More Catacomb Tales:
Many years later, in the 1920s, a prospector named White claimed he had fallen through the floor of an abandoned mine, at Wingate Pass in the southwest corner of Death Valley, into an underground tunnel. Going deeper into the labyrinth, he came to a group of rooms where he found hundreds of leather-clad human mummies that were surrounded by gold bars and other treasures. The rooms, as well as a tunnel that extended deeper into the catacombs, were lit with a pale greenish-yellow light of unknown origin. However, White did not follow the tunnel deeper into the unknown.
White claimed he had explored the catacombs two more times after his initial find. During his second visit, he was accompanied by his wife, and on the third, by his prospector partner, Fred Thomason.
In the meantime, after hearing about about White’s find, a Paiute Indian named Tom Wilson, who worked as a trapper and guide, told a story that was somewhat similar. Wilson claimed that his grandfather had discovered the below ground caverns of Death Valley many years before. As he told the tale, his grandfather had gone into a cave which led to numerous tunnels and large rooms beneath the valley floor. After wandering for miles, his grandfather had come to an underground city where he found a group of fair-skinned people that spoke an unknown language and wore leather-like clothing. He also said that the people had horses, were sustained by the food he had never seen before and that their “city” was illuminated by pale greenish-yellow lights.
The Indian, after having been missing for some time, finally returned home to tell his people of his discovery. Upon hearing his story, most of them were dubious about the authenticity of his adventure. But, his grandson, Tom Wilson, absolutely believed the tale.
Prospector White agreed to lead Tom Wilson and a group of archeologists to the entrance of the underground city, but, on this trip, White was unable to locate the cavern. However, they did locate a curious dead-end tunnel that had been carved out of solid rock. No doubt, they were all disappointed. But, that didn’t stop Tom Wilson, who spent the rest of his life searching for the underground city until his death in 1968.
The area around Wingate Pass was eventually absorbed into the China Lake Naval Weapons Center and is now closed to the public.
Interestingly, another tale with remarkable similarity was told by an old prospector by the name of Bourke Lee in his book Death Valley Men, published in 1932. Lee also tells of an underground city located in the Panamint Mountains of Death Valley. In his story, two men by the names of Jack and Bill were exploring near Wingate Pass when one of them fell through the bottom of an old mine shaft. His partner obviously followed into what was described as a natural underground cavern. The pair allegedly followed a tunnel some 20 miles northward into the heart of the Panamint Mountains.
These two men eventually arrived at large ancient underground rooms where they reportedly found several perfectly preserved human mummies which were adorned with thick armbands and held gold spears. Further, they said that the cavern rooms were illuminated by a system of lights fed by subterranean gases and the rooms were filled with treasure. This time, however, the report of the riches were more descriptive, with the men claiming to have found large statues of solid gold, stone vaults, and drawers filled with gold bars and gemstones, and a beautifully polished round table. Further, the story describes perfectly balanced heavy stone wheelbarrows and huge stone doors which were almost perfectly balanced by counter-weights.
After having found this incredulous room, the two men carried off a few artifacts and some of the treasure before continuing their journey through the tunnel which inclined upwards to a point that opened about half-way up the eastern slope of the Panamint Mountains. When the two men returned they displayed the treasures they had brought down which they hoped might lure archeologists to the site. But, in this tale, like so many others involving hidden riches, there would be a twist in the plan. Allegedly a “friend” made off with the artifacts and when the two men tried to lead experts to the mine opening, once again, they were unable to locate it. Jack and Bill claimed that a recent rainstorm had altered and rearranged the terrain.
Like the former discoverers, these two were also determined to find the entrance to the cavern and were allegedly last seen preparing to climb the east face of the Panamint Mountains. After which, they were never heard from again.
Brandon, Jim; Weird America, Plume, 1978
Childress, David Hatcher; Lost Cities and Ancient Mysteries of the Southwest; Adventures Unlimited Press; 2009
Lee; Bourke; Death Valley Men; Macmillan Co., 1932
San Diego Union Newspaper; August 5, 1947