Previously published in the Dec 2015 Ancient American Issue Number 109, pg. 40-42
Fig. 1 Approximately 20 miles of mountain range as seen from the flat farmland where the mounds once stood.
1909 View of Plats of Koffoid Winter Wheat in the Time-of-Planting Test at the Nephi Substation. Ancient Mound Wheat was also known as Kofod or Koffoid Wheat.
|Field of Kofod (Ancient Mound Wheat) near Nephi, Utah c 1920.|
My wife and I were heading to Southern Utah for a teaching conference. It was June 4th and school had just let out for the summer the day before. Both of us are Middle School Science teachers so this was our first vacation for the summer.
When we arrived in the small town to confirm our motel arrangements, I asked the front desk clerk if she knew of any old houses, schools or churches that I could metal detect (Yes, I take it everywhere I go.).
She indicated that there was a vacant lot where they had recently torn down an old house. She began helping me find out who the current owner was. It took most of the afternoon to finally make contact with the current owner. The property had been sold numerous times in the past year. Along the way I did acquire a lot of information about the old house that had been on the property. It had been built in the early 1920's, was a small 2 bedroom house facing to the west with a large tree in the front yard. This tree is still on the property.
All this information helped me set up a plan start around the tree first. Following some diligent negotiating I was given permission. The property owner wished me good luck and told me that I was going to find only horseshoes. I asked if he would like to see what I found and he told me no and that I could keep what I found. I jokingly replied, "Even if I find a diamond ring?" While laughing he said, "Sure even a diamond ring". At this point it was getting dark so my plan was to begin the next morning.
June 5th following breakfast my wife and I drove to the vacant property. My wife decided to wait in the car in a shady spot while I detected the site. Sticking with my game plan I went straight to the tree to begin. Working around the tree I got the first signal of the day on my Lone Star Bounty Hunter. It's a good signal so I dug it up, only to be a scrap of aluminum. There were no other signals around the tree. I expanded my distance farther out around the tree. It was already getting warm that day so I decided to focus on the shaded area. When suddenly I got my second signal. This signal was the same as the first one however it was even larger. Thinking that it may be another chunk of aluminum, I questioned "should I dig it or not?" I told myself be positive and dig it. I thrust the pick into the ground and up popped, to my surprise, three beautiful Peace Dollars. I was in shock. I dropped my pick and detector and ran over to the car. My wife was talking on the phone to her mother. I yelled, "Get the camera. You've got to see this!" I was nervous and shaking. When we returned to the spot I kept saying, "Look at that! 3 Ladies!" She took some pictures while they were on the ground and while I was holding them. It was amazing! I asked her to put them in her pocket.
Then I did what we all should do, double-check the hole. To my amazement there was another signal. Could it be that there are more? Not wanting to cause any damage if there were more coins I used my hand to scrape away some dirt and there they were. All these silver dollars! Some were next to each other. Others cross-crossed. There did not seem to any evidence of them having been in any type of container.
As I continued to dig deeper and wider there were even more to a depth of twelve inches by fourteen inches. My belt pouch had become full. I asked my wife if we had a bag or something to put all these silver dollars in. She said all I have is a pair of socks. Well OK that will work. As I continued to pull out more and more silver dollars, other coins started appearing, quarters, dimes, pennies, nickels. It was amazing. My wife would take several pictures, then open a sock, then I would put a hand full of coins in. She would take them back to the car and put them into the other sock. She would then return for more. We did this about five times before all of the coins had been removed from the hole.
We had no idea how many total coins there were until we got back home to count them out. In total there were 163 coins. Of these 72 were silver dollars. Fifteen of them were Morgans the oldest being an 1880 and the newest was a 1921s. This included an 1890 cc. Fifty-seven were Peace Dollars ranging in age from 1922s to 1928s. Two Standing Liberty quarters (1926 s & 1927) and twelve Washington quarters (1934 - 1945 d) were part of the cache. There were also 41 Mercury dimes (1918 -1945 d), two Roosevelt dimes (1946), seven war nickels (1943 s 1945 s), ten Jefferson nickels (1938 - 1941), one 1905 V nickel, two Buffalo nickels ( 1927 s & 1937 d), and fourteen Wheat pennies (1917 1946 d). This experience was so amazing. I was shaking so hard that it was difficult to drive or even concentrate on anything. Every time I tell this story or look at the pictures I get what my wife called the "Silver Shakes".
I consider myself very fortunate to have this amazing experience. I kept telling myself, and my detecting partner Cliff, that someday we would find a coin cache. Positive thinking prevailed. I hope everyone someday will have the same experience. I look forward to the day it happens again.
KANAB, Kane County – For 100 years, locals have believed Montezuma’s treasure lies at the end of a tunnel below Three Lakes pond in Kanab, Utah. Now, filmmakers hope to discover just what is there.
Producer Mike Wiest along with landowner Lon Child and a crew of filmmakers are setting out to tell the story of Three Lakes, Montezuma and the treasure hunters whose attempts of recovering the gold have been foiled.
The pond that lies along U.S. 89 is the site of Montezuma’s lost treasure that could be worth more than $3 billion, according to local legend. Though some details vary, locals believe Aztecs dug the Three Lakes pond to cover the treasure’s cavernous hiding place in a water trap on the west side of the pond. Once dug, they could divert a river to the pond, fill it up and walk away from an ordinary looking pond with a valuable secret.
