The Mining Lore of Waldo

Text of Interview (Unedited)

Federal Writers’ Project

Works Progress Administration


Name of worker A. C. Sherbert Date May 3, 1938

Address Project Office.

Subject Mining Legend of Waldo District.

Name and address of informant J. Thornburn Ross

1405 American Bank Building.


I was born in New York City in 1859. After a fair amount of formal education, interlarded with hurriedly assimilated portions of the world’s great literature, I found employment in the offices of the Art Interchange Publishing Company, of New York. Believing myself possessed of more than average ability in the art of writing, I had high hopes, at the outset, of becoming a great author, a great historian, or perhaps a great editor with a blue pencil tucked over my ear.

However, it was soon discovered that any talent I may have had in a literary direction, was over-shadowed by my native business — judgment and facility with figures — accounting, etc. Commencing as a minor clerk, by easy though regular and surprisingly frequent steps, I was entrusted with more and more responsibility, until at the age of 24 I was made business manager of the publishing house.

Despite my youth, I held this responsible position remarkably well, and many of my closest friends were of the opinion that I was a very foolish young man even momentarily to entertain thoughts of “going west”, for what had the west to offer that could promise a brighter future than I seemed to have before me right there at home in the nation’s metropolis?

But I was young — there was much talk on all sides concerning the glamorous west — and there had been little of glamor in my life up to that point. Beginning as a small, faint urge — which I might have dispelled easily enough had I been the least inclined to do so — the desire to go west subsequently became so strong within me that it resisted all counter argument and persuasion.

Finally, capitulating to the urge, in the summer of 1884, at the age of 25, I quit my position at the publishing house. My brother, who shared my enthusiasm regarding the most, had found a backer for us. Upon presentation of simple credentials as to our honesty, and with references concerning our collaborate business ability, we were given a stock of hardware which was to be paid for when sold. The only restriction placed upon us was the fact that we had little choice in the selection of the town in which we were to open our establishment. We were instructed to operate our store in the new town of Devils Lake, Dakota. (Now North Dakota).

At this point I should like to interpolate a thought which has often came to me: In the building of this great west — Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, Idaho, and the rest of the states on the Pacific side of the Mississippi — not any historian, at least none that has come to my attention, ever gave an iota of credit to the easterners (many of whom never set foot in the great west) who staked so many adventurous young merchants to stocks of goods with which to set up businesses in the new, young country. True, these backers had profit in mind while engaging in such transactions, but none-the-less, I still think that a great deal of the building up of the west resulted from the sporting chances these backers took. Many of Portland’s present-day substantial families owe their fortunes to the fact that some easterner in pioneer times had sufficient faith in the integrity and enterprise of their families’ antecedents, as well as faith in the future of the west, to give them the initial start which meant the founding of their fortunes.

Accompanied by huge packing cases filled with frying-pans, stove pokers, horse-weights, bread tins, nails, screws, door latches, and all sorts of miscellaneous hardware, my brother and I entrained for Devils Lake in far-off Dakota. Devils Lake is a long way east of Portland, but to a “York Stater”, Dakota was definitely “out west” in those times. For that matter, so was Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. We arrived in Devils Lake early in October. The little town, with its shabby array of improvised shacks and buildings, was vastly disappointing to us. The town was a “boom” town — the boom resulting from the fact that a transcontinental railroad had thrust its rails through that part of bleak Dakota. With heavy hearts, and a touch of nostalgia, we began opening the packing cases, one by one. Before we had finished unpacking the boxes, or had opened our establishment for business, a terrific blizzard sprung up. The temperature dropped to an uncomfortably low degree. Though mid-day, it became as dark as night. The wind blew a veritable hurricane. Snow and sleet swirled in cutting sheets, piling up in doorways and sifting through cracks in the improvised board buildings. We had seen no storm in New York approaching this one in severity except in mid-winter.

When the storm had abated, my brother and I concluded that we had had enough of Devils Lake, Dakota. Without bothering to consult meteoroligical data, we decided that if the weather in Dakota could be so severe with September scarcely torn from the calendar, two sheltered New York-reared young men could never survive the rigors of a winter in such a place. So we nailed the covers back on the packing cases and consigned them to our backers in New York. Then to my brother fell the distasteful task of returning to New York and reporting our failure and the reasons for it to our kindly backers. I myself dreaded returning so soon. I had so recently bade so many good-byes and had so generally boasted of the riches that lay ahead of me in the west, that I could not bring myself to return in so short a time. I would have been a laughing stock.

