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.' "
A New York Appellate Court has ruled that the small gold cuneiform tablet looted from Berlin’s Vorderasiatisches Museum at the end of World War II and acquired by Reuven Flamenbaum after his liberation from Auschwitz must be returned to the museum. It took the court less than a month to announce its decision which sides firmly with the plaintiff rejecting all the defendants’ legal arguments.
Quick summary (read last month’s entry for the full background): The tablet was discovered in the foundations of the Ishtar temple by a German archaeological team in 1913. The 9.5-gram card is inscribed in cuneiform on both sides describing the construction of the temple and calling on all who visit the temple to honor its builder, King Tukulti-Ninurta I (1243-1207 B.C.). After complications and delays caused by the First World War, the artifacts made it into the Vorderasiatisches Museum’s collection in 1926. With another war looming in 1939, the museum closed its doors and put everything in storage. Sometime between then and the end of the war when inventory was taken, the tablet went missing. Overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of artifacts looted from the museum and the conflicting authorities of post-war Berlin, the museum did not report the loss to the police or any art theft registries.
According to Flamenbaum family lore, Reuven got the tablet from a Soviet soldier around that time. He traded it for two cigarettes or a salami (the details are hazy, obviously) and took it with him when he immigrated to the United States in 1949. He settled in Long Island and got a job at a liquor store. Later he bought said liquor store using the tablet as collateral for a loan. In 1954 he had it appraised at Chritie’s and they told him it was a fake worth a hundred bucks at most. Still he kept it as a treasured memento of his survival.
Reuven Flamenbaum died in 2003. Three years later, Hannah Flamenbaum, Reuven’s daughter and executor of his estate submitted a list of assets as part of a petition to settle the account. The tablet was not mentioned individually on this list, just a “coin collection.” Her brother Israel objected that the so-called coin collection was more valuable than Hannah had stated “and includes one item identified as a ‘gold wafer’ which is believed to be an ancient Assyrian amulet and the property of a museum in Germany.” He told the Vorderasiatisches Museum about it too, while he was at it.
The museum filed a claim to recover the tablet. At a Nassau County Surrogate’s Court hearing, Dr. Beate Salje, director of the Vorderasiatisches, testified that the piece was stolen at the end of the war by a person or persons unknown. The Red Army looted the museum — many of those artifacts were returned by the Soviets in 1957 — as did German troops and people taking refuge in the museum. The museum also submitted a report by Dr. Eckart Frahm, Assistant Professor of Assyriology at Yale University, covering a 1983 article by A.K. Grayson about the fate of the Ashur artifacts. This article stated that Professor H.G. Guterbock from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago told the author that he had seen a gold Assyrian tablet from a Berlin museum “in the hands of a dealer in New York in 1954.”
There is a reference to that allegation in the Vorderasiatisches’ record of the tablet, an annotation that it was “seen by Guterbach 1954 in New York” with “Grayson” written underneath. This entry is not dated and could have been written at any time after 1983, or before, I guess, if you suppose that Grayson heard the story from Guterbock whenever and told the museum. There’s zero evidence of that, however, so it’s meaningless speculation.
The Surrogate’s Court decided that the museum had met its burden of proving legal title, but that its claim was barred by the doctrine of laches, a legal principle that requires an owner “exercise reasonable diligence to locate” lost property. Apparently the court thought that note was evidence that the museum knew about the tablet’s being in New York decades ago but didn’t pursue it. It’s really not, though. They seriously misread the report.
The museum appealed and Hannah Flamenbaum cross-appealed, now claiming an affirmative defense that the tablet belonged to the estate based on the doctrine of laches. In May of 2012, the Appellate Division dismissed the cross-appeal and reversed the Surrogate’s Court decision on the grounds that the defense had not demonstrated that the museum failed to exercise reasonable diligence to locate the tablet. The case went back to Surrogate’s Court and finally wound up before the New York Court of Appeals last month.
The New York Court of Appeals has decided for the museum, rejecting both the doctrine of laches argument and the ugly, in my opinion, spoils of war theory which the estate proffered holding that the Soviet Union gained legal title to the tablet when it was looted as a spoil of war and then transferred the title to Reuven Flamenbaum when he bartered two cigarettes or a salami for it. They shot down both arguments in terms that made my wizened little heart grow three sizes this day:
We agree with the Appellate Division that the Estate failed to establish the affirmative defense of laches, which requires a showing “that the museum failed to exercise reasonable diligence to locate the tablet and that such failure prejudiced the [E]state” …. While the Museum could have taken steps to locate the tablet, such as reporting it to the authorities or listing it on a stolen art registry, the Museum explained that it did not do so for many other missing items, as it would have been difficult to report each individual object that was missing after the war. Furthermore, the Estate provided no proof to support its claim that, had the Museum taken such steps, the Museum would have discovered, prior to the decedent’s death, that he was in possession of the tablet …. As we observed in Lubell, in a related discussion of the defense of statute of limitations, “[t]o place a burden of locating stolen artwork on the true owner and to foreclose the rights of that owner to recover its property if the burden is not met would . . . encourage illicit trafficking in stolen art” (77 NY2d at 320). [...]
