Southeastern California’s Death Valley region is no stranger to tales of lost mines. Some of the more prominent of these may already be familiar to you, but one that may not be is the legend of the Lost Amargosa Placer Diggings. The location of this tale of lost gold is in the Salt Spring Mining District at the southern end of Death Valley.
Placer gold (including very rich surface deposits) was first discovered in the Salt Spring District as early as the 1820s but no major gold recovery efforts were made at that time. The placers were rediscovered by would-be ‘49ers during the Gold Rush days, but were quickly abandoned in favor of “greener pastures” on the other side of the Sierra Nevadas in California’s Motherlode Region.
A Late Arrival
It wasn’t until the 1860s that real gold mining began in the Salt Spring District. At that time miners began working the rich placers and eventually developed a number of lode or hard rock mines, including the famous Amargosa Mine. By the 1870s, however, mining activity in the District was on the wane.
One late arrival to the Salt Spring District was gold prospector John McCloskey. Unfortunately for McCloskey he had arrived too late to get in on the best gold diggings and soon found himself working borderline placer ground that barely paid enough to cover the cost of bacon, beans, and coffee.
The Magnetic Pull of Yellow Metal
After eking out a subsistence living in this manner for nearly a year, McCloskey grew weary of mining and decided to head east, where home, hearth, and his fiancée awaited him. After marrying his one true love, McCloskey once again felt the magnetic pull of California and the yellow metal that made the Golden State "golden."
With his bride in tow, McCloskey arrived near the Salt Spring District sometime in 1875. Although the newlyweds were on the way to the west side of the Sierra Nevadas, McCloskey couldn’t resist the temptation to show his wife a thing or two about prospecting and mining in the area he had once mined.
An Astonishing Find
It was during this little “show-and-tell” demonstration that McCloskey hiked up a small embankment that showed traces of placer gravels hidden between large, dark-colored boulders that littered the area. What he found astonished him and made his young wife’s eyes dance with joy.
Every pan of gravel taken from the embankment of dark boulders revealed coarse gold and lots of it, including no small number of nuggets. Even using dry panning techniques (Note: One of the most inefficient gold recovery methods there is. J.R.). McCloskey was recovering multiple troy ounces of gold per pan of gravel.
What To Do With All That Gold?
McCloskey wasted no time laying out claim boundary markers of piled stones and placing a hand-written claim notice in an empty tin can at one marker. Gathering up his goods and his wife, McCloskey headed for Los Angeles.
After settling his wife in a rented cottage, McCloskey purchased mules, food, and mining supplies and pressed hard and fast as he headed back into Death Valley, the Salt Spring District, and his mine. Along the way McCloskey was already considering what he’d do with all that gold.
Fate Has the Last Laugh
One thing was certain. Once he’d squeezed the last ounce of placer gold from his claim, McCloskey and his wife would be living lives of luxury and ease. The very thought made him laugh aloud.
But it was fate and not John McCloskey who had the last laugh in this regard. You see, McCloskey was never able to find the location of his embankment of placer gold.
A Treasure Tale With Merit
What do I think? I think this treasure tale of lost gold has much merit.
There’s no disputing that the Salt Spring District of Death Valley was a big gold producer in the past. Moreover, there is extensive documentation on the richness of the early gold placers discovered there. So McCloskey’s lost diggings could still be out there somewhere between Salt Spring and the Amargosa River.
Good hunting out there.
(A word of caution. Death Valley is no place to be wandering around by yourself, especially in the summertime. The foolish and the unwary still die out there. Don’t you be one of these hapless souls who end up a statistic.)
If you liked this post, you may want to read: “Jesse James and the Knights of the Golden Circle: Treasure Signs and Symbols (Part 3)”
© J.R. 2009
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