The lost Adams Cave is often confused with the lost Adams Diggings. The two stories are like two desert trails, grown dim with time, that cross and re-cross and lead up canyons and across mountains that seem to be the same. There are Indians in them, and frontier soldiers and landmarks that were seen once-just once.
In both stories, the long years of searching for gold, found and then lost, were marked with frustration and despair for the protagonists. But the legends live on and-quien sabe? -maybe the gold is still there.
The Adams of the cave was Henry Adams, who opened a small store at Fort Defiance in the late '60s. Some of his customers were soldiers from the fort or drifting frontiersmen, but most were Navajos.
Adams was a careful man. He sold the Indians no liquor, for he knew the whiskey trade would bring nothing but trouble. He treated the Navajos with respect-an attitude not universal with the white man then or now-and in turn they gave him a wary kind of friendship.
Adams came to know many Navajos-in-cluding three who always traveled together and who always paid for their purchases with gold nuggets from a leather pouch. He made friends with the three Indians very slowly and very cautiously and when he felt the time was ripe, asked about their mine.
Suddenly impassive, the Indians denied any knowledge of a mine, but Adams still moving very carefully persuaded them that curiosity was his only motive. They agreed to show him their treasure. You may see it, they told him, but you may not take any gold away.
The journey was begun at night and although the horsemen circled uncounted buttes and angled across hills and arroyos, Adams felt they were moving in a southwesterly direction. Dawn found them at the foot of a long line of cliffs and directly before them was a canyon.
They dismounted and the Indians insisted that Adams be blindfolded. He was led up a steep hill and, still blindfolded, into a cave. The air was damp and cool and Adams believed the cave must extend far back into the hillside. His eyes were uncovered and he was told to look about him. The floor of the cave was littered with nuggets and gold ingots. The Navajos said that the old men had told them the ingots were brought to the cave from Mexico many years before. They did not know who brought them.
Empty-handed and blindfolded, Adams was led out of the cave. But just as he submitted to the blindfold, he raised his eyes and looked for a moment out of the mouth of the cave. He saw three peaks, almost alike in size and shape. Some treasure hunters think he must have been looking toward the Twin Buttes-and a nearby peak-from a point in the cliffs above Indians Wells.
The Indians returned Adams to his store. He immediately sold it and spent the money on a fruitless search for the three peaks that marked the entrance to the cave. Then, ragged and half-starved, he made his way to Tucson. He told his story to an old friend, a Judge Griscom. Adams' enthusiasm was contagious and Griscom bankrolled him on another search for the cave.
By now the Navajos knew that Adams was not a curious man, but a greedy one. Several months after he returned to the reservation the three Indians of the cave caught him on the trail and almost killed him.
But the cave and its gold had become an obsession with Adams and after recovering in Tucson, once again ventured into Navajo country. He still had Judge Griscom's backing and this time he was gone for 3 years.
This, too was a fruitless search. Griscom gave up on the treasure, but there were others in the Old Pueblo who gave Adams money for other trips into Navajoland. Still the gold eluded him and bankrupt and once-again wounded by the vengeful tribesmen, Adams begged Griscom for just one more grubstake. Griscom turned him down.
One faint hope was left to him. Adams knew a man in Phoenix, one Spangler, who had a little money and who might be persuaded to invest in the Navajo gold. But as Adams boarded the stage fo Phoenix, he heard that Spangler had died and so had his last faint hope. Adams jumped from the moving coach, drew his revolver and shot himself dead.
The Arizona Republic of 1909 reported that "just outside of Tucson a rude little monument, with the name of Adams scrawled with uncertain characters, stands half buried in the sand."