Here's one of the numerous versions of the tale:
W. W. Williams, (later of Williams, AZ) accompanied Adams and Shaw on one of their searches into the Mogollons. This account appeared in identical form in newspapers throughout the southwest during the two or three years just prior to and after the turn of the century. The earliest copy I have located was in the Socorro Chieftain, 1898. (An almost identical version in the Denver Post, January 1899, is attributed to A. M. Sammons.)
The Lost Cabin Mine
Like the Stories of the big fish that were never caught, many tales of lost gold mines of fabulous richness have appeared in the newspapers from time to time. The most famous of these is the Lost Cabin Mine, in search of which many men are said to have lost their lives, and as yet it remains undiscovered. Most of these tales are, no doubt, mythical, yet such is the insatiable thirst of mankind for sudden wealth that searchers for lost mines do not always stop to inquire as to the probability of the truthfulness of the stories which start them out on long and expensive journeys, which usually, if not always, result in disappointment and sometimes terrible suffering, as well as loss of life.
No region is as inhospitable or inaccessible as to deter these hardy and eager seekers after the precious treasures hidden deep in nature's darkest and loneliest recesses from risking life itself in order to drag them forth and make them ministers to their comfort and happiness.
The story which I am going to relate of the lost placer gold mine does not belong to the mythical class. There were so many participants in its first discovery, and the incidents relating thereto are so well known in California and elsewhere as to remove the story from the realm of fiction and place it among the remarkable occurrences which have characterized the search for gold in the West since the day when Marshall made his famous discovery of the existence of the precious metal on Sutter's creek in California. The story is as follows:
In the spring of 1883, I was approached by an old acquaintance who invited me to join a party which was being made up to prospect in the Mogollon Mountains. As I had just returned from that region, and knew that Geronimo and some renegade Apaches were on Stampede in that vicinity, I declined the invitation, but afterwards, by reason of some inducements which were held out to me, I reconsidered my declination and joined the party. The object of the expedition was to rediscover, if possible, a placer mine of incredible richness. In the party was one of the original discoverers of the mine, and the story which he told in regard to it goes something like this:
In the fall of 1858, a party of Californians arrived at Yuma at the mouth of the Gila River where it enters the big Colorado. They had heard of great placer mines to be found in the sands of Arizona, and were in search of thereof. The party consisted of twenty-two men and a full complement of saddle and pack horses. While making inquiries of the Yuma Indians as to their best and most feasible route up the Gila River, which runs nearly due east and west through Arizona, they found it necessary to have an interpreter, the Spanish language being unfamiliar to most of the Californians. A young man with the Yuma tribe, who could speak Spanish, was brought into service to act in that capacity, and the desired information was procured. Just before the departure of the gold-seekers they were visited by the young interpreter, who requested to see the leader of the band. His request was granted, when he said: "Señors: I am Mexican. I was born on the banks of the Rio Grande, in Texas. The Apaches killed my parents and made me a captive. I remained with them for several years. I was then traded to the Maricopas, who in turn traded me to the Yumas. I am a slave and a drudge. I wish you would buy me. If you will, I will show you where there is more gold than your horses can pack." He was closely questioned but he adhered strongly to his story and described with great particularity the place where the precious metal was to be found in such great quantity. His statement was so earnestly made and he seemed to be so honest in it, that it made a strong impression upon the party, and negotiations were entered into with the Indians to secure his release. After much palaver and dickering the Indians agreed to take a few ponies for their captive, and the exchange was made.
The story of the young Mexican was, in brief, this: He said that a few years after his capture by the White Mountain Apaches they began to take him with them on their various expeditions, as they seemed to be satisfied that he was reconciled to living with them and would not attempt to escape. One of these trips was made to the south fork of the Gila River. While there he was shown pieces of yellow metal. The Indians told him it was "white man's money", and if they knew of its existence the country would be taken from the Indians, their game all killed, and that they would have no homes. Being young, he knew nothing of its value. Afterwards, he saw it passed in the purchase of goods, and so ascertained that it was of great worth. He also knew that in the region whence it came there were large quantities to be had for the digging. He said that it would be found on one of the tributaries of the Gila, one of the landmarks being three mountain peaks which lay in the form of a triangle, two streams coming together at the foot of the central peak. The gold, he said, was on the right hand stream.
