The Fabulous Lost Adams Diggins

Excerpt from Arizona Adventure by Marshall Trimble, the state’s official historian.

Somewhere out in these rugged mountains, just maybe, lies the greatest lost mine of ’em all, The Lost Adams.

According to legend a sheer canyon wall with a huge boulder at the base hides a narrow opening into a Z-shaped canyon, called by the Apaches, Sno-ta-hay. This hidden canyon opens up into a small valley with a stream running through. Beneath the floor of a burned out cabin lies several buckskin poke sacks containing millions of dollars in gold dust (at today’s prices). Treasure seekers have searched in vain for over a century trying to locate the entrance to that mysteri­ous canyon.

The story began along the Gila Trail in the mid- 1860s. A freighter named Adams was camped near Gila Bend when a band of Apaches drove off his team of horses. Adams grabbed his rifle and ran off in pursuit. He eventually caught up with the animals but upon returning to camp saw that his wagon had been ransacked and burned.

Adams rode to the Pima villages on the Gila River hoping to barter for supplies. He arrived there to find a party of some 20 miners all excited over the prospects of getting rich. A young Mexican who had escaped from the Apache Indians had arrived with a tale of Apache gold. One of the youngster’s ears had been twisted into a grotesque knot, a deformity that inspired the name Gotch Ear. He’d been captured as a child and grown up with the band, but then had a fight with one of the warriors and killed him. Fearing retaliation from the slain man’s relatives, he’d fled. On his way to Sonora, Mexico, he met the American prospectors.

Gold Nugget“I know a canyon where you might load a horse with gold in one day’s gathering,” he told them. “There are pieces as big as acorns, scattered on the ground. Above the gravel is a rock ledge holding chunks of this yellow stuff as big as a wild turkey’s egg.” The gold, the boy said, was located in a hidden canyon in the heart of Apacheria.

With promises of a couple of horses, a red bandana, a rifle and a hundred dollars, the argonauts persuaded Gotch Ear to lead them to the Apache treasure. Adams’ timely arrival at the Pima villages provided the animals essential to make the trek. The 20 prospectors were without horses, and none were to be found among the Pimas, so he was invited to join up. Since he had lost everything in the Apache raid, he now figured to recoup some of his losses.

Adams’ account of the next few days journey tells of traveling northeast from the Pima villages towards Mount Ord in the Mazatzals. From there the party headed across the rugged central mountains south of the Mogollon Rim. Fi­nally, they approached a steep-sided cliff. When one of the miners wondered if they were going to scale the wall, Gotch Ear just smiled and said, “Wait and see.” He led them around a large boulder at the foot of the wall and through a hidden puerto, or door, that led into a narrow Z-shaped canyon.

A short distance farther, they came to a beautiful valley threaded by a stream. At the far end of this box canyon was a waterfall.

“If you search the gravel at the water’s edge,” the Mexican youth advised, “you’ll find the yellow metal you seek.”

Soon after, the canyon walls rocked with the sound of whoopin’ and hollarin’ as the prospectors filled their poke sacks with golden nuggets.

Gotch Ear was rewarded generously and he rode off into the darkness never to be seen again.

A few days later, Chief Nana and about 30 of his warriors paid a call. He told the prospectors they would be allowed to stay as long as they remained below the falls, but under no circumstances was anyone to travel any further up the canyon.

Over the next few days, the miners set up camp. Some built a log cabin, a few hunted, while the rest panned the nugget-laden stream. The gold was loaded in buckskin bags and placed in a hole beneath the cabin’s hearth. When supplies ran low, a small party was sent over to Fort Wingate, New Mexico to purchase more.

Despite the stern warning of the Apache chief, a few curious prospectors climbed above the falls searching for golden boulders, “the size of wild turkeys’ eggs.” And they found some. One brought back a coffee pot half-filled with nuggets.

Meanwhile, the supply party was a few days late return­ing, so Adams and a man named Davidson went to search for them. Near the hidden entrance to the canyon, circling buzzards provided the first mute warning of tragedy. Adams and Davidson quickly buried the bodies in shallow graves and hurried back to the camp to give warning. Long before they reached the little valley, they heard the war cries of the Apaches. The wary pair crept close enough to see the bloody massacre’s aftermath before making their way back through the canyon.

Several days later, an army patrol from a camp near the future site of Fort Apache discovered Adams and Davidson dazed and delirious from their tortuous ordeal. The soldiers carried them into the camp where Davidson soon died. Adams recovered and went to California. All he had to show for his efforts was a solitary gold nugget—about the size of a wild turkey’s egg.

Adams returned to Arizona after the Apache wars ended and spent the rest of his life trying to relocate the Z-shaped canyon called Sno-ta-hay. His long, unsuccessful quest ended with his death at the age of 93.

Excerpt from Arizona Adventure by Marshall Trimble, the state’s official historian.

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