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The Lost Wagoner Mine


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Shrouded in mystery and home to a number of lost gold mines, the Superstition Mountains rise up from the desert floor only 35 miles east of Phoenix, Arizona. Once known as the Salt River Mountains, the rugged Superstition range contains some of the most forbidding country in North America. Two famous landmarks tower over the surrounding hills and canyons, Weaver's Needle and Miner's Needle. Weaver's Needle is a narrow pinnacle of rock that juts up into the sky at the heads of Needle Canyon and East Boulder Canyon. It was named for the famous mountain man and prospector Paulino Weaver and figures prominently in the story of the legendary Lost Dutchman Mine. Miner's Needle lies 3 miles southeast of Weaver's Needle, near the head of Whitlow Canyon. It rises to an elevation of 3648 feet (905 feet less than Weaver's Needle) and is also associated with the Lost Dutchman Mine. In addition, Miner's Needle is connected to at least two other lost gold mines in the area. One of them was discovered by a prospector known only as Wagoner in the early 1890's.

During the early 1890's, Wagoner lived in the old ore milling town of Pinal City. The mill, which served the rich silver mines at nearby Superior, also processed ore from other mines in the area. Wagoner saw many examples of rich ore while at Pinal City. He started prospecting the surrounding mountains, eventually working his way to the rugged Superstition range.

Wagoner spent a lot of time in those mountains. One day he found himself on the northern edge of the range, near Tortilla Flat. Wagoner decided to cut straight through the Superstitions, using La Barge Canyon as his trail. On the second day of the journey, he found himself skirting the famous landmark known as Miner's Needle. Wagoner continued southward and then made the discovery of his life. Somewhere along the southern slope of the range, he stumbled on an outcrop of gold-bearing rose quartz! Wagoner filled his pack with ore and resumed his journey southward, eventually arriving in Pinal City where he sold the ore and celebrated his good fortune. He returned to the ledge several times, always entering the mountains just north of the Whitlow Ranch (near present-day Queen Valley). Eventually Wagoner left the territory, but not before concealing the mine with rocks and debris. He never returned to the area and no one has ever found the mine.


The history of mining in this part of Arizona extends back to the days of the Spaniards and early Mexicans. In 1582, gold and silver was discovered in the mountains of central Arizona by the Espejo expedition. The following years would see many such discoveries. Spanish and then Mexican prospectors scoured the American Southwest for mineral wealth. The Superstition Mountains and surrounding country contain abundant evidence of their early mining activities. Old mine shafts, prospect pits, and arrastres dot the landscape.

The rich Mammoth Mine was discovered in 1893 in the old granite mountains that rise up just to the northwest of the Superstitions. The richest pocket in the Mammoth Mine became known as the Mormon Stope. It produced bonanza ore! In 1949, an ancient mine shaft was discovered hidden under a slab of rock less than ten feet from the Mormon Stope. Rich pockets of gold ore still remained in the old shaft. In the Superstition Mountains, Spanish or early Mexican blaze marks have been discovered on Black Top Mesa. The symbols are carved on large boulders and appear to be quite old. Sometimes, just barely discernible, the Spanish term "oro" can be made out on the surface of the rock. Nearby, on the north side of Palomino Mountain, an old primitive arrastre was found.

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American prospectors entered the scene in the middle of the 19th century. The initial wave occurred in 1849, but most of these men were simply passing through on their way to California. The first real gold rush didn't occur until 1858 when the Gila diggings were discovered by American prospectors. But then the floodgates opened. The 1860's became known as the "Age of Gold" in Arizona as huge strikes were made throughout the territory. The following two decades became the "Age of Silver" as the white metal replaced the rarer gold. Finally, the greatest boom of all occurred in Arizona, that of copper mining. In the final analysis, copper would far outstrip both gold and silver in total production.

The nearest mining district to the Superstition Mountains is the Goldfield District, located only a few miles northwest of the range. Originally worked by Spanish miners, the Goldfield deposits were rediscovered by American prospectors in the 19th century. The first claim was filed in 1886, but it wasn't until 1893 that the biggest strike of all was made. The spring of 1893 was a rainy one in central Arizona. In April of that year, a huge downpour exposed a massive deposit of gold-bearing quartz in an area that had already been heavily prospected. The ore body became known as the Mammoth Mine and the boom town that sprang up nearby was called Goldfield. Unfortunately, the mine was flooded out in 1897 and the boom town faded away.