In the hardscrabble and competitive mining subculture of southwestern Arizona, James is a local legend. He owns the federal mining claim to one of the oldest, most fabled, and most cursed mines in Arizona -- the Apache Chief. Spaniards were mining Apache Chief long before the United States even existed. Previous owners of the claim have died... damning the mine as “the southwest corner of hell.” James risks life and limb daily in pursuit of the major treasures he thinks are lurking below the surface of the earth... including Templar treasure (he’s already unearthed evidence of it), a major horde of gold hidden from the government in the 1930‘s, bandit loot, and artifacts from a Spanish galleon stuck in the rock.
His full name is James Burrows. It’s a fitting name. He’s a miner and a treasure hunter – a man in whom dedication and obsession, sanity and gold fever, are always struggling for the upper hand. He spends his days burrowing deeper into the haunted recesses of the Apache Chief, accompanied only by his sidekick, Earl, and the ghosts hovering around him.
Apache Chief is on a BLM tract, so it’s technically public land. But James has the mining claim and owns all mineral rights, and thus he has exclusive access to the elaborate and haunted labyrinth of passageways that go as deep as 360 feet beneath the earth. And whatever he finds – gold, treasure, or historical relic -- is his.
For the last six years, he’s been rappelling, cave diving, mining, cutting rock, and carting it out.
What’s he after?
He’s searching for three major treasure hordes:
He believes his mine is a bona fide Lost Dutchman mine. The Lost Dutchman is the legendary character who stole from eight mines in the west, hoarding massive treasure as a result – treasure which, for the most part, has never been found. One of the more notorious claims he stole from was the Peralta claim. But for years, evidence of the location of Peralta’s claim had disappeared. James claims he's uncovered posts and signage from the 19th century revealing that Peralta’s claim is on James's land. Ergo his mine is a Peralta mine, where the Lost Dutchman secreted away a chunk of his loot.
Templar treasure. He believes the Templars used his mine to stash a hoard. He’s found gold ingots featuring what he believes are Templar inscriptions, and he has other evidence that certain treasures were secreted away centuries ago here, in this remote corner of land that eventually became America.
In the 30’s, when the depression hit, federal gold policy was enacted to protect the Fed’s reserves. A result of that was essentially the outlawing of private gold redemption. In James’s words, “gold basically became like drugs... illegal to have on you, or in your possession.” So the owner of Apache Chief used the mine like a vault, stashing a major trove of the precious metal, and intending to bring it out once the federal policies changed. But they didn’t – at least not during their lifetimes. The treasure is still there. And James has found huge gold nuggets and “Mexican brick” indicating that he’s on the right track.
On top of these three massive treasures, there’s also the untapped gold embedded in the volcanic rock and its veins of quartz that are part of the as-yet-undiscovered riches of Apache Chief. He’s found real, large gold nuggets. But he believes the Apache Chief has yet to reveal its greatest treasure.
How much is real and how much is wishful thinking? He knows there are skeptics. But he also believes that “all true visionaries were doubted until they proved the world wrong.”
My gut tells me that 85% of his passion is fueled by his understanding of geology, history, the craft of mining, and the evidence he’s already found – in gold and artifacts. And 15% percent of his passion is fueled by fantastic beliefs about buried Templar and Spanish treasure lurking hidden in his mine. This cocktail of fact and seeming fantasy is part of James’s allure. A skeptic might characterize as slightly outlandish James’s claim that artifacts from a Spanish galleon lie buried beneath Apache Chief – from an era when the area was underwater. But then that same skeptic would scratch his head when James produced a four hundred year-old Spanish cannon ball that he’s found, right here in Arizona.
The unusual thing is that the arguments he makes about the fantastic treasure are actually quite compelling. Not the ravings of a wild man. Even the skeptical local mining gurus in Quartzsite AZ have to admit, when pressed, that “yeah, that’s the thing, some of what he says is so implausible, but he does actually bring stuff in that is real.”
Proving the doubters wrong is something that actually fuels James’s passion.
And while he mines feverishly for lost treasure, he has to defend his claim. He has to defend it from the corrosive doubts of the skeptics, and he also has to defend it physically from looters. He has to shoo away meddlesome visitors casing the joint, waiting to steal what he finds. When he finds them poking their nose into the outer reaches of his underground world, things get heated. He’s convinced that when he finds his larger hoards, someone will come gunning for him. It won’t be the first time Apache Chief has witnessed such Wild West showdowns. More than one former miner working this claim has been killed for gold. James's plan is to not add his name to that list.
Treasure-hunting in the cursed Apache Chief
The adventure chronicle
Off the beaten path...
into the heart of things.
I tell American stories that sing the unsung, with a focus on the inspirational characters that might get left behind or forgotten by the mainstream.
In order to find them, I practice the lost art of Shunpiking — knowing when to “shun” the turnpike and get onto the back roads where the good stories are tucked away. The ones that remind us of our best selves.
America is a patchwork quilt, and stories are its stitching. In a divided age, we need unifying stories more than ever.