Old-timers say that somewhere in the Uinta Mountains are seven mines lined with rich, unbelievably pure gold that supplied the Aztecs with their treasures and spawned rumors about the seven golden cities of Cibola sought by early Spanish explorers.
Legend says that early Utah Indian chiefs who converted to Mormonism allowed Brigham Young to appoint one messenger - Thomas Rhoades - to be shown the mines and take gold for such church purposes as minting early Mormon coins and decorating LDS temples.My grandpa, Amasa Alonzo Davidson, was one of hundreds who caught gold fever while hearing stories of the fabulous "Lost Rhoades Mines" and how Thomas Rhoades and his son, Caleb, rode out of the mountains with saddlebags full of pure gold ore.
Against his better judgment, Grandpa was talked into joining a group that searched for the gold in 1920. The trouble was that many in the party were outlaws, remnants of Butch Cassidy's wild bunch.
The stories of those who chased the gold are stories of misery. Some gold seekers were killed by Indians, some froze to death, some killed each other. And the few who reportedly saw the gold were prevented from claiming it because of untimely deaths or government red tape.
My grandfather's story starts with the story of Thomas Rhoades. Perhaps part legend, it's as real as I can reconstruct from relatives and books. It starts when Ute War Chief Wakara, or Walker as whites called him, was baptized into the LDS Church. In July 1852, Wakara agreed to let Brigham Young choose one white man to travel to a sacred mine and bring back gold if he swore not to reveal the location.
Young chose Thomas Rhoades, a stalwart Mormon who spoke fluent Ute.
In 1855, when Rhoades became ill, his son, Caleb, took his place.
Both Rhoadeses claimed they kept their part of the deal, but they also worked some not-so-sacred-but-also-rich mines that the Spanish had developed for themselves.
Thomas Rhoades found a map to the non-sacred Spanish mines when Brigham Young sent a group under his command to investigate an Indian massacre of Mexicans who had been mining gold near Nephi.
Neighbors began to suspect the Rhoadeses had their own mine and would try to follow them. When Thomas left his home in Kamas or Caleb left his in Price, curious neighbors would tag along, only to be outsmarted by the Rhoadeses.
Some claim they got close. Caleb once left a group in the Uintas for about five minutes and came back with a saddlebag full of gold.
One of the most determined seekers of Rhoades gold was Edward Hartzell - one of the men who ended up on my grandpa's expedition.
Once Hartzell thought he was finally hot on Caleb's trail without Caleb knowing it. But Hartzell had to dismount his horse and look for signs of the trail ahead in the moonlight. When he came back to the horse, he found someone had stolen his pistol. Caleb gave it back to him weeks later, saying he found it in the canyon.
After Caleb died, Hartzell married Caleb's widow. Some say he did that mainly to get information from her about the mines, but she didn't know where they were either.
Hartzell joined up with the same band of men as my grandpa, who tried to find the Rhoades gold by traveling into the Uintas from the Wyoming side.
In 1920, my grandpa was a 30-year-old rancher and schoolteacher living with his wife and five children near Fort Bridger, Wyo. One of the few in the area who knew how to assay gold, he was talked into joining the group.
One day the group rode up to Grandpa's ranch with an extra horse packed for him. When Grandpa saw some of the hard-looking characters, he refused to go.
All the men left except one of Grandpa's friends, Harold Mosslander, and the leader of the expedition, a self-proclaimed clairvoyant named Landreth, who had just moved to the area from Pittsburgh.
Landreth told Grandpa that he need fear nothing about the trip, and that he could prove it. He pulled out a sealed deck of cards and had Grandpa and Grandma shuffle and cut it. Landreth said spades were bad luck, clubs meant trouble, hearts were love and diamonds were riches.
Grandma cut the deck and drew the king of hearts, which Landreth said represented Grandpa. Grandpa did the same, drawing the queen of hearts, which Landreth said represented Grandma. They then shuffled the deck and drew four cards - the ace, king, queen and jack of diamonds.
Grandma let Grandpa go on the condition he leave his rifle at home. He rode out the next day with assaying acids, a blow pipe to heat them and a camera.
Shortly afterward, Landreth, while blindfolded, drew out a rough map that he said the spirit of an Indian princess named Ravencamp was revealing to him. He described the lake where they were to camp that night and said that above it appeared to be giant castles. The men in the group became excited because Landreth had described a place they knew well, even down to rocks that looked like castles.
In subsequent days, Landreth pulled out a compass that he said pointed toward the gold instead of to the north. He said it stopped working if the men didn't believe, and Grandpa supposedly was the biggest non-believer - which caused friction.
Landreth also could look at the men in the group and tell them things about their past that no one else knew. He even told one man he had killed and cut up a child. That kept the men in line, except for Grandpa and his friend Mosslander - of whom Landreth never seemed to discern anything.