While it sounds far-fetched, the story has circulated throughout Southern Utah since 1914, when Freddy Crystal showed up with a map he claimed showed the treasure’s location. It wasn’t until the 1920s, when he found a series of sealed tunnels in nearby Johnson’s Canyon that people started believing him and joining his unsuccessful hunt for the gold.
In 1989, Brandt Child, a Kanab resident, bought the pond and surrounding area. He said he knew the clues in Johnson Canyon were decoys, and the real treasure lay in a water trap 36 feet below the pond’s waterline, indicated a symbol on the cliff above the cave. Multiple efforts to dive into the caves were ended after divers said they became disoriented and saw the ghosts of Aztec guardians, but they were able to detect metal at the end of the tunnel.
Child’s next move was to drain the pond. His plans were halted, however, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put the amber snail on the endangered species list in 1992. The small creature is so rare, its only known habitat is Three Lakes pond, and each one killed can incur a $50,000 fine.
"I can't do anything to my own property that might disturb those snails," Child told Deseret News at the time. "It doesn't look like anyone will get the gold."
The pond is surrounded by mystery, which is what Jubal Productions hopes to uncover.
“No one’s gone there yet. We’re only talking 140 feet away from shore,” Wiest said. “It’s so close, yet no one’s gotten there and no one’s ever documented it.”
Wiest has been interested in the property since he was 12 years old and his father mentioned the pond was haunted. He didn’t learn more until a few years ago, when his friends told him about Three Lakes’ history.
“We think more importantly than finding if there’s in fact treasure there, it’s knowing why it’s there, who put it there, who it was being hidden from and who was it intended for,” Wiest said. “We’ve actually read several books on Montezuma and Cortez and the conquering of Central America and the wars that were fought there and the reasoning for the gold to be gathered and taken and hidden. It’s been fascinating.”
Now, the production team is raising funds to send remote operated vehicles, particularly submarines carrying lights and cameras, into the cave. The ROVs are well-situated to high water pressure and immune to human fears of the supernatural that have impaired scuba divers in the past, Wiest said.
“The property has such a rich legacy as far as the stories and hearsay goes, that I think anybody at this point that knows of it and is certified to put on the scuba gear and go down there, they’re already going to have that preconceived notion that people have seen something down there,” he said. “It makes it that much easier for them to interpret that in their mind or to see something. I think bringing in the robots eliminates that unnecessary variable.”
The ROVs would also be better able to avoid smashing any of the small snails.
They intend to use their footage in a documentary about Montezuma’s treasure, its hiding place and protectors. The crew believes there is something down there, and something is protecting it, whether it’s supernatural or explained away by science.
Wiest said he isn’t ready yet to discredit the supernatural as an explanation for the strange occurrences surrounding the cave. He said he wants to go into the filming with an open mind and is even ready to send in a scuba diving exorcist, if necessary.
“Nothing is too far fetched at this point only because, at this point, we can’t afford to discredit anything,” Wiest said.
If the submarines do find anything, Wiest said, they likely wouldn’t remove it from the cave. Lon Child, one of Brandt Child's 10 children the land was parceled out to, has expressed that it belongs down there.
“I’m most excited to actually get a camera and film something that’s never been filmed ever in the history of mankind, that’s never been seen and recorded., Wiest said. "I’m thrilled to get some footage, as poor as the footage may be. I’m just thrilled to get something. At the end of the day, we’re just storytellers. Hopefully this will be a good story.”
Nearly a hundred skeletons buried in a cave in southeast Utah offer grisly evidence that ancient Americans waged war on each other as much as 2,000 years ago, according to new research.
Dozens of bodies, dating from the first century CE, bear clear signs of hand-to-hand combat: skulls crushed as if by cudgels; limbs broken at the time of death; and, most damning, weapons still lodged in the back, breast and pelvic bones of some victims — including stone points, bone awls, and knives made of obsidian glass.
Signs of violence were evident in 58 of the approximately 90 bodies found in the cave. Most of the victims were men, but at least 16 women were also found among the dead, as well as nearly 20 children, some as young as three months old.
Since the discovery of this prehistoric charnel house — known to archaeologists as Cave 7 — more than a hundred years ago, there has been little doubt about the violence visited upon those interred there.
But anthropologists continue to debate what that violence meant — specifically, whether Cave 7 was simply a burial ground for casualties of individual conflicts and small skirmishes over centuries, or whether it was more like a war cemetery, where victims were put to rest after a single, catastrophic conflict between cultures.
The site was first excavated in 1893 by Richard Wetherill — the self-taught archaeologist who also led digs at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon — and it was a historic discovery in many regards. Judging by the artifacts and other clues found around them, the mutilated bodies were the first evidence of a new people: a pre-ceramic culture that predated the Ancestral Pueblo. From the handiwork they left behind, Wetherill called them “Basket People,” later to be known as Basketmakers, a culture that thrived in the Southwest from about 500 BCE until 750 CE or later.
But the significance of this find was almost overshadowed by the circumstances surrounding the Basketmakers’ deaths. The carnage found in Cave 7 could only be explained, Wetherill concluded, by the “sudden and violent destruction of a community by battle or massacre.”
