Entertainment Magazine: Searching for Arizona's Buried Treasures
The Iron Door Mine
This is an excerpt from Ron Quinn's adventure book on Searching for Arizona's Buried Treasures," now available on .Amazon.com.
Authored by Mr. Ron Quinn
Treasure hunting in Southern Arizona near Tumacacori with Ron Quinn, brother Chuck, and good friends and partners, Roy Purdie and Walt Fisher is a fun read and a great book for novice or seasoned treasure hunters.
There have been many stories drifting around concerning the famous “Lost Mine with the Iron Door.” A few of these tales are somewhat believable, while others stretch the imagination to the limits.
Early prospectors discover legendary Mine with the Iron Door
The most widely accepted version involving this lost mine, centers around two prospectors. Sometime during the 1800s while crossing the Santa Catalina Mountains, located just north of Tucson, they claimed to have discovered a hidden valley deep within the high rugged range. Scattered around were the old remains of a large settlement and evidence of extensive mining operations.
The two spent considerable time exploring, and discovered a mine tunnel well concealed near an outcropping of jagged rooks. Its entrance was covered with a huge iron door, plus several arrastras were found nearby.
On the morning of the second day, both headed for Tucson. Upon their arrival they approached a merchant they knew and told him of their discovery. If he would grubstake them, they would split any gold found at the old site. They were out of supplies and would need enough for several months, also some dynamite, as they planned on blowing the door from its hinges. They were most anxious to discover what was hidden on the opposite side.
With visions of great wealth dancing before his eyes, the merchant agreed. He grubstaked the pair once before and they had found gold, not much, but a profit was made.
With their mules heavily loaded with provisions, the two left early the following morning, and slipped into the dusty pages of history. Neither was ever heard of again. Rumors and accusations claimed the pair had made up the tale to obtain another stake. After leaving Tucson, they were supposedly last seen in the San Pedro Valley heading north and no doubt out of the country.
The Mine with the Iron Door and the Mission of Ciru
Don Page and several colleagues once visited Cañada del Oro, which winds its rocky way down the western slopes of the Santa Catalina Range. There they discovered a number of old stone ruins on a small flat overlooking the canyon.
Roy, our partner, heard the following from Don Page:
They dug and discovered that two different Indian cultures had once lived there before the stone structures were built on top. The dwellings were undoubtedly erected by Spanish explorers that were working a mine somewhere in the surrounding vicinity, as several arrastras were found later. Don and his friends made the discovery sometime during the mid 1940s.
Don also claimed the “Mission of Ciru” once stood at this location. If he’s correct, it would make the settlement older than Tucson. Most historians disagree with his findings, with some saying there never was such a mission. Take my word for it, there was.
Roy had obtained Don’s notes, so we made our own search of the region. We never found the arrastras, but Don had stated they were located east of the ruins. Also, a faint trail led toward the towering mountains, but was lost after a mile or so. Don always believed there was a hidden mine somewhere in the area and that it was once worked by the residents who occupied the small village. But, he also felt no “iron door” would have covered the entrance.
One just has to turn this idea over in their mind for a moment to realize how foolish it sounds. These people had more to occupy their time than to undertake the enormous task of making an iron door, and for what purpose, to cover a mine? Some have suggested it might have been shipped from Spain, but I find this unlikely too.
During our search of the site, we did locate the ruins and the area where Don claimed the small mission once stood, but found no trace of its remains. The area is now designated as Catalina State Park, and the ruins and mine, if one does exist, might fall within its boundaries. I believe the ruins do, as the park covers some 5,500 acres and most of Cañada del Oro. No digging or collecting is allowed.
Several years back, the mayor of Kearny, Arizona supposedly found a sealed mine or tunnel in this region. He wanted a permit from the state to excavate the site, as he believed it “might” contain one of the treasures hidden by the Spanish padres. If it was unearthed, he was willing to split with the state 50-50. His request was denied.
Soon afterwards, a state official said that if there is such a treasure, it should belong totally to the state. Did the mayor discover the Iron Door Mine? We will never know, but he isn’t the only one to claim finding a sealed mine in that area.