I had heard a great deal of Oregon. It seemed, however, in 1884, an unbelievably long way off — like the moon, or Mars, or Venus. After considerable self-debating, I decided to go “whole hog”, as the saying had it, so Oregon it was. I arrived in Portland, October 28. The day was a glorious one — sunny, bright, warm. Flowers were blooming and green trees were everywhere. No blizzards in sight and none expected. Portland was fresh, clean, thriving. The contrast between my first glimpse of Oregon and what I had seen of Dakota was so pronounced in favor of Oregon that I intuitively knew that I would remain. The state of my finances, however, made it imperative that I obtain employment immediately were I to remain in Portland.

As might be supposed, I knew the printing and publishing business quite thoroughly. I was not long in learning that “Himes, the Printer” was the largest and leading printing and publishing house in Oregon. I asked Mr. Himes for a situation and was engaged immediately. I worked for Himes for three years in the capacity of accountant, and then, having saved some money, decided to strike out for myself — not in the publishing business, however — and organized an accounting service known as the American Audit Company. I later organized the Real Estate Title and Trust Company, which company grew to such proportions

that I subsequently found it necessary to retain as many as six or eight attorneys at all times in the prosecution of the legal affair of the business. At this time I myself felt the need of legal training so took up the study of law in Portland with Judge A. L. Frazier my preceptor. (Judge Frazier was the father of Kenneth Frazier, U. S. Commissioner). I later disposed of my interests in the Real Estate Title and Trust Company, and, having passed the bar, engaged in the practice of law, making Mining Law, Corporation Law, and the management of investments, my specialties.

At one time or another I have had occasion to visit most of the gold-bearing areas of Oregon. I am particularly well acquainted with the Waldo district, in Josephine County. I am not so familiar, however, with its history as I am with its physical and geological characteristics. Such history as I am able to give is mostly common knowledge:

In the year ….. a ship was wrecked off the coast near Crescent City, California. The surviving sailors worked their way inland and northward eventually arriving at a point between the east and west forks of the Illinois river about three miles above the Oregon-California line. Here was gold. The ground was fairly rich and the sailors worked into the slopes as far as their crude equipment would permit. The location of these first diggings was named Sailors Gulch. The Waldo diggings followed shortly after. Waldo was adjacent to Sailors Gulch— the two being not more than a few hundred yards apart and separated only by a ridge. The two towns sprung up around the diggings

and flourished as long as paying quantities of gold was to be had by simple digging. At about the time the cream of the diggings had been taken, the Oro Fino gold rush commenced and most of the miners of the Waldo area deserted their claim to participate in that strike. Having exhausted the supply of easy-to-be-had gold, the towns of Sailors Gulch and Waldo struggled along fitfully until the advent of hydraulic mining. Hydraulic mining revived the flagging towns and they again found prominence on state maps.

Hydraulic mining requires an abundant and unfailing supply of water, with sufficient fall, or ‘head’, to enable the stream to tear down or disintegrate the gravel bank against which it is directed. This requirement brought about the establishment of two water projects of major importance: the Osgood Ditch, and the Wimer Ditch. The water for the Osgood Ditch is diverted from the Illinois river at a point about three miles below the Oregon-California line in California, and is about nine and a half miles in length. The Wimer Ditch diversion point is in Oregon near the state line on the east fork of the Illinois river and is also about nine or ten miles in length. The gold-bearing gravel is situated on and forms a high ridge between the east and west forks of the Illinois river. The gravel bank is from 40 to over 200 feet in depth. There is but little top-soil, or ‘over-burden’, as miners call it, the gravel in most places extending right up to the grass roots. Geologists claim the deposit is extremely ancient, doubtless belonging to the Pliocene Age. The area is supposed to have been a part of a prehistoric river system which extended through Josephine County into California, and which produced the diggings of Sailors Gulch,

Waldo, Happy Camp, Poker Flat, Esterly, and the Old Channel mines on the Rogue River. The character, geological conditions, and apparent geologic age at all these points are nearly identical.

The situation is ideal for hydraulic operation. The erosion of the east and west forks of the Illinois river has cut wide and deep channels of from 150 to 175 feet below bedrock of the deposit, giving practically an unlimited dump for tailings. All the gulches and rims of the main ridge were mined by the early miners and from all accounts were highly productive. Mining in the area at present, however, has settled down to a very modest, but dependable return per yard of material. Recent work at a place known as Allan Gulch, where 71,111 yards of material were handled, brought a net recovery of $13,106, or 18 1/2 cents a yard. The recovery values would now be almost double the above figures since inauguration of the new gold standard. A fair survey of the entire area places the net recovery to be expected, at approximately 20 cents a yard under the new standard, the gold from the area having a mint value of better than $34.00 an ounce. The water available for hydraulicking in the Waldo area has a flow varying from 3000 ‘miners inches’ minimum to 10,000 miners inches during flood season. This amount is adequate for all the hydraulic mining that ever will be done in the vicinity of Waldo. If the term “miners inch” is unfamiliar — a miners inch is: the number of cubic inches of water that would flow through an orifice 1 inch in diameter in one second under a pressure of six inches (fall).

