Pioneer story from the WPA Writers' Project

•  Lost gold in New Mexico--treasure never found, even to today!

During the Great Depression from 1936 to 1940 there was a WPA Writers' Project which paid local authors to write a report or "manuscript". The goal was to collect and preserve oral histories of pioneers. E. V. Batchler worked for this Project, and on November 18, 1938, he submitted a manuscript now archived at the Library of Congress. He wrote about hidden treasure in New Mexico, and especially about the "Adams Diggings". What follows is adapted from Batchler's report.

No one knows or has the slightest idea of the value of the lost Adams Diggings, because it has never been found. Here are two different versions of what may have happened in 1864 in northwestern New Mexico. From either version, you might conclude there's still a fortune in lost gold to be found!

First, the original Ed Adams version as he told it starting in 1864:

According to Ed Adams, for whom the supposed lost gold diggings were named, he and his partner, Joe Davidson, located gold in August, 1864. Adams said he and Davidson were part of a bunch of men on a beaver hunting expedition in northwestern New Mexico. They started from Magdalena, New Mexico, (near Socorro) and traveled in a northwesterly direction. Somewhere between Magdalena and old Fort San Rafael (later Fort Wingate), they decided to establish a semi-permanent camp before the cold winter weather set in. They chose a site near a little stream.

Adams reported that one of the men noticed gold in the stream and excitedly revealed his discovery to the rest. Adams, who knew a little more about mining than his companions, thought the gold had probably washed into the stream from a rich outcropping above their camp. The next morning, he and Davidson left camp and traveled up the canyon hoping to discover the mother lode. A little while after they'd gone around a bend in the creek, their camp suffered a surprise attack by Apaches and, as the men were totally unprepared, the Indians massacred everyone in the camp.

He and Davidson heard the firing, and suspecting its cause, took cover in bushes on a nearby hillside. After hiding for several hours, the two men cautiously made their way over the hill and saw that the Apaches had left, probably believing they had killed all the men of the expedition. Also, their mules and horses were gone.

They buried the dead and then knocked a few pieces of gold-bearing ore off an outcropping of quartz they believed to be the mother lode. Adams then claimed they made their way to Fort San Rafael, where they asked for aid to go back and find the gold but were refused by the officer in charge. They then made their way on foot and after perilous hardships and a great deal of suffering, arrived in the town of Reserve, in what is now Catron County, New Mexico.

They showed off the ore to several people and then, after borrowing some money on the strength of the its richness, bought horses and went to Pima, Arizona, where Adams had friends who had enough money to properly outfit an expedition to return to the place where he had found the mother lode.

He organized an expedition and traveled from Pima to Alma and then to the location where he thought he had found the gold. But through some freak of nature or loss of direction, members of the expedition couldn't find any gold, or even the place where the men had been massacred and buried. What explanation did Adams give for this? He explained that both he and Davidson were notoriously poor in remembering directions.

Ed Adams told his version to anyone who would listen in the late 1800s. Other exploring parties have set out since then, but to this day, the location of Adams Diggings remains as much a mystery as when Ed Adams first started telling his story.

The second and later Bob Lewis version as told in 1938:

One of the men who heard old Ed Adams relate his story in the early 1900s was young Bob Lewis. Ed Adams, by this time, was an old prospector while Bob Lewis was a young one. Bob paid close attention to what Ed Adams said. In 1936, he was interviewed to obtain his oral history, for he had lived his life as a prospector, a cowboy and a frontier peace officer. His version of the Adams Diggings story is now stored at the Library of Congress.

He offered a much different version of the Adams Diggings story. He prefaced his remarks stating, "There never was a bigger old liar than Ed Adams. He'd tell a lie when the truth would fit better. He was used to bragging and stretching the truth."

Bob Lewis added different information about what happened at the Adams expedition camp. Just about dark, in August, 1864, he believed a caravan traveling from California joined the camp the Adams party had set up. Two days before the caravan stopped at Fort San Rafael (later Fort Wingate) and told the commanding officer they were transporting eighty thousand dollars in placer gold from California to the Eastern states. Lewis said this caravan was never seen again after the time the Adams party was wiped out by the Indians. Lewis thought they probably did camp with the Adams party and suffered the same fate as did the Adams men at the hands of the Indians.

But Lewis believed that Adams and Davidson, taking advantage of the opportunity fortune had provided them, devised a plan in the evening to ambush the caravan the next morning and make off with the gold. Lewis stated, "I believe Davidson throwed in with Adams and the two of them made plans to hijack the California outfit and steal their gold."

