The Lost Soldiers Gold Mine
by J.D. Adams
Gold casts a powerful spell that can span centuries. In the vastness of the southern Oregon mountains, lost mines still yield to phantom miners in the moonlight.
The most curious of these is the legendary Lost Solder Mine, between the Coquille and Rogue Rivers. Along with the story of the Port Orfords Meteorite, it forms another mysterious link to this historic port town.
After the conflict at Port Orfords Battle Rock in 1851, Fort Orford was established in the fall of that year. During the Rogue River Indian Wars that occurred from 1851 to 1856, the army was stationed there for the protection of early settlers and miners. The old Fort Orford was situated near the intersection of present-day 5th and Jefferson streets.
In 1853, the First Dragoons, a mounted infantry unit, arrived at Port Orford Oregon. One of their tasks was to find a route from the port to Jacksonville, a hub of mining activity. A detail of Dragoons including Lieutenant Stoneman, Sargeant Mann, and Privates Schnedicker, Martin, Schlisk, and McKenna had completed the job in three weeks and were returning to Port Orford Oregon.
Upon reaching the Coquille Mountains, the group became disoriented in a violent coastal deluge. After meandering aimlessly in the drenching rain, Lt. Stoneman ordered the detail to make camp. This chance event spawned a legend that persists to this day.
After resting, Private Martin went over to obtain water from a nearby creek. He found the first yellow nugget, which was verified as gold by Private Mann. The group all ran down to the creek and collected samples to take home.
Private Mann, who had prospected in California, explored along a nearby cliffand found a ledge of quartz with a rich seam of gold. There was excited talk in camp that night, of the prosperous futures they would all share after they got out of the service. Lt. Stoneman suggested they mark the spot by blazing four trees. However, the ledge of gold was destined to remain a mystery by the fact that the marked trees where not exactly at the site, but removed by a certain distance known only to the original detail of men.
The scouting party returned to Port Orford Oregon without further incident. The remoteness of the gold mine precluded any of the men from returning until their duties with the military were finished. Lt. Stoneman showed no interest in returning for the gold, earning the rank of general and later becoming a governor of California. Former soldiers Schnedicker and Schlisk, and laterMartin, attempted to find their old campsite with the help of other volunteers but were unsuccessful. As the story of the Lost Soldier Mine spread, many prospectors took up the search but the gold remained elusive.
The hunt for the lost mine took another turn with a friend of ex-Private McKenna, a Captain William Packwood of the First Dragoons. He became fascinated with the details of the story that McKenna had related to him. Packwood was released from the army in 1853 and settled in Enchanted Prairie in 1861. Here he made the acquaintance of prospectors who had actually found the four blazed trees close to Cow Creek, but not the gold. Packwood thought if he could locate the campsite, he could find the lost mine. He and a neighbor, Clint Colins, embarked on a fifty-mile trip into the mountains. They found the four trees but there wasn't a creek nearby. The ledge of gold defied them.
Later that year, ex-Dragoons Martin and Packwood teamed up for another trip to find the gold. Martin explained two critical factors that accounted for the notorious difficulty in finding the lost mine: the creek only flowed during a rainstorm, and the soldier's campsite was some distance from the where the gold was. Packwood invited a neighbor named Brown to go along, and in doing so, another twist of fate contrived to conceal the Lost Soldier Mine, perhaps forever.
The Civil War had begun on April 12, 1861. Along the trail Martin and Brown argued violently over the war. After the trio reached the campsite and located the four trees, Martin claimed that he needed to get his bearings. He hiked into the forest to return without comment at dark. The next day Martin refused to help find the ledge, and he left to find his way to the Rogue River road. Packwood and Brown theorized that Martin had gone off to find the gold for himself, not wanting to share it with a Union sympathizer. They retraced Martin's tracks along a stream towards the west fork of Cow Creek, but foundnothing.
A month later Martin wrote Packwood a letter in which he admitted to finding the ledge of gold. He had removed some fragments of the quartz to take back to an assay office. It had tested out at $200 a ton, not a high value for the old price of gold. Martin therefore declined to pursue it. William Packwood left for prospecting in Eastern Oregon. He didn't return until 1914, and tried for one last time to find the elusive vein of gold. Unfortunately, a forest fire had rendered the area unfamiliar to his faded memory.
While lady luck may occasionally smile upon us, she may also conspire against our fondest wishes. As such, the Lost Soldier Mine remains a mystery because of an argument over the Civil War. At the current price of gold, it would be a worthy treasure trove. Above a creek that only flows in the rain, gold lies waiting for modern-day prospectors to solve the riddle of its location.
|Thanks to JD Adams for allowing us to reprint his article. For more information about Oregon's most mysterious and legendary places, check out his book, Mysterious Oregon.