The Lost Frenchman must exist. Three men brought rich gold ore from it. One other man -maybe two -have seen it. The ore, $8,000 in rough gold, was deposited in the W .B. Hooper & Co. store in Yuma.
The mine was discovered in the 1860s by three Frenchmen. Maybe it was in the Harquahala Mountains. Or the Eagle Tails. Or the Little Horn Mountains, the Big Horns or the Little Harquahalas.
The accounts vary. John D. Mitchell, Desert Magazine's lost mine story anthologist, told of two Frenchmen appearing at the Hooper store in 1867 and leaving the ore with the store keeper. Old Bill Bear, a Mohave sub-chief and mule driver, told the Yuma Sentinel that the year was '64 and that there were three Frenchmen.
At any rate, the Frenchmen bought supplies at the Hooper store and rode east. They were followed by five Mexicans, described by the Sentinel as an obvious band of brigands.
The Frenchmen camped at Agua Caliente, the old stage station on the Gila River just east of the Maricopa County line, and at sunrise rode away to the north. The Mexicans followed. The Frenchmen led their pursuers in a wide, looping circle back to Agua Caliente and camped again.
The three miners left under cover of night. The hi-jackers were left with nothing to follow but hoof prints and these became useless when the Frenchmen separated and rode off in three different directions.
The Frenchmen were seen again. A.H. Peeples, the noted rancher and saloon-keeper , said he encountered three Frenchmen working a claim in the Harquahalas in 1868. In '73 King Woolsey, Indian fighter and pioneer settler , found a large pile of rich ore on "a well-marked trail through Tenhachape Pass." But Woolsey said there was no sign of life for miles around - just the vast silence of the mountains.
In 1889 a Mexican came to Bill Bear and hired him to haul water and supplies into the Eagle Tails. En route to the mountains the Mexican told Bear that, as a boy, he had run away from home. He fell in with three French prospectors who offered to feed and clothe him if he would cook and take care of their camp in the mountains. The camp was near a spring, with a cottonwood and large mesquite tree nearby.
Each morning the prospectors left the camp and disappeared into a canyon. Each night they returned, the Mexican related, with something in yeast powder cans.
"I was curious," the Mexican continued, " and when they were away I looked in the cans. They contained large and small nuggets of gold.
"I carefully trailed them the next day and found them in a canyon about one-fourth mile from camp busily engaged in taking out nuggets. They must have seen me for that night they eyed me suspiciously. They moved the cans to a hiding place and beat me so much I feared for my life. One morning after they left for their diggings and got together some blankets, food and water and departed. I was careful to cover my tracks. I had to hide from Indians and finally I reached Agua Caliente. The Frenchmen disappeared. I think the Indians killed them. I am now on my way to the Lost Frenchman Diggings. I can go right to them!"
But it had been too many years. Things seen in childhood -hill sides, arroyos, the shapes of mountains -are not the same when seen in later years.
Maybe the Tenhachape Pass mentioned by Woolsey is the key. I can't find it on any map, old or new, or in Will C. Barnes' Arizona Place Names. Anybody out there know where it is?