On the Trail & ‘Round the Campfire

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A Ghost Of A Town & A Barrel Of Gold

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Maybe a ghost town is literally an apparition. That is, maybe there is nothing to see. Maybe it's only in the eye of the beholder—only an imagination of its ghostly history.

Such is the case of the town of La Paz. It is only a ghost of a town. Did I say: A town? Yes. Since about 1900 you could walk down Main Street and not know it. You might even walk past the town well with its pull-rope and water bucket and never see it. You might wander around town for hours and never notice the crumbled adobe walls of more than two hundred houses. You might not even observe that nearly two thousand people lived right here where you are standing.

Formerly known, as Pot Holes it is the boomtown town of La Paz— no not La Paz Mexico, but La Paz, Arizona. It was the county seat of Yuma County Arizona from 1862 to 1870. Unless you know what you are looking for, there is scarcely little left to see of the old boomtown. Deserted, it quickly became overgrown with the desert wilderness of arrow-weed, mesquite, salt cedars, cactus and Antelope Jackrabbits.

The town of La Paz was situated on the on the eastern side of the banks of the Colorado River, about fifty miles north of Yuma. That is some 20 miles north east of Blythe Junction, California.

La Paz is Spanish for "Peace." Originally, it was named Laguna de La Paz. It sprang up almost overnight in 1862 when an explorer and trapper by the name of Pauline Weaver discovered placer gold in a sheltered lagoon (laguna) on the banks of the Colorado. The placers at Gila City were about washed out and so some 1200 miners soon moved upstream to La Paz. Steamers, that plied the river from Yuma, began making regular stops there. The steamboats dropped off cargo and supplies to be hauled inland to the communities of Prescott and Wickenburg.

Mines sprung up like mesquite brush shanties all around La Paz. At one time, it is said that more than 7000 miners were searching for their fortune of gold dust in the surrounding hills. So, the town was geared up to serve the miners sluicing and washing their gold. La Paz even contended for the right to become the territorial capital, losing by a very narrow margin to Prescott.

But the placer mines soon began petering out, and by 1863 they were mostly exhausted. The thousands of miners began moving out in search of riches elsewhere— just like they moved out of Gila City—here today gone tomorrow.

But because La Paz was the county seat, it hung on as a steamboat stop and a major shipping town. However, the mighty Colorado River had other notions for La Paz. Every spring the peace of La Paz was badly disturbed because it was subject to severe flooding. Natural adobe buildings don't do well under those conditions—they melt like sugar!

So it was— that during the spring of 1870, the Colorado River went on a rampage. It rose up in a mighty flood and carved itself a new channel about a mile to the west of La Paz. By changing its course, the glory of La Paz was now isolated and landlocked. Cut off from the river, it was no longer a steamboat stop. Except for a few hangers-on it had no need of people and in a few years became a ghost town. The flood of 1910 wiped out what was left of the once booming city. The settlement of Ehrenberg six miles to the south (also now a ghost town) became the new river town. Abandoned, La Paz lived up to its name when the river finally buried the bustling boomtown, leaving it to rest in peace like a lost lagoon.

But there were crusty old miners that would not give up. It seems there have always been such kind of folks that are still looking for their fortune in the nearby hills. As late as 1930 a couple of placers were still being worked and a mill was working up to WW2. But, La Paz itself was long gone.

Like a ghostly apparition, La Paz remains a mirage—nothing to see— but if you were to look real careful in the mesquite brush, you may find the foundations of some old adobe houses. You might even find the old well not too far from the center of town. If you use your imagination and stand on a hillock, you may sense that you are standing on the site of the old general store. And, herein hangs a tale. Yes, it is here, within this old store that a real tale lies buried.

It seems that two men owned the general store until a terrible spring flood came and swept it all away. One of the men drowned in the flood. However, in anticipation of the flood, the two men had hurriedly buried a barrel full of gold and gold coins under the store. After the floodwaters receded, whoever survived was to return and retrieve the barrel of gold. This was no ordinary spring flood it was a real gully washer. So it wiped out everything and even changed the appearance of the landscape. For days and weeks and months the lone survivor dug here and dug there, but all in vain. Digging hole after hole, he could not find— and never did find— his fortune of gold in a barrel.

Over the years this tale has been told hundreds of times, over hundreds of campfires by hundreds of believers and liars alike. Maybe the tale of the barrel of money began as a coffee can of gold and grew to a lard can and then a pickle barrel. Maybe the barrel was a powder keg or a whiskey drum. Whatever it was, perhaps there is some truth to it. There are those today that still strongly believe in the story and spend time and technology on metal detectors, probes, four-wheel drives and shovels searching and digging for the barrel of cash in and around the ghost of La Paz.

Ah, yes! La Paz. Maybe, by now an historical marker has been planted nearby with the epitaph: "Here lies the ruins of "Peace." But, to the fortune hunter and desert lover, La Paz is not gone—her peace still remains—and so does the lore of her barrel of gold.

Could it be only just an apparition? Maybe. Maybe, it's all in the eye of the beholder—in the imagination of her boomtown history and ghostly peace—Laguna de La Paz.

© Ed Keenan

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  • Guest
    Patricia Rivera Friday, 22 June 2018

    La Paz family

    My Great-Great Grandparent's were from La Paz. Peter Doll from Prussia & Delfina Soto from Hermosillo (Sonora) Mexico were married there 1867/1868. Left there 1873 to Ehrenberg.

  • Guest
    Patricia Rivera Friday, 22 June 2018

    La Paz family

    I don't know when Great-Great Gr'ma Delfina came to La Paz (born 1850 Hermosillo) but Great-Great Gr'pa Peter was their at least by 1864. He served on the 2nd Legislative Assembly.

  • Guest
    Kenneth Mead Wednesday, 26 September 2018

    Family in La Paz

    Thank you for the write up, Ed. My great-great-great-great grandparents who traveled from Sacramento lived in La Paz until at least 1880. The 1880 census lists four families still hanging around. The head of the family, my distant grandfather, Joseph Martinez, is listed as a placer miner.

  • Guest
    D Thursday, 18 October 2018

    There is truly nothing left to find.

    I spent two entire days of my life searching and found the right area. Do NOT follow the GPS coordinates online, they are the opposite direction of the townsite. There are no foundations left to be found and anything interesting was long ago buried deeper than even an expensive metal detector could help out with. I did a lot of hiking and detecting. May try again some day.

  • Guest
    Patricia Rivera Thursday, 07 February 2019

    La Paz Ghost Town

    Hi Ed. When you have the spare time, would you email me how you found it since GPS isn't reliable? I sure appreciate it. Thanks so much ;) Pat R

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