On the Trail & ‘Round the Campfire

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The Lost Pot of Gold

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As they say, "gold is where you find it," but with equal pithiness a miners proverb says: "Gold is where you lost it." That generally means, the one not finding the gold was lost, not the gold. The following tale ain't no Pot 'O Gold at the end of the rainbow story, but, with my propensity for Dutch ovens you might know that this story was inevitable. If ever there was a pot of gold waiting to be found, it's gotta' be, "The Lost Dutch Oven Mine"... a Pot 'O Gold at the end of the trail...

It seems a common trait among the early railroad men was that they were always exploring. More than one RR worker found and lost gold or other riches near the route of the railway they worked on. For instance, in 1884 a trackwalker for the Southern Pacific Railroad found surface-gold, near the railroad tracks, in the Cargo Muchaco Mountains between El Centro, CA and Yuma, AZ. The old ghost town by the name of Tumco still marks the spot of his discovery. (Acronym for: "The United Mining Company")

Sometime about 1893 another railroad worker, for another RR company, discovered the lost Dutch Oven Mine in the Clipper Mountains of eastern San Bernardino County, California. Apparently this mine was originally an old Spanish dig that had been long abandoned and forgotten, and therefore lost to those who did not know where it was.

According to historical reports, when Tom Schofield was a young man, he worked for the Santa Fe Railway. It seems he was a surveyor and had the job of locating and maintaining the water supply for the railway. While at Danby, in eastern San Bernardino County, he went exploring for a water source, or just exploring for the sake of exploring. He headed a few miles northwest up in to the Clipper Mountains. The Clipper Mountains are part of the famous Mojave Desert of southeastern California. The range lies just south of Interstate 40 and the Clipper Valley, northwest of the small community of Essex. Locally, the mountain range is known to have at least three springs, as well as an active mine.

While tracking a Bighorn Sheep, about three miles up in to the mountains he came across traces of an old trail. It might well have been an old Indian trail. He decided to take it and have a look-around. Following the trail, he hiked in a few more miles. As it turned out, the trail led to a spring that trickled from an outcropping of rock and formed a small pool at its base. Apparently that was the end of one end of the trail.

On one of his excursions, he followed the trail back the other direction, along a hogback and into a canyon, where the trail went down and up the other side where it became very steep. Curious to know where the trail went, he continued to follow it up the steep mountainside for quite some distance. Along the trail, he found remnants of an old stone building that had been abandoned.

Nearing the mountaintop, Tom reports a very large boulder, "as big as a house," near the crest. Until he neared it on the trail, he could not tell that the huge boulder was split on a slight angle, with an overhang. The narrow gap through the boulder was just wide enough for a man or burro to squeeze through. Some have visualized it as passing through the "needle's eye."

Just outside the narrow passageway it widened out in to a deserted campsite protected by the overhang of the boulder. Scattered about were the remnants of old rusty mining tools, pieces of equipment, cast iron cookware and hand tools. He thought them to be of Spanish origin. Outside, a short steep trail led to a shelf and mineshaft tunnel on the hillside above the camp. The entrance to the mine had been carefully timbered to avoid any cave-in. Next to the shaft was the mine dump. The tailings contained numerous pieces of rich gold quartz. Tom picked up a few high-grade samples to take back. Before he knew it, it was late and night settled in. Excited and hungry, Tom was forced to bed down overnight on the old campsite and dream about his potential riches.

At daybreak the next morning, as he was getting ready to leave, he either tripped or kicked over the Dutch oven — Lo! and behold! Out tumbled—not golden brown biscuits—but a heap of pure gold nuggets! Apparently, this was where some unknown miner or miners had stored or hidden their gold. Stunned, Tom gathered up as many nuggets as he could stuff in his pockets or carry by hand. He hightailed back to Danby. Shortly, he caught a train to Los Angeles where he cashed in his gold bonanza. That was about June of 1894 when it was said, "he showed up with his pockets full of gold nuggets and high-grade samples." He claimed that he "had been drilling a tunnel in the Clipper Mountains in search of underground water for the Santa Fe Railroad."

