Entertainment Magazine
Treasures of the Santa Catalina Mountains

1923: Howard Bell Wright’s
“Mine With The Iron Door”

By Robert Zucker

“And yet– those who look for it still find “color” in the Cañada del Oro. Romance and adventure still lives in the Cañon of Gold. The treasures of life are not all hidden in a lost mine behind an iron door.”

From Harold Bell Wright, The Mine With The Iron Door [1]

Author Harold Bell Wright popularized the story of mine with the Iron Door in 1923. His top-selling novel, The Mine with the Iron Door, became the basis for a series of movies and several treasure stories.

In 1915 an ailing Wright came to Tucson to relieve his tuberculosis. For a while, he stayed at Rancho Linda Vista, located near the bend of the Cañada del Oro. He lived in a remote cabin built in the center of the Santa Catalinas at the Coronado Camp, just over the Samaniego Ridge to the east of Saddlebrooke. [2] [3]

Wright learned about the legends of the mountains and the whereabouts of the lost mine. This desolate spot, deep in the mountains, is where Wright composed his book, The Mine With The Iron Door, in 1923.

Other than the Bible, Wright’s was the first book to ever sell over one million copies. [4] [5] He also wrote the “Shepard of the Hills” – the first movie that John Wayne had starred. [6]

Wright’s story is a romantic fiction set in the Cañada del Oro. His characters and story came from the likes of local residents in Oracle and their tales about the lost mine. In Wright’s version the mystic guardian Indian watched over the mine. In the end he gave the hero burro loads of gold from the fabulously rich mine.

As with most of Wright’s novels much of the story was a moral fight with right and wrong, greed and noble aspirations. Finding both love and gold, the couple rode off into the sunset to live happily ever after.

Shortly after Wright made camp in the Catalinas, just before Christmas in 1915, he caught a bad cold and had to go to Saint Mary’s Hospital. He was so pleased with his treatment that he wanted to repay the kindness. [7] He staged a series of performances of his two novels, “The Shepard of the Hills,” and “Salt of the Earth” the following year.  He donated the proceeds minister Oliver E. Comstock’s Adams Street Mission, established in 1909, for tuberculosis patients. [8]

A neighborhood on Tucson’s eastside, near Speedway Boulevard and Wilmot Road, honors Wright who had a home among 35 acres of land in the 166-acre subdivision. Streets within the Harold Bell Wright Estates are named after his books and some of its characters,  [9] among whom is Natachee, the Indian guide. [10]

The guide  character is similar to Alexander McKay’s guide in 1878 as well as Charles McKee’s 1932 story of an Indian who showed them where minerals were located in the Catalinas.

“He’s right though about some Indian like Natachee holding the secret,” remarked William “Curly” Neal, the owner of the distinguished Mountain View Hotel in Oracle, “I know of a case where a white man at Fort Lowell came home with a tomato can full of gold nuggets– virgin gold. It’s there somewhere. No doubt of it. Mr. Wright don’t know where or he wouldn’t be wouldn’t be writing books about it.” [11]

“However, the only living person who has received any treasure from the Mine With the Iron Door is Harold Bell Wright who used that name for the title of one of his books.” [12]

While that statement may have been meant to discourage any credibility of the Iron Door Mine, it didn’t stop even more risk takers from seeking the Catalina’s hidden treasures.




[1] The Mine With The Iron Door, by Harold Bell Wright, 1923. Pages 4-5.

[2] Tucson: The Life and Times of an American City, by C.L. Sonnichsen. Pages 151-153.

[3] Harold Bell Wright Estates Historic District, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. May 31, 2012.

[4] The Shepard of the Hills, by Howard Bell Wright published in 1907, became the second most popular book sold in America, after the Hoy Bible. Harold Bell Wright Museum, World’s Largest Toy Museum.

[5] Harold Bell Wright Papers, 1890-1946. MS 360. University of Arizona Libraries, Special Collections. While in Tucson, Wright composed several novels.

[6] John Wayne’s son, Norman, went on to help write Bambi, Fantasia and the Wonderful World of Disney in true wild western fashion.

[7] Tucson: The Life and Times of an American City, by C.L. Sonnichsen. University of Oklahoma Press, 1987. Page 151.

[8] Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape Our Lives and Landscapes, by Gregg Mitman. Yale University Press, 2008. Page 110.

[9] A Guide to Tucson’s Historic Neighborhoods, by City of Tucson.

[10] Harold Bell Wright Estates Historic District, City of Tucson. Blenman-Elm Neighborhood Association.