There was a lot of gold taken out of our area in the late 1800s, and in a small way gold is still being taken out of the desert. In my recent readings I have found another treasure that a tale spinner like myself can really appreciate, stories of lost treasure.
One of the tales of lost gold is actually titled The Lost Gold Brick of Barstow. In the unconfirmed story a train carrying gold bullion stopped outside of town. The guards of the gold got out to stretch their legs. When they got back to the train car they found the door forced open and a gold brick, valued at $25,000, missing. They went on a mad search for the thief but they never came up with the perpetrator. The train went on but the legend never left.
Several years later, a transient made friends with another man. They shared an abandoned miner’s shack near Calico. One of the men confessed to his friend that he was the one who stole the gold bar. He had been riding the train as a hobo and did not know what the train was carrying. When the train stopped he saw the guards get out and figured that there must be something worth looking into. So he pried open the door and found the gold. He feared that the guards would come back so he quickly grabbed a gold brick and hurriedly buried it near the train. The guards could not find him because the man had got back on the train and the guards didn’t figure the thief would still be on board.
The thief confessed to the wrong man. Before daylight the thief’s friend went out and found the sheriff in Barstow. When the deputies arrived at the shack the man was gone. He had given his betrayer a crude map showing where it was buried near a corral with a huge rock and three cottonwood trees. This map was reportedly published but I have yet to see it and obviously it wasn’t much help. It seems that the gold bar may be still buried somewhere along the tracks.
Trains figure into another lost treasure mystery. Around 1932 a train was coming through the desert and the crew saw a man lying in the desert. As was the custom at the time the train stopped to help the man. He was taken aboard and treated for exposure in Barstow. Without speaking a word he died. When authorities went through his belongings they found 35 pounds of black silver ore. An immediate effort was made to trail the man from the point where he was found. For about seven miles the trackers found the occasional piece of ore apparently discarded to lighten his burden. Eventually his trail was lost north of town in the rocks of the mountains.
Amboy Crater is the focus of two other lost gold stories. In 1920 a small girl, the daughter of the local Santa Fe agent in Amboy was said to have found black lava rock bearing gold. Her father had it assayed and found it to be rich ore but he couldn’t find where his daughter found it. From what his daughter told him, it was from the west side of the crater. Another story that is a bit harder to believe is that a couple of unarmed men were reported to have found a crater near Amboy that had a bunch of gold nuggets in the bottom of it along with a couple of skeletons. It was said that the men pulled $10,000 in nuggets out of the crater but somehow could never find the crater again.
Gold and silver are not the only things to get lost out in the desert. In 1898 it was reported that brothers Roy and Jim Morrow had found turquoise on the north slope of Slocum Mountain (around 30 miles north and little west of Barstow). They worked the mine for about a month and abandoned it because turquoise had little value at the time. A few years later the brothers with two other brothers tried to find the mine again but they were unlucky. It is believed that the mine is in the China Lake Naval Station now.
Mining is not the only source of lost treasure either. Pat Hogan and Wong Lee lived in Calico and teamed up to beat the roulette wheel at the local casino. Their system used Wong’s interpretation of the stars that proved to be very successful. Pat retired that night and went to his shack with his winnings. Wong continued to win and ran afoul of the patron of the casino called Lucky Joe and was killed. Lucky Joe then went on to Wall Street Canyon to find Pat and recover his lost gold. He shot Pat but could not find the gold. Pat recovered and a few days later went to Las Vegas to gamble some more. His luck ran out in Vegas, he got into a fight there and was fatally wounded. His last words were “The gold — it is buried in Calico — three feet from the big rock.” Legend has it that the gold could be worth $20,000 dollars.
Could these stories be true? Don’t know, but they sure make fun reading. If you want to read more about lost mines and treasures check out A Guide to Treasure in California by Thomas Penfield or Buried Treasures and Lost Mines of Southern California.
This article was written by Steve Smith