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The Lost Mine of the Little Horn Mountains


The remote Little Horn range of southwest Arizona stretches for about 15 miles in a northwest-southeast direction and straddles the La Paz and Yuma county line. The Little Horns lie directly east of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge and are surrounded by a number of other important mountain chains. The Kofa Mountains are located about 10 miles west of the Little Horns while the Tank Mountains lie 15 miles due south. The Eagletail range looms 12 miles to the east while the Little Harquahala Mountains lie some 20 miles north of the Little Horn range. The Kofa Mountains and the Little Harquahala Mountains are both home to several very famous mines in Arizona history. The Kofa Mountains are unique in that they harbor Arizona's only species of native palm tree, the California Fan Palm. The trees are most abundant in Palm Canyon but a few small stands occur in the nearby canyons. The origin of these anomalous palm groves is still a mystery.

The story of the Lost Mine of the Little Horn Mountains springs from an act of kindness. During the early 1800's, the sleepy Spanish province of California was governed by a man named Juan Bautista Alvarado. Years later, after he retired, Alvarado moved to the Gila River valley in Arizona. Alvarado proved to be a friend to the neighboring Tonto Apaches. That friendship was not easily earned but this kind man won over the local Indians with his generosity. Eventually that kindness was repaid by one of the Tonto warriors. One day the Indian presented Alvarado with several rich gold-bearing specimens of ore and offered to lead the old Spaniard to "the richest mine in the world!" The ore was native gold in a rusty, dark red matrix and was very rich indeed. An expedition was soon organized which set off northward from Palomas, Arizona into the wilderness. Somewhere near the Little Horn Mountains, the Indian led them to a ledge of heavy, reddish ore studded with gold. Unfortunately, this was Alvarado's only trip to the mine. He was simply too old to develop it himself, but his son tried many times to find the ledge. He was never able to locate it, nor has anyone else.


Although the Little Horn Mountains themselves harbor no major mining operations, the surrounding ranges are home to several famous mines. The closest lies in the Kofa Mining District, located about 15 miles east-northeast of the Little Horn Mountains. The Kofa District was primarily a lode district. Most of the recorded gold came from two major lode mines, the North Star Mine and the King of Arizona Mine. The King of Arizona Mine produced more gold than any other single mine in southwest Arizona. The famous King of Arizona vein was discovered by a prospector named Charles E. Eichelberger who found the lode in a cave in the Kofa Mountains. The ore was amazingly rich. A boom town quickly sprang up near the mine - it was named Kofa (short for King of Arizona). Unfortunately, the ore bodies became progressively poorer with depth. Initial assays of $500 of gold per ton dwindled down to $3 a ton by the end of mining operations. The King of Arizona Mine was closed down in 1910, and the town of Kofa is now only a memory.

The North Star Mine is located about 2 miles north of the King of Arizona Mine. It was discovered by a prospector named Felix Mayhew who found the vein in an area that had been heavily prospected for years. In this case, a heavy downpour had exposed the vein in the side of a canyon! Mayhew sold the North Star Mine in 1907; four years later the mine closed down after producing more than a million dollars worth of ore.

Many gulches in the southern and northeastern parts of the Kofa Mountains are said to contain gold-bearing gravels. The gold-bearing rubble consists of boulders, cobbles, and gravel-sized fragments of metamorphic and volcanic rocks. The gold is coarse and occurs near bedrock. The best deposits were found in a gulch located just north of the King of Arizona Mine. Some $40,000 worth of placer gold was taken from this gulch by 1914.

A unique gold-bearing formation is said to crop out near Alamo Springs, located in the northeastern part of the Kofa Mountains. The ore body is rumored to be a gold- bearing conglomerate, similar to the famous Witwaterstrand deposits of South Africa.

The Little Harquahala Mountains lie some 20 miles north-northeast of the Little Horn range. They are a southern outlier of the main Harquahala mountain chain and are home to the famous Harquahala Mine. The Harquahala Mountains have an old and venerable mining history. In 1762, Spanish prospectors discovered rich gold deposits in these mountains. The ore bodies were abandoned for 50 years and then reworked for a short period of time in 1814. By the mid-1800's, American prospectors were scouring the Arizona mountains for mineral wealth. Rumors of gold in the Harquahalas circulated around the Arizona frontier for many years before the first big strike in 1888. In that year, Harry Watton, Robert Stein, and Mike Sullivan discovered the fabulously rich Gold Mountain ore body. This immense formation later became known as the Harquahala Bonanza Mine. The mine did quite well for 10 years but by 1894, most of the richest ore was gone.

Although the Harquahala Mine was the richest mine in the area, it was not the first. The Socorro Mine, located 6 miles southeast of Wenden, was first worked in 1882. The town of Harrisburg sprang up 4 miles west of the Socorro Mine, near an old water hole used by early emigrants and 49'ers on their way to California. The Harquahala Mine is very close to the old site of Harrisburg. Another famous lost lode, the Lost Duppa Mine, is said by some accounts to be located in the Penehatchapee Pass area, about 2 miles east of Harrisburg.

The weathered range known as the Tank Mountains lies about 15 miles south of the Little Horns. Gold was first discovered here in the early 1870's but the richest gravels were quickly depleted. The deposits have been worked intermittently since their discovery.

The Sheep Tank Mine is located about 20 miles northeast of the Kofa District, near the Little Horn Mountains. It was discovered in 1909 by a prospector named J.G. Wetterhall. The mine produced nearly a quarter of a million dollars in gold and silver before its demise in 1934.