And this interpretation held for more than a century, until 2012, when radiocarbon dating of some of the bones from the cave showed that the burials actually spanned many centuries — from the first century CE to the early 300s — suggesting that the dead represented several, smaller conflicts over time.
Now, a new analysis of the Cave 7 remains finds that, while the dates do cover a range, the victims of violence in particular appear to date from the same period, intimating that they’re evidence of a “single-event mass killing.”
In a recent study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Dr. Phil Geib of the University of New Mexico and Utah archaeologist Winston Hurst obtained new radiocarbon dates for some of the remains, but they also relied heavily on a traditional standard of archaeology: context.
Drawing on Wetherill’s original field notes, as well as photographs and other documentation, they determined the positions of the bodies within layers of sediment, and also in relation to each other, to assess which were buried together.
In doing this, they identified four sets of remains that were clearly buried in tandem — each from slightly different parts of the cave, some bearing obvious signs of violence, others not — to serve as samples for the new radiocarbon dating.
The first group consisted of eight adult men, their bodies flexed and their faces turned toward the mouth of the cave, all but one of whom exhibited signs of what the scientists call “extreme cranial trauma.”
The second featured the body of a young woman with three children positioned on her breast, ranging in age from one to three years, none of which showed any skeletal damage.
The third included seven skeletons seemingly stacked in a haphazard pile, four of them males that had clearly suffered yet more “cephalic brutalization.”
The fourth burial was that of four adult women, one of whom may have been injured at the time of death, and another young child.
Analysis of collagen, a protein, extracted from 11 bone samples among these four groups showed that three of the groups dated to around the same time — from about 1,915 to 1,950 years ago, within the dating process’s margins of error.
Only the remains in the second group, the undamaged female skeleton with the three children, were slightly more recent, dating to about 1,880 years ago.
An aging American Indian with rotting teeth and arthritic joints sat down and died in the Utah desert outside Escalante with a musket, ammunition and a bucket. Blowing sand covered his corpse for more than a century before a hiker stumbled across it last year.
This is the likely scenario of how a nearly complete skeleton, dubbed “Escalante Man” in BLM documents, came to be buried a few hundred paces off Highway 12 in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. What remains a mystery is why a dozen FBI agents excluded archaeologists from its April 16 excavation, treating the site as a crime scene rather than the historic site many believe it clearly was. “It’s an ongoing investigation. Our policy is we cannot comment on it,” FBI spokesman Juan Becerra said. Agents stress they had legitimate reasons for excluding the monument’s own archaeologist from the dig, even though they invited a TV news crew to document it, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office signed off on the investigation. While the BLM and FBI acted in partnership on the dig, the episode has attracted criticism from state officials charged with protecting cultural resources and triggered dissension within the BLM.
“It seems the FBI is running roughshod over the BLM, scientific procedures and legal requirements in their unexplained zeal to excavate an historic site,” Matt Zweifel, the BLM’s excluded Kanab-based archaeologist, wrote in a four-page memo documenting a litany of concerns two days before the agents descended on the site with shovels and screens.
“I have seen other burials ‘excavated’ by law enforcement personnel with disastrous results as far as archaeology is concerned,” he wrote. “I don’t doubt that the FBI forensics personnel are the best in their field, but they are not trained archaeologists.”
No one has accused the feds of botching the dig, but some wonder whether they ran afoul of cultural resource protection laws, particularly requirements to obtain permits before excavating historic sites and to consult with tribes in a timely manner. And the secrecy with which it was handled mystified and frustrated state archaeologist Kevin Jones and Forrest Cuch, Utah’s director of Indian affairs.
“We try to work with law enforcement. If there is a possibility that there is a crime involved, we would want the police there, and vice versa if it’s an historic site. Neither of us benefit working in isolation,” Jones said. “It’s regrettable that a professional archaeologist wasn’t there.”
The case of Escalante Man began in winter when an “informant” discovered what appeared to be a pipe sticking out of the ground and reported it to authorities, according to internal BLM documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Federal officers checked the site and returned to Salt Lake City with metal objects and bone fragments, which BLM experts determined to be human. The FBI and BLM law enforcement personnel organized an “evidence recovery” effort, but did not inform monument officials or Jones’ agency, the Utah Division of State History.
Zweifel got wind of the dig on April 14, but his inquiries went unanswered and monument director Rene Berkhoudt ordered Zweifel to stay away from the April 16 excavation. BLM officer Larry Shackelford initially invited Zweifel, but wound up tapping a planner out of the Salt Lake City office, Jeanette Matovich, who is trained in bioanthropology, to be the only scientist to participate.
“He wasn’t picked. That’s all I can say about it,” Shackelford said.
During the dig, agents extracted 80 percussion caps, parts of a firearm, lead straps, polished stones, a horn, and human molars from a young adult. Then they found the skull, which Matovich quickly recognized as American Indian because of its distinctive cranial features. A large brass bucket fitted with a handle and chain, which an evaluator considered to be a rare antique in excellent condition, bore an 1865 patent date.
These items roughly date the man’s demise to the mid-to-late 19th century. The FBI transferred custody of the “evidence” to the BLM, which took the items to Utah Museum of Natural History on April 18 for “observational analysis” and “curation,” as well as storage for up to one year while the bones go through a tribal repatriation process, according to internal documents.
