Owens Lake's Lost Silver Bars

By Richard Taylor
From page 29 of the August, 1976 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © August, 1976 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved

"She's goin down fast, Capn!" the deckhand shouted as the cold waters of Lake Owens began to ripple across the wooden deck of the "Mollie Stevens." "Shall we try to save the silver?"

"To hell with the silver; we'll be lucky to get ourselves off this tub!" the captain retorted. "Get in," he ordered, as he climbed into the one skiff the little steamboat carried. "They can send divers out here if they want the silver."

Within moments, cold water reached the boiler room of the Mollie Stevens and her hull shattered with an ear-splitting blast. The captain's cabin erupted in orange flame and black smoke rose toward the noonday sun as the boat settled rapidly into the alkaline lake waters, carrying a fortune in silver bars stacked on her forward deck. That fortune has not been recovered to this day and still waits for some persistent treasure hunter.

It was during the 1870's and the Mollie Stevens was heavy-laden with a cargo that included a shipment of silver bars from the famous Cerro Gordon Mine in Inyo County, California. At that time, the silver was being shipped from Keeler Wharf across the lake to Cartoga, and from there it was to be carried to Los Angeles on pack mules.

The record of this sunken treasure is sketchy, but it is believed that the silver has not been recovered. The hull of the Mollie Stevens settled into the soft silt somewhere on the bottom of Owens Lake and evidently was soon covered over.

During the past 100 years, the lake has gradually receded until now it is nearly dry for most of the year. An old anchor, believed to have been that of the Mollie Stevens, has been found. But nothing else of note has been recovered.

A serious THer with plenty of time might find it worthwhile to mount a good detector on a jeep and run a grid pattern on the dry lakebed. With the price of silver as high as it is, a project like this could pay off very well.

Owens Lake is easily reached from U.S. 395, which runs right alongside it, just west of Death Valley. The desert sands blow through the nearly-deserted town of Keelet at the edge of the lakebed, but there might still be an oldtimer or two in the area who could give you more information.

Probably the best aspect is the fact that the soft silt in a dry lakebed usually is easy digging.