In spite of themselves, every nugget-shooter has managed to find more than gold nuggets. Scores of things like boot tacks, pieces of wire, pull-tabs, bottle caps and nails are the most common items found. However, a few detectorists have acquired a nice collection of old coins, military memorabilia, bullets and other collectibles while using a metal detector to hunt for gold. For example, Chet Long and his wife, Nancy, of Yuma, Arizona, have put together a large collection of Old West memorabilia discovered while searching for nuggets using metal detectors. Their collection runs into hundreds of items and includes specimens of early day barbed wire, rifle shells, farm plows, horse dressage, wagon parts, and blacksmithing tools.
Two other detectorists, Richard Marsh and Dick Newton, were coin shooting near an abandoned settlement in Baja California once when Richard got a really strong signal. He figured it was coming from a rusted out metal bucket like the one he had found earlier. The signal was just too strong to be a coin. He stood there pondering whether or not to dig up the target. Ah, what the heck? he thought. The target was about 18 below the surfacea real treasurean 1876 Winchester repeating riflethe rifle that won the West!
Chris Gholson of Glendale, Arizona, as a result of his nugget-shooting adventures in old mining districts, has put together a nice collection of Civil War era bullets, old coins (from both the U.S. and western Australia), and other items such as old suspender clasps and buttons of every description. You can learn more about Chris and his nugget hunting adventures by logging onto his website at www.arizonaoutback.com, which includes a photo gallery.
Old mining camps in both the U.S. and Australia area easily located using the sources mentioned below. To locate lesser-known mining camps, you should consult back issues of professional mining journals and popular magazines like Gems & Minerals and Desert Magazine (neither of which is published any longer), and the Mineralogical Record, as they contain articles about old mines that are open to collecting and metal detecting.
Information on long-abandoned mines where detectorists can hunt for coins and relics without fear of trespassing can be found in Robert Johnsons book, Gold Diggers Atlas, which is widely available at rock shops and prospecting supply outlets.
U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps are valuable sources of information on the whereabouts of little known mines and mining camps that are frequently overlooked by writers of ghost town books. Rockhound field guides are also excellent sources of information on the whereabouts of old mines. Be sure to check out ghost town books, as these often contain maps and historical photos which can be used as points of reference in your search for coins and relics. A case in point, while most of us know about the ghost town of Bodie, California, now a California State Park, few visitors to Bodie know anything of the existence of nearby Aurora, Nevada, an early day gold mining town where no buildings remain standing. However, the layout of the town can be seen in old photos that will provide you with clues to the locations of saloons, hotels, and general merchandise storesplaces where coins are commonly found.
A few years ago, Clarence Thomass wife, Mabel, gave her husband a Whites gold detector for Christmas. After consulting a rockhound field guide for Arizona to locate a mining district where we could hunt for relics, we drove to Arizonas Silver District where we met the caretaker of the famed Red Cloud Mine, 70-year-old Douglas Hott. The Red Cloud Mine is in the heart of the district and is the largest of the more than 100 abandoned mines in the area.
Our intention was to explore mine tailings and Cousin Jacks, or dugouts, near the Red Cloud where miners lived in the 1880s. We had high hopes of finding trash thrown out by the miners that might be worth something today. A tip from Doug led us to a well-hidden dump once used by miners in the 1880s a short distance from the dugouts.
The Silver District is famous for its mineral specimens, in particular, the highly valuable, bright red crystals of wulfenite found within the Red Cloud. A single specimen of wulfenite is on display at the Smithsonian and is valued at $20,000. On our arrival, we learned that Doug had reopened the original adit to the mine since our last visit in hopes of finding a few more wulfenite crystals.
An Interesting History
The history of the district is an interesting one, in that silver was first discovered and mined at the Red Cloud and other mines, such as the Silver King, and the Clip, in about 1880 and again in the 1930s. An attempt was made to recover silver values at the Red Cloud in the early 1980s. During the early 1990s, the district was the subject of a geochemical survey undertaken by a Canadian resource company. Although this outfit had hopes of finding large ore reserves, little came of their efforts, which included rebuilding old roads and punching out new ones. However, these roads are a boon to rockhounds and lost mine hunters.
