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White Cliffs Lost Gold
rugged, and remote region of southern
Utah holds a number of legends
and tales hidden within its bold plateaus and multi-hued cliffs, one
of which is the tale of the White Cliffs Gold Ledge.
begins with an old prospector telling John Lorenzo Hubbell, of Hubbell
Trading Post fame, about a cavern in the White Cliffs of Southern
that was laced with white quartz stalactites, caked with gold. As to
why this old prospector, named George Brankerhoff, told the story to
Hubbell, rather than following up himself, is a mystery.
At the time
Brankerhoff shared the story with Hubbell in 1870, John Lorenzo was still
a young man working as a sutler’s clerk at Fort Wingate,
never heard from the old prospector again, but he never forgot the story.
The White Cliffs of
Utah, photo courtesy
Bureau of Land Management
later, when Hubbell was 20 years-old, the adventurous young man set out
alone, traveling to
Utah and following the old prospector’s directions in
search of the gold ledge. Accurate remembering the tale, Hubbell first
traveled to Kanab
Utah, then to Johnson Creek before turning eastward to
the White Cliffs. He then followed the base of the White Cliffs to within
three miles of Deer Springs Wash, where he would see a V-shaped cleft
pointing downward. Brankerhoff had told him that the cleft would appear to
be closed off from fallen sandstone; however, there would be a narrow
space that could be squeezed through. Through the gap could be found a
small stream of spring water that would disappear into the rocks beneath
the V-shaped entrance. Once through the crevice, the space would open
wider and deeper into a cavernous space, from the ceiling of which, would
be hanging icicle-like quartz stringers laden with gold.
desert traveler, Hubbell searched for weeks but was never able to find the
V-shaped opening described by Brankerhoff. Finally, he decided to travel
Utah, some 65 miles north of Kanab to see if he could find
out more information from the locals. Though he took a job in a general
store, he was not accepted by the locals due to his Mexican heritage. To
make matters worse, he was making friendly with a local girl who also had
the attention of a Christian bishop. The next thing you know he found
himself in a gunfight, and later was attacked by a dozen local men. Though
Hubbell was wounded in the attack, he killed two of his attackers
defending himself. He then stole a horse and fled to Lee’s Ferry,
Arizona. Obviously, he had received no help from the locals regarding the
terrain of the White Cliffs.
After his recovery, he returned to his
birthplace in Parajito,
New Mexico. A couple of years later, he would
begin building his
Indian Trading Post empire. Still, he wouldn’t let go
of the Lost Ledge Tale. Over the next several decades, he enticed several
prospectors into looking for the ledge in exchange for grubstaking them.
However, none were able to find it.
Then a man
named Warren Peters came along in 1891. Peters, a 61 year-old seasoned
prospector, had just sold two silver claims in the San Juan Mountains
Colorado before making his way into
New Mexico. With plans to
prospect in the gold camps of the Mogollon Mountains in the southwest
part of the state, Peters stopped in Gallup along the way. There he
met John Lorenzo Hubbell. Once again, Hubbell saw opportunity and
shared the tale with Peters, who was so interested that he traveled
with Hubbell to his home in Ganado,
Arizona. While there, Hubbell
provided Peters with all of the details as well as drawing a map of
the White Cliffs and Peters agreed to look. In May, 1891, Peters set
out to see if he could find the lost ledge. One can only imagine how
he might have felt when he spied the location. Making his way through
the narrow passage, he spied the icicle-like formations. Wasting no
time, he knocked down several 20-inch long stalactites, which
scattered chunks of gold as they fell.
Lorenzo Hubbell started his first trading post in 1878, eventually
creating a trading post empire of 30 such
New Mexico, and
pouches with the gold, he then loaded them onto two burrows and headed to
nearest railhead at Marysvale, some 80 miles to the north. He then
traveled to Salt Lake City to sell his gold. However, he found that it
would have to be shipped to Denver. After waiting more than a month he
finally received the payment. Thrilled at the amount, he decided to make
another trip back to the White Cliffs in August, 1891.
headed back, confident that he could find the cleft again. However, when
he found himself at Deer Springs Wash, he knew he had gone too far.
Surprised that he had missed it, he backtracked and began to search again.
Back and forth he went search in vain for the V in the cliffs, but was not
able to find it a second time.
he continued to look until it was almost winter before finally making his
way back to Hubbell in
Arizona. The two theorized throughout the winter
wondering why it had been so easy for Peters to find the ledge the first
time and impossible the second. They planned to return to
in the spring. However, when the time came Hubbell did not go, but rather
sent a friend of his named Henry "Wild Hank” Sharp, and two
by the names of Little Chanter and Black Horse.
As the four
prepared to leave on April 5, 1892, Hubbell warned them of dangerous men
who inhabited that portion of southern
Utah. However, the four prospectors
were armed and set out on their way, along with 20 pack mules and plenty
arrived at the White Cliffs, they found cattle grazing on the range, but
paying no mind, set up camp at the base of the cliffs near a spring. The
next day they split up into two pairs and began searching for the opening.
Peters and Sharp returned to camp first to find six men there. Eyeing them
warily, they slowly approached the camp and could see that their
belongings had been gone through.
inquired as to what was going on, the "leader” of the bunch indicated that
the area was rife with cattle thieves and it was his cattle that were
grazing the range. Though Peters replied that they were prospectors, had
no interest in the cattle, and the land was public domain, the
adamantly insisted that they leave.
With a last
threatening warning to vacate, the
cowboys rode off. The four prospectors
remained in camp for the evening and the next day decided they would not
split up and would carry their arms with them as they continued to search
for the crevice. However, when they examined their pistols and rifles,
they found every one of them had been tampered with. Deciding to pack
everything up, they planned to move the camp some four miles east to Deer
Springs Wash. Moving slowly over the next four days, they searched for the
lost ledge along the way before finally making a second camp near Deer
next several days, they continued their thorough search of the White
Cliffs, while at night they worried about the dangerous
cowboys. When they
returned to camp after a day of searching, the
found unknown tracks around the camp. Someone had obviously been there.
They decided they would spend just one more day searching and then leave.
In the meantime, they split up the camp, moving their pack animals and
most of their supplies to the east side of the wash, while leaving their
food and utensils at the original camp. After supper, the four moved to
the east side of the wash to bed down for the night. However, as Peters
and Sharp were discussing the situation, they spied 15 riders coming in
from the west. Halting at the abandoned camp, one of them yelled that they
were county officers and the prospectors were under arrest.
prospectors took cover and Peters responded, "What are the charges?"
cowboys accused them of cattle rustling, but Peters responded that
they were nothing more than a mob of
cowboys and they would shoot if the
cowboys advanced. After about a minute, bullets began to reign in Peters
direction and the prospectors fired back. Hidden by cover, they were able
to force back the
cowboys, but in the meantime, Peters had taken a bullet
in the leg.
immediately began to pack up, bandaged Peters wound, and they took off
back in the direction of
Arizona. Fearful of being trailed, they
moved as fast as they could throughout the night, not making camp until
they were well into
allowing Peters some time to recover, they made their way back to Hubbell,
who quickly made the decision that the gold was not worth pursuing if
someone might die. Peters returned to his home in
Kansas, and the other three to their
respective homes and businesses. Hubbell never tried again to send
prospectors into southern
rumors circulated that a
cowboy, maybe the same one who had threatened the
prospectors, had blown shut the entrance to the crevice because he hadn’t
wanted a bunch of prospectors on "his range.”
says that the lost ledge of gold is still hidden somewhere in the White
Cliffs. However, these lands are now part of the National Park System,
which does not allow treasure hunting.
of America, updated March, 2013.
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