Friday, May 29, 2009

3 Lost Treasures in Washington State

The great State of Washington is home to numerous legends of lost mines and unrecovered treasure caches in the Northwest. Here are three of these treasure tales from the "Evergreen State:"

Lost Doukhober Silver Mine

In the late 1920s a prospector named Doukhober returned from the wilds of Stevens County in the extreme northeastern part of the state claiming to have discovered a rich silver vein. Putting his money where his mouth was, Doukhober produced a canvas sack full of ore samples which, when assayed, averaged a whopping 1,000 troy ounces of silver per ore ton.

Metal Detectors

For those of you out there who are unfamiliar with precious metals mining ore values, most large modern mining companies can make a tidy profit processing ores that produce less than 1/4 troy ounce per ton of material. So Doukhober's vein was rich beyond the wildest imagination.

Unfortunately for our errant prospector and would-be silver "king," Doukhober was unable to relocate the exact location of his discovery, despite repeated attempts to do so. Thus, the legend of the Lost Doukhober Silver Mine was born.

Many other prospectors and treasure hunters have tried to find the Lost Doukhober over the intervening years, but without success. Interested? If so, start doing your research and then head for Stevens County.

Vashon Island Gold

In the late 1800s a lumberman named Lars Hanson lived and worked on Vashon Island, the largest island in the Admiralty Inlet of famed Puget Sound. Over the years Hanson built up a very successful lumber business that made him a very wealthy man.

Like other entrepreneurs of his era, Hanson did not trust banks and stashed most of his money in and around his property near the town of Burton. Rumor has it that he cached over $200,000 (face value) in gold coins somewhere close to the banks of nearby Judd Creek.

The lucky treasure hunter who locates Hanson's cache will hit the "big one" for certain. Why? Because Hanson's treasure would be worth millions today (either sold for its gold content or better yet, the numismatic value of all those gold coins).

Want to be a millionaire? Find this one and you will be, providing the State and the Feds don't take it all away from you....

Fort Walla Walla's Gold Bars

According to a persistent treasure legend, a small gang of train robbers hit it big when they pulled off a successful heist of a train near Wallula in southeastern Washington's Walla Walla County. What was their take? A shipment of gold bullion in the form of stamped 100 troy ounce bars.

Treasure Hunting

Exactly how many bars of bullion the desperadoes made off with is uncertain, but it was enough to slow them down considerably as they fled the inevitable posse hot on their trail. Worried about their chances of evading the law, they buried the gold near the site of Fort Walla Walla and hoped to return for it later.

But Lady Luck frowned on the now-desperate band of gold thieves when they tried to catch a fast boat for Portland, Oregon in their attempt to escape the relentless lawmen on their tail. They literally "missed the boat" and ended up shot dead (full of that very non-precious metal known as lead).

Carhartt Wear

Today the Fort Walla Walla site is designated as park and contains both a museum and a hospital. Any treasure hunter searching for those lost gold bars will face much more than the usual difficulties locating and recovering this cache.

But if he or she can pull it off, they'll never have to worry about money again. Nice thought isn't it?

Good hunting to all!

If you liked this post, you may want to read: "'Striking it Rich:' California Man's 9-Pound Nugget a Scam?"

(c) J.R. 2009

Questions? E-mail me at

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Placer Gold in Minnesota's Zumbro River?

( Minnesota's Zumbro River.)

Is there a lost gold placer of substantial scale in southeastern Minnesota's Zumbro River. Yes, according to the following lost treasure tale:

Why Couldn't Gold be in the Zumbro?

By 1858 most Americans living east of the Mississippi River had read about or heard first-hand accounts of the extremely rich strikes in the California goldfields. Although the Gold Rush was already waning, a few Minnesotans still retained their own personal cases of "gold fever."


One of these "afflicted" individuals was Holden Whipple who lived in the Oronoco, Minnesota area. In Holden's mind, if placer gold could be found in and along rivers and streams out West, then why couldn't it be found in the nearby Zumbro River. After all, Minnesota had iron mines didn't it?

An Errant Gold-Seeker Persists

Thus armed and equipped with virtually no knowledge of placer gold or gold mineralization geology, Holden Whipple set out to make a strike on the Zumbro. For weeks, armed only with a shovel and a frying pan, he prowled and investigated the river's banks and gravel bars, searching high and low for that elusive yellow metal.

Many of his neighbors thought Holden had lost his mind and he thus became fair game for their sharped-tongue barbs and malicious laughter. But the errant gold-seeker persisted in the face of all adversity despite the ridicule.


Then came the day that Holden dug into a likely spot along the Zumbro and spotted something shiny in the shovelful of gravel he had unearthed. Kneeling down for a closer look he saw the gleam of yellow metal. Gold!

What Holden held in his trembling hand was a small placer nugget of exceptional purity. Soon, the entire region was inflamed with a virulent case of "gold fever" and Holden Whipple had gone from village idiot to town hero.

The Oronoco Mining Company is Born

In short order the Oronoco Mining Company was born, it's main investors some of the region's more affluent businessmen and landholders. These included S. B. Clark, J. Stevens, A. Ellithorpe, E. Collins, W. H. Pierce, and others. Whether or not Holden Whipple was part of this mining cabal remains unknown.