The “spoils of war” theory proffered by the Estate — that the Russian government, when it invaded Germany, gained title to the Museum’s property as a spoil of war, and then transferred that title to the decedent — is rejected. The Estate’s theory rests entirely on conjecture, as the record is bereft of any proof that the Russian government ever had possession of the tablet. Even if there were such proof, we decline to adopt any doctrine that would establish good title based upon the looting and removal of cultural objects during wartime by a conquering military force …. Allowing the Estate to retain the tablet based on a spoils of war doctrine would be fundamentally unjust.
Then Hannah Flammenbaum’s attorney expressed his dismay at the ruling in terms that almost made my heart re-wizen.
Attorney Steven Schlesinger said the family was disappointed and questioned whether the court refused to uphold “title by right of conquest” because it would open the door for those who obtained art looted by Germans during the Holocaust.
“You can’t argue that the United States doesn’t recognize the right of conquest when this entire country is the result of the law of conquest,” he said, citing territorial expansion that includes Texas and California and at least 50 Indian land claims in New York.
Uh, are you seriously using the genocide of Native Americans as an argument in favor of a Holocaust survivor’s descendants getting to keep stolen property? Because that’s appalling. And yeah, actually, while we’re at it, upholding “title by right of conquest” would open the floodgates to collectors and museums keeping art looted during the Holocaust. These legal battles are ongoing. Why in the world would you want to be the case that establishes the right of Holocaust profiteers to keep the treasures they acquired with blood on their hands? All of this for a tablet that Hannah Flammenbaum claims she wants to donate to the Holocaust Museum anyway? It’s gross.
WELLSVILLE — When he was a young boy growing up in Utah County, backpacking became a “big intrigue” for Wellsville resident Guy Bartholomew. Any opportunity he had to go backpacking, he would go. That intrigue eventually lead to another intrigue for him: gold.
While Bartholomew was living in Washington state he received a book about Spanish gold mines hidden in the Uinta Mountains from his brother Max Bartholomew. As he read the book he began to become more and more interested in the subject of gold. He said over the next three or four years he wanted to go back to the Uintas. After searching the Internet, Bartholomew said he came across a map that leads to one of the mines. He realized the mine on the map was about 200-300 yards from where he camped as a boy and e-mailed the map to his brother.
In 2005, Bartholomew, his brother Max and his cousin, Leon Leavitt, hiked 15 miles up to where he thought the mine is located. Bartholomew said upon reaching the area they located a tree with markings that matched up with those on the map. The tree had the word “oro” carved in it, which is Spanish for gold.
Upon entering the mountains a dam had broken behind them and the forest rangers closed the trail. “We were wondering if our outfitters were going to be able to get us,” Bartholomew said
The outfitters did eventually find them. Although they had found the tree, after 10 days of searching, they left. While Bartholomew and his party were hiking down he said they ran into a man and his teenage son. He said the man told him he makes more in two weeks panning for gold than he does in the entire year working at his job.
According to Bartholomew, within a couple weeks of the dam breaking someone hired a helicopter and extracted “several hundred Spanish silver bars” from where the water level had fallen.
“Now that is an illegal act,” Bartholomew said. “If it really happened.”
Bartholomew said the legend of the gold mines goes back to when LDS settlers first came to Utah in the mid-1800s. He said Thomas Rhoades, a LDS prospector, was called back from Sacramento, Calif. by former LDS Church president Brigham Young. Bartholomew said Young appointed Rhoades to be the “go-between” with the Ute Indians for the right to mine gold in the Uintas.
“The gold that was used to plate the Angel Moroni on the Salt Lake Temple and the oxen in the Salt Lake Temple; that (the mines) was the source of that gold,” Bartholomew said. “This was all according to the legend.”
Bartholomew said people have been looking for the gold for decades and if somebody did find gold bars they probably wouldn’t say anything. According to the American Antiquity Act of 1906, “any person who shall appropriate, excavate, injure, or destroy any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity, situated on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States, without the permission of the Secretary of the Department of the Government having jurisdiction over the lands on which said antiquities are situated, shall, upon conviction, be fined in a sum of not more than five hundred dollars or be imprisoned for a period of not more than ninety days, or shall suffer both fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court.”
Bartholomew has returned to the Uintas several times over the last few years, but has not found anything of significance. He said he now intrigued by the history of events. His gold fever is gone. He said he plans on returning again.
“There are so many other stories to follow up on in different locations,” Bartholomew said.