He spent the next two months on a drunken holiday, gambling and living the high life. So, it wasn't long before Scofield found himself sick, sober and broke.

Quite naturally, he would go back to re-live his experience and try to develop his new found bonanza. But, as fate would have it, it would be two years before he was able to make his way back to the Clipper Mountains to search for his dream. This was the beginning of a life of frustration and disappointment, because, try as he might, it seemed that everything had changed and he was unable to retrace his steps. He could not find the huge "split rock" or "needle's eye." He searched off and on for more than forty years but he was unable to locate the elusive entrance to the Dutch oven. Disillusioned, disappointed and disparaged, Tom reluctantly gave up trying to find his indelible memory.

However that did not stop the many thousands of searchers and explorers who had heard of it and truly believed this tale over the past century. Probably, the most famous of them all was Erle Stanley Gardner, the author of the original Perry Mason crime stories. He became known as one of the most adventurous explorers of the Southwest desert during the twentieth century. He loved to explore the Southwest desert of the USA, even across the southern border to the tip of Baja California, Mexico, and he had the means to acquire all the modern methods to do so.

On one of his most determined outings, Gardner enlisted the use of a helicopter, as he was known do at times. While searching for the famous Lost Arch gold mine, thought to be located in the Turtle Mountains near the Colorado River, he and his party flew over the Clipper Mountains and spotted evidence of an old mining camp. Erle Gardener managed to get to the camp and found what they all believed was the old Spanish mine. Old tools were evident; but Erle dismissed the discovery, saying that; "gold was not seen." Not much more information is recorded about where the location is, except that it was "near the top of the mountains, on the north side."

Tom Scofield had long tired of telling his story, even though he continued to insist that it was true. After having been hounded for nearly four decades by would-be prospectors and treasure hunters, looking for more information about the mine, he was not inclined to re-tell his story. However it appears that, in 1936, when Scofield was in his 80's, he was interviewed by, Walter H. Miller and George Haight. He was living in an abandoned store in the Mojave Desert outside Danby. During these same years, he was also interviewed by, Rex Bellamy, for an article in the October, 1941 issue of Desert Magazine.

There have been unverified reports that the mine has been located. Those making such claims say they found exactly the same remarkable trail and boulder landmarks. But, here's the kicker. It is in the Old Woman Mountains about twenty miles to the south of Danby... not in the Clippers to the to the north! When interviewed in his 80's, the old man would neither confirm nor deny that this was the same mine that he stumbled on many years before. So, today, the Dutch Oven Mine continues to be lost, or at least no credible person has ever proven they have found it.

Tom Scofield's story has been familiar to old-timers, prospectors and treasure hunters for more than a hundred years. To this day, there is a Pot 'O Gold waiting to be found at the end of the trail, just exactly as described by Tom Scofield. When you find the mountain trace, look for a huge split rock... a boulder "as big a house" at the end of the trail. Then, you have to pass through the crack in order to find the bonanza of gold.

As it happens, I know about huge split boulders "as big as a house," and I know about "Dutch ovens." There were many huge rocks where I grew up in remote eastern San Diego County. I know of one of those boulders, just like the entrance to the Lost Dutch Oven Mine. We called it "split-rock." It was at least thirty feet high. As kids, we use to climb it from the uphill side and then jump across the top. As dangerous as it was, we did it barefooted, from one side to the other.

Isn't history strange; how a small Dutch oven became more prominent than a prominent landmark "as big as a house?" Or else, we would be looking for the "Lost Split Rock Mine" instead of the "Lost Dutch Oven Mine." But, if ever there was a pot of gold waiting to be found, it's gotta be the, "The Lost Dutch Oven"... a Pot 'O Gold at the end of the trail!

Ed Keenan © 2008

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    Fred Hollister Saturday, 03 December 2016

    The "Lost Dutch Oven" is a myth

    THE LOST DUTCH-OVEN MINE.

    from The Miner’s Guide; A Ready Handbook for the Prospector and Miner, by Horace J. West (Los Angeles: Second Edition – 1925)

    When the railroads built their transcontinental systems, some of their greatest difficulties lay in the supply of water for the men who were working on the projects. Great wagon-trains were frequently essential to bring sufficient of the supply to make work for a week at a time possible. Even after the completion of the roads there was difficulty in obtaining water for the purpose of supplying the engines or the little stations necessary wherever there was a siding.

