A famous story of lost treasure may in fact, never have
been treasure at all. Nevertheless, it still created one of the largest mining
rushes ever and the creation of a thriving new town. The story is of James Allen
Hardin and his lost silver treasure.
In 1849, Hardin was travelling west with a wagon
train from an unknown Eastern state. The long journey covered the plains and
Rockies on the Emigrant Trail and headed down the Applegate-Lassen cut-off from
the Humboldt River. Hardin crossed the Black Rock Desert, went around Black Rock
Point, and finally stopped at Double Hot Springs for a short rest.
It was at Double Hot Springs that the emigrants
realized that they were running very low on supplies and they especially needed
food. Hunter volunteered to go back to Black Rock Range to look for food and he
took John Lambert with him. They had gotten approximately three or four miles
north of the Springs when they crossed an expansive sandy area and Hardin
noticed bright pieces of metal distributed amongst the sand. Hardin and Lambert
both assumed that it was lead and that this lead would be good for the bullets
that they needed. They didn’t find any food that day but they did take the metal
with them. That night, Hardin borrowed an oven to turn the metal into bullets
and when the train moved on to Oregon, Hardin took one piece of metal that
hadn’t been in the oven yet to use later.
Hardin soon called Petaluma, California home and he
had forgotten about his travelling days along with the piece of metal he had
saved. One day an assayer came into his shop and noticing the piece of lead,
asked about it. After telling his story, the assayer wanted to test the metal.
The testing showed that the metal contained large quantities of silver.
Wanting to claim the rest of the silver, Hardin
assembled a large team to go back to the area and collect the rest of the metal.
Hardin and his team spent the entire summer of 1858 looking for the treasure but
they didn’t find it before it started to get cold and they were forced to give
up the search. They went back the next spring but still could not locate the
metal that was comprised of mostly silver. In 1860, the Paiute War started and
that ended any further expedition travels to the area.
After the war in 1866, a man discovered a ledge
that he thought had a good possibility of being the lost silver. After word had
spread, miners and prospectors rushed to Black Rock Desert to claim a piece of
treasure for themselves. This led to Hardin City being built around the area. A
small piece of Black Rock ore yielded high amounts of gold and silver, which
further spurned on the rush of Black Rock.
During that time, Black Rock was just about the only thing people could talk
about even though some batches found precious metals while others produced
nothing. In fact, there were more batches that were of no value than those that
had any at all. Dall’s Mill was the mill that had the most results. Regardless
of this fact, Hardin City kept expanding as more people kept coming to get in on
a possible rush. Assayers were brought in and changes were made in the mills of
Hardin City regarding the reduction process but still, no treasure was ever
found. In 1868, the search for treasure had been abandoned and Hardin City
became completely desolate.
It was later found that the only reason Dall’s Mill
had any results at all was because of the way the metal had been processed. The
mills had not been cleaned well enough and so there were still traces of silver
from previous ore and that ore had nothing to do with the Black Rock ore.
Some evidence of Hardin City still remains such as
depressions that were left by the buildings that once stood there. And still
today, people go searching around Black Rock looking for Hardin’s lost treasure.
Someone may find it one day but for now, the legend of Hardin and his lost
treasure stands as it is and it may never be known if the lost treasure is in
fact, lost treasure or just lead of which one piece proved to be quite valuable.