An unintended legacy of California’s gold rush, which began in 1848, endures today in the form of mercury-laden sediment. New research by Michael Singer, associate researcher at UC Santa Barbara’s Earth Research Institute, shows that sediment-absorbed mercury is being transported by major floods from the Sierra Nevada mountains to Central Valley lowlands.
The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
150 year legacy
Contamination of food webs as a result of mercury-laden sediment, coupled with regional shifts in climate, poses a huge risk to the lowland ecosystems and to the human population as well because a lot of people eat fish from this system.
“This new study addresses a gap in the general theory of the evolution of toxic sediment emplaced by industrial mining, which enables anticipation, prediction and management of contamination to food webs,” Singer said.
His research shows that mercury stored in immense Sierran man-made sediment deposits is carried by the Yuba River and other nearby streams to the Central Valley lowlands during 10-year flood events, most recently in 1986 and 1997. His team used several independent datasets and mode ling of the episodic process to demonstrate how mercury-laden sediment stored in deep river valleys more than 150 years ago travels hundreds of miles into ecologically sensitive regions.
The discovery of this process was serendipitous. Singer and a colleague were working in California’s Central Valley studying how quickly floodplains filled up with sediment when they came across Burma-Shave signs that said, “SAND.”
“We thought that was quite strange because the floodplains around us were so much finer –– composed of silt and clay materials,” recalled Singer. “So we followed the signs and ended up in a huge sand mine. They were mining sand by the truckload for the construction industry and said they would be doing so for at least the next several decades.”
It turns out that a massive flood in 1986 in the Yuba River Basin brought enough sand with it to bury a major rice field, which a savvy farmer then leased to the sand-mining operator. According to Singer, the upstream Yuba was the biggest gold-mining drainage of all the Sierra drainages used in the 19th century, so it made sense to think about possible mercury contamination because gold rush miners used mercury to separate gold.
“They didn’t just pan for gold,” Singer said. “That’s a romantic notion of gold mining. It was actually an industrial process whereby they sprayed giant high-pressure hoses, invented in 1852, at upland hillsides to wash the sediment downstream. Sides of mountains were washed away and sent downstream, and the sediment started filling in these confined river valleys, actually spreading all the way out to San Francisco Bay. This caused problems for steamboat operations and increased flooding on lowland farms. The U.S. government ultimately got involved and stopped the mining in 1884, which basically ended the gold rush overnight.”
A modern day impact
Singer says mercury is currently a big problem in San Francisco Bay and the Delta. “People know there was gold mining in the Sierra Nevada and they know that there was mercury mining in the Coast Ranges, but they’re not really sure of the modern-day impact, especially when the contaminant sources are not directly by the bay,” he said. “People want to know what is causing contamination of the food webs of the Central Valley.”
The PNAS paper begins to answer that by documenting flood-driven fan erosion, sediment redistribution and a process called progradation, the growth of a sedimentary deposit farther out into the valley over time, which, in this case, spread the mercury-laden sediment into parts of the basin where there is higher risk of it being taken up by food webs.
The research team compared gold rush data with modern topographic datasets, which showed that the Yuba River was progressively cutting through the sediment and in the process leaving behind massive contaminated terraces along the riverbank. Flood data and modelling indicate that these terraces move only when a flood event is big enough to saturate them so that the terraces fail and the mercury-laden sediment is carried and driven downstream.
“There is a lot of sediment left in the system that is highly contaminated and readily available to be remobilized and sent downstream just because it’s sitting in unconsolidated sediments along the margins of a river that can become very big during a storm,” Singer said. “That susceptibility, coupled with projections for climate change in the region indicating more massive storms in the future, means that there is a dangerous synergy.”
University of California – Santa Barbara
Tehran Three kilograms of 2500-year-old gold dating to the Achaemenid era have been unearthed in the ancient palace of Bardak-e Siah in Borazjan in the southern province of Boushehr.
Archaeologists are asuuming that the gold pieces are most probably the golden layers of the wooden doors of the palace or the monumental plates of the building which were usually written on thick golden pieces during the Achaemenid time.
The discovery which came a few days ago beside one of the pedestals of the central hall of the palace, includes four pieces of gold weighing three kilograms.
Three of the pieces are thick pleated tablets and the fourth looks like the above part of an Achaemenid challice, head of the excavation team of Borazjan, Ehsan Yaghamayi, told CHN.
Refering to the similarity of the pieces with the golden and silver monumental plates of Apadana Palace in Persepolis complex, Yaghmayi explained that the pleats of the tablets should be unfolded in the lab to see whether they include any inscriptions or texts to be deciphered and to find out their exact usage.
Bardak-e Siah Palace was discovered in 1977 where remains of another palace, called Sang-e Siah, and many stone inscriptions and bas-reliefs have also unearthed. More than 20 other palaces and halls from the Achaemenid dynasty have moreover been identified buried under the palm trees of Dashtestan area.