The Secret Gold In The Guadalupes
Here it is. The Waybill.
“In the Southern end of the Guadalupes, on the east side, is a canyon like a chasm, sheer on both sides, accessible only by a rope. It varies in width from 50 to 100 feet and is perhaps 75 feet deep. In the wall, near the floor of the canyon, is a shaft, like a cave. In the cave, according to the recollections of Ross Sublett, is the deposit of gold.”
So ends an excerpt from one of the most famous treasure hunting books of all time, “Lost Mines and Hidden Treasure,” by Leland
Lovelace. The above concerns one of the most famous gold mines in Texas, The Lost Sublett somewhere in the Guadalupe Mountains of west Texas.
There are many accounts of gold in the Guadalupe Mountains. It was the Apache stronghold. Gold nuggets and gold sand has been found in the streams of these mountains but the mother lode has never been located. Part of this range of mountains crosses into New Mexico. There is a large part also that is now a national park and is off limits. But it is a matter of conjecture as to the location of the lost Sublett is within the park grounds are not. One thing is certain is the gold mine did really exist and searching for gold in these mountains could be rewarding but these mountains are still wild.
William Caldwell Sublett was born in Kentucky (some accounts say Tennessee). As a teenage he made his way to Missouri. There he married Laura Louise Denney. The two bought a wagon and two mules and headed for Colorado and the mines. Sublett had no luck in Colorado and went to Texas and landed in Monahans. Here they lived in a tent.
Laura took in washing. Sublett found odd jobs in town. He did work at local stores and painted houses. It is said Sublett drank quite a bit and this made it harder for him to keep work. He would sometimes show up for work drunk. It is told how his drinking got around town and it hurt his reputation.
During his idle times between jobs, Sublett would hitch up his two mules and roam the Guadalupe Mountains prospecting. The mountains were 125 mile from where he lived so he would be gone quite awhile. He was warned also of the Apache danger in the mountains but he ignored these warnings. It wasn’t long before the folks thought Sublett crazy. He became known as “Old Ben” and was looked on as demented.
During his marriage, Ben and Laura had three children. One was a boy and there were two girls. Laura got Ben to move to Odessa so the kids would have a better chance of getting an education. Ben did not really want to but, to humor Laura, he did.
After a few months of living in Odessa, Laura died from tuberculosis. This left Ben with three kids. The oldest daughter took over the washing clothes for money and the mother duties of the two youngest, and Ben found what work he could, which wasn’t much.
On one job, Ben was working with an old Mescalero Apache. They got to be friends. Ben told him he would go into the Guadalupes and prospect for gold. The old Apache told Ben where there was much gold in the Guadalupes. The Apache said he could never return to the tribe as he had been banished. He told Ben the location of the gold as best he could.
Ben took off to the mountains as often as he could. It was not an easy task searching for the gold by the Indians directions, but he continued feeling he would find it at any time.
Ben finally found the gold. He returned to Odessa and went into Mollie Williams’ saloon and dumped a sack full of gold nuggets on the bar. Ben bought drinks for everyone. Ben was now a rich man. He claimed he had found “the richest gold mine in all of North America.”
Ben took care of his children first, buying them new clothes and getting them into school. He also bought a new wagon and two new mules. Ben would go to the Guadalupes every three weeks and bring back gold. It is known that one jeweler took some and said they were the purest gold he had ever seen in the natural state.
Many Odessa citizens approached Ben with deals to go partners with him. Ben refused them all. He did tell them, however, that not long ago they all thought of him as crazy.
Ben was followed nearly all the time he would leave for his mine. Knowing this, Ben would always do things to confuse the followers. He would sometimes go to the Pecos River and camp several days there and then return to Odessa. At times he would just elude his trackers and return with more gold.
Ben would always convert his gold into cash. He would get the cash in Odessa and then place it into a bank in Midland owned by W.E. Connell. Connell noticed when Ben was short in his account he would go to the Guadalupes and in two or three weeks he would come back with a big deposit. Connell offered Ben $10,000 for his gold claim. Ben laughed at this saying he could pick that up in one afternoon.
Connell and his partner, Gray, hired a tracker from Midland named Jim Flannigan to keep an eye out for Ben’s next trip. Flannigan loved this job as all he had to do was hang around bars and get paid for it until Gray and Connell needed him or he heard Ben was on his way to his mine. Finally, Connell contacted him and told him Ben would be leaving soon as his account was running low.
Ben left Odessa a few days later heading for the Guadalupes. Flannigan gave Ben a two-hour head start and followed him easily by the wagon track. Flannigan trailed Ben three days with no problem. Then, on the fourth day, Flannigan lost the tracks of the wagon along the Pecos River’. Flannigan tried to find the tracks but with no luck. He went back to Odessa and found Ben had already returned and put money in the bank. People began to believe Ben had small stashes of his gold between the mountains and Odessa.
Two years passed and Ben got to know Grizzly Bill. Grizzly Bill was also an old prospector. He was like Ben as he had to do odd jobs also to keep himself in bread and butter. Ben took pity on Grizzly Bill and told him his mine in the Guadalupe Mountains held more than he could ever spend and told Grizzly he would be willing to share it with him.