The Oregon directory for 1881 lists the following businesses of the town of Waldo:

Bennett, John, saw-mill. Bryhan, F., saloon. Bybee and Newman, hydraulic mining. China Jim, blacksmith. Decker, G., boarding house and store. Dessel and Co., hydraulic mining. Simmons, George, blacksmith. Wimer and Simmons, hydraulic mining. Wimer and Sons, general merchandise. Wimer, W. J., postmaster and hotel keeper.

On my early trips to Waldo I became acquainted with a number of the above named persons. I was quite well acquainted with several members of the Wimer family. On my last trip to Waldo, which was in 1929, the town was virtually deserted, the only remaining resident being Mr. Decker, who was postmaster.

Federal Writers’ Project

Works Progress Administration


Name of worker A. C. Sherbert, Date May 3, 1938.

Address Project Office.

Subject Mining lore Waldo District.

Name and address of informant J. Thorburn Ross 1405 American Bank Building, Portland, Oregon.


Informant curtured and intelligent. Imposing appearance. Has small goatee and wears boutonniere in lapel. Well dressed. Instance of pioneer who has attained metropolitan polish.

Sherbert, A. C. & Hembree, C. W. H. (1938) [Pioneer and Gold Mining Lore]. Oregon. [Manuscript/Mixed Material] Retrieved from the Library of Congress

The Adams Diggings

NOV 19 1938 2nd


Since I came to New Mexico, eighteen years ago, I have heard stories of the wealth of the famous, old, lost Adams Diggings Mine. I have heard at least a dozen different stories and each succeeding story made the mine richer both in actual gold value and romantic interest. As is often the way with lost mines of this type, it all depends on who you listen to, whether the mine gets richer or not. It always seemed strange to me that nearly every old-timer will swear that he knows more about a fabulously rich, lost mine than any other old prospector. H will try to discredit other prospectors who have searched for the mine and in an effort to tell something “bigger”, magnify its riches by many [?] what others have estimated it at. In reality, none of them know or have the slightest idea as to the value of the lost mine, because it has never been found. The current story and the one that seems to be the most popular, is one that I read in the El Paso [?] a few years ago. It stated that a bunch of men, among them Edward Adams, who purportedly found the mine that was later named for him, organized an expedition to go to California. Their probably starting place was Magdalena. They traveled in a northwesterly direction, until somewhere between Magdalena and old Fort San Rafael, they camped on a little stream. C10-N. Mex. One of the men noticed gold in the stream and excitedly revealed his discovery to the rest. Adams, who knew a little more about mining than his companions, decided that the gold washed into the stream from a rich outcropping above the camp. Taking his partner, a man by the name of Davidson with him, he left camp and traveled up the 2 canyon about a mile to try to discover the “mother lode”.

A little while after they had disappeared around a bend in the creek, the expedition was attacked by Apaches, and as they caught the encampment totally unprepared, the Indians massacred every man in camp.

Adams and Davidson heard the firing, and [?] its cause, took to the cover of the bushes on the nearby hillside. After hiding for several hours, the two men cautiously made their way over the hill and saw that the Apaches had left, secure in the belief that they had killed all the men of the expedition, and had taken all the mules and horses with them.

After burying all the dead, Adams and Davidson knocked a few pieces of gold-bearing ore off an outcropping of quarts that they believed to be the “mother lode”. They then purported made their way to Fort San Rafael, where they said they asked for aid to go back and find the gold and were refused by the officer in charge.

They then made their way affot and after perilous hardships and a great deal of suffering, came into the little town of Reserve, in what is now Catron County. It is said that they showed [?] of the ore to several of the natives, and then after borrowing some money on the strength of the richness of the ore, bought horses and went to Pima, Arizona, where Adams had friends whom he thought had enough money to properly outfit an expedition to return to the place where he had found the gold.

The expedition was organized, and traveled from Pima to Alma and thence to the immediate locality where Adams was supposed to have found the gold. But through some freak of nature of loss or direction, they could not find the gold, or even the place where the men had been massacred. Perhaps it was because Adams and Davidson both were notoriously poor in remembering directions. Many expeditions 3 have been organized since then, but to this day, the Adams Diggings remains as much a mystery as when Adams first told of it.

