The Lost Escalante Mine
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Treasures of the Santa Catalina Mountains

How Did Escalante Get Implicated With The Iron Door Mine?

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Written by Robert Zucker
Collaborated with William Carter.

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By Robert Zucker

The Legend:
Fathers Escalante & Kino worked the mines.

The History:
An Escalante did work with Kino.

“…the fabulous Escalante mine, more popularly known as the Iron Door, at last is believed to have been found.”

Prescott Evening Courier, December 5, 1932. [1]

“The Lost Escalante Mine and its great store of gold bars is one of the celebrated traditions of the west.”

“Lost Escalante Mine,” John D. Mitchell, 1933. [2]

“The supposed site of the Escalante is in an area with a long history of placer gold mining. It is the Cañada del Oro, the pathway of gold between the Santa Catalina and the Tortolita Mountains north of Tucson.”

“Somewhere Out There Arizona,” by Kearny Egerton 1974

The Iron Door Mine name had been used in the newspapers as early as 1880. However, the link between that mythical mine and the Escalante name didn’t become a public record until a reporter made the connection in a 1932 news story about a couple of prospectors who made an amazing discovery and an author who sensationalized the name a year later.

C.W. McKee, one of prospectors, said an “old Indian” showed him and his brother two mining dumps in December 1932. C.W. thought that it might be the “famous Escalante mine,” also called the Iron Door Mine. [3] Even though he said his claim was taken out of context, the discovery of the lost mine quickly brought nationwide attention to the Santa Catalina Mountains.

But, famed treasure hunter and author John D. Mitchell’s 1933 story about the “Lost Escalante Mine,” claimed that an old Indian guide told him the old mine was called the Escalante. [4]

Both McKee and Mitchell’s story involved similar circumstances within a few months apart. McKee never said where he heard about the Escalante name, but he made the first connection of Escalante to the Iron Door Mine name.

Even though the Escalante legend may have been much older, it took these two statements to make a public connection. This is where history becomes muddled with more legendary tales and historical anachronisms.

The Lost Escalante Man

This new interpretation of the folklore brought another element to the lost Spanish mine legend. Now, the name ‘Escalante’ is injected into the legend. [5] While the name may have been associated with the mine earlier, it wasn’t until it made print that it became common knowledge.

Mitchell said it was “Padre Escalante who first worked the mine.” This padre was an assistant to Padre Kino, asserts Mitchell. He would travel throughout the Pimería Alta to “investigate the mines and collect the church’s share of the gold and silver.” [6]

Mitchell credits Calistro, an old Opata Indian who lived near the Tumacacori ruins, for the old mine stories. The Indian said his grandfather knew many stories about rich Spanish mines in the Catalinas. One evening he sat down near a pool of water by the Cañada del Oro, and his grandfather “pointed up to the Santa Catalina Mountain and said the Escalante gold mine is located in that mountain.” [7]

This was the second time a name was given to the person who supposedly managed this clandestine mine.

The first mention of Escalante and the mine was published several months before Mitchell’s book. In the December 1932 news article, C.W. McKee described the “fabulous Escalante Mine, more popularly known as the Iron Door…” [8] But it was Mitchell’s version of the legend, and implication of Escalante, that became the template for all successive interpretations of the lost mine legend.

[1] “Iron Door Mine Reported Found,” Prescott Evening Courier, Prescott, Arizona, December 5, 1932.

[2] The Lost Mines of the Great Southwest, by John D. Mitchell. 1933. Page 43.

[3] “Iron Door Mine Reportedly Found,” from Prescott Evening Courier, December 5, 1932. Page 2. “…convinced McKee he was near an abandoned mine, probably the famous Escalante.”

[4] “Lost Escalante Mine,” from Lost Mines of the Great South West, including stories of hidden treasures, by John D. Mitchell, 1933. Page 43. Mitchell claims an old Indian named Calistro told him about the “famous Escalante Mine worked by the Spanish in the sixteenth century.”

[5] “Lost Escalante Mine,” from The Lost Mines of the Great Southwest, by John D. Mitchell. 1933. Pages 43-45.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid. It’s not clear if the Indian actually used the name Escalante or Mitchell inserted the name himself.

[8] “Iron Door Mine Reported Found,” Prescott Evening Courier, Prescott, Arizona. December 5, 1932. Page 2.

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