Prospectors have to be the eternal optimists. How else can one explain their dogged persistence in seeking out rich veins of precious metal? Only a very few individuals are lucky enough to make a big strike. The majority of the prospectors who combed the mountains and deserts of the American Southwest never found a thing. Most of them ended up working in somebody else's mine. But in the annals of mining history there are a remarkable few who have made not just one, but two (or more) major strikes in their lifetimes!
Probably the most famous of these extraordinary mining men was the Death Valley prospector named "Shorty" Harris. "Shorty" discovered the rich Bullfrog lode at Rhyolite and then followed it up with a second strike in the Panamint Range, near Harrisburg.
Another famous prospector who made his mark on Arizona mining history was Jacob Snively. In 1858, a party of prospectors led by Jacob Snively discovered rich gold deposits near the Gila River, some 20 miles above its junction with the Colorado. This discovery precipitated the first real gold rush in Arizona. Jacob Snively seems to have been the first American prospector to stumble on the massive lead and silver deposits near Castle Dome Peak. This discovery probably occurred in 1862. During the early 1860's, prospectors were only interested in gold so the Castle Dome lead deposits were forgotten for the time being. Jacob Snively is also famous for being the first American to discover silver in the Trigo Mountains. Like the Castle Dome lead deposits, the Trigo silver lodes laid dormant till the 1870's.
The Mexican prospector Jose Maria Mendivil was also famous for making two big strikes in the lower Colorado River country of Arizona and California. Mendivil discovered the rich Apache lode at Picacho and then made one of the biggest silver strikes in southwest Arizona. Mendivil's Clip Mine produced more silver than any other mine in the Trigo District.
The old mountain man Paulino Weaver also figures prominently in the mining history of Arizona. In 1862, Weaver discovered several gold nuggets in a dry arroyo at the foot of La Paz Mountain, near the Colorado River. A major gold rush ensued and the La Paz diggings became famous for their richness. The following year, Weaver led a prospecting party up the Hassayampa River to the incredibly rich gold deposits of Rich Hill. This turned out to be the richest placer gold discovery in Arizona mining history.
John Nummel was another remarkable mining man and prospector of the lower Colorado River country. Nummel prospected the Trigo Mountains and surrounding ranges for many years. During the early 1930's, he worked at the famous Red Cloud Mine as a miner and caretaker. John Nummel eventually died in the Old Pioneer's Home in Prescott, Arizona in 1948. After a long and hard life of prospecting and mining, Nummel died virtually penniless. But he did achieve a certain amount of fame during his lifetime. John Nummel also discovered two rich deposits, one of gold and one of silver, but unfortunately lost them both.
The Fortuna Mine is located on the western flank of the Gila Mountains, some 40 miles south of the Trigos. One day in the early 1900's, John Nummel decided to visit the Fortuna Mine and prospect the surrounding country along the way. He was on his way to the mine when he stopped to rest somewhere near Yuma Wash, located in the southern part of the Chocolate range. At his feet was a ledge of native gold in yellow quartz! He collected some of the richest float and continued on his way to the Fortuna Mine. When Nummel eventually tried to relocate the gold ledge, he was unable to find it. He spent most of his remaining years trying to find that lost vein of gold.
The history of mining in the American Southwest extends back centuries to Pre-Columbian times. Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards in 1540, the Indians of North America were utilizing native copper and turquoise for ornaments and malachite, azurite, and hematite for paints and pigments. When the Spaniards arrived in the New World they discovered many Pre-Columbian mining sites. The Spaniards themselves were exceptional miners and prospectors. In 1582, the Espejo expedition discovered rich silver deposits in the mountains of central Arizona, near present-day Jerome. By the late 1700's, Spanish prospectors had combed nearly every mountain range in the American Southwest.
After the Mexican Revolution, a wave of Mexican miners and prospectors poured into the lower Colorado River country. Some of the old Spanish mines were reopened, but many new deposits were discovered. The Spanish and Mexican prospectors left many signs of their work. When the Americans first entered the area, they found abundant evidence of early Spanish and Mexican mining activity. The American prospectors simply filed claims on the old mines and prospect pits.
American prospectors were responsible for the first real gold rush in Arizona. In 1858, the Gila gold placers were discovered by a prospecting party led by Jacob Snively. That discovery opened the floodgates. American prospectors scoured the mountains and deserts of Arizona in search of mineral wealth. The 1860's witnessed big strikes in the Bradshaw Mountains, Castle Dome Mountains, and Trigo Mountains. The La Paz District and the fabulous Rich Hill deposits were all discovered in the early 1860's. By the 1880's, most of the really big deposits had been located but in 1894 the rich Fortuna vein was discovered on the west flank of the Gila Mountains. The Fortuna Mine produced some $3 million in gold during its first decade of operation.