Now I am going to tell a story that is almost completely at variance with the story printed by the El Paso Herald. It is a first-hand story from the lips of Bob Lewis, pioneer, old-time prospector, cowboy and for the better part of his manhood, a frontier peace officer and a personal friend of Edward Adams. Bob is a big man, well over six-feet and weighing in the vicinity of two-hundred pounds. He always have a jovial greeting and manner, and has the map of Ireland printed all over his face. Big, rough and burly, he has been the [?] of many crooks and lawbreaker in [?] County. He lives in Magdalena. He has been over nearly every section of the southwestern corner of the State of New Mexico, and knows its rugged terrain as well or better than nearly any other man. He is reknowned for his lack of fear, and truthfulness. That is why I believe his account of the Adams Diggings far more than any of the others I have heard. Here is the story in his own words:

“Sure I knowed old Adams. I knowed him before he left Magdalena, and after he came back. Never was a bigger old liar. [?] he’d tell a lie when the truth would fit better. He was used to braggin’ and stretchin’ the truth. He [???] drinkin’ man too. I knowed him to stay drunk six months out of the year,” (maybe this was an exaggeration, but [?] people have told so [?] the same thing) “and then go on [?] and throw a big drunk the rest of the year.

It was in the early part of August, 1864, when Adams and about seven other men organized a trappin’ expedition and started up in the northwestern part of the state to trap beaver. They started early and intended to get their camp set up before cold weather came. They camped on a little stream not far from old Fort San Fafael, which is 4 now Fort Wingate and has been moved a few miles from the old site of Fort San Rafael.

Now I don’t know this for certain, but I believe from events which I will try to explain later, that just about dark, a caravan from California stopped and threw camp with Adams party. They had stopped at Fort Wingate two days before and had told the commanding officer that they were transporting between sixty and eighty thousand dollars in placer gold from California to some of the Eastern states. I know that they were never seen after the time Adams party was wiped out by the Indians, so I believe that they camped with Adams party and met the same fate.

I know from Adams personal character, that he was not above ambushing such a caravan. I did not know Davidson, but as he was Adams sidekick, I believe he throwed in with Adams and the two of ’em made plans to hijack the California outfit and steal their gold.

An encampment like that, in those days, usually got us an hour or two before daylight, in order to make an early start. It is said that Adams and Davidson made an excuse to go and gather some wood, as wood had been scarce the evening before and they had not been able to obtain a sufficient supply. I believe that Adams and Davidson absented themselves from camp, so they could go down country a few miles and find a suitable place for waylaying the California outfit.

While they were gone, and it must have been just as good daylight came, because that is the [?] time when Indians usually attack, a big bunch of Apaches attacked the camp. So complete must have been the surprise, that the white men could not have had a very good chance to grab their guns and defend themselves. Every man in that camp was killed, scalped and their bodies mutilated, and all their provisions, horses and mules stolen by the Apaches.

When Adams and Davidson returned to camp, they must have congratulated 5 themselves on the luck that had caused them to absent themselves from camp. Rummaging around among the supplies, Adams must have found the gold the California outfit had been carrying. As proof of this, I later saw a handful of this gold that Adams had save when he buried the rest and it was a quality entirely foreign to that part of New Mexico and identical with some I had seen from California Diggin’s. The pellets were about the size of a pinhead, up to as big as a pinto bean, and I knew that nobody ever found that kind of gold in the parts of New Mexico I have prospected over.

After burying the gold in what they considered a safe place, the two made their way afoot, supposedly, to Fort San Rafael, where they said they reported the massacre to the authorities in charge and petitioned aid from the commanding officer to go back and help them relocate a mine they had found and to view the remains of the Indian attack.

I do not believe this last part, because many years later, I happened to be in Evans [?], in March 1890, where Adams, who had been drinkin’ pretty heavy, related a story of how he had gone to Fort San Rafael, on a certain day (he mentioned the exact date, which I can not now remember) in August, 1864, and petitioned the commanding officer for aid to return to give decent burial to the massacred party and offer him and Davidson, protection while they tried to relocate a rich gold [?].

There happened to be an old, retired Army officer in the saloon who had listened intently to Adams story. This man was Captain Sanborn, who was considered a heavy drinker. However, he did not appear to be drunk at this particular time, and he answered Adams:

“Sir, since the latter part of your speech concerns me, and it is most damaging to my character, I now take it upon myself to refute your statements and call you a contemptible, damned liar. I 6 happened to be the commanding officer of Fort San Rafael at the time of which you are talking. I recall the day of which you speak very clearly and to my knowledge you never set foot in that Fort in your life. It could never be said truthfully that Cap Sanborn ever refused aid to anybody within a weeks [?] of my post who needed it.”