University of Utah scientists and museum officials examined the bones and Derinna Kopp, a doctoral candidate in anthropology, submitted a written report, supporting BLM’s conclusions that the dead man was not deliberately interred.
The bones were those of a stocky man, 55 to 65 years old, with active abscesses eating his badly worn teeth. Osteoarthritis had fused his lumbar spine and cranial lesions were consistent with iron deficiency that was common among tribal communities in the 19th century.
The bones showed signs of rodent damage, but no ochre, a yellowish pigment applied to the dead in Indian burials, according to Matovich’s report. These clues suggest the person was not deliberately buried, but rather exposed for a period while mice chewed his ribs. The position of the bones was also important.
“The skeleton was completely collapsed in on itself, with the feet tucked under the pelvis, indicating the individual was sitting in an upright squatting or kneeling position at the time of death,” Matovich wrote. Her report does not determine the cause of death, although no traumatic injury was noted other than minor breaks that could have occurred postmortem.
Jones said these clues are not conclusive on the key question of burial because Indians were not always interred with ochre and post-burial rodent damage can happen.
“Without good stratigraphic work and a soil profile, you can’t say how the body got to where it is now. A lot of things can happen to a body after it’s buried,” Jones said.
“He is entitled to his professional opinion,” responded BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall, herself an archaeologist. “We have here a marriage of law enforcement and science. . . . We were able to accomplish disparate goals. This is a situation that should be held up as a positive example. It’s frustrating that it’s being spun in a negative light.”
Meanwhile, the FBI probe continues, although agents won’t reveal what they are investigating, and the BLM is attempting to identify Escalante Man’s cultural affiliation. The agency’s goal is getting the remains to his tribe or descendants who most likely will return them to the earth.
DELTA, Utah — Gold.
Scott Taylor, who still works at the Quality grocery market and rambles around in an early 1980s-era Ford Bronco II that seems to be held together by rust, says he found an abandoned mine in the hills west of here that is full of it.
Which is also what a lot of people in town think of Taylor.
The latest saga of gold and the rugged West began back in June, when Taylor, 34, told a group of buddies about his stunning discovery. Word got out, and soon he was telling his story to Salt Lake City TV folks.
It was an old mine, he said. Sealed up with boards. He was with his mother, hunting for arrowheads, he said, although Joyce Taylor apparently told some friends that she can't recall ever being out in the middle of nowhere looking for arrowheads with her son.
Anyway, Taylor said he tore the boards away from the small opening, crawled inside and found 280 gold bricks stamped with "U.S. Cavalry." And a couple of rifles and a pistol from the Civil War. Oh, and boxes of dynamite.
And then he left it all right there. He hasn't gone back, won't tell anyone where it is, won't answer his phone and avoids the media.
There may or may not be any gold out there in them thar hills. But you could stay plenty busy in this tiny central Utah town mining sarcasm.
"I know that's what I'd do," says Julie Hobson, manager of the Alco market just down the street from the Quality store where Taylor stocks shelves. "I'd leave a few hundred million dollars worth of gold out there, come back to this town, go back to my job in the grocery store and drive an old truck."
Scott Taylor won't talk, but his father will. Glen Taylor runs a tiny country store about eight miles west in the settlement of Deseret. Glen Taylor says the whole thing has been awful. "He got death threats," he says. "Got a letter with no return address or anything that said they were going to take his newborn son and when Scott delivered the gold, he'd get his boy back. We don't need that kind of thing."
At the heart of the matter, he says, is the federal government. The Taylors believe it will swoop down and take the gold. The Bureau of Land Management said the BLM had no claim to any gold, but bureau spokeswoman Laura Williams says that if indeed there's gold with a "U.S. Cavalry" stamp, the Army might be interested.
"He told me the other day he'd leave it up there for 100 years and everyone would forget and then his son could get it," Glen Taylor says.
And so a fortune in gold sits under a pile of old boards in the remote hills somewhere out toward the Nevada state line. Or not.
"Oh, I think most of us around here think he just made the whole thing up," says 7-Eleven store worker Lynette, who didn't want her last name used. Scott Taylor's mother-in-law, Joyce Hanes, works in the same store.
"We don't talk much about it in here, but Joyce stands by the whole thing," Lynette says. "She told me Scott brought her some gold shavings."
Glen Taylor says he hasn't seen any gold shavings. He says his son did show him "an old bullet" that he took from the mine.
And so he sits in his tiny store selling soda pop and Slim Jims and such. Scott's in-laws keep on working at 7-Eleven. And Scott reports to work each day at about 6 a.m. to load the shelves with cereal and canned goods.
"Kinda makes you wonder, doesn't it?" asks Alco store manager Hobson. "We all think there might be gold out there, left by robbers or people coming back from the California gold rush. You think about it, living out here in a place like this.
"Maybe somebody thought about it too much."
VERNAL — The legends haunt these mountains like ghosts: Vanished prospectors. Dead Spanish miners. Indian guardians.
There are skeptics, of course. Those who claim there is no gold in the Uintas of northeastern Utah. But Joseph Hicks isn't one of them.
Stepping carefully down a mountain path he has trodden countless times in his 78 years, Hicks stops at the mouth of a man-made tunnel that snakes into the rock.
Hidden somewhere behind this rock at a place called the Polecreek sinks, the retired science teacher believes, is an old Spanish mine laden with gold.
