The Gospel Truth (Part 1)

We've all heard the "Gold is where you find it" saying over and over and over again. But the truth of the matter is that gold isn't the only metal or mineral that can be found "where it is." The same is true for silver, copper, iron, and so on. Yet it's the historical record of gold discoveries that concerns you and I, and often it's a difficult task to know exactly where fact and fiction coincide or divide when it comes to the "truth" of famous (and not-so-famous) gold and silver finds.

"True Believers"

It's very easy for us to accept as the Gospel truth whatever someone tells us when it comes to the finding of gold. This was as true in the past as it is today. You see, we're all blinded by the glow of the yellow metal to some degree or another and in a sense, we're all "true believers" when it comes to the cult of gold. Moreover, we want to believe. That's part of the Golden Dream that drives us forward day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. At the same time, however, we all know that tall tales and questionable legends crop up any time we're talking about precious metals finds. Miners tend to over-inflate things a bit in this regard so the real truth of the matter is is often lost or covered up by a heavy blanket of suppositions and half-truths. Here are a few examples of what I'm talking about.

Glittering in the Sunlight?

It's said the the Spanish conquistadores first became aware of Bolivia's richness in precious metals in 1545 when a native named Diego Hualca was chasing a goat up a high mountain and reached for a bush on a ledge as a handhold. Of course, the bush came out by its roots and as history (or word-of-mouth legend) has it, Diego was astonished to see masses of silver "glittering" among those very same roots. Let's stop for a second here. Natural silver does not glitter, just as its more valuable cousin gold does not. We all know that gold is like the sun, it glows a rich yellow no matter how long it has remained in a stream or vein. Nor does gold tarnish. Natural silver, on the other hand, oxidizes with time and, for the most part, is nearly unrecognizable as such until it's polished up or processed. So much for Diego's silver masses glittering in the sunlight. And what about losing his handhold while chasing that goat up a steep mountainside in Bolivia? Risky business, that. The upshot? Well, legend (or historical fact?) has it that Diego's find led to to the discovery of one of the richest (if not the richest) silver lodes in all of South America, the San Luis Potosi mine. I want you to remember this description of the finding of silver at Potosi as we move ahead in this series of posts and discuss a gold find right here in New Mexico not far from my home.

(San Luis Potosi Mine. This steep mountainside is where Diego Hualca found silver.)

"Hangtown Grit"

Four years before the U.S. Civil War would take over half a million lives, U.S. General Albert Sidney Johnston discharged a group of teamsters from service at Fort Bridger, Wyoming Territory. As a historical note General Johnston would later serve in command of Confederate troops at the bloody Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee where he was struck my a minie ball in the leg and bled out, becoming one of those half million who lost their lives fighting "brother against brother." Anyway, that group of teamsters headed south to what is now the Denver area. Getting drunker than skunks one day after finding some cached barrels of whiskey near two fresh graves while camped, the teamsters decided to have a horse race with the end result that a teamster named Nate Ax went ass over tea kettle when his horse fell after stumbling in a prairie dog hole. According to history (or legend?) Nate had been in on the first gold discoveries at Hangtown, California (now the City of Placerville) and knew something about gold and gold-bearing gravels. After finding himself doing a face plant right next to another prairie dog hole he spied placer gold scattered among the gravel that those little beasts had excavated from their hole. "Boys!" He shouted to his compatriots. "This here looks like Hangtown grit!" This is how, supposedly, a mini-gold rush began in the streams around Denver, including Cherry Creek. In case you're wondering about the cached whiskey it certainly sounds like a tall tale. But the fact of the matter is that in those days many trappers and traders cached their goods in the ground for safekeeping, so who knows?

 (Albert Sidney Johnston.)

Amazing Assays

In 1900 a desert rat and erstwhile rancher by the name of Jim Butler was prospecting for lode gold and silver in the vicinity of what is now Tonopah, Nevada when his mule became unruly and kicked the cap off a ledge of rock exposing some of the richest silver ore ever found in the American West. Butler wasn't exactly sure of the value of his find so he took samples from the site of the discovery and had them assayed. The assay results were astonishing...$600.00 (USD) per ton of ore. Eventually, the mine discovered by Jim Butler's mule would produce over 5,000,000 tons of silver, gold, copper, and lead ore to the tune of over a billion dollars at today's metals prices. Twenty seven years later a desert rat was prospecting in the badlands north of Tonopah when he came across some interesting looking dirt excavated from a badger hole. Bagging some of this dirt up as samples, Horton returned to Tonopah to have it assayed where the results were in the thousand dollar per ton range for silver and gold and the Weepah Rush was on.

 (Belmont Mine at Tonopah circa 1913.)

Starting to get the drift here? There's no doubt that precious metals were found at these various locations but the heart of the matter is exactly how they were found. We'll take another look at this in the next post, including an interesting connection to the "supposed" finding of the the San Luis Potosi mine in Bolivia.

Until then, keep smiling!

(c) Jim Rocha 2018

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