Eventually Landreth led the group to an old cabin, which Grandpa later said was on the shores of what is now called Scout Lake by the Boy Scouts' Camp Steiner. After supper all of the men except Grandpa, Mosslander and a Wyoming neighbor named Ernest Roberts went off by themselves for about an hour. Grandpa told the others he had a sense of danger.
The next morning, Landreth told the others at breakfast that the Indian princess had led them to the cabin for a purpose. He said the gold they would soon find should be given to him to start a church. That angered many.
Landreth then asked that he be blindfolded so the Indian princess could help him draw a map for the final short distance to the gold. But his pencil did not move. Then he called upon God to direct him, but nothing happened. In anger, Landreth threw off the blindfold and announced he would find the gold himself.
One of the outlaws then took command. He placed another "old outlaw from Price" in charge of Grandpa, Mosslander and Roberts and told him not to let them get away from the cabin. He paired others off to go in different directions to look for gold, and he took Landreth with him.
During the day, the guard told Grandpa that Landreth and the outlaw leader the night before had told the others that Grandpa, Mosslander and Roberts should be killed as soon as the gold was found. They had even run their horses off. So he told Grandpa that no matter how rich any found gold was, he should tell them it was fool's gold. The outlaw also slipped him a gun.
At the Scout Lake camp, all the men - except two - returned before sunset but had found nothing. Just as it was getting dark the last two returned. The outlaw leader asked them what they had found, and one man said nothing.
Landreth yelled that he was lying and stepped toward him to search him. The man reached for his gun, but the outlaw leader shot him in the back. They brought the wounded man to the fire where Landreth searched his pockets, which were full of rich, gold-bearing rock - some of it almost pure.
The outlaw leader asked him where the mine was. The man said, "We found the mine over in - aw, go to hell." That outraged the outlaw leader, who shot him dead. He then ordered Grandpa to test the rocks with his assaying acids. He did and said they were worthless fool's gold.
The outlaw leader looked at the gold, then looked at Grandpa. Slowly he drew his gun. But before he could fire, Mosslander shot him dead.
Everyone then started shooting. Grandpa and Mosslander ran out together, firing behind them as they went, and headed north to Wyoming. They said they ran so hard downhill that they even knocked over some trees. My Grandpa later found he had stuck one of the pieces of ore in his pocket when he started running. He donated it later to the University of Wyoming in the 1930s, but officials there said records are not good enough to verify that.
Grandpa and Mosslander found one of the horses that had been run off and headed home. Several men in the group had been killed, but many survived - including Landreth. Roberts returned home days later, wounded in the groin. The wound eventually killed him.
My father says the outlaws showed up at Grandpa's ranch and started digging around. Grandpa ran them off with the help of his brothers. Later, Grandma and her oldest son were shot at while working in a garden. She talked Grandpa into accepting a teaching job offered far away in northern Wyoming.
Grandpa talked little about the trip to family members. He kept the gun he had been given in a box in hopes of returning it to the outlaw who had helped him. He never went back to the Uintas until 1951, and then only for one day. He had told his attorney about the expedition, and they decided to take a drive up and look around.
His journal entry says they found the old cabin and an old sulfur mine that was a landmark for him. We found out much later that he made a map of where he thought the two men who found the gold in the group were sent to look - a square area north of Scout Lake and just south of Gold Hill.
My father found the map while going through some of my grandpa's old papers. Grandpa in very light red pencil had traced in the route his expedition had taken. It is barely noticeable among the other red and black lines on the map.
My father, I and a Deseret News photographer recently went to the area to see if we could see any signs there of the gold or the cabin mentioned by Grandpa. Where my father thought the old cabin stood, we found Camp Steiner's amphitheater for Scouts. It is made of logs laid on the ground. We noticed many of the logs are notched, meaning they were once part of an old cabin.
The site matches stories from my grandfather. He had taken pictures across the lake looking at Bald Mountain and Hayden Peak, and the view from the amphitheater matches those old photos described by my father. The site would also have allowed my grandpa to have run away during the shooting toward Wyoming in an almost all-downhill path.
We walked around and found the sulfur mine to the north that my grandpa mentioned as a landmark. We found plenty of sulfur, some copper, some fool's gold - but no real gold.
If any reader wants to follow my grandfather's map, feel free - but beware. Books detail many failed expeditions, misery and death and not one case of quick and bounteous wealth. Old-timers say for every ounce of gold in the mines, gallons of blood have been spilt.
But if you do find the mine, please let me see it some time. You keep the gold. I'm interested in another type of treasure - the treasure of seeing, feeling and even smelling such a rich mine, and knowing for myself it is real.