When we arrived, Doug was all smiles as he emerged from his cabin along with his junkyard dog. But he wasnt smiling just because he was glad to see us. It turned out that Doug had recently acquired a top-of-the-line Garrett coin detector. Doug, a retired hardrock miner, explained that each morning, weather permitting, he took his dog for a walk. During these walks, Doug searched for outcroppings of silver ore, mineral specimens and lost mines.
Right after he acquired the metal detector, Doug began to hike along the old trails used by early day miners; trails that lead to long-forgotten mines and prospect holes in the nearby hills. Along one such trail, he found a handful of coins dating back to the 1880s. Along another trail, he found a handful of old Chinese coins near one of the mines. These coins led Doug to suspect that the Chinese had reworked some of the mines, a fact that had not been reported in the mining literature.
Quite frankly, neither Clarence nor I had considered the possibility of finding coins along old trails in abandoned mining districts. Heretofore, we had used our detectors to search for coins, collectibles and relics near mine shafts, tunnels and dumps at as few old mines in western Arizona, including those in the Harquahala and Castle Dome districts, but we had never given a thought to following up old trails to search for coins!
Doug worked for many years in the Castle Dome District northeast of Yuma which began life as a silver-lead camp in the 1860s, progressed through the Great Depression years, and was reborn during World War II when lead was recovered from mines for use in munitions.
The Armstrongs, a man and wife team who once raised draft horses in Washington State, have made a career out of collecting mining relics from the Castle Dome District. What started out as a simple urge to hunt for relics soon turned into an obsession. It wasnt long before they found themselves with a huge collection of mining relics.
Mrs. Armstrong suggested they had enough junk to open a mining museum, so they purchased 28 acres on the site of the old town of Castle Dome City, built a home, installed a huge array of solar panels to provide electrical power, then restored and rebuilt Castle Dome City into a new ghost town. Among its structures youll find a few original buildings, including Douglas Hotts cabin, two mining museums and an underground mine with a fluorescent ore display. The town, which is closed during the summer months, is open to the public for a small fee.
Reconsider Your Search Areas
Naturally, whenever you set out to hunt for coins and relics in abandoned mining districts, you tend to think of searching near outhouses, banks, saloons and general stores, but did you ever consider searching near where the livery stable once stood? The stable was where folks often dropped coins or lost suspender parts as they climbed upon their mounts. Other spots to consider are barbershops, beauty salons and boarding houses.
Finally, get out of town! Not only were coins lost by miners along footpaths to the mines, coins were lost by their wives while gardening or hanging out the laundry. Its also a fact that coins were lost by early day miners prospecting for new outcroppings as well as by modern day nugget shooters.
In November of 2002, Chris Gholson and his dad, Steve, spent three days at my place during which we explored Arizonas Trigo District which borders the La Paz District to the south. Like the La Paz District, the Trigo was first worked in the 1860s and more recently by nugget-shooters. While exploring an area with exposed quartz outcroppings using his Minelab gold detector, Chris found a 1942 penny in an area far removed from any mining camp. Why wasnt I surprised? While you may not find nuggets every time, you can sometimes find coins among the silver and the gold.
Crombie, M. Katherine; Gholson, Chris; Dante Lauretta and Erik Melchiorre, Rich Hill, The History of Arizonas Most Amazing Gold District, Golden Retriever Publications, Tucson, Arizona, 2002
Lambert Florin, Ghost Towns of the West, Promontory Press, Superior Publishing Co., Seattle, Washington, 1971 (still in print)
Heydelaar, Pieter, Successful Nugget Hunting, Vol. I, Design and Artwork by Jim Garlock, 1991 (contains photos and maps of old camps in southern California and Australia)
Johnson, Robert, Gold Diggers Atlas, Cy Johnson & Son, Susanville, California, 1991
Nadeau, Remi, Ghost Towns & Mining Camps of California, Crest Publishers, Santa Barbara, California, 1999 (contains maps and photos).