What is known however is that the Oronoco Mining Company began running the Zumbro's gravels through a series of sluice boxes and "long toms" in the Spring of 1858. Although the Company's gold recoveries were spotty at best, there were indications of large paystreaks of placer gold resting atop an extensive layer of "false" bedrock composed of clay.

2 Floods and the Demise of the Company

Placer gold mining continued along the Zumbro near Oronoco until winter's frigid blasts shut down operations until Spring. Then, once again, the Oronoco Mining Company set up shop to "hit the big one," the paystreak that would make its investors wealthier than their wildest dreams.

However, Spring flooding and turbulent high water wrecked most of the wooden sluices and carried them off downstream. Once the flood waters receded the Company rebuilt it's processing equipment and returned to placer mining the Zumbro.

Then, on July 3, 1859 a devastating flood once again destroyed all the Company's gear. This time the Company's investors threw in the towel and abandoned all mining operations. The Oronoco Mining Company was no more.

The View from the State's Natural Resources Department

Once again we must ask the question of the moment: is there placer gold in the Zumbro River near Oronoco, Minnesota and more importantly, is there a lost gold paystreak of commercial scale worth hundreds of thousands of dollars? Here's what the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has to say on the subject:

"There have been no commercial placer gold discoveries in Minnesota. The topography, climate, glacial geology, and landscape have combined to create streams and rivers that are less favorable, in general, for placer gold deposits than in other parts of the United States. However, Minnesota’s bedrock may contain undiscovered lode gold deposits. There have been searches for hardrock gold deposits in Minnesota using modern exploration methods."

Treasure Hunting

"The possibility of prospecting success may be improved by exploring Minnesota’s numerous sand and gravel deposits. Minnesota has sand and gravel deposits that were created by fast-moving meltwaters from the glaciers. Some of these deposits appear to have had favorable conditions for the formation of placer gold deposits, especially in areas of the state where gold has been found nearby in small amounts in the bedrock. Such sand and gravel deposits offer the same prospecting challenges as modern streambeds, but are likely in general to have much better potential for the occurrence of gold grains."

So there you have it. A tale of a lost placer gold paystreak in Minnesota along the Zumbro River. Interested? If you are, who knows? You may just strike it rich!

Good hunting.

If you liked this post you may want to read: "Butch Cassidy's Lost Cache"

(c) J.R. 2009

Questions? E-mail me at

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Following the "Owl Hoot" Trail: Karl Von Mueller

(Treasure Hunter's Manual #6 with Karl on the front cover.)

One of the First "Owl Hooters"

You've heard me mention the name Karl Von Mueller in other posts in this blog as well as in my recreational gold mining blog, "Bedrock Dreams" ( Karl was one of the first self-proclaimed "owl hooters," American treasure hunters who got their start in the 1930s and 1940s and who laid down the foundation for those of us who followed in their footsteps.

Karl did it all, becoming a successful treasure hunter long before metal detectors were an accepted item in treasure hunting arsenals. In his early days he hunted many of the old western wagon trails, including the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails, using only long metal probes to determine where lost or abandoned items lay buried beneath the soil. Through careful research and this simple technique Karl was able to recover an amazing amount of artifacts, coins, and small caches over time.

After WWII Karl was quick to see the treasure hunting potential of military metal detectors and he began experimenting with various types. As this new technology expanded and grew so did Karl's acumen as an "electronic" treasure hunter and he developed lasting relationships with others in the business, including Charles Garrett, the developer and producer of the Garrett metal detector line. He was also an associate and friend of Warren Merkitch, one of best early "beachcombers" and the designer of the Merkitch Sifter for recovering lost jewelry.

But Karl did not restrict himself to treasure hunting alone, he was also an exceptional gold miner and prospector who sniped, dredged, drywashed, sluiced, and panned at locations throughout the West, including the Colorado Rockies. In mining circles one of the highest accolades that can be accorded anyone is to refer to them as a "miner's miner." That was Karl.

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A Vast Storehouse of Knowledge and Experience

However, I believe Karl's most significant contribution to gold mining and modern treasure hunting was the vast storehouse of experience and knowledge he left us in the form of books and manuals. Karl was a prolific writer who published too many good books to list here, but I do want to name a few of those for you:

Treasure Hunters Manual (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7)

The Master Hunter Manual

Encyclopedia of Buried Treasure Hunting

Waybills to El Dorado: True Clues to Lost or Hidden Treasure

Placer Miner's Manual (Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3)

Gold Dredger's Handbook

Coinshooter's Manual

A Debt of Gratitude

Please note that this short list doesn't even begin to cover the entire list of books, manuals, and periodicals that Karl wrote and published. Many of these are now out of print but with a little online searching you can probably find a few reprints and some used copies. I highly recommend any and all of Karl's writings to you.

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We all owe a debt of gratitude to treasure hunting pioneers and "owl hooters" like Karl Von Mueller not only for paving the way for the rest of us, but for leaving us their tremendous legacy of experience and knowledge.

Good hunting out there.

If you liked this post, you may want to read: "4 James Gang Outlaw Caches in Arkansas"

(c) J.R. 2009

Questions? E-mail me at