“Who’s a damn liar?” bellowed Adams. “Yuh better eat them words cap, or me an’ you are agoin’ to tangle right here an’ now. Bigod! I don’t like army officers anyway, so I might as well wipe up th’ floor with one of ’em right now.” Saying which, he started for Sanborn.

Cap Sanborn ran behind the lunch counter and grabbed a big butcher knife and jumped over the counter. Adams ran out the front door and Sanborn chased him for a couple of blocks shouting that Adams was the dirtiest liar that ever lived. He could not catch Adams, and returned to the saloon, where he again told everybody in hearing distance that Adams had not ever been to Fort San Rafael.

From the above incident I drew the conclusion that Adams and Davidson never went to Fort San Rafael at all, but passed a considerable distance to the south in an effort to avoid it. They limped into the little town of Reserve, sore-footed and half-starved.

It was in Reserve that Adams showed a couple of pieces of ore in quartz form that [?] exceedingly rich, and stated that it was from the mine he had found before the Indians had massacred his party. He made no mention of the California expedition.

I later saw the same samples Adams had shown in Reserve and recalled that Adams had showed me one of the samples before he left Magdalena in 1864. He had told me then that he had given an Indian some whiskey for the samples and had promised him more if he would show him where he got the amples. If Adams story he told in Reserve about these samples had been true, there would indeed have been a substantial claim to his having found a rich mine. This is where all such stories [?] from and these [??] the [?] I have 7 ever seen in my life, and must have come from one of the richest mines ever heard of. But to my knowledge, no ore of similar quality has ever been found, and the Indian who gave the samples to Adams must be long since dead and the place he found the samples will probably never be found.

Adams didn’t dare show any of the gold at that time he had stolen and buried. Therefore he and Davidson separated, Adams going to Pima, Arizona to obtain money and supplies from friends to outfit an expedition to later come back and salvage the gold. Davidson went on a supposed visit to see some relatives in Louisiana.

Adams was successful in his attempt to raise an expedition, and he sent for Davidson who returned from Louisiana and the expedition met him in Alma, a little town just south of Reserve. They could not find any gold, and Adams later made several solitary trips in search of it, but never had any luck.

Several expeditions have been organized and sent forth in an effort to find the Adams Diggings, but all have met with defeat. It was in 1818 that I decided to see if I couldn’t find the bodies of the men who were massacred in Adams party. Adams had told me that they had camped about fifteen miles north of three peaks that rose up from the plain and were a considerable distance from any other mountains. I got to thinkin’ and the only three peaks I knew of between Gallup and Magdalena, were the Tres Montosas, which are only about fifteen miles west of Magdalena. Figuring about fifteen or twenty miles north of there, I went to North Lake. A few miles north of North Lake, I found the bodies of five men, all buried in one hole. I could find no clue to any gold from anything in the vicinity, so I came back to town and reported the finding of the bodies. It is my belief that the bodies I found were the remains of part of Adams expedition, but of course I can’t prove this. But 8 there is one thing I do know. That is that an old fellow I know, found about twenty thousand dollars buried about five miles north of North Lake, and only a few miles from the place I discovered there bodies. This mans name is Jose Maria Jaramillo, and this what he told me. But when I asked him if the twenty thousand was in gold dust, he would not tell me.

That’s the way a lot of there old, “rich-nice” stories get started,” finished old bob. “I’ve heard that the definition of a miner is a damn liar with a hole in the ground. And a prospector is a damn liar without anything but a dang good imagination. You can talk to most of ’em, and dang near ever’ one of ’em tells you about some rich prospect they struck. But they’re always broke and beggin’ a grubstake. If their mines was half as rich as their imaginations, they could take a handpick, and a gold pan and make more money in a month than most bank presidents could by wearin’ out a half a dozen fountains pens. It’s true that sometimes a prospector does hit it rich, but when he does, he generally don’t talk and brag on it, but gets busy and gets some capital interested and starts workin’ it. That’s my story of the Adams Diggings. It is one of the richest mines in the world in the mind of a danged old liar like I knowed Ed Adams to be, and in the minds of a bunch of old, dream crazy prospectors who aint got no more sense than to believe in it.”

Title[The Adams Diggings]

Contributor Names Batchler, E. V. (Author)

Created / Published New Mexico

Subject Headings
–  Indians of North America
–  Local History
–  Mines and mineral resources
–  Narratives
–  United States — New Mexico — Catron


Call Number
series: Folklore Project, Life Histories,
1936-39MSS55715: BOX A718

Source Collection
U.S. Work Projects Administration, Federal Writers’ Project Repository Manuscript Division