Reynolds’ account of a lost-mine legend of the Old West and the gold fever it has sparked.
The Old West is a mother lode of colorful nonfiction, truth often obscured by layers of myth. Reynolds taps a particularly rich vein of lore in his riveting recap of “what has become the greatest, most vexing, and persistent lost-mine tradition of North American history.” The Lost Adams Diggings are named for John R. Adams, who, in 1864, escorted by “a half-breed Mexican-Indian with a crumpled ear,” led an expedition of 21 miners that apparently found nuggets of placer gold somewhere in the remote Mogollon Breaks straddling the border of New Mexico and Arizona. Apache raiders slaughtered 19 of the miners, leaving only Adams and one other man to tell the tale. According to Reynolds, another prospector, John Brewer, was actually the first to find the gold deposit three years earlier. His party, guided by the same “half-breed,” also fell afoul of the Apaches. In the 1880s, Reynolds says, he returned to the diggings and mined out what was left, making himself a tidy fortune. But ever since, a parade of gold seekers has been gripped by “Adams fever”; many have met an untimely end in the wilderness. Reynolds memorably chronicles this cast of characters with an eye for detail. The quest of Capt. Mike Cooney ended in November 1915, “his tongue as stiff as a piece of jerky.” Hackberry Campbell had “two burros—one carried grub, the other, whiskey. Sidekicks said he often ran out of the first but never the latter.” For Reynolds, the Lost Adams legend “helps define the history of the deepest corner of the great Southwest,” and he skillfully follows the historical threads, including the Apache wars that coincided with the expeditions of Brewer and Adams. The Apaches, he says, attacked the miners not for their gold, but for their supplies, particularly guns. Reynolds, a native of the Mogollon Breaks, has been researching the diggings for 60 years. While he hasn’t found the mother lode from which the placer deposits came, he’s struck gold with his tale of “blood and guts, hope and hardship, dust and disappointment.”
With a memorable cast of characters and telling detail, the author explores the “greatest lost-mine tradition of North American history.”