By Mark Gutglueck
The Lost Dutch Oven Mine is one of the most famous lost mines in California and likely the most famous of those in San Bernardino County. The tale is a rich one, with several variations, as is often the case with lost mine legends. Some of the particulars are verifiable, and indeed it seems very likely the mine actually existed and may yet be out there, waiting to be found.
In 1894, Tom Schofield was working for the Santa Fe Railroad at the Danby watering station. In those days, trains pulled by locomotives carried enough coal to go more than half way across the country, but needed to constantly replenish their water stores as the steam used to power the locomotives was lost at a rapid rate. At the extreme end of San Bernardino County were six watering stations along the Santa Fe line, named in reverse alphabetical order after the track came west across the Arizona border: Goffs, Fenner, Essex, Danby, Cadiz, Bolo and Amboy. Schofield manned the Danby station. His job was to maintain the apparatus from which the water for the steam engines that rolled down the track were supplied.
The Danby station’s water came from what is known as Bonanza Spring located in the Clipper Mountains, which was claimed by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1893. The railroad company had constructed a four-inch pipe running from the spring to the Danby Station. That pipe continued to provide water to Danby until it was replaced by a well near the station in the 1930s.
Trains travelled on strict schedules and Schofield was free to roam about the area around Danby during the hours when no trains were due. On occasions, at that time, as long as a day-and-a-half or two days might pass without a train passing through the six watering stations.
Schofield, who was then 42, one day had noticed during his sojourn to the spring in the Clipper Mountains that there was what appeared to be a long neglected, indistinct trail leading off to the side of the mountain where the spring was located. On one of the days when there was a long gap between trains into Danby, he resolved to follow the faint path to see where it would lead him.
Here the story begins its deviation.
According to one version, he hiked some distance, coming upon a recently abandoned miner’s camp. He then continued up a steep bank and scaled the edge of a narrow shale wall, before arriving at a mine shaft of some depth with sides well boarded up by old railroad ties. In this version, he sensed, based upon its appearance, that the ore on the tailing pile next to the shaft was exceedingly rich. However, it was getting on in the afternoon and so he decided to stay the night at the small miner’s camp below. In the morning, he happened to kick the lid off of an old Dutch oven located near the fire pit and from that old pot gold ore “rich-to-the-eye” spilled onto the ground. According to this version, he gathered up as much of the ore as he could carry and headed down the mountain and back to Danby.
Another version is that on his trek that day he was about three miles up the side of the mountain when he came upon a long abandoned stone house. He continued on, hiking what he later reckoned was about nine more miles when he came upon a spring. He followed a trail from the spring leading over a hill at the peak of which was a rock or boulder he described as being the size of a house. The boulder was split in two and the trail continued straight through it. Beyond this passageway he encountered what appeared to be an old Spanish camp.
Shortly beyond this he found himself upon a high shelf, surrounded by high walls. Through other openings in the rock walls, he could see that the “shelf” was sitting high above the ground at about 500 feet. The only way in or out of the little flat was through the split rock. Scattered about the long deserted camp, Schofield found rusty mining tools, pots, pans, fragments of a bedroll, and an old iron Dutch oven.
Also on the shelf was a mine shaft, in which he found the skeletons of seven burros. Next to the shaft was a mine dump that contained numerous stones still containing rich gold quartz. Night was approaching, and he bedded down on the shelf planning to leave at daybreak. In the morning, as he was leaving, he tripped over the Dutch oven and out tumbled a mound of pure gold nuggets. He gathered up the gold nuggets, and fashioning a makeshift pack from one of the side packs found next to the burro carcasses, carried out as much of the ore as he could manage.
A third version is that he hiked for some distance, passing through a huge split boulder and came upon a wooden cabin with a hitching post, in front of which were the carcasses of several dead burros. In the cabin were the skeletons of three or four humans. Also in the cabin was a Dutch oven. When he kicked the top off the oven, he saw it was filled with rich gold ore. Outside the cabin and not too distant from it, a mine had been dug between ten and fifteen feet into the side of a hill. He retrieved several gold quartz samples from this mine, and was able to easily pull them from the wall of the mine using just his hands. He used the canvas burro side packs to take as much of the ore and nuggets he could carry back with him to Danby.
Schofield caught the first train into Los Angeles.
How do we know that one of these three versions or some order of a combination thereof is true? Because records show that Tom Schofield had testing done on the ore he had with him. Those tests showed that the ore in the Dutch oven had indeed a very high gold content and that the ore he had personally removed from the mine was also quite rich. For just the nuggets and ore he had been able to carry with him, Schofield netted over $200,000. In just two years, he spent all of his newfound wealth gambling, on liquor and fast women.
Two years later, he headed back to the Clipper Mountains, searching, searching, searching, for what he had stumbled upon. He was never able to find it. Schofield spent the rest of his life, essentially, as a prospector. He worked claims in the Old Woman and Turtle Mountains. He mined salt in Danby Dry Lake for a time. He even mined for iron ore in the Marble Mountains and prospected in other locations between Essex and Amboy. Beginning around 1920 and for a few years he held an interest in the Iron Hat Mine located about twelve miles east of Amboy in the Marble Mountains.
In the 1930s and into the 1940s, when he was in his 80s and early 90s, he was still wandering around Danby and the Clipper Mountains, seeking the Lost Dutch Oven Mine.
In 1936, while he was living in an abandoned store outside Danby, Schofield was interviewed by Walter H. Miller and George Haight. The gist of that interview formed the basis for much of what we know today as the Legend of the Lost Dutch Oven Mine.
There is no record of the Dutch Oven Mine ever having been found again. The Clipper Mountains are located just south of Interstate 40 and the Clipper Valley, between the freeway and National Old Trails Highway, northwest of the small community of Essex. The range is home to at least three springs, as well as the Tom Reed Mine. The Danby Station is located about 1.6 miles southeast of Highway 66 on Danby Road.
By Mark Gutglueck