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The deserts of the American southwest have long been the discussion of lost mines and buried treasures. For hundreds of years, man has scoured the desert floor searching for any signs of the countless tales of lost riches. Some have claimed to have found the elusive treasures but only to be lost again, while others grew old or died trying. None the less, the legends live on as they are passed down from generation to generation. Maybe you will be the lucky one...

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Breyfogle's Lost Gold
By W. Craig Gaines

From page 08 of the March 2004 issue of Lost Treasure magazine.
Copyright ©2004, 2004 Lost Treasure, Inc.

The story of Breyfogle’s Lost Mine is a tangled tale with many variations that have come about due to its retelling and the confused state of mind of its namesake. Charles Breyfogle is the one who lost the mine, but he is often confused by researchers and writers with his brother Jacob Breyfogle and his cousin William O. Breyfogle. Since the Breyfogle who discovered the lost mine has a first name that differs in the many stories of this lost mine, let’s just call him Breyfogle.

In J. Frank Dobie’s version of the story, Breyfogle and two other prospectors named McLeod and O’Bannon left Los Angeles, California in early 1862 and traveled over the harsh Mohave Desert, heading for a new rich silver strike in Austin, Nevada Territory.

One version has Breyfogle going to Arizona Territory with Confederate sympathizers in 1863 or 1864 and then returning to Los Angeles before leaving with McLeod and O’Bannon for Austin. Gold in California and silver from Nevada had drawn thousands from all over the world to the American West. Western gold and silver was a major revenue source for the United States government that enabled it to wage war against the Confederacy during the American Civil War.

Harry Sinclair Drago’s version of the story is that Breyfogle, McLeod and O’Bannon were on their way to join the Confederate Army by cutting south from Austin, Nevada Territory to take the Old Spanish Trail to San Bernardino and Yuma. They planned to cross into Mexico to avoid Union patrols and finally to arrive in Confederate Texas. Upon reaching Texas they were to enlist in the Confederate Army. Breyfogle was supposed to have linked up with other pro-Confederates at Ash Meadows or Mesquite Springs, at a location about 30 miles northwest of Stovepipe Wells. All the stories say the three men crossed the east side of the Panamint Range near Death Valley and camped for the night. A band of hostile Indians observed them coming into the Indians’ homeland and hid to ambush them. Drago said the camp was between Stovepipe Wells and Daylight Springs on the east slope of the Funeral Mountains.

After the three white men fell asleep, the Indians crept into their camp and killed McLeod and O’Bannon. Unknown to the Indians, Breyfogle had chosen to sleep several hundred yards away from McLeod and O’Bannon. Breyfogle was awakened by the death screams of his partners.

One story says Breyfogle was also attacked by the Indians and partially scalped, but that he managed to escape.

Other versions of this story say that he escaped unharmed. Breyfogle was barefoot as he ran for his life down into inhospitable Death Valley without supplies or firearms. Breyfogle outdistanced the hostile Indians in the dark. He somehow managed to cross Death Valley and was climbing up the Funeral Range in the daylight when he saw some green to the south. He later said he estimated the green patch was about three miles away.

Dying of thirst and hungry, Breyfogle thought the green indicated a spring. He staggered towards the green and when about halfway there, he noticed some gold embedded gray float rock on the ground. Breyfogle excitedly examined the reddish feldspar richly sprinkled with gold. Although almost dead from his trek, he retrieved several of the loose rocks and secured them in his bandana. Although a man in peril, he still had a good enough state of mind to recognize that he may have discovered what every prospector searched for, a rich gold strike.

Breyfogle staggered along and finally reached the green he had seen from a distance. It was only a mesquite tree. No spring was visible. He eagerly ate the mesquite beans from the lone tree and fainted on the ground. Upon awakening Breyfogle began wandering senseless across the vast desert and over the rugged mountain ranges. One version says Breyfogle was attacked and clubbed senseless by another band of Indians as he slept next to one of the springs in the area. The Indians stole Breyfogle’s clothes and left him to die. Somehow Breyfogle’s will to live succeeded in causing him to reach a spring known as Coyote Holes.

Most of the stories say Breyfogle made the long journey by foot from Death Valley toward Austin, Nevada Territory. Somehow Breyfogle regained his senses when he was at Baxter Springs, Nevada Territory, about 260 miles from the last location he remembered.

A second version of the story says that travelers on the Old Spanish Trail found him about 100 miles from Death Valley. There is also another story that Breyfogle was found by Wilson, a rancher, in Big Smokey Valley, Nevada Territory, after he had crossed the Funeral Range and the Amargosa Desert. Breyfogle recovered from his ordeal and ended up in Austin with his rock samples still in his bandana. Austin was a boomtown full of miners working the rich silver strikes in the area. Today, Austin, Nevada is still a mining town and provision center for miners and prospectors. There were many prospectors in Austin who were looking for their bonanza.

The miners and prospectors in Austin were amazed at the amount of gold in the pink feldspar that Breyfogle had found in the unfriendly desert. Although it was winter, about 20 men banded together with Breyfogle to return to the Death Valley area to find the rich gold ore and make their fortune. Breyfogle found the mesquite tree that helped save him, but he was unable to locate any of the rich gold ore that he had previously discovered. Evidently in his delirium, he had forgotten or misinterpreted the landmarks necessary to find the site. The disappointed prospectors left the desolate area, but Breyfogle returned time and time again, still looking for his lost mine. Breyfogle also looked for gold in the Hiko area and worked in the Austin and Eureka mining districts in Nevada. Breyfogle died in 1870 without finding his lost mine.

Over the years that followed, Paiute Indians in the area are said to have traded pink feldspar rock sprinkled with gold at Nevada trading posts for supplies. Hundreds of prospectors have scoured the Funeral Range looking for Breyfogle’s lost mine. Some have even died in the barren area while searching for Breyfogle’s lost mine.

Two prospectors, called Higgins and Covington, looked for Breyfogle’s lost mine and are said in 1880 to have talked an Indian into leading them to a cave which had a large amount of gold hidden in it. Some say the gold was from the Lost Breyfogle Mine. The Shoshone Indians chased the two men from the area several times over the years. Higgins and Covington gave up trying to return for the gold about 1900.

Some mines have been developed in the area around Death Valley, but the Lost Breyfogle Mine still awaits rediscovery.

- W. Craig Gaines