Enchanting People of New Mexico - Ed Adams

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Episode 20 - Ed Adams

Michael Swickard here. Welcome to Enchanting People of New Mexico sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Our award-winning Hatch Green and Red Chile is from locally owned farms in Hatch, NM, The Chile Capital of the World. You know today is National Green and Red Chile Day which starts January 1st and runs through December 31st every year. Monday and Fridays I do Historical and Cultural New Mexico Podcasts. Wednesdays, I celebrate New Mexicans or people who come to New Mexico.

So today I am talking about a man named Ed Adams. He was a wagon driver and lots of other things. Ed Adams went into the history books 150 years ago because of gold. Gold found and then gold lost. Lots and lots and lots of it. It was and is New Mexico gold. It was the type of gold that all you had to do was take a pick and shovel if you knew the right place and dig it out. Now this story, excuse me, this somewhat true story is known as the Lost Adams Diggins. It is very famous and to the best of my knowledge somewhat true. A novel in 1963, a hundred years after the fact and subsequently a Hollywood movie of the same name, Mackenna’s Gold in 1969 was written about it. Historically, it is known as the Lost Adams Diggings.

A couple hundred years ago in what is called the American Southwest it was unknown to most people. Indigenous Native Americans, trappers, traders and just a few travelers knew anything about Southern New Mexico. The Southwestern Mountains and Deserts had two attractions: a way to get from the crowded cities on the Eastern states and territories. I will talk about that another time because today I’m talking about the more attractive legends of gold. The Spanish explorers in the 1500s were looking for what is now called the myth of the Seven Golden Cities which was focused on the Native American Pueblos in New Mexico. According to the legends of the time there were limitless golden covered cities that had so much gold that taking some would not even be noticed. Well, now folks, as of today, Wednesday, over hundreds of years, no one has ever ever found those Seven Cities of Gold. So, we call it a myth.

Gold is a trade good that is malleable and scattered all over the American Southwest because of volcanic activity thousands and millions of years ago. It is a rare element that has been used for thousands of years for coinage and jewelry. It was a monetary policy of the United States until the 1930s when gold was no longer circulated and in 1970, President Richard Nixon took the country off the quote gold standard unquote. But gold has always in history been something of value to be traded. First you had to find the gold. It was often discovered in stream beds having been washed down the stream. Prospectors looked carefully as they walked through new areas to see what they called signs. In 1864 on the Western border of New Mexico there was a canyon with lots of gold that Ed Adams and about 20 men were told existed and they found it. They spend a couple weeks digging and collecting gold nuggets. Then they were attacked by Native Americans who didn’t want their land taken over. Only two men made it away. They were Ed Adams and John Brewer. They each had a pocketful of gold and a good story to tell.

Michael Swickard, Enchanting People of New Mexico. Each Wednesday we do a podcast on people who are special to New Mexico. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.

Today I am talking about a fascinating New Mexican, Ed Adams of the fabled legend of the Lost Adams Diggings. A story perhaps based on true events. Treasure hunters all over the Western part of our country have felt they were just one lucky moment away from incredible riches hidden by a few inches of dirt in a canyon. Now Adams and Brewer told an interesting tale and had a couple pocketfuls of gold nuggets. Lots of people listened to the stories but when expeditions were planned, there was always one problem with that area of Western New Mexico. It just wasn’t safe. Over the years there was quite a bit of interest in a canyon of gold but the threat of a brutal death like 19 miners experienced caused Adams and Brewer to look for gold in other places. Then Brewer died and the only person who knew or thought he knew where the fabulous Canyon of Gold was located was Ed Adams.

