Monday, April 27, 2015

The Soldiers' Lost Mine

April 20, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Cathedral Rock, also know as Castle Rock,
is in the general vicinity of the Soldier’s Grave.
A US Army mounted cavalry soldier, circa 1880.
The tale of the Soldiers’ Lost Mine continues to circulate around campfires in the Superstition Wilderness Area of central Arizona. The story is often associated with the Lost Dutchman Mine and the Silver King Mine. Sims Ely mentioned the story in depth in his book The Lost Dutchman Mine published in 1953 by William Morrow & Company of New York. Ely’s version of the story varies from other stories.

Sims Ely stated that others left out important information about the men involved in the story. His version goes something like this. Two young soldiers were mustered out at Fort McDowell in 1879. These young men decided to hike across the Salt River and through the mountains to the south of the Silver King Mine where they planned on seeking employment. Their reason for hiking across the mountains was to save money. Somewhere south of a tall pointed peak, they found an old Mexican mine and dump. They believed the mine to be Mexican in origin because of the small horizontal tunnels that were only large enough for a man to crawl in on his hands and knees.

The young soldiers, fearing Apaches in the area, spent only enough time to fill their pockets with what they thought were rich specimens of gold ore and hurried on to their original destination. Arriving in Pinal they began in inquire about a job at the Silver King Mine. It was in Pinal they met up with Aaron Mason who advised them they could probably find jobs at the Silver King Mine eight miles up the road to the north. The young soldiers mentioned they had some interesting specimens they found between Fort McDowell and Pinal in the mountains south of the Salinas (Salt) River. They showed the specimens to him. Mason couldn’t believe how rich the gold specimens were that belonged to the young soldiers. He immediately asked the boys where they had found the specimens. The boys said they had found an old Mexican mine somewhere between Pinal and the Salinas (Salt) River.  The soldiers said the mine was located in a deep canyon, but high up on a ledge where a pointed peak dominated the area to the south. The soldier boys, according to Ely, said the “diggings” was a mine, not a cache.

Mason convinced the young men to return to the mine and recover as much of the gold ore as they could. Aaron Mason grubstaked the two young soldiers and sent them on their way. The soldiers had a pack mule and enough supplies for a week. The soldiers were never heard from again.

Again, according to Sims Ely and others, the young soldiers were murdered and never made it back to the mine. Ely believed Jacob Waltz, of Lost Dutchman mine fame, found the soldiers working the mine and killed them. Other sources say Apaches killed the two young soldiers. Another source claims the soldiers were killed for their grubstake, pack mule and supplies.

Sims Ely’s book claims James E. Bark showed him one of the soldiers’ graves near two boulders on the trail between the Bark Ranch and Reid’s Water. William T. Barkley showed me a spot on the trail during the winter of 1959, and said there was a man buried there. Since that time several individuals have tried to convince me this was one of the soldiers’ graves.

Another story about one of the graves found between the Bark Ranch and Reid’s Water is that it was excavated several years ago. The grave yielded the remains of an unknown person. Among the artifacts a military type brass button was found. The skeletal remains were definitely human. However, there was no compelling evidence that the person buried in the grave was a soldier. Many people wore shirts with military buttons on them during this period of time.

Many questions remained unanswered about this story. One, where did the soldiers get their rich high-grade gold ore? Was the ore as rich as Aaron Mason thought it to be? Did the ore come from the Dutchman’s mine or an old Mexican mine? Were the soldiers murdered for the gold they were packing back to the Silver King? Were they murdered for what they knew?

I am quite convinced we will never know the answers to these questions. We can’t be positive there was ever a Soldiers’ Lost mine in the Superstition Wilderness Area. The story continues to be told around campfires. This story will forever tantalize the minds of those who search for lost gold in the Superstition Mountains.