Friday, October 8, 2010

Lost Mine Of The Henry Mountains

A section of the Old Spanish Trail went from Monument Valley, over the Bears Ears Pass in the Abajo Mountains, and down to the Colorado River at Spanish Bottoms. From there it climbed the steep sandstone walls on a series of hand cut steps, to allow the passage of pack animals, and continued on to the rich mines of the Henry Mountains. Old names and dates can still be seen carved in the sandstone along this trail. Between the Abajo's and Spanish Bottoms is the name and date "de Julio 1661" and between the Colorado and the Henry's there is an inscription that reads "1642 Ano Dom". Near the north end of the range is the site of a battle between the Spaniards and the Indians. A Latin cross and the date 1777 marks the site of the graves.

In 1853, John Fremont explored this remote area of Utah. He discovered the steps cut into the walls at Spanish Bottoms. One of his journal entries tells that near the Henry Mountains he found "...the very old bones of a pack mule and on either side of them, a pile of gold ore from pack sacks that had long rotted away". In January of 1853, a fierce snowstorm forced Fremont and his expedition to the town of Parawan where they were treated for frostbite and frozen limbs. Some of the men were greatly excited about the gold
ore they had discovered and several years later one of them returned to seek his fortune. He had only been gone a few weeks when he returned half crazed and exhausted. He told of how Indians had stolen all of his gear, including his food and rifle.

In 1868, a man named John Burke rode into Ben Bowen's stage station at Desert Springs. He claimed that he alone knew the location of the Spanish mine of the Henry Mountains. Bowen and Burke decided to team up to find the mine. They also joined up with a man named Blackburn who would act as camp tender and wrangler.

En route to the mountains, they stopped at a ranch in Blue Valley to purchase some supplies. They were warned by the rancher against going into the Henry's. The rancher told them of an Indian that used to work for him whose grandfather was forced to work in the mine by the Spaniards. He claimed that the Indians had placed a curse on the mine and it would bring nothing but bad luck.

Despite the warning the men continued on, entering the mountains from the north side of Mt. Ellen and eventually crossing the headwaters of Crescent Creek and making camp somewhere between Crescent and Copper Creek. They climbed to a place that was already known to Burke, where there was an outcropping of gold ore into which a shaft had been sunk many years before. They had no way of entering the shaft, but they did manage to get enough gold ore from the surface to fill their sacks.

To save some time, the party decided to take a shortcut across an unknown desert to the town of Pleasant Dale. From the mountains the terrain below appeared flat, but as they crossed it, they discovered it was riddled with deep canyons. At one point the party was suffering greatly from thirst and, against the advice of Blackburn, both Bowen and Burke drank deeply from a pool of stagnant water. By the time they had reached Pleasant Dale, both men were deathly ill. After a few days of recovering at Pleasant Dale, Bowen and Burke went to Salt Lake City to sell their ore. On the return trip, Burke died while crossing Rabbit Valley and Bowen died just a few days after arriving at Desert Springs. Some would say that the old Indian was right!

For several years the old mine in the Henry's lay undisturbed, but in 1885 placer gold was discovered on lower Crescent Creek. Soon the Bromide mine was located in the head of the canyon at what is now known as Bromide Basin. The following year the Oro mine was located. These mines were rich gold producers and soon each boasted it's own stamp mill. Some of the ore that was processed had values as high as $30,000 to the ton in today’s prices. Many smaller claims were also made in Bromide Basin and the canyon soon had a
town named Eagle City.

About the turn of the century, a man named Edgar T. Wolverton built a water powered ore crusher to service some of the smaller mines on Crescent Creek. Wolverton was also aware of the lost Spanish mine that was once worked by Burke and Bowen. In 1911, the mines hit water and were flooded out, leaving Wolverton with plenty of time to search for it.

Wolverton spent 10 years searching for the old mine and he kept a detailed journal of his discoveries. His diary mentions finding old Spanish arrastras and smelter sites where ancient trees were growing among the slag piles. He estimated one site to be over 175 years old. On July 21st, 1921, Mr. Wolverton may have found what he was looking for. His journal entry reads; "Found the old Mexican mill today while panning on the hill south of camp. Sack of ore brought down.......a very hard day, tired and thirsty." This would be his last entry, for the very next day his horse fell, Wolverton was thrown across the saddle horn and suffered a severe bladder injury. He was found several days later by a sheepherder who took him to a hospital in Fruita, Colorado where he died. Edgar T. Wolverton is now buried in the ghost town cemetery of Elgin. His tombstone is made from the drag stone of a Spanish arrastra that he had discovered. The Henry Mountains are reluctant to reveal their secrets.

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