So what if any trace of the mine has long since vanished? Or if that tunnel — $100,000 worth of digging, drilling and blasting by men as convinced as he was — turned up nothing?
One man died here 19 years ago, blown up by dynamite as he blasted the tunnel meant to find the mine. Another may have died as an indirect result — his body broken by the disappointment of a lifetime's failed search.
Men don't look that hard for nothing.
"It's quite awesome," Hicks said. "I used to believe it was all nonsense. But based on the intensive work put into this place, on everything they went through, I believe it's here."
Stories of Spanish conquistadors unearthing gold in the Uinta Mountains still feed a frenzied legend of mysterious clues, Indian curses and — for those with enough bravery and luck — untold riches.
They are fueled by descendants of Mormon pioneers, who say the church struck a deal with a Ute Indian chief in the 1850s to reveal the location of a sacred mine to a church emissary, then buried the secret — and some of the gold — in the church's Salt Lake City vaults.
In the towns of Vernal and Roosevelt, along U.S. 40 on the mountains' southern flank, residents recite the stories in bars and cafes. Many have spent time looking for treasure themselves.
For some, the search is little more than a serious hobby. For others, finding the elusive treasure can be a lifetime quest.
"For some people, prospecting gets into your blood. It becomes an obsession. You can't think of anything else," said Hicks, who has been searching for the mines for close to 60 years.
"It's broken up more than a few families around here," he said.
The gold also has attracted professionals.
The Ute Indian tribe partnered with a treasure hunter named Jim Phillips in the early 1990s. Phillips claimed he had new technology that could locate caches buried by the Indians or the Spanish. After three months of digging and blasting massive holes in the dun-colored earth, the tribe pulled the plug.
One of the world's most famous treasure hunters, Mel Fisher, spent some of his last outings here before he died in 1998, lured by a clue about a Spanish treasure trail that reached from South America into the Uintas. Locals say he carried something out of the mountains by helicopter in 1994, but representatives of Fisher's company say he left empty-handed.
Fantasy vs. fact
With its vast empty spaces and long history of prospecting, the West is full of stories of lost mines and hidden treasure, and there are thousands of professional and amateur treasure hunters looking for them.
Most of these tales are more fantasy than fact, historians say, and there are few documented finds of any value. In Utah, there is little historical evidence of significant mining by Spanish conquistadors anywhere in the area.
But in the world of treasure hunting, the story of these mountains has all the necessary elements to raise them to the equivalent of solid-gold real estate: tantalizing clues, an element of historical truth, the promise of huge riches and mysteries that have yet to be fully explained by historians or scientists.
"I don't think anyone in Utah would say it isn't true," said Floyd Mann, a professional treasure hunter who lives in Salt Lake City and runs a Web site called LostTreasureUSA.com. "There is too much evidence out there to deny it."
Much of that evidence was compiled by one man who devoted his life to searching for Uinta gold and piecing together the clues that he hoped would ultimately lead him to a fortune.
Gale Rhoades became the mountains' foremost historian and his life a morality tale on the powerful grip of a legend.
The gold became an obsession, friends and family say. He collected maps, searched archives and talked to hundreds of people.
He scoured the mountains for more than 20 years and died in 1988 a penniless man, divorced, living on caffeine and cigarettes, those closest to him said.
Although he never found gold, his articles and books have inspired Web pages, discussion boards and more treasure hunters.
"I think he truly believed he would find the mine," said Rhoades' ex-wife, Beverly. "I think he went through his destiny writing the books and collecting the stories. That opened the door for so many others."
Growing up with his grandparents, Rhoades heard tales of his great-great-grandfather Thomas Rhoades, the Mormon pioneer who is said to have been the church's emissary to the Ute Indians and the Uinta gold.
Mormon patriarch Brigham Young had struck a deal with a Ute chief, Wakara, Rhoades believed. The Indians had been enslaved by the Spanish as they dug shafts into the Uintas in the 1700s. The tribe agreed the church could have the gold from a sacred mine as long as only one man knew about it — a deal that, after Thomas Rhoades died, was extended to his son, Caleb.
Through their own exploration in the Uintas, Thomas and Caleb found other mines as well, bringing the total of what are known as the Lost Rhoades' Mines to at least seven, Gale Rhoades believed.
The geology of the Uintas doesn't suggest that significant deposits of gold should be found there, scientists say. But prospectors marshal their own evidence.
The mountain is covered with what appear to be old Spanish symbols carved into rocks. Hikers and prospectors have found stone ovens that could be gold smelters and shafts that appear to be the remnants of old mines.
Searchers believe that the failure to find gold is only a testament to how well it has been hidden by Indian guardians (descendants of Wakara's band in some stories; spirits in others).
"Gale Rhoades once told me that the reason nothing is being found is that the bad spirits don't want good people to get the gold and good spirits don't want bad people to get it," said Patsy Sursa, a homemaker and longtime prospector near Roosevelt.
Still, the protection didn't stop Gale Rhoades from trying. He had several maps, one purportedly drawn on Caleb Rhoades' deathbed. He believed he came close several times and repeatedly gathered investors to explore promising sites.
"You'd find good areas, you'd have the documentation, but the people who had the money wanted everything in an instant. They'd find the cost of equipment, bonding, everything so difficult that it was hard to keep them working on it," Beverly Rhoades said.