The men in a caravan would usually get up an hour or two before daylight, to make an early start, Lewis explained. Adams and Davidson could have made some excuse to leave the camp early in the morning, perhaps saying they were going to gather wood, as wood was scarce in that country.

Adams and Davidson may have gone down country to find a suitable place for waylaying the California outfit. While they were gone, as daylight came (the time Indians usually attacked) Apaches did attack the camp. Every man was killed and all the provisions, horses stolen.

When the caravan didn't show up at the ambush site, Adams and Davidson probably returned to camp and viewed the carnage and likely congratulated themselves on their luck to be absent from camp. Rummaging around among the supplies, Adams found the gold the California outfit had been carrying. As proof of this, Lewis said he later saw a handful of this gold Adams had saved before he buried the rest and it was of a quality entirely foreign to that part of New Mexico but identical with gold he'd seen from diggings in California.

Lewis remembered, "The pellets were about the size of a pinhead, up to as big as a pinto bean, and I knew that nobody ever found that kind of gold in the parts of New Mexico I have prospected over."

Lewis said that Adams and Davidson next buried the gold in a secret place.

Lewis disputed Adams and Davidson's story that next they made their way afoot to Fort San Rafael to report the massacre and to ask for aid to go back and help them relocate the mother lode they'd found and to view the remains of the Indian attack.

Lewis said, "I do not believe this part, because in March, 1890, I was at a saloon where Adams, who had been drinking pretty heavy, related his story of how he had gone to Fort San Rafael, in August, 1864, to ask the commanding officer for aid to give decent burial to the massacred party and offer him and Davidson protection while they tried to relocate the rich gold deposits.

"But there happened to be an old, retired Army officer in the saloon who had listened intently to Adams' story--this was Captain Sanborn--who said he was the commanding officer of Fort San Rafael in March, 1864, and to his knowledge Adams had never set foot in that Fort at anytime in his life."

Lewis concluded that Adams and Davidson never went to Fort San Rafael at all, but traveled a considerable distance to the south to avoid it. Instead, they limped into Reserve, sore-footed and half-starved. It was in Reserve that Adams showed a couple of pieces of ore in quartz form that was exceedingly rich, and stated that it was from the lode he had found before the Indians had massacred his party. He made no mention of the California expedition.

Lewis added that Ed Adams was showing the exact same samples in Reserve as he earlier had shown before he even left Magdalena in 1864. Adams told a story in Magdalena that he had given an Indian some whiskey for the samples and had promised him more if he would show him where he got the samples. Lewis said that these samples must have come from one of the richest mines he ever heard of. But to his knowledge, no ore of similar quality has ever been found, and the Indian who gave the samples to Adams would have been long since dead by then. Where the Indian found these samples will also probably never be known.

Of course, Adams didn't dare show any of the placer gold he had stolen from the California caravan and buried. At this point, he and Davidson separated, Adams going to Pima, Arizona, to obtain money and supplies from friends to outfit an expedition to return to salvage the gold. Davidson went on a supposed visit to see some relatives in Louisiana. Adams was successful in his attempt to raise an expedition, and he sent for Davidson who returned from Louisiana--the expedition met him in Alma, a town south of Reserve.

This expedition never found any gold, and Adams later made several solitary trips in search of it, but said he never had any luck. Several other expeditions were organized and went forth to find the Adams Diggings, but all met with defeat.

Then, in 1898, Lewis reported he decided to try to find the bodies of the men who were massacred at the Adams camp. Adams told that they had camped about fifteen miles north of three peaks that rose up from the plain and were a considerable distance from any other mountains. Lewis remembered the only three peaks between Gallup and Magdalena--the Tres Montosas, which are only about fifteen miles west of Magdalena. Figuring about fifteen or twenty miles north of there, he went to North Lake. A few miles north of North Lake, he found the bodies of five men, all buried in one hole.

Map of the North Lake area... map
But he found no clue to any gold in the vicinity, and so he came back to town and reported the finding of the bodies. Lewis believed that the bodies were the remains of part of Adams expedition, but he noted, "Of course I can't prove this."

Lewis' version concludes with his report that an old fellow found about twenty thousand dollars buried about five miles north of North Lake, and only a few miles from the place where he had discovered the bodies. Lewis continued, "This man was Jose Maria Jaramillo, and he told me about his find. But when I asked him if the twenty thousand was in gold ore or gold dust, he would not tell me."

On this note Bob Lewis' 1938 version ends. You could conclude that there still is a fortune of gold buried at Adams Diggings, wherever that may be. Or maybe, after all these years, that there isn't any undiscovered treasure to be found?
CENTER> To choose another story, CLICK here... next