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“All you’ll find is your tombstone,” one of them told him one day, in answer to that remark.
And the comment must have stuck in his mind, because when Ed Schieffelin found the great subterranean ledge of silver that would make him rich and famous, he named his claim “The Tombstone.”
ED NEVER HAD MONEY TROUBLE again after that, of course. He and his brothers sold their claims for $600,000, and in 1882 they traveled to Portland and commissioned a sternwheel steamer which they shipped to Alaska and used for prospecting on the Yukon River. They found nothing, so they returned.
In 1883 Ed married Mary E. Brown, and settled down with her in a comfortable home in Alameda … or tried to. He no longer needed to prospect, but he seemed unable to stop. Soon he was making short excursions into nearby areas, looking for another strike.
Then, in the mid-1890s, he went on a longer trip — back into the wilds of Jackson and Douglas counties in Oregon. His goal was to find some of the prospecting spots he’d tried and given up on in his youth. Now that he was older and more knowledgable, he was pretty sure some of them were the real thing.
And that was what he was doing, there in a friend’s cabin near the confluence of Day’s Creek and Moore Creek, in the spring of 1897, when he met his death at the age of 49.
THE LEGENDS STARTED ALMOST the instant Ed’s body was discovered. The first of these has become known, today, as the “Lost Red Blanket Mine.” Ed was known to have had two good wool blankets, a blue one and a red one. The friends who found his body wrapped it in the blue one for burial; but of the red one, there was no sign. Ed was known to have frequently made overnight camping trips up various creeks and washes in search of possible deposits; the conclusion drawn from the absence of the red blanket was that he’d gone on one of these trips and made a camp, then for some reason left it behind and made a beeline for the cabin, where he on the instant started in assaying his ore samples. The ore samples he was working on when he died had gold in them; accounts of how much range from $7 per ton (that’s what his widow said, in a letter to the owner of the cabin) to a rumored $2,000 per ton.
The $2,000 figure is surely a wild exaggeration. But Ed’s brothers dropped everything to race to the scene and join the search, and it’s highly unlikely that they would have done this if the ore had assayed out at only $7 a ton.
There also was, according to the story, a diary that Ed kept, in which the last entry read, “Struck her rich again, by God!” Or, maybe it read, “Found at last, richer than Tombstone.” Or “A prospect at last!” Or maybe Ed didn’t keep a diary and wrote absolutely nothing at all. All of these variations can be found, in various versions of this legend.
In any case, so far as is known, no one has ever found either Ed’s red blanket, or Ed’s last lost “richer than Tombstone” mine. People are still looking for it today, most of them in a sort of desultory recreational fashion, but some of them in real earnest.
The other “Ed’s Lost Gold Mine” story that’s sometimes circulated comes to us courtesy of legendary Oregon raconteur and sorta-historian Stewart Holbrook. In Holbrook’s version, Ed mailed a letter two weeks before his death that included the line, “I have found stuff here in Oregon that will make Tombstone look like salt. THIS IS GOLD,” and left a treasure map in the cabin. The map was passed to one of Ed’s nephews, who, mortally wounded at Verdun during the First World War, gave the map to a friend on his deathbed.
“I know this man and have seen this paper,” Holbrook wrote, in an article for the June 1944 issue of The American Mercury. “The writing on the map is beyond doubt that of old Ed Schieffelin. Two places on the map are marked ‘Here.’ The problem presented by the map is to know certain distances that are outlined. These are in cypher of Schieffelin’s own making.”
So, there’s that story. Of course, the idea that a fellow as laser-focused on prospecting as Ed Schieffelin would take time off from the diggings to invent his very own personal secret code may be a little hard for most folks to swallow.
As with all “lost gold mine” stories, what we basically have is an ore sample with a ratio of about two ounces of truth per ton of drama. But, would we really want it any other way?