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The Lost Gold Mine of the Aravaipa


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During the early 1870's, the Arizona frontier was in a state of siege. The Apache Indians were on the rampage, raiding even within the city limits of Tucson. Of course, not every Apache band was engaged in hostilities at this time. In the spring of 1871, the main band of the Aravaipa Apache was camped near old Camp Grant, located at the junction of Aravaipa Creek and the San Pedro River. This peaceful band of Apaches was led by the famous chief Eskiminzin. The soldiers stationed at Camp Grant were commanded by a young lieutenant named Royal Whitman. As the spring of 1871 drew to a close, Whitman and the Apaches came to trust each other. The Apaches traded and worked at the camp and received food and supplies from the camp commissary.

The presence of the Aravaipas at Camp Grant did not go unnoticed in Tucson. As Apache d epredations continued throughout the Southwest, it galled the citizens of Tucson that the Aravaipas were allowed to camp near the army post, trading and receiving rations and supplies. It was also suspected that the Aravaipas were harboring Apache raiders from other bands. Consequently, a small civilian army made up of 6 Americans, 48 Mexicans, and 94 Papago Indians descended on the Aravaipa camp and worked a slaughter on the Indians. The attackers killed 132 Apaches, most of them women and children.

It was a great loss for the Apache nation. But the Aravaipas lost something else to the white men that year - the secret of their hidden gold mine. Only in this case, the white men had very little time to enjoy it.

It had been rumored for many years that the Aravaipas possessed a rich gold mine. Sometimes the Indians used gold nuggets to pay for goods at the local trading post. One day a white squawman known only as "Yuma" learned of the Aravaipa treasure while trading with some Apache Indians. Yuma eventually bribed one of the Aravaipa chiefs to show him the mine, even though it would mean death for both of them if caught. The Apache eventually led the squawman to a "crater-like depression" within a deep arroyo. The bottom of the depression was littered with pieces of shale. As the Indian scraped away the loose shale debris, a rich vein of gold-bearing rose quartz was revealed. It was a dream come true for the old squawman. When Yuma eventually returned to Tucson, he took on a partner named Crittenden. The two returned to the mine, which apparently lies within a day's ride of old Camp Grant, and recovered a large amount of gold ore. They sold the gold in Tucson for a fortune. Yuma was killed by Papago Indians soon after. Apparently Crittenden tried to return to the mine but was never seen again.

One account of the story places the lost mine on the western slope of the Galiuro Mountains. Another account has the mine located just west of the San Pedro valley, in the rugged Tortilla Mountains.


The history of mining in the American Southwest extends back to Pre-Columbian times. Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards in 1540, the Indians were mining native copper and turquoise for ornaments and malachite, azurite, cinnabar, and hematite for paints and pigments. Various clays and natural ochres were also utilized by the Indians.

The Spaniards were outstanding miners and prospectors. They were also very adept at locating old Indian workings. Spanish prospectors eventually combed most of the desert country of New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Their heyday in the American Southwest occurred during the 1700's.

During the first half of the 19th century, Mexican miners and prospectors poured into the area in search of mineral wealth. The Mexican miner was highly skilled and many times showed uncanny ability in locating ore deposits. Many rich strikes were recorded by Mexican prospectors in California and Arizona.


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The second half of the 19th century witnessed a new wave of prospectors - the Americans. It was an American prospecting party that ignited the first real gold rush in Arizona. The year was 1858 and the discovery occurred on the Gila River, 20 miles above its junction with the Colorado River. The floodgates opened and a horde of American prospectors began to scour the mountains and deserts of Arizona for gold. During the 1860's gold was king in Arizona. Prospectors searched for nothing else. Huge strikes were made in the La Paz District, the Vulture Mountains, and at Rich Hill. The 1870's and 1880's were the "silver years" in Arizona. A number of major strikes occurred throughout southern Arizona, including the silver chloride deposits at Superior and the silver-bearing galena deposits of the Trigo Mountains.

The nearest mining district to the area of interest is the Mammoth District, located about 10 miles south-southeast of Camp Grant. Nearly a half million ounces of gold were recovered from the Mammoth mines.