Ben gave directions to Grizzly Bill and Grizzly Bill found the mine and brought back a flour sack full of gold. In Odessa, Grizzly Bill spent the next two days celebrating. During his two days, Grizzly Bill got on a horse trying to break it. Being drunk was Grizzly Bill’s undoing for he was sent flying into the air and died with a broken neck.
Then there was Mike Wilson. Mike took directions easily and went into the Guadalupes and brought back several sacks of gold. Wilson went on a three-day drinking binge and blew all his gold.
Wilson went back into the Guadalupes for more gold but he could not find the location again. He got lost and wandered around for several days. He went back to Ben and told him he could no longer find the mine. Ben was not pleased with the way Wilson had blown all the gold on a spree and refused to tell him the location again. Wilson spent the rest of his days searching but finally passed away in a cabin at the foothills of the Guadalupes.
Another fellow Ben may have told the secret to was named Rufus Stewart, who was a guide for hunters but also worked as a house painter and stagecoach driver. Stewart was camped one evening with some officials from the Texas and Pacific Railroad on a hunting trip. They were on the Pecos River not far from the town of Menton. In the morning, Stewart was going to lead the men into the Guadalupe hunting for deer and antelope.
After the evening meal, the railroad men were sleeping and Stewart was doing the dishes and cleaning up. He heard the approach of a wagon. About 20 yards from the camp a wagon pulled up. It was Ben Sublett. Stewart knew him as a nut from Odessa. He had also heard of Ben’s famous gold mine in the Guadalupes. Stewart invited Ben to come and sit and have a cup of coffee.
Ben told Stewart he was heading into the Guadalupes to get more gold. Ben also told Stewart this could be his last trip as he was getting too old to make the trip. He said the hiking and climbing to get to the mine was getting too hard and he also said he had enough gold to last him the rest of his life. Ben asked Stewart if he would like to go along to the gold. Stewart had to decline as he told Ben he had a responsibility to the hunters. He also said he wasn’t risking his life going into an area where renegade Indians sometimes were roaming.
Stewart and Ben talked until the early morning hours. Ben told Stewart he would like to show him the location to the mine. Ben would give him directions. The two rode a few miles west of camp and to a point of high ground. To the west, Ben pointed to a “blue mound.” At that point he showed Stewart, through a telescope, the directions to the mine.
The two men returned to camp. Ben then got into his wagons and went toward the Guadalupes. Ben said he would return to the camp in about three days. Three days passed and on the evening of the third day, Old Ben pulled his wagon into camp. Ben joined Stewart and the hunters for their dinner. When dinner was over and Stewart and Ben were sitting by the campfire, Ben said he had something to show Stewart. Ben spread a blanket next to the fire and displayed a large quantity of gold.
Stewart was in the position of being one of those folks who experienced the seeing-is-believing emotion. He was shocked to see the size of the nuggets. Ben said the large nuggets were easier to pick up than the small ones. He said there was over a thousand more lying in the dry creek bed. Ben gave Stewart one of the large nuggets.
Ben stayed overnight at the camp. He then left the next morning. Stewart never saw him again.
Stewart went in search of the mine a few weeks later. He went to the “blue mound” Ben had taken him to. Using the directions Ben gave him, he rode into the Guadalupes. He searched for many days but no luck. Stewart made other search trips but still no luck.
Ben had a son, Rolth. He knew the location of the mine as a child. He went to the mine with his father. All he could ever recall was being lowered to the bottom of a canyon by rope. As a kid, it meant nothing to him. Rolth paid no attention to his surroundings. Later, a grown man, he would regret this. Many times Rolth, as an adult, would search for his birthright but never found it.
In 1892, Ben Sublett passed away in Odessa. He had in his life become a fairly rich man. At his death most of his fortune was gone and there was little left. But Ben left a treasure legacy of a very rich mine that still waits finding. Treasure hunter and writer W.C. Jameson says he left a history of one of the richest lost mines of gold in the great southwest.
Jameson has searched the Guadalupes and believes the mine is there. It is said that the Guadalupes are not conducive to gold as the “weathered sedimentary structure of what was once an undersea algae reef is not conducive to the formation of gold ore.” But, according to Jameson, “hydrothermal solutions, under pressure, penetrate the rock surrounding an underground pocket of molten material.” There are experts who claim this activity has not happened in the Guadalupes.
This is also prone to some disagreement. In every direction there are exposed landforms and mountains which are intrusively and extrusively volcanic in origin. It is considered a folly to think this type of activity has not taken place between the mountains and below. When Jameson was on a treasure hunting expedition in 1987, samples of igneous intrusive rock were found. They were found on the southeast facing slope of the escarpment in the same area where the Lost Sublett Mine is supposed to be located.
Rolth Sublett never found is dad’s gold mine. The Sublett family still exists in this part of New Mexico and Texas. It is their legacy and it is anybody’s guess if Ben’s descendants still look for the gold mine. The nearest guess seems to pinpoint on the outer edges of the park. This may or not be the same gold as the Apache. All that seems certain is there is a source of gold located somewhere in the Guadalupe Mountains.