March 2004 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts


Lost Mines of the Western Mojave

by Cecile Page Vargo

       The first  mining stories out of the El Paso Mountains in the Western Mojave talk of  discoveries in the narrow canyon known today as Goler Canyon or Goler Gulch. There are many different versions of the original story. The most popular  tells  of John Goler crossing over the arid Mojave desert after surviving the horrors of Death Valley in 1849. Weakened from thirst and hunger, Goler and companion  found a few gold nuggets as they were looking for water. Supposedly, Goler was so afraid of Indians he hurried away, but had time to leave his gun to mark the spot where he had found the nuggets. When he was safe and sound in Los Angeles he began displaying the gold and a small map where he had supposedly found them.     Future investors were told there would be no problem locating Goler’s potential gold mine  because of that gun he had left  standing on the hill at the canyon mouth.

Goler’s Lost Gold

       Goler and a man named Grant P. Cuddeback set out with a well equipped party of men to find the fast becoming famous canyon. Unfortunately, the Mojave desert turned out to be riddled with many canyons that fit the description of the one on Goler’s map, and no gun could be found at the entrance to any of them.   The now disgruntled party, returned to Los Angeles, none the richer for their efforts. Still positive he could re-discover the area where he had found his gold nuggets, Goler organized another party, only to be disappointed a second time. 

        Throughout the years that followed, freighters coming back and forth from the successful mining camps north of Mojave, told stories of seeing a lonely man and his burro prospecting in the eastern El Paso foothills. While camping at Mesquite Springs, Freighter “Slate Range Jack” ran into Goler with more nuggets said to have been found 5 miles to the east of them. Many a man outfitted himself with prospecting supplies and headed into the Western Mojave in search of  “The Lost Gunsight Mine” or “Goler’s Lost Gold. In 1893, when a bonanza was finally found in a dry narrow gulch in the Southern El Paso Mountains, many believed that this was the  site of John Goler’s lost mine, and named the camp that grew up around it Goler.

The Wild Dutchman’s Mine

        A few miles from Goler, a man named Charley Koehn was homesteading in Kane Springs.  As men showed up to try their luck at prospecting in Goler and surrounding areas, Koehn found he could make his riches by providing some of the supplies they needed.  His little rock house and store soon grew to a frame and canvas store located right in the new mining camp. As time went on he opened other establishments in the nearby booming mining camps, and  brought in machinery to set up a 10 stamp mill near his original Kane Springs homestead. 

        Charley Koehn was an interesting character, who earned a reputation as the “The Wild Dutchman” when he successfully fought claim jumpers off of the lake named after him using a mobile fort he had invented himself with buggy parts, and his old pistol.  Many thought of  him as an nasty old man who was always fighting some one or something.  Those who liked him, however, saw an unusual sense of humor.   He enjoyed telling stories of hiding liquor under a hens nest, so he could go down to the chicken coop and drink with a  guest, afterwards telling his temperance minded wife  that the guest provided the liquor, which helped to relieve his shingles. In later years, as Koehn sat in San Quenton convicted of attempting to murder a Superior Judge with a homemade coffee can bomb, he still knew how to play a good joke. Letters with the location of a lost mine were written by him to one friend, then he wrote another about the joke he was playing on the first, saying that the lost mine was really where he had marked the map he had sent him. Soon men were searching all over the vast desert countryside looking for the lost gold mine somewhere near the x on the map they had been given by Charlie Koehn.  Afterwards, he would kid the men in another letter, about the joke he had played on them, but there were those who still believed that “The Wild Dutchman” actually  had a mine, it was just a matter of finding which one of them had the right x on their map. 

