Relics of days gone by are easily found all over Arizona, from Native American ruins to a weathered and rusty pick stuck into an outcropping of quartz. Each of these relics holds within it a story, and many times a treasure of archeological and historical significance.
And sometimes… these relics hold a treasure of Gold!
In the late 1800s, a herder was moving his charges through the canyons east of the Agua Fria River (in what is now the Agua Fria National Monument) when he passed a pick stuck in an outcrop of quartz. The pick was nothing unusual in this part of Arizona. Prospectors had been working and finding veins of gold and silver in the foothills of the Bradshaw Mountains and the surrounding area since the late 1860s. When the herder arrived in Phoenix he heard the story of the Agua Fria gold and remembered the pick he had passed.
Phoenix in the 1870s was more than just a dusty town on the banks of the Salt River. It was the home of the Arizona Territories celebrities of the time. Jack Swilling, the founder of the township and Darrell Duppa, the man who named the township, along with surnames such as Hayden and later Goldwater, now famous and echoing today within the hallowed halls of Congress in Washington, D.C.
You might think that the best tales of gold and silver riches would be found in the saloons and sporting houses of early Phoenix. While I am sure that many a tall tale was woven in those establishments, the legend we follow starts in a Phoenix store.
Brown and Davies, two prospectors of the time were loitering around a store in Phoenix when an Indian came in and purchased his supplies, loaded them on his pack horse and paid with gold.
Brown and Davies had spent many long months climbing up and down the hills and washes of Eastern Arizona prospecting to no avail. Intrigued by the gold the Indian had paid with, Brown and Davies inquired of the proprietor who the man was. “He is a Yavapai” the proprietor told the prospectors, “he lives somewhere in the side canyons of Black Canyon.”
Brown and Davies thinking that they may have found a clue to their own riches set out after the man on horseback. The legend goes that they made their way in a north by northwest direction, climbing steadily out of the Salt River Valley. On the first evening out of Phoenix they camped in a grassy highland.
When they awoke on day two and continued onward they found themselves in higher and rougher country deep in Black Canyon, surrounded on all sides by the malpais of ancient lava flows.
As Brown and Davies moved on, the going got tougher. The two were moving from sandy slopes to rocky terrain that was hemmed in by low hung mesquite. The pair crossed three washes believed to be New River, Agua Fria and Skunk Creek and continued on until they were surrounded by the high peaks of the Bradshaw Mountains on their left. To the east lay the cliffs of a steep hillside that gave way to a mesa peppered with arroyos leading deep into it.
The Indian from Phoenix was never far from sight, and as the legend goes, he never made any attempt to hide himself from Brown and Davies. Then the Indian disappeared into one of the arroyos that cut into the mesa.
Brown and Davies continued on and headed up what they believed to be the arroyo the Indian had taken. They made their way up the arroyo and onto the flat top of the mesa and then descended into another canyon. This canyon appeared to be a tributary that fed into the Agua Fria River. Brown and Davies having lost sight of the Indian began to search the canyon, the washes and the watersheds that fed into it.
In one of the rocky and rough cut washes leading up and out of the canyon, Brown and Davies had the good fortune to strike gold. After constructing a makeshift rocker, the two worked tirelessly for days, sunrise to sunset, sifting the gold from the sand and hard pack Arizona Territory dirt. Legend says that the two store loitering prospectors filled two dozen bags with high-grade ore valued at between $60,000 and $80,000, a princely sum at the time.
Good Fortune is a fickle lady though, and more problematic then Lady Luck.
Brown and Davies, enthralled no doubt by their new riches, forgot one thing. They were deep in Yavapai Indian territory. From out of nowhere, a band of Yavapai swooped down on the two. Gunfire shattered the quiet of the canyon and Davies fell dead!
Brown momentarily stunned by the attack, dropped to the ground and rolled into a Mesquite thicket as the crack of gunfire bounced and rolled across the canyon like thunder, reverberating across the canyon walls, carrying the war cries of Death with it.
The Yavapai, skilled hunters and fierce warriors disappeared, moving back to where they had come from.
After a time, Brown rolled out from underneath the Mesquite thicket that had protected him. Sizing up the situation, he then hid the two dozen bags of gold, legend says, near an outcrop of white volcanic ash and under a pile of rocks. Brown then marked the spot by driving his pick into a quartz outcrop. Once the gold was hidden, Brown buried his partner Davies and riding at night, made his way out of the canyon and eventually to California.
Many years later, Brown returned to Arizona, ready to make the trip into that fateful canyon that had claimed the life of his friend so many years before. Unfortunately, Brown fell ill and died before he could reclaim his treasure and only on his deathbed did he tell his story.