    In order to secure water in abundance, the Santa Fe Railroad had ordered a tunnel bored in the Clipper Range, located in San Bernardino County from eight to ten miles northwest of Danby, the station to which it was to be piped if discovered in great quantity. This all happened within a score of years. The man who volunteered for the work, a competent mining man, who was well acquainted with the sinking of shafts and the boring of tunnels, was Thomas Schofield of Los Angeles.

    Tiring of work one day in early June of 1894, he started on a prospecting trip, something which he did whenever he felt in need of relaxation. He wandered into one of the canyons close at hand and discovered there a spring. What to him was more surprising and even startling was the trail that led up the canyon, stopping at the watering-place.

    The trail, at times very indistinct because of the solid rock formation, led over three or four small hills, the hog-back of two ranges and then into another canyon. This he followed until it ended in a blank wall and he realized that the trail had been lost. Going back a short distance he discovered it winding up the side of the hill. It led to two immense rocks, rivaling the towers of an old English castle. They seemed to form the portal to the wealth beyond, and nature had set them so closely together that they allowed just sufficient passageway to permit a burro well packed to enter.

    And just beyond the portal stood an isolated rock. There beside the black boulder of enormous size stood the shreds of what had been a camp. The wooden upright supports were still standing, and draped from them, floating in the breeze, were the shreds of what had been a tent. Brush had been carefully piled up around the sides. Inside there was a bench of boughs, still covered with a blanket, which was, like the tent covering, dilapidated and ragged. The stillness of the place and the fact that man had been making his habitation there struck Schofield like a blow from a fist.

    A pile of railroad ties, a number of rusty old axes which had been used as wedges for splitting the ties for lagging, a few other mining tools and some badly decomposed food still lay about the place, indicating very sudden abandonment of the camp by its owner. The most conspicuous of all things about the place was an old-fashioned, heavily rusted Dutch oven, the largest Schofield had ever seen and a trifle over two feet in diameter. So oppressive was the place and so nerve-racking the immediate strain, that he continued on the trail which led away from the camp.

    Just a short distance away he came to a shaft where considerable work had been done. It was sunk upon a series of small stringers that ran parallel to one another for a long distance and at intervals of about six inches. He counted twelve of these peculiar formations in the rock and they were of almost solid gold! He tested them, “horning” great strings of coarse gold.

    The surrounding ore was of an indigo-blue quartz formation, and “to me the stringers, passing through the dark porphyry, appeared a bed of roses of golden hues hidden in the depths of a giant bed of violets,” said Schofield in telling of his discovery. “I traced these lines of high-grade ore for a distance of nearly three thousand feet, and found them widening and enlarging as they went. They interested me so that I failed to notice for hours that the day was fast waning and that I would be forced to remain there over-night.

    “The mystery, the awe and even the fear of that night I shall never forget. Was I in the haunt of a robber crew who had found wealth far richer than could be obtained from their nefarious trade in the city? Had the owners been cruelly murdered and their wealth carried off by some one else? Was I the victim of some strange phantasmagoria, or would I waken to find all the wealth and the adventure of the day a dream? These and countless other suggestions coursed through my throbbing brain, and I slept little that night.

    “In the morning I explored the shaft at the first light of breaking sun above the jagged sky-line of broken peaks. I found that the shaft had been sunk to possibly seventy or eighty feet, and it was equipped with a windless, rope and bucket and that it had been well timbered all the way to the bottom. Outside I discovered a large pile of ore, indicative of the fact that little or none of the product of the mine had ever been carried away.

