Lost gold on the rez? Maybe.
By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times
It's an irresistible idea - a lost gold mine on the Navajo Reservation and a curse that causes the death of all of those who take the gold from it for selfish purposes.
Eddie Scott Yazzie, a former radio broadcaster in Window Rock and Gallup, visited the Navajo Times offices Tuesday with the story about his involvement with the Lost Adams Mine.
It's a story that can't be verified but Yazzie has no problem with that - people will either believe it or not, and what he said Tuesday will probably go down as another tale of lost treasure on the Navajo Reservation.
To understand Yazzie's story, one must first know of the legend of the Lost Adams Diggings, which goes back to 1864 when a guy named Adams was approached by a Mexican Indian named Grotch Ear who offered to take him to a canyon filled with gold.
The journey took them through what is now Fort Wingate, N.M., but where they went from there has never been determined. At the end of the journey, the tale goes, Adams found a creek rich with gold.
To make a long story short - and the Adams Diggings story would fill a good-sized book - most of the miners who accompanied Adams were killed. Hostiles in the area - Apaches by one account, Navajos by others - forced Adams and one other survivor to flee for their lives.
The other man died but Adams survived and 10 years later began searching for the location of the mine again. He was never able to find it.
Since then, the Lost Adams has become the most sought-after gold mine of legend in the nation, according to Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia that is compiled by unpaid contributors.
Thousands of people over the years have conducted their own searches, some of them lasting for years, according to the listing in www.wikipedia.org.
The proposed site of the gold mine has ranged from southwestern New Mexico to the Arizona portion of the Navajo Reservation. In the 1970s reports surfaced that prospectors were focusing on an area southeast of Ganado, Ariz.
Others say the gold is located in the Zuni Mountains. Adams himself spent the rest of his life searching the area around Reserve, N.M., the state's largest gold-producing district.
Sweat lodge revelations
Which brings us back to Yazzie, who became involved in the legend many years ago when he was on a quest for information on his ancestors, a task made difficult because both of his parents were orphans.
As part of his efforts, he met with an uncle who asked if he wanted to participate in a sweat lodge.
"I have been to sweat lodges but never a traditional one so I agreed," he said.
During the sweat, Yazzie said his uncle recounted a vision he had about a gold mine on the reservation. The vision didn't tell him where the gold was located but indicated that this knowledge would one day be revealed to his nephew.
Which is what happened, Yazzie said, a short time later. He was traveling to Window Rock and noticed that suddenly the world had become very quiet.
"I couldn't hear any birds, there was no wind and there was no traffic on the road for 20 minutes," he said.
During the lull he received a vision of the old days, before white men came to this area, when elders of the tribe knew about the gold mine and the future that awaited the Navajo people.
It was during this vision, Yazzie said, that the location of the gold mine was revealed to him.
So where is it?
He'll only say that "it's in the center of the four sacred mountains."
Yazzie said he has been to the place and has seen the gold.
He also saw evidence that he isn't the only person who has found the gold. There were indications that portions had been mined in the recent past and that people - probably Navajos - had visited the place on a regular basis and removed some of the gold.
But Yazzie said he never removed any of the gold because of stories that those who had been taking the gold met an early death.
Another reason he resisted taking the gold, he said, was a belief "that this gold belongs to all of the Navajo people and should be used to end the people's suffering."
Not long after Yazzie found the gold, he began feeling that he should make the location known to the tribe. So several years ago he went to tribal officials and told them of his discovery.
"The people in the mineral department just laughed at me," he said.
When he went to the president's office, he said, he was ignored. No one would listen and no one seemed to believe his story.
Officials at the Navajo Nation's Minerals Department said no one there has any memory of Yazzie coming in several years ago. The same was true of officials in the president's office.
Bradley Nesemeier, a geologist for the Navajo Tribe for the past 17 years, said there have been traces of gold found on the reservation but no gold mine.
The main source of gold is the San Juan River, where people have searched for specks or nuggets along the river for decades, he said.
A number of Navajos who have done this said that they found enough gold specks to make the effort worthwhile, but never enough to do it as more than a hobby.
But as gold prices have soared to over $900 per ounce, it may attract more people.
Nesemeier said that while the tribe issues prospecting permits, they are only for commercial ventures, such as companies that want to come onto Navajo land to look for gold.
Individuals who prospect as a hobby don't need a permit.
Gold, silver, diamonds
Gold isn't the only thing that people search for on Navajo land.
George Hardeen, communications director for President Joe Shirley Jr., said he has heard stories of a lost silver mine in the Monument Valley area.
According to another story, a rich Mexican buried millions of dollars in gold on the Navajo Reservation in the early 1900s to protect it during Mexico's revolution.
This story even made it to federal court in Los Angeles in 1953 when relatives of the man - long since dead - petitioned the court to allow them to retrieve the gold without any interference from the federal government.
The judge refused to get involved, saying that until the gold was brought to light, he would make no ruling. U.S. Department of Justice attorneys argued that if any gold was recovered, it should belong to the federal government.
According to the story, the man brought the gold by train to Gallup in round forms painted black to look like cannonballs.
When he arrived in Gallup, he rented several wagons and took the wagons north, arriving back in Gallup about two weeks later. He reportedly buried his gold on the Navajo Reservation.
Speculation since then has been that the gold was buried somewhere in the Naschitti, N.M., area and remains there to this day.
However, it seems more likely that the man's family members, who told the court they knew where the gold was hidden, quietly came at some point and removed it.
Nesemeier said there's been speculation that the reservation also contains diamonds, since geological features in some spots are comparable to other places in the world where diamonds occur.
Diamonds were the subject of a professional study some time back, but none were found on the reservation.
Hardeen said if Yazzie did find something, it may have been yellowcake and he was confusing it with gold.
Yellowcake - concentrated uranium ore - is radioactive and prolonged exposure to it could contribute to an early death, Hardeen noted.
As for Yazzie, he's still trying to decide what to do about the gold mine and just how involved he should get in the whole matter.
He said he isn't afraid for himself but he is concerned about his family.
"I'm planning to take my family away for a few days after this story is made public," he said.