Nosser’s Lost Gold Mine

        While prospecting along the side of Red Mountain, Judge James B. Nosser Jr. suddenly ran across pieces of float spotted with gold. The daylight was giving out, so he made note of where he was and hurried back to the spot the next morning.  From the surface he was able to pick enough rock  rich with gold, to fill several ore sacks.  By the end of that second  day, he had combed the area quite well, and  was convinced that he had found all that existed in that location. On the third day as he sold his ore, others watched with interest, and they continued to keep track of every move he made for several days that followed. When it became apparent that he had no more ore to bring in, rumors began that Nosser had lost his gold mine. For several years, Nosser returned to the original spot at the side of Red Mountain where he had first found the float, but try as he might, there was nothing to be found.  He was convinced that lost gold mine stories were not really lost at all, they were  only small pockets of rich ore that were easily picked over by a miner in a short period time., leaving nothing of interest to come back to.   

The Lost Wishbone Mine

        A stranger came in fresh from prospecting in the El Paso Mountains one day, and handed a small rock sample to the assayer. It was too small for an accurate assay, so it was set  aside on a shelf until the prospector could bring back more material from the same area. The assayer forgot about the rock until the shelf was almost completely cleared of samples. Since the prospector had never returned with more ore,  the rock was thrown in a waste basket which was later dumped  on a rubbish fire at the back of the assayer’s house. When he went back  later in the day to make sure the ashes were completely dead, he noticed gold stuck to a charred chicken bone, and realized that the fire had  melted the gold  from the insignificant rock he had thrown away. Unfortunately, the assayer had been so busy when the prospector had brought in the ore, he had neglected to find out where the rock had come from. So far as anyone knows the rich gold deposit from the Lost Wishbone Mine is still waiting to be discovered to this day.

The Lost Swede Mine

        Somewhere between Searles Station and Red Mountain, father and son prospectors discovered not a ledge of gold, but a ledge of silver. Their burro’s pack was filled with as much silver as it could carry into Johannesburg. There it was turned in for groceries and cash. The next morning the word was out, and the two had company following them back to their diggings.  For two days, the men searched with no luck,  and they went on to Death Valley hoping to try their luck there. Their disappointed followers returned back to Johannesburg to the stories of the Lost Swede Mine. The legend persisted in spite of the fact that the assayed silver resembled the silver from the Kelly Mine in Red Mountain. 

The Twins Lost Gold Mine

        The Hickie twins were amongst the Garlock children who visited with the woman known affectionately as Aunt Em.  Emma Connors  grazed her goats along the El Paso foothills behind her house, and invited the children to help her do so.   The twin girls, as well as other children from the mining camp, loved to hear her  stories  of her childhood cross country covered wagon trip.  When noon came around she would fix lunch for everyone, which of course included her famous cheese from her own goats.  During their visits, if the goats would wander, the children would pick up small rocks to throw at them to encourage them to get them back in to the herd.  One of the Hickie twins had picked up a rock that fascinated her with it’s beauty, so she kept it in her apron pocket until she got home.  When her father saw the rock, he realized it was full of gold.  He crushed and panned the rock that night, anxious for the next morning to ask the girls where they had been so he could go back and find more gold.  Of course when the sun rose and the girls were questioned upon waking, they only knew that they had picked up many rocks far and wide that day.  Word got out, and every miner in town began trying to bribe an answer out of the girls by offering them candy. Many searched the foothills in vain looking for the Twins Lost Mine.  Old timers in the area still believe that some day someone will strike it rich in the hills above the townsite of Garlock.

The Prospector & the Gold Nugget

        When prospectors weren’t actually out searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, they would spend their time in the saloons sharing drinks and tales both tall and true about their riches.

        It was common for them to carry around a nugget or two to show off to the other miners. C. C. French, better known as Frenchie owned what is known as Colorado Camp, where both low-grade coal, and gold was said to have been found.  Frenchie traveled around in a beat up old pick-up and was well known around Mesquite Canyon. He carried a gun to protect him from Della Gerbracht who thought she owned the canyon, and he carried a large gold nugget which he sold one-tenth to one half interest  for $25.00 and up a month. With money in his pocket he would travel with his dog known as either Bowser, or Bow Wow, and head to Mojave for supplies. His favorite past time was a game of Coon-Can, and most of the money went for that instead of food, of course. 