    “After gathering a number of fine samples and a large quantity of the horned gold, I went back to the camp and there again I was attracted by the Dutch oven. Something seemed to draw me to it. It contained gold! Half of it was full of the product and there was I unable to cart it away. All marks of those who resided there were of such an old stamp that I never thought whether it would be right or wrong. The idea of possession of so much wealth nearly overwhelmed me, and after grasping some of it I started back to the camp by the tunnel, planning a trip to Los Angeles to see whether it was really gold that I had found.”

    And when Schofield has his ore and his metal tested he found that it was the real article and that he had made himself richer by several hundred [1894] dollars with just the small amount he had been able to lug out on his person. It fired him with the desire to return at once and obtain all of the treasure if the right owners had not returned. But he has never been able to get back to the Dutch oven!

    In coming back from the mine he had paid little heed to the general direction taken. He had followed the trail blindly on his way up and again on his return journey. Consequently after a number of weeks, when he returned with a partner to look for the treasure and found that some terrific rains and even a waterspout had been ahead of him, his plans became hazy. The water had obliterated all signs of a trail and his knowledge of getting back was gone with it. He had forgotten the general direction, and in the years that have followed he has never been able to discover the towers of rock, the solitary mass of granite where the camp stood, or the mouth of the tunnel and the ore-heap that lay before it.

    He told friends and they in turn told others of the wonderful Dutch oven. In the annuals of mining, no one has ever heard of a wonderfully rich discovery in the Clipper Range. There are no mining men who speak of the place knowingly as having worked it or worked with those who had worked it. The camp remains a mystery, and were it not for the wealth the Schofield brought back with him, his story might never have gained the credence that it has. He is still living [1921-1925], and tells with great enthusiasm the manner of his discovery, but puts on the soft pedal when it comes to his loss. The gold would have meant so much in the worldly goods and his family’s comforts at this time.

    A Brief Glossary

    Horning: A miner’s horn spoon is a cow (or, back in the day, perhaps a buffalo) horn cut lengthwise and scraped thin. It is used to separate gold from the surrounding material. “The horn spoon is preferable to the gold pan or batea for prospecting, as being more convenient to carry (it can go in a pocket) and in use requires very little water, and does not fatigue the user by causing prolonged stooping.” Prospecting, Locating and Valuing Mines, by R.H. Stretch, E.M. (New York: 1899; Second Edition 1900), page 165.

    Lagging: Planking placed on top of or outside a “timber set.” The timber set consists of the vertical pillars and horizontal lintel supporting the ceiling of a mine shaft. The WPA Guide to 1930s Nevada, by the Nevada Writers’ Project of the Works Projects Administration (Reno & Las Vegas, Nevada: 1991 – Reprint of the 1940 1st Edition).

    Porphyry: An igneous rock in which relatively large, conspicuous crystals are set in a finer grained or glassy ground mass. Porphyries are generally named in accordance with their rock composition (for example, granite porphyry). The word porphyry is used by miners to mean almost any kind of igneous rocks, particularly one that is spotted, soft or light colored. The Miner’s Guide, page 73.

    Stringers: Small veins of ore often leading to larger and, consequently, more valuable veins (provided they are followed in the correct direction, of course). Stringers are also structural pieces of mine tunnel framing; that is not the way the word is used in Mr. West’s account.


    Further Reading

    This may well be the wildest (the least likely to be true) of all Mr. West’s stories. Beginning with Thomas Probert’s Lost Mines and Buried Treasures of the West (Berkeley, California: 1977) we find just over a page of possible sources. These include the usual suspects: Jack Black, Howard D. Clark, John D. Mitchell, Thomas Penfield, et. al. And a series of lesser-known treasure writers. Few of these books, pamphlets and articles are likely to add anything new to this tale, however.

    One could spend quite some time locating a copy of Robert G. Ferguson’s rare little pamphlet Camp Fire Tales of Lost Mines and Hidden Treasures (Privately printed by the Author: Tucson, Arizona – 1937) - reprinted over the years in various forms - only to read a version of this story straight out of The Miner’s Guide. The Summer 1971 issue of GOLD! Magazine contains the complete text of Ferguson’s work, with added nice period maps.