The closest he may have ever come, she said, was the Polecreek sinks. A wealthy investor fronted nearly $100,000 to blast 88 feet of tunnel before giving up.
The site became the subject of a legal battle between Gale Rhoades and another family who also claimed rights. While trying to extend the tunnel, one of the family members, Wally Muir, died in a dynamite accident in 1986.
Gale Rhoades "was really, really convinced that was the sacred mine because of the description and the way it matched Caleb's," Beverly Rhoades said. "He promised he would never get obsessed with it, but over the years, he did. I tried and tried to get him to go back to work, we'd both go back to work and do it as a hobby. But he just wouldn't back off or give up. By then, it was a need rather than a goal."
Rhoades died of a heart attack while exploring yet another gold mining claim.
After his death, his maps disappeared. Someone apparently broke into his apartment, family members say, and the briefcase he always carried vanished.
Locals say some of those maps have since surfaced and are still being used to track down the gold.
The search continues
Arnold Ufford, who has been assaying gold from a backyard shop in Vernal for years, said he still doesn't know whether the stories are true.
During a busy summer, he sometimes gets three or four people a day who come to him with rocks or nuggets they collected in the Uintas. He can count five or six people who are working clandestine mines, hauling out rock on their backs, often at night.
Most of the rock is worthless, but there are a few samples that do indicate gold, such as a rock brought in recently by a hunter who said he found it in what looked like an abandoned mine shaft.
The gold "is coming from somewhere," Ufford said.
Bobby Chapoose, a Ute Indian, was one of the tribe members who accompanied Jim Phillips for three months as he explored reservation lands for the Lost Rhoades' Mines.
He watched day after day as Phillips dug and dynamited without finding so much as a nugget.
"I'm a realist," Chapoose said. "You show me or you don't.
"It's like my grandmother, she used to tell some whoppers," he said. "An archaeologist would come around and pay her $20 to tell her stories. After he left, I'd go up to her and ask, 'Are those stories true, Grandma?'
"She'd just smile and say, 'Now, let's go get some pop.' "
In a recent article, I showcased photos from some of my favorite Utah ghost towns. Many readers requested more information on how to find these towns, so I’ve compiled this list of five ghost towns that will allow you to see some of our state’s most stunning relics from the past.
It is important to note that most of these destinations are either partially or entirely on private property. Visitors should always respect the law when exploring ghost towns.
GRAFTON: This is one of the most accessible ghost towns in the state. It’s so beautiful and well preserved that it’s been used as a setting for multiple films, including “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
The history: This area was settled in 1859, but the town was nearly destroyed during the great flood of 1862. The resilient residents moved a mile upstream on the Virgin River and built a new town they named Grafton, after Grafton, Mass.
In 1866, Utah was in the midst of the Black Hawk War and Grafton was one of the many remote settlements that were abandoned for fear of Indian attacks. People began returning in 1868, but flooding from the notoriously volatile Virgin River again became a major threat to the town’s safety. By the early 1900s, most of the residents had moved away and only a few families remained.
What remains: The Grafton Heritage Partnership has done a remarkable job of restoring and protecting the town’s remaining structures. The old stone church is Grafton’s crown jewel, and you’ll also find multiple homes and barns to visit. Also make sure to visit the historic cemetery.
How to get there: Grafton is located just west of the town of Rockville on State Route 9. Take Bridge Road over the river and then follow it westward as it parallels the river to the town site.
WIDTSOE: Though much of the town has been destroyed, Widtsoe boasts one of the most picturesque relics in Utah—its solitary schoolhouse.
The history: Like many early Utah settlements, Widtsoe went through a long series of name changes. In 1902 it was named Adair, in honor of an early settler. This was changed to Houston shortly thereafter, and then changed to Winder in 1910. Seven years later, the post office decided that there were too many “Winders” in the region and changed the name to Widtsoe, in honor of John A. Widtsoe, who was a developer of the dry farming techniques used in the area.
The town thrived as new farming techniques allowed success in the rough conditions. Soon Widtsoe had hotels, stores, a post office, and the aforementioned schoolhouse. But extended drought conditions thwarted even the most resilient farmers and the population began to decline. By the mid-1930s, the town was abandoned.
What remains: In addition to the gorgeous schoolhouse, Widtsoe has a handful of other surviving homes and sheds.
How to get there: Widtsoe is on the east side of State Route 22, about 24 miles south of Antimony.
OSIRIS: Located next to a beautiful stream in Black Canyon, the Osiris creamery is a magnificent sight to behold.
The history: Settled in 1910, this town along the east fork of the Sevier River was originally called Henderson in honor of a Panguitch man who donated the land. But then the Holt family from nearby Widtsoe came in and constructed a massive creamery and summer home. For reasons unknown, they named the site Osiris, after the Egyptian god of the afterlife.
In an attempt to make the operation more lucrative, the creamery was later converted into a grain mill. However, harsh weather conditions and poor farming doomed the settlement and it was abandoned in the 1920s.
What remains: The enormous creamery is on private property, which has enabled it to remain in excellent condition over the years. Across the street from the creamery is the Holt family home site.
How to get there: The Osiris creamery and home site are easily visible from State Route 22, about 10 miles south of Antimony.
