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Joaqu�n Murieta

Lost Gold and Buried Loot
northern California

and lost mines of California
Fact, Folklore and Fantasy
concerning 110 Sites of Hidden Wealth
by R. A. Pierce
Berkeley CA 1964
[first ed 1959]

Legends of treasure are often vague; some started out that way, and others have become so in the course of time. Various problems lie behind this, such as the frailty of human memory, the fact that on occasion the individual who knows the location best has died, and finally there is the problem that in the Old West, many mountains and valleys and natural features looked like very similar such features in the surrounding terrain, making rediscovery difficult, even with the best directions. Settlements sometimes lasted, often did not. Even boom towns in the heyday of the gold stampede have sometimes vanished with their only memory etched on Old West maps of the area -- veritable ghost towns! What traces still exist of the today, for the hardy hiker and back-packer?

Northern California and southern Oregon abound with tales of treasure lost and found, buried or hastily cached, or secreted only to be vainly sought at a later time. Itching ears of gold-hungry miners round campfires were regaled by the half-drunk weavers of tantalizing accounts of lost loot, hidden hoards, and dreams of wealth beyond imagining.

Looting the looters, where's the harm in that?

In early California history, the mad rush for gold was scarcely over when sheer larceny in the heart of man attracted the lowest passions of greed and gold lust. The banditto Joaqu�n Murieta was the real Zorro, but a gold-addicted one. His obsession was unquenchable. No, he was hardly the glorified Robin Hood that some made him, but he truly seemed to have had a good heart, despite his viciousness to his enemies. Plundering and looting became a way of life, fueled by his own greed, and even though his reputation for giving away silver and gold and gems to those whose hardship happened to touch his heart, he was also a remorseless robber and bandit, and a very successful one. Born on the Stanislaus River, he did not begin his life of crime till [1850], in 1851Joaqu�n Murieta and his gang settled about three miles north of Marysville. Later, with vigilantes closing in on them, they slipped away and hid in the wildlands near Mount Shasta (present Siskiyou County). But their lust for gold and glory got the best of them, and they soon were back in the thick of looting in the hustle and bustle of gold rush California.

Joaqu�n Murieta and his gang were often known to hide their stolen loot in the area of their robberies. On one occasion Murieta and his right-hand man, Manual Garcia, known as "Three-Fingered Jack, robbed a stagecoach along the Feather River. The strongbox was said to have contained some 250 pounds of gold nuggets worth $140,000 at the time. Allegedly, the pair buried the strongbox in a on the banks of the Feather River in a canyon a few miles south of Paradise, (present Butte County). According to Wells Fargo officials, the stolen gold has never been recovered.

Another cache of Joaqu�n Murieta, or one of them, anyway, is said to lie between Susanville and Freedonyer Pass near today's Highway 36. For more see John Rollin Ridge's accounting of one of the great legends of America. Find aout about the phantom of the Ridge.

And finally, at the end, the reputed trove of Joaqu�n Murieta's chief henchman, Three-Fingered Jack, which he tossed when Love's Rangers posse were closing in on the gang. We are told that the path followed by the gang was from San Juan southward accross the Salinas Plains, thence to San Bonita Valley, and then into the small valley in the coast range, near to Quien Sabe Rancho. Via the Chico Panoche Pass, and reaching the Bayou Seetas, or Little Prairie, finally to the Grande Panoche Pass, and into Arroyo Cantoova. The gang did not surrender peaceably. In fact, though surprised, they turned and fought back feroiously. At one point did Three-Fingered Jack secrete the moneybags? There is a rough and rocky ravine running off from the location. Well, after the first fire-fight, he bounded off through that ravine, pursued by Love himself and a few of his Rangers. They chased him five miles before he fell, pierced by nine balls. The moneybags were not with him.

Trinity County, April 1862.
While crossing a creek near Weaverville, the County Sheriff lost a saddlebag containing $1000 in gold. He offered a reward of $250 for its recovery, and a large number of miners engaged in the search. They diverted the water from the creek bed, but apparently the saddlebag was never found.