    Roger L. Wood’s article “Tales of Lost Gold” (The Treasure Hunter, Vol. 5, No. 6: July-August 1970) provides a brief version of the story that concludes with “It wasn’t until 1963 when 3 men from Utah, Joe Rambo, Ray Rambo, and Earl Dewitt, all of Salt Lake City found the long sought after mine a little north of Danby. Unfortunately the remaining ore in the mine wasn’t worth mining at the cost of miners wages and the low price of gold.”

    Two brief versions of the tale may be found in the interesting Gold in Placer; How to Find It – How To Get It; Desert Lore and Prospecting Experiences by Jack Douglas (San Jose, California: 1944, 1948) in the Chapter “Lost Placer Ground Stories.” Douglas wrote “That is the version of the story as told to me by an old desert rat near Barstow. Some contradictions to it appear in the version told me by a man named Williams, at Searchlight, Nevada, who claimed he was working for the railroad at Danby at the time.” Douglas was an experienced and successful gold prospector and miner, and he traveled to the area seeking The Lost Dutch Mine. His book is hard to find today.

    The most interesting references are to back issues of Hosstail Joe Small’s True West and Frontier Times. Happily, much of this material was reprinted in the more readily available GOLD! Magazines. For example, Walter H. Miller’s interview with Tom Scofield (that’s how his name is spelt in the article) may be found in “The Lost Dutch Oven Mine” (True West, Winter 1953 – Vol. 1, No. 3) and in GOLD! (Annual, 1969 – Vol. 1, No. 1). Apparently another interview with that gentleman was the basis for Rexford Bellamy’s October, 1941 article in Desert Magazine. He spelled the name “Schofield.”

    Bellamy’s article is summarized in Eugene Conrotto’s Lost Desert Bonanzas (Palm Desert, Calif: 1963) with the interesting final paragraph: “There is Dutch Oven Mine, and it is at the end of a trail exactly as described by Schofield. But, it is in the Old Woman Mountains, 20 miles south of the Clippers. The old man would neither confirm or deny that this was the very mine which he stumbled upon so many years ago.” This book also has a typically nice and useful Norton Allen map of the Clipper and Old Woman Mountains area. Dover Publications reprinted Conrotto’s book as Lost Gold and Silver Mines of the Southwest (New York: 1991). The smaller trade paperback format makes Norton Allen’s valuable maps much more difficult to read.

    The two most interesting items, however, are letters to the Editor reprinted in the first issue of GOLD! in a regular column titled “Pieces of Eight.” The first was submitted by the wonderfully named “Horse Face” Lassiter of Wise, Kansas, in response to an article written by Chick Oldham (“The Lost Dutch Oven Mine,” Frontier Times, Vol. 33, No. 4 – Fall 1959). Mr. Lassiter said the story was fiction created by Tom Scofield and sold to a newspaper for $50. And that Mr. Scofield confessed to the hoax to West Coast newspapers in [19]’45.

    The second letter was written by Charles Millen, following up on Horse Face’s epistle. The most pertinent sentence is “He (Tom Scofield) confided in Bill [“Hardrock” Hammond] and Karl [von Mueller] that the Dutch Oven was a figment of his imagination dreamed up during an interview with a ‘smart aleck’ reporter from the Los Angeles Times.” Mr. Millen goes on at some length about the successful treasure hunting exploits of KvonM.

    Karl von Mueller’s Encyclopedia of Buried Treasure Hunting (The Blue Book of Treasure Hunting) (San Francisco: 1990) says about the Lost Dutch Oven: “There are dozens of versions of this lost mine yarn.” He spells the protagonist’s name “Schofield,” by the way. In an interesting note, KvonM wrote “There is an actual Dutch Oven Mine in the Old Woman Mtns. SE of Danby…” In light of Mr. Millen’s letter, his insertion of the word “actual” is instructive. He cites the “LA Times, numerous articles,” as one of his sources, along with the October 1941 Desert Magazine article noted above.

    One final note. Who is Charles Millen? We return to KvonM’s EBTH and find “Millen, Charles G.: A lifetime pursuer of buried treasure and mineral wealth. He has endowed numerous charities with the fruits of his successes.”

    = 30 =

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