' (as it came to be called) into this opening chapter, not because it adds support to the story Adams told, but because of an ironic twist of history: One little nugget, now as lost as the mine from whence it came, is the only lineage eye-witness gold we have to go on from what has become the greatest, most vexing, and persistent lost-mine tradition of North American History.

Most stories die young. A few go on and on. Some seem to live forever. Why? Many old stories have intriguing and mysterious untold parts that keep them going from one generation to another. The Story of Adams Diggings has so many dangling mysteries attached that it has stayed alive and well for some 150 years. And that's what this book is all about.

Every story needs a starting place. Mr. Adams told only a small part of the epic but his name got hitched to it, so we will begin with him.

John R. Adams was born into a large Pennsylvania family in August of 1819. His father moved the family to Rock Island County, Illinois, arriving in 1842. John married and became a freighter. He fathered seven children. Early in the 1860's, he left home, driving his wagons west toward California. His family never saw or heard from him again. What happened to John R. Adams? It appears that for some reason he delayed his return to Illinois. Nobody knows just why. But considering evidence more than a century old, we have a pretty good handle on why he never came home at all: What John Adams found in the West was more alluring than the arms of loved ones, more compelling than any earthly responsibility. In a cliff-bound canyon, stark with beams and shadows, John Adams and his companions came upon the most pristine and glamorous glitter that sun and sky and raw earth can offer—nuggets of gold. It was enough to stop the heart of the most jaded pilgrim, for the placers were so numerous that a rippling stream winked bright bursts of yellow with each step along it.

Adams found in the west a treasure rich enough to bear his name into history. Then in a wrenching moment he lost it again.

In the eyes of his family, John Adams had simply disappeared. Years passed. His memory faded. His wife, Eliza, died in 1886, perhaps wasted by anxiety and loneliness. Her remains lie in the graveyard of Hampton, Illinois. It is believed that John Adams died in California in the 1890's. His gravesite is unknown, but of Adams himself we know much. He left behind a legend that even today helps define the history of the deepest corner of the great Southwest. In an indirect way it's a story that relates to a vast region from the Rio Grande west to the Colorado and south to the Sierra Madre of Mexico. John Adams never reached into the recesses of all these lands, but his legend did. Like strands of a cobweb, it connected to the Apache wars, the shaping of the reservation system, the relentless march of Mormon settlement, the discovery of mineral riches, the establishment, rise and fall, and rise again of mining and farming communities. It linked up with the cowboys, the outlaws, the ranchers, the great land holdings of the region. Even international tension and conflict along the border between the U.S. and Mexico connected in a way to the fabulous tale of what came to be known as the Lost Adams Diggings.

I have neither the training nor instincts of an historian. This book is not a volume of history, rather it might be called a litany of conjecture. But as the story reaches into nooks and crannies of long ago, perhaps you will sense, as I did, that the Adams Diggings is something more than an epic of hopeful and daring men, bedeviled by adversaries, fate, and their own human nature. I think the Adams legend has a place in the riveting panorama of Southwest history, so in these pages I have tried to relate it to other events of its time. This book deals with facts relating to the old lost mine that have recently come to light. And goes from there into conjecture as to why the mine got lost in the first place and why it has stayed lost. It tells how a single gold deposit may have been the target of as many as four unrelated expeditions that all came to grief. It reveals how and when the lost gold nuggets (placers) have apparently been recovered. It offers clues to many mysteries that shroud the diggings legend, and tells where the gold vein that mothered the placers is most likely hiding from view.

Of special emphasis in these pages is the human mystique of gold in the wild state. Gold is the most civilized of all metals. Stroking, shaping, and hammering by artisans may make it go farther, but can't render it any more beautiful than it is by nature. Oh, to find a gleaming nugget in the wild! The very thought is what prods the weary prospector ever forward, and makes an adventure of each twist and turn along the trail. If the prize sought is a lost mine there's additional driving incentive which can't be measured or minted: It's to revisit and perhaps renew a human experience of long ago.

As you will read below, I have traced the general site of the diggings to a place that would satisfy many prospectors, even some of the old sourdoughs who simply refuse to give up. In that sense I hereby stake a claim to having located the Lost Adams Diggings. Along the way my labors and expenses have far exceeded any required assessment work, so I feel that I have earned a patent on the claim. In my heart, though, I know that the Adams Diggings and its story belongs not to me but to all those free spirits among us who sniff the faintest scent of adventure and quickly trot off on its trail. I'm talking about those unflagging duffers, young and old alike, who forever veer away from well-worn paths to pursue instead that which is mysterious, or curious, or unknown. These are the true owners of, and heirs to, the Lost Adams Diggings and all its traditions. I yield my claim to them, and wish them luck.