FRISCO: This iconic ghost town boasts some of the most stunning and well-preserved structures in Utah.
The history: When silver was discovered in Utah’s San Francisco Mountains in 1875, the ensuing boom spawned the wild mining town of Frisco. With more than 20 saloons, brothels and gambling halls, Frisco’s residents worked the mines by day and indulged in debauchery by night. Gunfights were common and a famed Nevada lawman was eventually brought in to stem the rising tide of murders.
At its peak, Frisco had nearly 6,000 residents and was the commercial hub for the district. It had hotels, churches, stores, a post office, a school and a hospital. And as a terminus of the Utah Southern Railroad, it enjoyed all the financial benefits of being connected to the rail line.
In 1885, a catastrophic cave-in of the area’s most productive mine brought the prosperity to a halt. Some tenacious miners continued to work Frisco’s mines for the next several years or so, but by 1920 the town was abandoned.
What remains: Frisco is a treasure trove of relics. There are multiple buildings still standing, as well as extensive mining structures. The highlights of the area are the town cemetery and the beautiful beehive kilns that are on the National Register of Historic Places.
How to get there: Frisco is just off State Route 21, about 15 miles northwest of Milford.
THISTLE: This one-of-a-kind ghost town allows visitors to see firsthand the terrible effects of a 1983 landslide that dammed the Spanish Fork River and left the town underwater.
The history: Thistle began as a farm and ranch town in the 1880s. In 1890, the railroad was established in the area and the town became a service hub for the steam locomotives of the Denver and Rio Grande Western lines. The town hit its peak in the early 1900s, with a population of about 600. There were stores, a school, a post office and a saloon. But as railroads transitioned from steam to diesel engines, the town lost its crucial niche and its population dwindled.
In April of 1983, heavy rains caused a massive landslide that dammed the Spanish Fork River. A mandatory evacuation was announced and terrified residents gathered what they could and fled to the nearby town of Birdseye. The water levels continued to rise, destroying most structures and leaving the town’s remains buried more than 100 feet beneath the newly formed Thistle Lake.
I’ve spoken with a woman who was there that terrible day in Thistle. She had only a couple hours to gather her belongings before the muddy torrent engulfed her home. She then ran to her neighbor’s house and tried desperately to convince the elderly woman to evacuate. The woman refused and was eventually carried forcibly to a waiting vehicle. It was definitely a traumatic event for everyone involved.
What remains: Thistle Lake has long since been drained and the surviving structures give off an eerie, subterranean feel. Near the road you’ll find partially submerged homes and sheds, plus the remains of the store.
How to get there: Thistle is about 16 miles southeast of Spanish Fork. U.S. Route 89 runs directly through the town and many of the ruins are visible from the highway.
DUCHESNE — Questions about the true identity of a man who died in November 1936 are still unanswered more than a year after his remains were exhumed from the Duchesne City Cemetery.
Was William Henry Long simply a destitute farmer with an enigmatic past and a bleak future? Or was he actually Harry Alonzo Longabaugh — the man history knows better as the Sundance Kid, living under an assumed name in a small northeastern Utah town years after his reported death in South America?
Jerry Nickle began his quest more than six years ago to flesh out his step-great-grandfather's real past. That search led to an exhumation of Long's remains on Dec. 12, 2008, by the executive director of Salt Lake City-based Sorenson Forensics.
A subsequent comparison of the genetic material extracted from Long's badly decayed skeleton and a sequence of DNA from known descendants of the Longabaugh family yielded an inconclusive result with regard to a familial relationship.
"I was disappointed because I know dang well it's him," Nickle told the Deseret News from his home in Gilbert, Ariz.
"I was just puzzled," he said. "As a kid I heard the stories about him riding with Butch Cassidy, that he robbed trains and banks. It was so fascinating to me."
Nickle said the presence of underground water in the cemetery where Long was interred, and the resulting disintegration of his wooden casket, makes it possible that his bones have been contaminated. An earlier exhumation by another relative in September 2006, which Nickle termed "unauthorized," raises additional concerns about contamination.
He speculated there's also the possibility that there may not be a genetic link between Long and the Longabaugh family because of "hanky-panky" somewhere in the past or possibly an adoption.
"You're never exactly sure because you never know what happened back there, like something that broke that genetic line someplace," said Nickle, who is working on a book and screenplay about the project.
Nickle plans to have Long's remains sent to another lab for additional DNA analysis. But no matter what the genetic tests reveal, Nickle believes the circumstantial evidence linking Long and Longabaugh is overwhelming.
According to Long's headstone, he was born in February 1860. His obituary says he was reared in Wyoming's Bighorn Basin, near the Hole-in-the-Wall hideout later used by outlaws but doesn't name a specific town. Nickle said no one has been able to locate Long's birth certificate.
Longabaugh was born in Pennsylvania in early 1867, according to the historical record, and moved to Colorado at 15 to homestead with a cousin. He earned his outlaw moniker after serving time in Sundance, Wyo., for stealing a horse and saddle in 1887. His association with Utah native Robert Leroy Parker — aka Butch Cassidy — and the Wild Bunch is believed to have begun nine years later in 1896.
Long had married Nickle's great-grandmother, Luzernia Morrell, two years earlier. The pair met while her first husband was still alive, but suffering from serious injuries that would later kill him.
