Devil's Tower & Holy Terror GoldLegends of lost gold mines and/or huge gold strikes abound throughout the West. Almost all of these legends are just that: Legends. Before you believe such legends, it helps to remember that every inch of the Black Hills has been prospected for gold.
In the West, perhaps the most famous mine is the "Lost Dutchman" said to be somewhere in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona. This mine is said to have been discovered in the 1840s by a family who was later killed by Apaches. According to the legend, Jacob Waltz ("the Dutchman") rediscovered the mine in the 1870s and secretly worked it until his death in 1891. In fact there's no proof the mine ever existed, although even today alleged "maps" to the mine still surface. To date, all have been fakes.
Closer to the Black Hills, there is the legend of a cave full of gold at the base of Devil's Tower. This legend traces back to Indian lore in which three braves were said to have been hunting near Devil's Tower when they discovered a passageway underneath it. Upon exploration, the braves found a tunnel strewn with bones that opened up to a cave about 75 feet long and some 45 feet wide. Within the cave was a small underground lake and hundreds of gold nuggets. According to the legend, the braves hid the entrance and laid plans to come back later. They never did.
The legend began circulating after some early Black Hills prospectors said they coaxed the story out of a brave who was said to have been a member of the original hunting party. The legend persists to this day.
But the story is suspect and probably originated in some old miner's imagination. For one thing, the geology of Devil's Tower is such that the presence of any cave -- let alone, gold -- is highly unlikely. The tower is an igneous intrusion -- in laymen's terms, the lava core of an ancient mountain -- and such features as caves and gold just don't appear in such places. Moreover, for more than 100 years people have been clambering all over Devil's Tower and no trace of any opening has ever been found.
You can basically write off this legend as a tall tale. The early gold rush miners in all likelihood just made up the story to throw novice gold seekers off the scent of the real gold strikes.
Does this mean there are no "lost gold mines" in the Black Hills? Not at all. There are several lost and not-so-lost mines that are said to be extremely rich in gold. In fact, one of the richest is the Holy Terror Mine in Keystone.
The first gold mine in Keystone, which gives the town its name, was discovered in 1891 by prospectors Tom Blair, Jacob Reed, and a man they called “Rocky Mountain Frank” whose real name was William Franklin. But it was the Holy Terror Mine, discovered in 1894 by Franklin and his daughter, that made Keystone famous.
Franklin and Blair staked their claim to the Holy Terror on June 28, 1894. The two men pooled their money and fervently began digging a shaft on the discovery vein. At 40 feet they hit ore valued at $500 per ton in 1894 dollars. That is a remarkably rich vein -- about 20 ounces of gold per ton of ore. Modern mines, by way of contrast, are considered rich if they yield two ounces of gold per ton of ore.
With ore that rich it wasn't hard to find investors. So within a short time the Holy Terror Mine was producing as much as 500 ounces a week and had become nearly as famous as the Homestake Mine in Lead. At its peak, the Holy Terror produced more than 3,500 ounces of gold in one week. This was said to be the most gold ever produced by a single gold mine in a single week. In 1899 the mine produced some 28,500 ounces of gold.
But the riches didn't last.
From the beginning, the Holy Terror was a dangerous mine. Loose rocks often fell, killing or injuring miners. In addition, a series of floods and fires hampered production during the entire time the mine was in operation. In one accident in the 1890s eight miners were killed and in another in 1903, three more died. The mine was also subject to frequent flooding from underground springs.
In 1905 an underground dam burst causing massive flooding at the 700-foot level when the water pumping system broke down. After two weeks of fighting the water, the owners called it quits. The flooded mine remained closed until 1924 when Homestake Mining Company took over the operation briefly. They closed the mine after flooding in 1927. The Anaconda Milling and Mining Company took over the mine in 1934 but gave up due to flooding problems in 1936.
No doubt there is lots of gold down in the Holy Terror. But nobody has figured out how to get it out safely and economically. So there it remains.
Ironically, the troubled Keystone mine is one reason the Mt. Rushmore Monument exists. The Mt Rushmore project was originally proposed as a means of keeping skilled hard rock miners working in the area until the Holy Terror could reopen.
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