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The Lost Nummel Silver


In the annals of mining history there are only a very few men who have been lucky enough to strike it rich. Most of the prospectors who wandered the mountains and deserts of the American West in search of riches came away empty-handed. But on occasion there was that rare individual who defied all the odds and discovered not one but two (or more) major deposits in his lifetime. Probably the most famous of these extraordinary prospectors was Shorty Harris, who combed the Death Valley region of California for mineral riches. Shorty discovered the famous Bullfrog lode at Rhyolite and then followed it up with a major discovery of gold ore near Harrisburg.

Another famous prospector who made his mark on the American Southwest was Jacob Snively. Snively was responsible for the first real gold rush in Arizona. In 1858, a member of his prospecting party discovered rich deposits of placer gold near the Gila River, about 20 miles above its junction with the Colorado River. A few years later, Snively discovered extremely rich lead and silver deposits on the west flank of the Castle Dome Mountains, near Castle Dome Peak. In 1863, Snively became the first American prospector to locate silver in the Trigo Mountains. He was looking for gold, but found several outcrops of silver-bearing galena instead.

Another prospector who became famous for his incredible skill in locating major mineral deposits was Jose Maria Mendivil. This Mexican prospector discovered the rich Apache lode at Picacho and then located the famous Clip Mine in the Trigo Mountains of Arizona. The Clip Mine turned out to be the biggest silver producer in the Trigo District.

The Trigo Mountains were home to another extraordinary prospector and mining man named John Nummel. Nummel also made two significant mineral discoveries, one of gold and one of silver, but in both cases was unable to relocate his find. During the early 1930's, John Nummel lived in a cabin on the Colorado River, a few miles northwest of Norton's Landing. At the time, he worked as a caretaker of the famous Red Cloud Mine, located in the Trigo Mountains. Nummel routinely hiked back and forth from his cabin to the mine. He would frequently alter his route, prospecting for gold and silver along the way. One day. On his way back from the mine, he stumbled on some rich silver-bearing float. Nummel collected some of the richest specimens and continued home. Of course, when he eventually tried to relocate the float he was unable to find it. He scoured the rugged country between the Red Cloud Mine and his cabin but never found the location of the float again.


The mining history of the lower Colorado River country extends back to the early Spaniards. Evidence of early Spanish mining activity has been discovered in nearly every mountain range in the American Southwest. When American prospectors entered the lower Colorado River country they found many old mines and prospect pits already in place.

The first real gold rush in Arizona occurred in 1858. Rich deposits of placer gold were discovered 20 miles above the mouth of the Gila River by a prospector and adventurer named Jacob Snively. The next few years witnessed many rich strikes in the lower Colorado River country of southwest Arizona. 1862 in particular was a momentous year. In that year, the rich gold fields of La Paz were discovered by an old mountain man named Paulino Weaver. Nearly $8 million worth of gold was recovered from these placers. Some of the nuggets were huge; a prospector named Don Juan Ferra found a 55 ounce nugget in one of the gulches east of La Paz. In 1862, the rich lead and silver deposits of the Castle Dome District were also discovered. This district produced thousands of tons of lead and small amounts of silver. One of the mines was developed on a 5-foot wide ledge of silver-bearing galena!

Most of the silver produced in the lower Colorado River basin has come from the Trigo Mountains, north of Yuma. The southernmost portion of the Trigo Mountains in particular is richly mineralized and contains many mines. Silver was always king in this part of Arizona. Indeed, the Trigo District was originally called the "Silver District" by early miners. Several important mines were located in the area including the Black Rock, Pacific, Clip, Red Cloud, and Papago mines. Most of these mines were discovered in the late 1870's. The Clip Mine was the biggest silver producer in the district. The first ore samples assayed out at 70 ounces of silver per ton of ore. The mine continued to produce rich ores for a number of years; finally in 1888 the mine closed down.

The Red Cloud Mine was discovered in 1878 by a prospector named Warren Hammond. This mine was worked sporadically throughout the 1880's. The paying ore was silver-bearing galena and there was a lot of it! The original deposit contained nearly 2 million cubic feet of productive ore. The mineralized zone is fault controlled and consists of brecciated andesite that ranges up to 36 feet in thickness! Wulfenite is one of the accompanying and minor lead ores. The Red Cloud Mine is the home of some of the world's finest wulfenite. The famous collector Ed Over discovered outstanding wulfenite crystals here in 1938.

Small placers have been worked in the dry washes and arroyos of the Trigo Mountains for many years. At least as early as 1866, miners were recovering gold from the sands and gravels that drape the west flank of the Trigos. Modern-day metal-detecting prospectors can find placer gold in many of the alluvial deposits in and around the Trigo Mountains. One location that has yielded small nuggets lies in the North Trigo Peaks. The reddish-colored, cemented gravels of Weaver Wash are the most productive. This location lies approximately 30 miles north-northeast of Nummel's old stomping grounds.