Chapter Two

The Lore of Adams Diggings

In our times, disasters and tragedies grab the headlines for a day, maybe two. The story may flare again at burial or inquisition, at anniversaries, during litigation or trials. But a jaded public soon forgets. More than a century ago, nineteen unnamed miners died violently in a quiet, remote canyon of the Southwest. Never headlined or even reported until years later, their story started as a secretive whisper that gradually spread. At length it became a contentious crescendo that echoed from one frontier town to another. Finally the story ebbed, but not until it had produced one of the most enduring and puzzling unsolved mysteries of the American West.

The Adams Diggings is more richly documented than the story of King Solomon's Mines. It is older, richer, and wider than the Lost Dutchman Mine, and other tales of that genre. It's been called a greater tradition, even, than the lost treasure of the Sierra Madre, subject of the poignant western movie to which it is probably related (see chapter 3). Of all the lost-mine stories of the West, the Adams Diggings is among the few taken seriously by regional historians, some geologists and mining men, as well as many adventurers. Thus, the Adams Diggings, one of the oldest of lost treasure tales, has persisted from the coming of the telegraph all the way into the computer age. The first atomic explosion cast a pall of blinding light and shadow across the vast and barely-populated land where prospectors have sought the Adams Diggings for more than a century. The world's largest array of space-exploring radio telescopes is located not far from the very heart of this same land. Yet, the area remains as lonely as before. This is Adams Diggings land, home of a dying genre. Here, somewhere, lies the last great lost treasure of the West.

The Adams Diggings story was born in the wilds and spread by word of mouth during an era of primitive communications. Repeated from campfire, to barber shop, to saloon, to town meeting, the tale began to unravel into romance and wild exaggeration. Finally, during the early part of the 20th Century, folklorists and treasure seekers set out to recover the facts and braid them into a cohesive story of what really happened to Adams and his friends in that lonely canyon, and the aftermath. This chapter is a distillation of that Adams Diggings tradition as it has come down to my generation.

The story begins in 1861, when John Adams rafted his wagons across the Mississippi and headed west with freight bound for the goldfields of California. Nobody knows, even his great-great grandchildren cannot guess, why he never returned to a loving family and prosperous business near Port Byron, Illinois. Perhaps he was drawn by the spell of the desert, or its warmth, because the year 1864 found him running freight in two wagons between Tucson and Los Angeles.

Early one morning in August of that year, Adams awoke in camp and saw that some of his draft horses were missing. He chased them down, only to discover that the tie-ropes had been cut, not broken loose. He rushed back to his camp, but too late. The strayed horses were a ruse, thieves had plundered and burned his wagons. Livelihood ruined, and fearing another attack, Adams dejectedly drove his twelve horses to a Pima Indian village near Maricopa Wells on the Gila River, south and a little west of today's Phoenix. He was relieved to find a large party of prospectors there, fresh from California. He was also surprised, because the visitors were in a high state of agitation and excitement brought on by gold. The day before, a half-breed Mexican-Indian with a crumpled ear had pulled from his buckskin pouch a well-rounded gold nugget the size of an acorn. He offered to trade it for a miner's vest that caught his fancy.

Where had the nugget come from?

Gotch-Ear, as he came to be called, pointed to the northeast, answering in a mixture of Spanish and Apache, "El oro de Canon Sno-Ta-Hay." He talked on for a moment. One of the Californians, who could speak some crude Spanish, interpreted, "He says the gold lies in some kind of Indian canyon beyond those dry hills yonder, in high mountains with running water, peaks, trees, and great cliffs."

"How far?" was the next question.

Gotch-Ear shrugged and uttered his first English. "Maybe so diez days."

"What'll you take to lead us there?"

"Dos caballos."

"Okay, we'll give you two horses, but you gotta show us the gold first."

The prospectors were short of horses so they offered Adams leadership of the expedition, and double shares, if he'd throw in his teams. "I never wanted to be a prospector," Adams mused later, "but I'd been wiped out. I only had a few horses to lose."

In late August, twenty-one men and Gotch-Ear set out for the canyon of gold, heading into unmapped terrain only lightly explored. When friendly Pimas learned of the trip, they had responded with a shudder and one word that sounded like a warning: "Apacheria!" But these prospectors had come from California where there was little reason to fear Indians. Anyway the party was large and armed.