Young boy finds and loses artifacts in the Canyon of Gold
Walt, our second partner, heard an interesting story from a rancher that once lived in this vicinity:
A family arrived in Tucson with their son for a two week vacation at an uncle’s. The boy had never read any literature concerning Arizona’s lost mines, but he was raised in the country and knew the outdoors.
One day he asked if he could explore the canyon nearby, which happened to be Cañada del Oro. The lad was about 17 and was given permission, but told by his uncle to remain in the canyon as people had been lost in the rugged terrain. He agreed, so off he went with a full canteen.
After hiking and looking the country over for awhile, he decided to climb from the canyon floor. From his vantage point the young lad could make out a portion of the highway, perhaps two miles away, also, several rooftops could be seen reflecting sunlight. Breaking his word about not leaving the canyon, the adventurous lad began exploring the terrain. When he left the canyon it’s not known if he climbed to the left or right.
An hour or so later he came upon some leaning flat rocks. In the narrow opening separating the two he spotted an old wooden door with an ancient padlock hanging from it. Near the entrance were several rusted mining tools and the remains of a blunderbuss, an old fashioned short gun with a large bore and flaring mouth. The wooden stock had long since rotted off. Not aware of the countless tales of lost mines and treasures, the youngster didn’t become overly excited at his discovery. To him, it was nothing more than some old abandoned mine.
Upon his return the boy told what he had found while out exploring. He did so before realizing he was admitting he left the canyon. After a brief chewing out from his parents the uncle asked if he could again find the location. He answered, “Yes.” The discovery of the blunderbuss had triggered his uncle’s interest. In the ten years of living in the area, the uncle never heard of anyone finding a site as described by his nephew. Later that evening the uncle told the story surrounding the “Mine with the Iron Door.”
Early the next morning all three began the long hike up the canyon, following the boy’s tracks that were still visible in the soft gravel. After a few miles the group climbed from the canyon’s bed and began their search. They looked for well over two hours, but the youngster became confused after awhile and couldn’t relocate the leaning rocks. Occasionally they came upon his tracks in some soft earth, only to lose them again. The mine was never found, even though the three made frequent trips before the family returned home.
What the boy apparently found was the diggings worked by the residents of the small settlement perched atop the flat hill. The blunderbuss could date the mine, as they were used during the 1700s and even earlier.
Why it was left outside is unknown unless a guard was posted there and was killed by Indians that hated the invasion of the Spaniards. Also the remaining miners could have been run off or killed by the same group of hostiles. What lies beyond that wooden door could be nothing or a king’s ransom in gold.
The boy’s story is intriguing, but questionable in two ways. First this area has been searched for countless years, and why this lone site near the leaning rocks was never found boggles the mind.
During the Great Depression many individuals worked the gravels along this canyon. Enough gold was found to help keep body and soul together. Undoubtedly these same men searched the surrounding country for the source of the placer gold being discovered in the canyon. If the entrance to this mine was not concealed, as the boy stated, surely it would have been found.
Also questionable is that this tale is strikingly similar to other tales of the Southwest. Somebody accidentally stumbles across something while hiking the desert, but doesn’t realize at the time what he has found. Later he relates the story to another who is familiar with the area and its stories. When informed what he might have discovered the party can never retrace his steps back to the site, and another tale is added to all the rest creating more confusion.
Personally I don’t quite believe the two prospectors who are credited with finding the Iron Door Mine. Instead, I think they came upon these stone ruins and arrastras near Cañada del Oro, and then concocted a tall tale about finding a mine with an iron door and the large settlement in some unknown valley. Their purpose, of course, would have been to obtain another stake from the gullible merchant, as some people suspect.
Even if this assessment is correct, a mystery still remains. The location of the hidden mine Don Page felt was associated with the Cañada del Oro arrastras. The mine he suspected could easily exist, and it’s possible the young boy happened upon it, sealed with a wooden door and an “iron” padlock.
Read more about the Iron Door Mine by Flint Carter