Nickle said Long rode into the Morrells' camp after he was wounded in a gunfight in Cortez, Colo. Luzernia Morrell tended the wound and Long followed the family back to Wayne County, Utah.
When Long and Morrell wed in 1894, she was 36 and had six children from her first marriage. Long listed his age as 27 on the marriage license. That was seven years younger than he should have been according to the birth date listed on his headstone, but identical to Longabaugh's age in 1894.
Besides the family history, Nickle and Marilyn Grace, the owner of a St. George production company who worked for Nickle when Long's bones were exhumed, point to striking similarities found in authenticated photographs of Long and Longabaugh as evidence that the men are one and the same.
Their belief is bolstered by the work of University of Utah anthropology professor John M. McCullough, another person involved in the 2008 exhumation.
McCullough studied the similarities in the Long/Longabaugh photos. In court papers filed to obtain permission to exhume Long, the anthropologist declared: "It is clear that these two photographs are of the (same) person."
Grace said McCullough's photo analysis revealed identical traits in both men — including a notch in an ear, evidence of a broken nose, and a cleft chin. There are also matches in height, hair color and eye color.
Once Long's remains were unearthed, McCullough conducted a physical examination of the bones as well. That analysis revealed that Long may not have committed suicide, as his death certificate stated. McCullough found evidence that the .22-caliber bullet that killed Long entered his skull from an angle that indicates someone else shot him, said Grace, who is working on her own book about a Long/Longabaugh connection.
Two stories of death
Nickle knows two family stories about how Long died.
As one daughter told it, the Great Depression left her parents bankrupt. The woman said when she told Long she wouldn't be able to host her parents in her Wasatch Front home during the winter of 1936, he left his home and shot himself in the head.
"It was said that he robbed banks and then the bank robbed him," Nickle said. "I don't know how much money he had, but they were in desperate financial straits by 1936."
Long's other daughter said her father got into an argument with Matt Warner, a former Wild Bunch associate who left the outlaw trail and later became a Carbon County lawman. One possible reason for the dispute was Warner's plan to publish a book about his days on the wrong side of the law. The fight escalated and Warner killed Long, according to the family story.
"How do you explain two different versions? I don't have an explanation for it," said Nickle, who is unsure which account to believe.
What he does believe though is that a collection of documents he refers to as "The Pinkerton Files" offers solid evidence that Long was really Longabaugh. The handwritten or typed reports were compiled by agents with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.
One of the reports, a copy of which Nickle provided to the Deseret News, indicates that Longabaugh visited a hospital in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1901, where he was treated for a bullet wound to the leg suffered "in the Far West." Nickle maintains that the injury is identical to the one Long sustained during the Cortez shootout.
Nickle also points to a Pinkerton report that Longabaugh suffered from a chronic sinus problem. He believes the malady was the result of a severely broken nose sustained during the outlaw's legitimate time as a cowboy breaking horses. He said Long also had difficulty breathing through his nose.
"The Pinkerton Files are the best evidence for me," Nickle said. "They confirm everything."
Not all agree
But Dan Buck, a critic of the effort to link Long and Longabaugh, isn't so sure.
"I don't know specifically what Jerry Nickle is referring to in terms of Pinkerton information," Buck said. "I've never encountered a single document that indicates William Henry Long is the Sundance Kid."
Buck has researched and written about the history of Butch and Sundance with his wife, Anne Meadows, since 1986. Based in Washington, D.C., the couple has traveled to South America and visited the places where the outlaws lived and worked in the early 1900s.
"There's always room for debate about any historical controversy," said Buck, who was part of an unsuccessful effort in 1991 with Meadows and noted forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow to identify the remains of two men buried in Bolivia as Butch and Sundance.
Buck said he and Meadows, over the years, have identified 60 different versions of how Butch and Sundance died. In those stories the outlaws supposedly died in North America, South America or Europe.
"That gives you a sense of how much is out there in terms of folklore, personal stories, family stories, newspaper accounts and so on," Buck said. "History hates a vacuum."
Buck said Butch and Sundance "really did disappear" at the time of their deaths, which promoted the myth that the men survived the 1908 Bolivian gun battle where Buck and Meadows believe they lost their lives. Long, he said, is simply one more "pretender" being offered up in another of the "resurrection stories" that inevitably surround outlaws.
"There's a whole area of outlaw folklore about the disappearance and the return of the bandit; the return of the bandit representing hope for the community," Buck said. "I think Jerry Nickle has fallen into this because he's so determined to prove (Long is Longabaugh) that he will find any scrap of paper to prove it and not look at the entire picture."
Buck described the Pinkerton files in general as "functioning sort of like flypaper for facts, rumors, stories, informant accounts, letters from people who saw something in the newspaper."
"Everything is in the files," Buck said, "and you have to go through everything and try to piece together, if you can, an account of what really happened."
Nickle said he understands the skepticism surrounding his claims about Long and Longabaugh. He said he doubted a connection early in his own research; that he searched for evidence to disprove a link as much as to prove one.
But, he said, those critical of his findings are motivated by a jealous desire to have their own work recognized as the definitive answer to the question: What really happened to the Sundance Kid?
"Just wait until all my compiled research is presented in book form and then tell me where I'm wrong. You just can't deny it," Nickle said. "What is coming will knock people's socks off."