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Treasures of the Santa Catalina Mountains

Treasures of the Catalinas, Robert ZuckerBy Robert Zucker with contrbutions from Flint Carter.

"Treasures of the Santa Catalina Mountains" reveals the legends of lost mines, lost cities and a lost mission in the Santa Catalina Mountains, North of Tucson, Arizona, have been passed down by word of mouth for generations. The legend of the Iron Door Mine is one of the oldest legends of the Santa Catalinas. Read chapters and download free PDF sample.

Some of the greatest treasures of the Wild West are hidden in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, Arizona. These stoic mountains are shrouded in mystery and immersed in rich legends.

The ancient stone ruins preserved in Catalina State Park, early Spanish placer mining sites in the Cañada del Oro (the Canyon of Gold), and the legend of a lost Spanish mine and lost Spanish mission in the Santa Catalinas fuels speculation about the riches that may be left behind.

The lost “Iron Door Mine” is the most famous legend of the Santa Catalina Mountains. It has lured prospectors and treasure hunters for hundreds of years. The evidence of Spanish and Mexican clandestine mining paved the way for American exploitation of the Catalinas in search of the Mine with the Iron Door and the canyon’s minerals, despite deadly threats from Apache Indians.

The Cañada del Oro, once a mighty river flowing out the Catalinas, has been a proven source of gold. It earned its name from the deposits of quartz-bearing gold encased along the canyon walls. The Tucson Gold Rush of the late 1800s brought prospectors by the thousands. Some of Tucson’s most prominent pioneer businessmen, politicians, and lawmen were well known miners and investors. T

hey dug along the famed Canyon of Gold and discovered naturally formed quartz with veins of gold, copper and silver. Miners staked their homes around the newly founded town of Oracle, tucked away on the northern edge of the Santa Catalinas.

Just over a hundred years ago, iconic world entertainer William “Buffalo Bill” Cody spent his last decades as an investor in a mining operation near Oracle at Campo Bonito. The mines provided tungsten for Thomas Edison’s light bulb filaments, as well as some gold and other minerals. The nearby Silverbelle Mine produced some of the best gold deposits in the Catalinas.

Cody had an avid interest in the search for the Lost Escalante Mine– also known as the Iron Door Mine. The legend became the theme of a novel with the same name by Harold Belle Wright in 1923, and was the theme of several movies during the 1920s and 1930s.

One clue to the location of the lost mine can be found in the words of Father Eusebio Kino in 1702– near the new missions, he wrote, there are also “good mining camps of very rich silver ore.” The lost Santa Catalina Mission remains may be somewhere near the Iron Door mine. One example is the San Xavier del Bac Mission and its nearby mines.

Early Spanish-American history, including Kino’s journal, records a Spanish visita named Santa Catalina, north of Tucson. Throughout the entire Santa Catalina Mountain range deposits of precious minerals remain hidden. But, it is the gold that attracts the most attention.

Modern prospectors still hunch over the winding creeks after a rain in hopes to pan some nuggets or loose flakes that still flow down the Cañada del Oro, while other adventurer search for the elusive Iron Door Mine.

The remains of this fireplace and cement slab are some of the few landmarks left from the glory days of mining in the Santa Catalina Mountains, located at the old Campo Bonito mining camp and tucked away behind Oracle, Arizona. Wil- liam “Buffalo Bill” Cody was an investor in the mine during the early 20th century. Cody is honored annually on the 3rd weekend in February to celebrate his birthday with a “Cody Days in Oracle” event.

Ancient Indian petrogylphs found in the Santa Catalina Mountains near the Cañada del Oro are now missing from their original location. Photo courtesy of Flint Carter, c. 1980s.

Tucson newspaper articles on prospecting the Santa Catalina Mountains

Charlie Brown And The Iron Door Mine

(July 1899 - Tucson, A.T.) Downtown Congress Hall Saloon owner Charles O. Brown was a staunch believer in the Iron Door Mine legend. He reportedly spent $60,000 in mining operations, made repeated trips into the mountains, and kept a large mineral cabinet on display at his saloon. Read his story on page 177 in “Treasures of the Santa Catalina Mountains.”

Treasures Discovered in Catalinas

(Circa 1915 - Tucson, A.T.) A discovery of several Jesuit treasure chests and jewels in the Catalinas was found in a cave near Apache Peak south of Old Hat District by local rancher Sistro Castro in 1915. An Oracle couple also told a story about the father and the uncle of Ernesto Castro (Severiano) who discovered a large nugget of gold plus numerous grains. They sold the nugget for $45,000. Read more on page 319 in “Treasures of the Santa Catalina Mountains.”

McKee’s Seek The Iron Door Mine

(Dec. 1932 - Tucson, AZ) Brothers Charles and Harry McKee sought the ”fabulous Escalante Mine, or more properly, the Iron Door Mine.” An old Indian guide showed them an old mine in the Catalinas. Word got back to Tucson that they found the fabled mine. Charles spent the rest of his life working claims in the Catalinas. See page 186 in “Treasures of the Santa Catalina Mountains.”

“TREASURES OF THE SANTA CATALINA MOUNTAINS” By Robert E. Zucker with Flint Carter ISBN: 978-1-939050-05-2 435 pages Paperback $30.00 Kindle $6.99

Read chapters, download free PDF sample and buy online & local Tucson businesses or order by phone at 520-623-3733.

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