Imagine if you will, while helping your uncle with some remodeling work, you come across an old tin chest. And inside are letters with directions to a gold mine from the late 1800’s…That’s basically what happened to Gus Wirt sometime before 1952.
To be fair, I’m sure Gus and his uncle most likely heard of these kind of fanciful stories for years, since they lived in the heart of the mother lode country at El Dorado California. But to actually come across an authentic set of letters must have been incredible. When they found the chest, they didn’t know about the letters, they simply asked the owner if they could a the chest and he agreed. But once they got home, they began to dig through everything. That’s when they found three letters that centered around two men; one a Mr. L. O. Long the other was John Carthright. Both men had lived in the area and had worked a placer mine on the Consumes River, just southwest of town, sometime in the 1860’s.
In one letter Long talks about a former partner and some of the places he had prospected, places like “Palms” and “Dale”, “Sheep mountains” and “Amboy”… But none of these names were known in northern California, however after a quick search they realized that this was desert country in Southern California. They knew very little about the desert, and they did not know just how deadly it could be. One of the letters went on to explain just how tough the desert can be, and how much of a hardship it could be trying to back to town after some prospecting. Carthright wrote about how one lucky miner was found near death, and another who wasn’t so lucky, he died somewhere in nearby Pinto Basin.
The most intriguing letter the last one. In this letter Long revealed that he had brought out 100 ounces of gold on his second to last trip (over $100K in today’s money), so he knew he had a good thing going. But his last trip was a tough endeavor; he had a terrible fall and severely bruised his leg and part of his side. If fact it was so bad, that he was unable to carry his prized shotgun, so he hid it among the rocks. Because of this, Gus called it the Lost Shotgun Mine. After the fall Long tried to head towards town, and was later found wandering the desert just east of Dale dry lake. His condition was dire and he needed to be seen by the nearest doctor, which was in San Bernardino, some ninety miles away. Back then this would have been a long hard trip, most likely a three day bumpy ride, and may have been his undoing, unfortunately Long had passed away. This was confirmed in the final letter was from the marshal/sheriff of San Bernardino dated June 22, 1873, inquired about burial arrangements, this would most likely have been A. J. Curry.
Gus and his uncle, searching for other clues, noticed there was nothing said about a burro or other prospecting equipment, so it was assumed that Long walked in the Sheephole mountains. Personally, I kind of doubt this, because on a previous trip Long talked about carry 100 ounces out of the desert, and I doubt that would be done on your back. Most likely he used a burro on some trips, but maybe not his last time out. The real directions were quite simple though, and yet could be a bit complex like any treasure legend. Long said that he had located the gold in a “brush canyon”, about 15 miles almost due east of the dry lake. It was around the bend and just below a spring that he had dug out. This most likely would place the location in the now Sheephole Valley Wilderness Area, and like always, this is not an area you go prospect in. Gus and his uncle, had made many plans to go out and find the gold, but work and life did not allow them the opportunity. And when Gus’ uncle had passed away in the winter of 1951, the letters just sat around for awhile. Gus did make a couple of telling statements. It seems he did talk to a local 29 Palms prospector named Phil Sullivan who told him that he had found ‘a fine English shotgun ” back in 1925. And he also tried to convince a local Twentynine Palms pilot by the name of Heinie Olson, to fly over and possibly locate the “brush canyon”. However, it never happened and the gold may still be there today.
Just a quick follow up, there is a Sheephole Mine, listed at Mindat.com, but they do not list any coordinates, and to the best of my knowledge, there has not been a claim on anything close to this location. However that does not mean someone between 1952 and today, hasn’t already found the gold… Then again…
For more on the Lost Shotgun Mine, please check out this link to the 1952 story in Desert magazine..