On the Trail & ‘Round the Campfire
Welcome to my little diversion from the daily grind. Pull up a log or, just sit on yer’ fist and lean back on yer’ thumb (put a smiley face here) and let’s share a moment. I’ll throw another blog in the fire every now and then and, we’ll chew the fat about such mundane things as birds, nature, cowboys and the southwest, USA. I may even wax poetic or philosophical occasionally, but always honoring our creator. If you like something you read, please leave yer’ tracks.
The Lost Pot of Gold
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!