Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Lost Nuggets of Red Hill

(Old drywash tailings in the mountains of New Mexico.)

New Mexico is Well Known for Lost Treasures

The State of New Mexico is well known for legends of lost treasure, including the Lost Adams Diggings, the Victorio Peak Treasure ("100 Tons of Gold"), and the Lost Padre Mine. In addition to these well-known or significant treasure myths and legends, the Land of Enchantment provides the setting for a number of lesser lost mine and treasure tales. The Lost Nuggets of Red Hill is one of the latter.

Another Adams But a Different Treasure

It's interesting to note that the Lost Nuggets of Red Hill treasure tale, just like its more famous "cousin" the Lost Adams Diggings, also has at its center an old prospector named...yes, you guessed it....Adams. And, both legends involve lost gold nuggets. Yet, these treasure tales are not one in the same, despite this interesting duality (in fact, there is a 25-year time gap between this legend and its successor, the Lost Adams Diggings).

A Red Hill Covered in Placer Gold Nuggets

According to legend, in 1836 an old prospector named Adams staggered into the quaint mountain village of Pinos Altos (Spanish for Tall Pines), which lies just a few miles north of present-day Silver City, NM. Adams was near death and bleeding copiously from a number of arrow and gunshot wounds inflicted on him by hostile Indians. He was taken to a local doctor where, on his death bed, he told several of the locals gathered around him that he had been prospecting for gold north of Pinos Altos when he was set upon and wounded.

In a voice that was barely audible, Adams related that he had been on his own in the wilds for a number of weeks when he spied a reddish-colored hill in the near distance that stood out from the surrounding terrain. Intrigued, Adams made his way to the base of the red hill, despite recognizing Indian signs along the way. At its base and along its slopes he found placer gold nuggets everywhere he looked. In a frenzy Adams began picking the nuggets up off the ground where they lay exposed, totally forgetting he was in potential danger. That's when he was attacked.

"Did You Find Anything Out There, Old Man?"

One of the curious bystanders stared hard at the dying man and asked, "Did you find anything out there old man?" Adams raised a shaking hand and weakly pointed to his saddlebags and blanket roll. One of the men in the room searched Adams' belongings. Each was stuffed with small buckskin bags filled with placer gold nuggets, lots of nuggets, in fact over $7,000 worth of nuggets when they were later weighed and assayed (remember, this was in an era when a troy ounce of gold was worth $16.00-$20.00). As the full impact of the moment hit everyone in the room, Adams exhaled his last breath and died.

Myth, Legend, or Fact?

Despite its core allure of lost gold nuggets, I don't place much faith in the Lost Nuggets of Red Hill legend (actually, it would be better termed a myth). Why? A number of key points, including:

Pinos Altos (formerly Birchville and Pino Alto) was not established until 1860 when 3 ex-'49ers passing through the area discovered placer gold along Bear Creek.

Skills in gold prospecting or placer gold mining were not common in this era, particularly in Southern New Mexico. Remember also that the California Gold Rush and its incidental increase in prospecting and mining skills, and knowledge would not occur for at least a decade.

The Apaches controlled much of this area of New Mexico at the time, and anyone venturing alone into their sphere of influence would likely end up suffering a cruel end (this point can be viewed as both a plus and a negative in relation to this treasure tale).

The amazing "coincidence" that 2 New Mexico treasure legends contain key individuals named Adams who both found unbelievably rich ground containing gold nuggets is a bit hard to swallow and has a bit of the smell of dead fish to me.

Still, I do believe that nearly every treasure tale has at least one element of truth to it. What that element of truth is for the Lost Nuggets of Red Hill I cannot hazard to guess. Perhaps you yourself can pick it out. If so, let me know your thoughts.

Good hunting out there.

If you liked this post, you may want to read: "Legends of Lost Gold: the Lost Pegleg Mine"

(c) J.R. 2008

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