In 1874, ten years after the escape with his life being only one of two to get away when 19 others were killed, he felt he had to go back and find that life-changing Canyon of Gold. He worked out of Milligan Plaza, a town now called Reserve and tried to find mountains that jogged his memory to find the canyon. He told the story every chance he got, and you know what that caused, lots of other prospectors rode up and down the canyons in the Western side of New Mexico. Alas, to no success. To this day, that canyon of gold is still there and it either has not been found or as one person suggested, long ago someone found it and has very very slowly been mining it in ways so that it isn’t seen. I don’t believe that. But know this, the price of an ounce of pure gold in 1874 was about $20 so a pound would be worth $320 but in today’s dollars a pound would be worth about $10,000. So someone quietly mining gold pebbles would only need a couple pounds of the gold, maybe ten pounds to have what would be a fortune.

And, as someone pointed out, could they quit such a rich strike with just ten pounds. More importantly, could they keep from talking about the gold? That is what happened in almost all of the gold strikes over the years. They talked and then everyone knew. Or, just as likely until the end of the 1880s, there were members of the Apache tribes that could have caught a lone miner out concentrating on getting gold and then we never heard from him again.

Or one more scenario that if I was forced to bet on what happened, here is what I would subscribe to. You see, there was a typical New Mexico flood scenario that has hit a number of communities. It lightly rains for a couple days usually in September and the ground soaks it all up and then there is a deluge that has hit with four or five inches of rain falling in 15 minutes. Like pouring water out of a bucket. That might have happened, and the flood was on. Might have been a big flash flood in the area of the gold strike and the mud buried it. I believe there was a canyon of gold that 20 some miners in 1864 found and were harvesting the gold when they were killed. All but two. But something happened so that 159 years later no one has found it despite many people spending years and years looking.

Michael Swickard, Enchanting People of New Mexico. Each Wednesday we do a podcast on people who are special to New Mexico. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.

Ed Adams spend much of the rest of his life looking for that pot of gold so to speak and died with the dream. Others have searched and then something that happened in New York City and the financial markets that caused a run of the Lost Adams Diggings.

You know there is a New Mexico town, Adams Diggings. Yep. The 1965 book, New Mexico Place Names, edited by T. M. Pearce, noted that in Catron County, 15 miles northeast of Quemado, New Mexico. But the book doesn’t have, as Paul Harvey liked to say, the rest of the story. Why the name of the town? Near Pie Town in 1916 a couple homesteaded and after a while when they proved up their claim, they had a ranch and then opened a general store since ranching was on and off income. Well now, the financial problem that hit with the stock market crash and the great depression had this effect. People with no other income decided to see if they could find the Lost Adams Diggins. They got their supplies from Guy and Daisy Magee at their small general store. One thing led to another when they wanted their mail forwarded to the general store while they looked for the Lost Adams Diggins. So Guy Magee applied to be a post office, and when asked for the town name, Adams Diggins which allowed him to push the business at his general store.

So what happened? It was a brisk business in the 1930s until World War Two started and then either people were in the military or were working in the defense plants. The majority of the prospecting ended and the post office closed and moved to Pie Town in 1946.

Just so you know you can still see Adams Diggings as a New Mexico town though no big pot of gold has been found in the area. People are still looking. In fact, I bet there are several people in that area looking for the Zig-zag Canyon that Ed Adams described but could not find the gold for the rest of his life. Maybe next week we will hear that someone has finally found the Canyon of Gold that Ed Adams found and then couldn’t find again. It is possible. That is the mantra of the gold prospectors. There is gold in them thar hills and I’m gonna find it. You who are listening to me could be the one to find it. It is out there just waiting for you. Oh, if you are going out to prospect, let me suggest taking some Fresh Chile Company Freeze dried Chile with you so that even if you don’t find the gold you have something good to eat. Good luck.

Michael Swickard, Enchanting People of New Mexico. Each Wednesday we do a podcast on people who are special to New Mexico. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.

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Michael Swickard here. This is the Enchanting People of New Mexico. Thank you for your time today. We will always have lots of News and stories about New Mexico for you on these Podcasts. If you have something or someone you want me to talk about in a future podcast, write to: michael@freshchileco.com

Have a great rest of your day. Oh yes and eat plenty of that good Hatch Valley Chile. Like I always say, “Some Chile is good, more is better.” Bye for now.

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