Ralph Reynolds is haunted by gold. Not owning it, but searching for it. For the past 60 years, the 83-year-old, retired Reynolds has been obsessed with finding the Lost Adams Diggings, a legendary 19th-century gold mine in New Mexico and the subject of his newest book, Die Rich Here, an account of those intrepid prospectors consumed by the lure of gold. “While he hasn’t found the mother lode from which the placer deposits came,” the Kirkus review said, “he’s struck gold with his tale of ‘blood and guts, hope and hardship, dust and disappointment.’ ”
A former trade magazine editor for John Deere, Reynolds now puts his energy into writing and his quest to find the lost gold mine. According to legend, in the 1880s, a prospector named John Adams discovered a rich lode of placer gold in the Mogollon Breaks of New Mexico. Unlike many of his fellow explorers, he escaped an Apache slaughter, but Adams could never find the mine again. The legend survives, though, and many men have followed Adams’ footsteps in a vain attempt to locate the gold.
“I’m a writer and here on my doorstep is a story that ought to be written because it’s one of the great unsolved mysteries and legends of the entire Southwest,” Reynolds says. “I was never that interested in finding the gold, except to prove that the old story was true.”
Along the way, he evokes the history New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, with colorful strokes similar to Norman Maclean’s classic portrayal of Montana in “A River Runs Through It” (1976).
Reynolds admires Larry McMurtry, Wallace Stegner and Annie Proulx, but “I don’t read a lot of Western fiction because I think much of it is written to a formula,” he says. “As a Westerner, I know quite a bit about the cowboy life and Western history,” both of which, he says, “have been distorted by romance.”
Reynolds’ first book, Growing Up Cowboy (1991), was a lighthearted autobiography about growing up on a cattle ranch. “It was a series of incidents I experienced trying to be a cowboy, from 12 till I left home,” he says.
His second book, The Bishop Meets Butch Cassidy (2011), is similarly steeped in New Mexico lore. “Butch Cassidy and his fellow outlaws were all fallen Mormons,” he says, “and there’s this old legend that one night he and his fellow outlaws invaded this church in Luna to dance with some Mormon girls and shot up the church.” Reynolds, who grew up in a Mormon village, in Luna, N.M., saw plenty of storytelling potential in the legend. “Using what I knew about it, [I] decided to turn it into a work of fiction.”
In Die Rich Here, readers don’t have to dig too deeply to find Reynolds keen ability to turn a phrase and find the glitters in a fascinating yarn. He tells how, for example, the Apaches would sometimes salt the mines with placer gold to lure greedy prospectors to their doom.
His take on the Lost Adams Diggings has been a labor of love. “I started out publishing it in magazines like America West and newspapers like the Albuquerque Tribune, Davenport Time-Democrat and the Moline Dispatch. National Geographic wrote me a very nice letter and said, ‘If you ever find the mine, we’d be very interested.’ ” Reynolds laughs at the offer. Gold would be nice, but the legend is a treasure, too.