The friction between the '49'ers and the Indians was often bitter, and didn't begin with the Dersch massacre or Major Reading's intervention for the friendly natives. The danger to the newcomers was never more acute than when the covered wagon trains entered the State from the northeast. The Pit River route from Oregon (used until the safer Shasta-Trinity route was opened in 1857) was the scene of numerous attacks, and several smaller groups were wiped out.

Bloody Springs, at the lower end of Spring Gulch, was the scene of several massacres. Some members of one unfortunate company are said to have carried large sums on gold. According to one version, the treasure is located in present Lassen County somewhat south--east of Pittville. According to another version, after the fray the victorious Indians rifled the money-belts of the slain of twenty-dollar gold pieces, and competed to see which man could throw the strange shiny discs across the Pit River Gorge.

At Castle Crags State Park, a spectacular formation a few miles south of Dunsmur, there is reputedly a treasure taken by Indians who attacked an army mule train bearing bags of gold pieces to be used to pay soldiers at the northern forts. The Indians feasted on the mules, then carried all the gold and stored it a cave. Years later, one of the last of the tribe, an old women named Nancy, made periodic excursions of several days duration up Castile Creek and would return bearing 20-dollar gold pieces. She would never tell where she got them, and always eluded those who tried to follow her. The secret died with her in 1912. other info apparently in Bill Cate article.

In the early 1870's a man appeared in Inwood, between Redding and Mount Lassen, with a story of a Lost Water Fall Mine. He said that during the gold rush he and several friends had crossed the Sacramento River at Cow Creek (Fort Reading), and then went up a creek. About thirty miles from Fort Reading they came to a high water fall, and above the fall they found a rich deposit of gold. Fearing attack by Indians, they hastily took some ore and returned to the Fort. No troops could be spared for their protection, so they decided to return to the East with what they had.

One of the party had become wealthy, and had now returned with his son-in-law so that the later could have a chance at the fortune which had been left behind.

At the settle where Redding was to grow, he asked about a creek with a waterfall and was told of a high one on Bear Creek, near Inwood. So he and his son-in-law explored the Bear Creek Canyon. However, he could find nothing that looked familiar. After a long search, the pair gave up, left town, and were never seen again. But the scuttle-butt about the lost fortune resurfaced in local haunts for many moons.

Some have pointed out that the country around Inwood is volcanic and hence an unlikely sport for the mine to have been found. A more likely spot, they say, might be at another water fall about 80 feet high, on Clover Creek about three miles from Oak Run, and 25 miles east of Redding (old Reids Ferry).

About 1900 early in the Spring, a man went hunting somewhere between Kelsey and Kidder Creek in Scott Valley. There was a storm and he spent the night on a hillside, in the partial shelter of a big White Pine log. In the morning at daylight he saw at the butt of the log a two foot ledge of extremely rich rock. He cut three notches on a fir sapling and stuck a hatchet in the sapling to mark the place, but was never able to find the spot again.

Years ago the Chinese used to work on Mill Creek (a tributary of Indian Creek in the Happy Camp area), and took out considerable gold. In 1929, one old Chinaman came back. He said in Happy Camp that there was a rich quartz ledge at head of the old diggings.

A man took him up to the old diggings and let him off. Later, when he did not show up again, the Forest Service looked for him. They found his camp, where he had spent the night, but neither he nor the ledge has been found to this day.

In the course of the search, however, they did find a strange thing. Between the forks of the creek there were three acres of ground, covered with trees. About 25 years before, all the young first saplings had been fashioned into perfect totem poles. It must have taken lots of work and time, but no one knew who had done it, or why.

Once there ways a man working for a mining outfit in the Humbug Creek area. One day he didn't feel well, so he started for Yreka to see a doctor. When he hit the Deadwood trail he felt sick and lay under a tree. Nearby he found a promising piece of quartz float. He looked around and found an outcrop. He began to feel better. He went three or four miles back to his cabin, got a pan, sack, pick and shovel, and set to work. He took out a sack full of gold ore worth $5,000 to $7,000 and went over the hill to Hawkinsville, where his parents and his two brothers lived. He took out more quartz, then took sick again. He covered the site with brush, but left his pick and shovel. Then he went to the County Hospital, and died a week later. The site has been lost ever since, but is supposed to be on the west side of Humbug Mountain.