The trip up the Gila was uneventful. After passing over some rugged country, their guide informed them that it would be necessary to leave the river, as there was a box canyon near by which prevented further progress along its banks. Two days afterwards the three peaks described by the Mexican were discovered, and the party was in high spirits over the probability that the story was correct, and that they were on the eve of a rich discovery which would make their fortunes. Camp was made that night, and in the morning the guide, accompanied by two of the party, went ahead to pick out the best route. They had gone but a short distance when they were ambushed by a party of Indians and all three were killed . The remainder of the party, nothing daunted by the untoward incident, continued on their journey, following the route which the Mexican had laid down for them. They soon reached the spot which he had described. An examination disclosed the fact that he had not exaggerated the matter, for they found gold in great abundance. Claims were quickly located and a few rough cabins were erected . Having no lumber nor the means of sawing any, they were compelled to resort to ground sluicing, which was done by cutting channels to bedrock and running the water through them.
The party pooled their gold and placed it in a large camp kettle, kept it concealed under a rock in front of the hearth in one of the cabins. They had filled their kettle with gold, valued as nearly as they could estimate it, at about $200,000, when it was determined to send part of the crowd back to Yuma with the treasure, and to procure provisions, tools and other necessary articles, and also to inform friends of their good luck. It was thought that the round trip would consume six weeks. Twelve men were selected to make the journey, the others agreeing to remain and work the claims for the benefit of all.
Six weeks passed away but the party did not return. After waiting two weeks longer, two of the party volunteered to go and meet them as the food supply was running low, and they were on short rations; the kettle being nearly full again. They left the camp at daybreak and ascended the side of the canyon to the mesa, which they had no sooner reached than they heard the sound of firearms to their rear. Looking back they discovered that the camp had been attacked by a large body of Indians, who were slaughtering their comrades before their eyes and burning their rude huts. They became panic stricken and started in haste for the Gila River. About noon, while passing through a rocky gorge, they were horrified by beholding the bleaching bones of their twelve companions who, two months before, had started for Yuma, but the gold was missing. The remainder of the story is told by a captain of the United States Army, who at the time was stationed at Fort Bliss.
This officer stated that he left Fort Bliss under orders to proceed to the Gila River and explore the country as far west as the Mogollon Mountains. He had a detachment with him. When they reached the river they were unable to cross by reason of the high water, so they went into camp on the river bank. The next morning two objects were discovered wandering aimlessly about on the opposite side of the river. Their appearance puzzled the soldiers, for they had no idea there was anybody in the vicinity. A field glass was brought into requisition, and it was finally determined that the objects were white men, but what they meant by their erratic movements was still a puzzle.
A sergeant and two privates volunteered to cross the dangerous stream and investigate. They succeeded in crossing safely, and after much maneuvering, succeeded in capturing the men, who were in a dazed condition and offered no resistance. They proved, in fact, entirely insane from the lack of food and by reason of exposure. With careful nursing they were, in a few days, partially restored to reason and they were able to tell the stories of their adventures and suffering a sort of coherent manner. They had in their possession a number of nuggets of gold to the amount of several hundred dollars. Adams, for that is the name of one of the unfortunate men, and his companion were taken to Fort Bliss. From thence they went to Brownsville, Texas, and afterwards to California.
Shortly after their arrival in California, Adams' companion was stricken with paralysis as a result of his terrible exposure, and was thereby rendered helpless for life. Adams joined the California volunteers, with whom he served during the war. After the close of the war he embarked on business in San Francisco and prospered. As soon as he accumulated sufficient money he organized a party to go in search of the mine which he had left under such tragic circumstances. Indians repulsed them, and several subsequent expeditions with the same object met with failure by reason of being unable to again locate the mine.
Afterwards he came to Lake Valley to organize a party to make a final effort to find the mine. The captain who rescued him and his companion had retired from the service, but he was located in New York and confirmed the story. I joined the party and we went to Gila Hot Springs, thence west into the Mogollon Mountains, prospected the gulches and canyons as we went along, but we failed to find the mine or any other placer ground. The three mountain peaks were unable to locate, and we returned to Lake Valley having spent two months in the vain search.
I am now inclined to think that the mine is located at the headwaters of the San Francisco river in the Blue mountains, which lie to the west of the Mogollons. The Mexican guide probably confused the above named stream with the north fork of the Gila River. Adams returned to California soon after the trip and died there. It is firmly believed by old timers that the placer diggings exist, and that some day they will be found to give up their great wealth, together with the kettleful of gold left there.