Nobody knows for sure the route they followed. Adams believed later that they had paralleled the Gila River east, skirting Arizona's White Mountains. After leaving the Gila, they climbed northerly for days into high mountains. One night they camped in a little saddle under a peak. Next morning Gotch-Ear led Adams to high ground and pointed to another peak, far to the northeast. "That peak," he told Adams, "stands guard over the canyon of Sno-Ta-Hay." Continuing on, they crossed a stream, the first running water since leaving the Gila, and about a day later, another. Then they came upon a road that was little more than two wagon ruts. "This leads to the army fort in the Malpais," said Gotch-Ear. "It is called Wingate."

Finally they rode through a narrow canyon where water stood in pools, watered the horses there, then camped in a meadow above.

Leaving early the next morning, they crossed a high, rocky mesa, heading toward twin peaks that Adams remembered afterwards as resembling the head, throat and breast of a reclining woman. At the rim of the canyon they approached sheer cliffs plunging a hundred vertical feet or more. Here Gotch-Ear turned left. They followed him to a crease in the rocks that was narrow and steep, but with care a horse could be led through. In the lore of Adams Diggings, this came to be known as 'the secret door.' The steep, tortuous route the men now followed into the canyon bottom would find its own place in tradition as 'the zigzag trail.' In the floor of the canyon the miners found a little stream and a waterfall. They unpacked gold pans and as they panned the gravel, excitement turned to joy and jubilation. Gold nuggets and dust in every pan!

Adams gave Gotch-Ear a rope and a halter and two horses. Gotch-Ear disappeared, riding one and leading the other.

Next day, six miners were assigned to build a cabin while others panned. All were hard at work when someone shouted, "Look sharp!" A band of Indians had gathered silently on the shelf above, armed with arrows and lances. However they seemed peaceful. In good Spanish, their leader, Nana, told Adams that this canyon, Sno-Ta-Hay, belonged to the Apache people, but the miners were permitted to work there because Apaches love peace and have no use for yellow rock. However his people were camped above the waterfall and White Eyes would not be allowed upstream from there.

Adams agreed. As provisions were running low, he asked Nana if there were a short-cut to the post in the badlands. Nana told him the canyon was a box, with only one way in and out, and he described the road to Fort Wingate as "muy facil."

"Easy, huh," said Adams. "How many days?"

Nana shrugged. "Tres o cuatro. Muy facil."

After a few days, so the story goes, one of the miners, John Brewer, with the horses and three volunteers, climbed the zigzag trail, exited the secret door and headed for Wingate. Another miner, Emil Schaffer, a German, followed along with his share of the gold mined so far. Schaeffer had had enough. He feared the mountains, the wilderness, the coming winter, and mostly the Apaches.

The cabin was coming along nicely. Beneath the fireplace hearth, Adams kept an iron Dutch oven into which he put each day's panning. It was coming close to half full, even though Brewer's party had taken a tobacco-canful to Wingate to buy supplies. But Adams was getting worried. Seven days passed, and Brewer failed to return. Finally on the ninth day, accompanied by a miner named Davidson, Adams set out up the zigzag trail, looking for Brewer. Just beyond the rim, they found three bodies. The party had been ambushed on the way back. Supplies had been scattered. The horses were gone. Quickly, Adams and Davidson covered the bodies with rocks and branches and hurried back to the trail, intent on warning their comrades in the canyon. But halfway down, they heard shots, then shouts and screams and more shots. After a while came a silence more awesome and horrifying than the sound of battle. Finally, smoke drifted up the canyon toward them. Apaches had killed the miners and burned their cabin.

Until dark, Adams and Davidson hid on the hillside, fearing every sound, unbearably thirsty. Finally they crept down the trail, hoping to get a drink of water and perhaps retrieve some gold. The fire had stopped short of consuming the cabin, but hot coals prevented their approaching it. Half crazed with fatigue, sorrow, and fear, the two men again struggled up the terrible zigzag trail onto the mesa. For days they wandered, completely lost, eating only vegetation and berries, afraid to build a fire, walking through the cold starlit nights to avoid death by exposure. Finally, they were picked up by a troop of U.S. Cavalry and delivered to an army post. It is believed that Davidson never recuperated, that he died at or near the fort. Adams regained his strength slowly. However, one day in a fit of rage or madness, he shot and killed two unarmed Indians. He was jailed, awaiting trial, but escaped to California.


Excerpted from DIE RICH HERE by RALPH REYNOLDS Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Reynolds. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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