        After Frenchie gambled his money away, he  and his dog would head back to Colorado Camp  picking  up a hitchhiker on the way.  The con would start all over again.  This time Frenchie would talk his new found friend into a half ownership as he did the others, put him to work underground in his mine while he ran the drywasher topside. There was always a speck or two  of gold to share, but basically, pickings were lean. Frenchie would pass it off  by saying  they were  “in a poor streak.”  Eventually, the hitchhiker would get wise to the fact that he was doing all of the hard work while  Frenchie had it pretty easy and he would move on leaving Frenchie to look for another  poor soul to buy half of his mine.  It was said that there was probably no mine in Mojave that had more half owners than  Frenchie’s did.

Old Joe

        Like Frenchie, Old Joe decided to come into a saloon and show off his gold.  After a long  stretch spent in the El Paso Mountains digging for gold, he had not just one nugget, but a bag of high grade ore which he placed on the bar, and quickly drank up. The other miners watched in excitement, with thoughts of following Old Joe the next morning so they could have their share of rich claims.  The barroom girls got to Old Joe, first however, and talked him into taking them up to his claim and blowing up the mound that he swore was solid gold. The girls wanted a souvenir chunk of Old Joe’s gold hill, and Old Joe was happy to oblige.  He would never miss a few pieces of ore, anyway. 

        The next morning, all of Garlock was awakened by the sounds of a tremendous explosion. Still dark out, men grabbed their lanterns as they went out to see what had blown up. Just as daylight hit, they found that Old Joe and the girls really had gone out and dynamited the top of his gold mount as they had talked about the night before in the saloon. Unfortunately, after the explosion there was no gold to be found. The old timers remembering Old Joe said  “Old Joe either shattered his gold into bits, or in his liquored state, blew up the wrong hill.” Either way, Old Joe’s gold  mine had become just another “lost gold mine” story.

Burro Schmidt’s

        William Henry ”Burro” Schmidt came to Last Chance Canyon at the age of 24 from Rhode Island.  He had been told he would die of tuberculosis if he didn’t find a dry desert climate to live in. On the north side of Copper Mountain he began hand digging a tunnel that eventually led to nowhere except the other side of the mountain. Burro Schmidt was so obsessed with digging his tunnel that he spent 32 years digging it.    It measures 2,087 feet from entrance to exit, and became famous in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Burro Schmidt himself also became known as the “Human Mole”. The tunnel was kept open as a tourist attraction by Burro Schmidt until the 1950’s when he sold his claim to a man name Lee who did the same.  In more recent times, Tonie Seger owned the tunnel and delighted in sharing stories of Burro Schmidt and his tunnel to visitors. Tonie died in 2003, but at the date of this writing the tunnel is still open to visitors, and one hopes it will still remain so. While walking through it, one can pause at the short  side tunnels and speculate if one of them was actually the entrance to the "Crystal Room", which was supposedly dynamited shut so he could keep the wealth inside for himself forever.  It’s also said, that Burro Schmidt may have had secret mines elsewhere in Last Chance Canyon, which would give the modern traveler to the western Mojave an opportunity of their own to look for a lost treasure.


Burrowing Burro of California’s Copper Mountain

by Al Davis


Desert Bonanza

by Marcia Rittenhouse Wynn

Arthur H. Clark Company


Exploring the Ghost Town Desert

by Roberta Martin Starry

Engler Publishing



by Paul B. Hubbard

Out of Print


Garlock Ghost Town

by Roberta Martin Starry

Published by Roberta’s Desert Shop

Garlock 1967


Gold Gamble

by Roberta Martin Starry

Engler Publishing


Goler Gulch Gold

by Mary Frances Strong

Desert Magazine, September 1973


Goler’s Lost Gold…

by Ada Giddings

Desert Magazine,  March 1952

Thanks to Roberta Martin Starry and to Daphne Worsham for preserving these  stories and making them readily available for my research, and for others to enjoy as well. 

Thanks also to Randy Seden whose aunt and uncle, Marion and Charlie Behrens, provided the photo of miners in Goler Wash from their family archives.

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