Everyone loves the idea of striking it rich — minimal work for a big payout. For many of the earliest settlers to the western part of the U.S., their search for treasure was a primary (if not the only) motivation.
Gold prospecting in the United States exploded after discovery of gold in California in 1848 when more than 300,000 people responded to the news and rushed to stake their claims, creating the California Gold Rush. Many of those fortune seekers traveled through Utah and traded needed tools and equipment for spare food.
Today Utah still provides abundant mineral wealth with Rio Tinto and other mining companies producing thousands of tons of copper, gold and silver each year.
Without a state-run lottery, the best long-shot for current Utah residents trying to find their fortunes might be to track down one of the lost treasures rumored to be in Utah or nearby states. Here are some of the hidden treasure caches that are part of local lore.
Lost Rhoades gold mine
In the early days of Utah's settlement, Brigham Young reportedly assigned pioneer Thomas Rhoades to retrieve gold from a mine known to the Ute Indians. When Thomas became ill, the task fell to his son, Caleb, who continued to recover gold on behalf of the church for many years.
At one point Caleb asked the U.S. government for the mining rights to an area in the Uinta Mountains. In exchange for the rights, Caleb offered to pay off the U.S. debt, according to treasuretracer.com.
Instead of granting him the requested mining rights, the government sent prospectors to search for the mines in the specified area. They never found them, however, and Caleb carried the secret of the mines' location to his grave.
Portneuf stolen gold
The gold rush era was a time of rampant lawlessness and criminal activity in less civilized areas of the United States. In Idaho, legend has it that a group of highway robbers stole gold from travelers. Malad City's website says the most wanted man, David Updyke, is probably responsible.
Updyke and three other men knew a stagecoach of gold would be passing by on the Portneuf Stage Route. The four robbers blocked the Portneuf Canyon road and shot the stage horses, as well as most of the passengers in the stagecoach, notes Malad City archives.
Inside the coach were two strongboxes containing 15 gold bars, two bags of nuggets and gold dust which the robbers took. Unfortunately for the outlaws, they were recognized by the surviving passengers of the coach and three of the four were later found and hung. There is no record of the gold bars ever having been sold, which leads speculators to believe the gold was buried not far from the robbery site. Malad City archives suggest it might be buried at the City of Rocks.
According to Rare Gold Nuggets, the treasure would be worth more than $1 million today.
Canyon Station stolen gold
Canyon Station was once the land down by the Colorado River in northern Arizona. What is now modern-day Kingman, Arizona used to be a stagecoach stop in the west. Tom Rizzo, a western storyteller, says a group traveling through the area stopped at Canyon Station, only to be held up by robbers. The man, either Macallum or McAllen, and his partner escaped with a box of gold worth about $72,000.
Rizzo says eventually a mob caught up with the men and shot the partner, killing him. Lawmen took McAllen into custody, but never found the gold. Legend has it that McAllen disclosed the location of the gold he buried, but when his cellmate finally got the chance to look for it, the Canyon Station area was completely different than McAllen described. If the story holds true, there's still a strongbox of gold nestled in the Cerbat Mountains outside of Kingman.
Castle Gate loot
In 1897, Caste Gate was a small town in a remote region of Utah. The eastern town was a base of mining operations for the Pleasant Valley Coal Company, says Legends of America. On April 21 that year, a train pulled into the Castle Gate station carrying the coal company’s payroll.
The company paymaster and two guards got off the train with the payroll — worth an estimated $8,800 at the time. However, before they reached the company office, they were held up by two cowboys later identified as Butch Cassidy and Elza Lay. The two outlaws made their escape on horseback, cutting telegraph lines as they went to prevent news of their robbery from spreading.
Legends of America says the loot was never discovered. Treasure seekers today believe the gang hid the loot somewhere along the Outlaw Trail near Robbers Roost in southeastern Utah.
Superstition Mountains doom
Though popular for hiking and recreation, the Superstition Mountains outside of Phoenix, Arizona are chief among western legends. Many people over centuries try searching for the gold, only to end up disappointed — or dead.
History.com tells the story of the Lost Dutchman's gold mine. It's supposedly hidden somewhere among the 160,000 acres of mountainous desert, but nobody has lived to tell the tale.
A family from Mexico, the Peraltas, supposedly found the gold mines in the mountains but were attacked by a group of Apache Native Americans on their way out with the treasure. According to Arizona State Parks, only two of the Peraltas escaped with their lives. About 30 years later in the 1870s, a German man, Jacob Waltz, claimed to have found the mine through the help of one of the Peralta family descendants.
Arizona State Parks claims Waltz told his neighbor the location of the mine before he died. Although she and many others tried searching for the gold, they never found it. Countless people have run into trouble or just disappeared in the years since while looking for the gold.
Grand Canyon's lost civilization
A report in the Arizona Gazette in 1909 recounts the story of a Smithsonian expedition that uncovered evidence of a large civilization in the Grand Canyon. Reported by a G. E. Kinkaid, who allegedly worked for the Smithsonian for more than 30 years, the discovery included underground chambers sufficient to house at least 50,000 people.
The article quotes Kinkaid as saying: "When I saw the chisel marks on the wall inside the entrance, I became interested, securing my gun and went in. During that trip I went back several hundred feet along the main passage till I came to the crypt in which I discovered the mummies. One of these I stood up and photographed by flashlight. I gathered a number of relics, which I carried down the Colorado to Yuma, from whence I shipped them to Washington with details of the discovery."
In the years since no one else has been able to find these chambers and the Smithsonian reports no such expedition ever took place.
Others believe there are connections between Old World civilizations and the West and point to examples of Egyptian-like hieroglyphs found in various locations including Chalk Creek and Lake Powell in Utah.
There are actually dozens of Josephine mine locations scattered across the West, including several in Utah. The genesis legend is that Jesuit priests exploring for Spain found a rich deposit mined by native Americans which provided much of the gold Spanish conquistadors found when they came to the New World.
In spite of the fact that many claim to have found the legendary mine, so far the fabled wealth appears to be just a myth. If there were a Spanish mine filled with gold or silver, it hasn't been found so you can try your hand with the other treasure hunters who hope to someday locate it.