Once an old man found a rich lode up on McGee Creek, at the head of Cow Creek, east of Redding. He filled two sacks with ore and took it into Redding and sold it. This gave him enough for a new stake, and he returned to look for his mine, but he could not find it again. He kept looking for it, and finally did not return. People who went to look for him found his two donkeys, but never found hide nor hair of the old man or the mine he was supposed to have.

Peter Lassen, pioneer of before the days of '49, was long believed to have had a private gold supply somewhere in Deer Creek Canyon, to which he may have been led by the fierce Yahi Indians of the area. Lassen's lifetime financial difficulties, and his death far out in Nevada's Black Rock Desert while seeking the Lost Hardin Mine did not dim the legend. On a wintry day almost twenty years after Lassen's death in 1859, a miner named Obe Leininger found a ledge of gold-flecked quartz in the same locality. He marked the spot by burying his pick in the trunk of a nearby tree, then was unable to find it again, though he and others sought the place for years. It is still there forty miles out of Chico, somewhere to the left of State Highway 32, just beyond Deer Creek, between the mouth of Calf Creek and the Potato Patch campground of the U.S. Forest Service.

Mokelumne Hill, early 1850s.
An old Negro named Buster mined successfully and as time went on, quite lucratively, at the hill. Later he moved to San Antone Camp on San Antone Creek, a branch of the South Fork of the Calaveras River. On arrival he brought his gold -- 136 pounds of it, his life savings -- into Cuneo's General Store to be weighed, then took it and the rest of his belongings about a quarter of a mile up the creek. There he built a cabin and worked a claim in a ravine still known as Buster's Gulch. He was known to have good luck, but except for purchases at the store for his basic needs he kept all the gold buried somewhere in a Dutch oven (a covered iron skillet). When Buster died in 1872 the gold was not found, though men tore down the cabin and sluiced the site. Some believed that a man named Charlie Vickers, who nursed Buster through his last illness, may have found the gold by following the old man's dog, who went everywhere his master had been in the habit of going. Vickers, a usually improvident gambler, later displayed unusual affluence. However, the search has gone on ever since. Once a boy walking along the creek caught sight of an old Dutch oven sticking out of the bank. He hastened to dig it out, but found it empty.

Another version of the story uncovered by Brad Williams and Coral Pepper is that while most of the town loved old Buster and his eccentric ways (for example, leading his burro into town by a halter), a certain wicked character named Smokey Hill proceeded to Buster's cabin to rob him. Before the townsmen could get there (someone had overheard Smokey telling his plans), Buster was murdered by the bad guy, who was caught and lynched, frontier style. A search was made of Buster's surroundings, the cabin dismantled, but no sign of the two Dutch Ovens was ever found. Sources who refer to it include Jim Drake, Frank L. Fish, JW Pounds.

Another Negro miner may have left a hoard near one of the creeks flowing into the Mokelumne River. "Jim" came to California from one of the Southern States with his master in 1849. The master was accidentally drowned in the following year and Jim inherited his freedom, as well as the mine, cabin, and personal effects of his deceased master. He remained on the creek until the 1880s, when his mind failed and he was found wandering about Campo Seco one day muttering about some lost gold. Later a San Francisco lawyer came and told how, when a boy, he had frequently visited Jim in his cabin and the latter had once allowed him to play with several large cans of nuggets which he said he would someday leave him. The cabin and area around were searched thoroughly, but nothing was found. Whether Jim was robbed, or whether the gold still lies concealed is unknown to this day.

In March 1856 seven men proceeding with a mule train over Trinity Mountain enroute from Yreka to Shasta were held up by a gang of five masked bandits and robbed of $25,000 in gold. The gang buried the gold in several places on the mountainside, then fled. They were rounded up a few days later. The crime was engineered by the notorious "Rattlesnake Dick" Barter, "the Pirate of the Placers," though Barter, nabbed while stealing mules to be used to carry off the loot, was unable to take part. About $15,000 of the gold was recovered in a ravine 12 miles from Mountain House, on the headwaters of Clear Creek. The melting of the snow and the coming of spring so changed the look of the terrain that attempts to find the rest of the loot failed, and $10,000 (now several times in value by today's gold price) still lies somewhere on the mountain.

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