Prospector Stories

With the goal of promoting interest in local, state, and national history, here are stories about prospecting in Quartzsite and Arizona. Please email any stories you may have to your webmaster for publication on this website.


Early Times in Quartzsite

An old prospector shuffled into the town of Quartzsite, Arizona leading an old tired mule. The old man headed straight for one of the saloons in town, to clear his parched throat. He walked up to the saloon and tied his old mule to the hitch rail. As he stood there, brushing some of the dust from his face and clothes, a young gunslinger stepped out of the saloon with a gun in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other.

The young gunslinger looked at the old man and laughed, saying, "Hey old man, have you ever danced?" The old man looked up at the gunslinger and said, "No, I never did dance... never really wanted to."

A crowd had gathered as the gunslinger grinned and said, "Well, you old fool, you're gonna' dance now," and started shooting at the old man's feet. The old prospector, not wanting to get a toe blown off, started hopping around like a flea on a hot skillet. Everybody was laughing, fit to be tied.

When his last bullet had been fired, the young gunslinger, still laughing, holstered his gun and turned around to go back into the saloon. The old man turned to his pack mule, pulled out a double-barreled shotgun, and cocked both hammers. The loud clicks carried clearly through the desert air.

The crowd stopped laughing immediately. The young gunslinger heard the sounds too, and he turned around very slowly. The silence was almost deafening. The crowd watched as the young gunman stared at the old timer and the large gaping holes of those twin barrels.

The barrels of the shotgun never wavered in the old man's hands, as he quietly said, "Son, have you ever kissed a mule's ass?"

The gunslinger swallowed hard and said, "No sir..... but... I've always wanted to."

There are two lessons for us here:

Don't waste ammunition.

Don't mess with prospectors.


A Quartzsite Christmas Story

Christmas at the Mine…..A story by Bill Keiser, a Quartzsite old-timer

It was Christmas, 1906. In the fall of that year, A.R. Burch and I took a contract to drive a 200 foot tunnel at the Copper Bottom property in Cunningham Pass, 12 miles southwest of Quartzsite.

At the time there were 10 saloons in Quartzsite and it was customary at Christmas time for these places to serve Tom and Jerry to the miners. My partner and I knew that if we allowed our crew to go to town we wouldn’t be able to get back on our work schedule until after New Years. And chances are we’d never see some of our boys again. So we decided to have a Christmas feed at the mine camp.

From Pete Smith, who ran a hotel near the schoolhouse, I purchased an 18 pound turkey and two quarts of the Juice of Forbidden Fruit. When Pete handed over the turkey, He said, “Here is a bird all dressed and ready for the pot.” I took him at his word.

Back at camp we found out that no one knew the first thing about cooking a turkey – so the job fell on my shoulders. I stuffed the bird with canned oysters and plopped him into the oven. Then I mashed potatoes, heated some canned peas and corn, and made a salad. I also served brown gravy, candied sweet potatoes, cranberries and pickles. My partner made a great pan of biscuits.

The turkey was browned nicely and looked fit for a king. I had taken a lot of pains and did a lot of basting. Of course I was proud of the job, this being my first turkey.

Burch set the table and the men gathered around the beautiful bird. I suggested that he carve.

Luckily, the men were busy passing the bottle for they didn't catch the sorrowful look Burch gave me when he cut into the bird.

"I must go out to the kitchen to carve," he said hurriedly. "There's not enough room on the table." With this he gathered up the turkey and rushed out of the room. I followed on his heels.

"You didn't remove the turkey's craw!" he said in a low voice. I explained that Pete had told me the bird was "ready for the pot," and anyhow, I never knew anyone to start at the neck when carving a turkey, they usually start with a leg. Burch cleaned out the craw and brought the bird back to the table. We ate for an hour or more (Burch and I ate the legs) and the boys were loud in their praises for the finest Christmas dinner many of them had had in years.

As it was, we didn't get back to work for three days – but that’s better than it would have been had we celebrated Christmas in Quartzsite.


A dated story from Desert Magazine, Volume 22 Number 5: May 1959.

Clare Bowman of Palo Alto, California, heard the story of a prospector named Shultz from a veteran prospector who was camped at Pinyon Flats on the Palms-to - Pines Highway in Southern California.

“The frugality of his equipment amazed me. He was a chunky man, clear-eyed and with only the stubble of a beard, and he was hungry for someone to talk to. My husband and I were good listeners,” she writes.

“I can still feel the warmth of the sun on my head and shoulders as the three of us sat on a picnic table in the campground. Something glittery caught my eye and I got down to pick it up.”

“What you got there?” the old man asked.

“Only a pebble,” I answered. “I was hoping it was a gold nugget.”

“That puts me in mind of old Shultz out in Quartzsite” our new friend said – and off he was on his story.”



While passing through Quartzsite the author recalls the story of how an unlucky prospector became a happy mine owner


On a recent trip through the Southwest, I found myself looking eagerly forward to seeing Quartzsite, Arizona, all because of a story an old desert rat had told me years before.

“Yep,” the old man had mourned, “Quartzsite was a big town in them days. Now, man, woman and dog, they ain’t 50 folks there. Old Shultz is probably living there yet, if he ain’t dead. He was an old stiff. Be over 90 now.”

The storyteller seemed to be looking far into the past as he gently twisted his Airedale’s pointed ears with gnarled fingers. “In the early days when they first started mining around Quartzsite, fellas used to take a shovel, a pan and a piece of canvas and go out after gold. They’d spread out the canvas and then, holding the pan up like this” – he demonstrated with an imaginary gold pan – “they’d shake out the gravel. Then, they’d pick up the nuggets that was big enough to see easy. Gold was selling for $18 an ounce then, and a fella’d get about $10 worth ‘fore he called it a day.”

I envisioned the nuggets, like golden wads of chewed gum, scattered throughout the gravel on the canvas.

“But, after the biggest nuggets was gone, folks started dry washing,” the old man went on. “There wasn’t much bigger’n a pinhead when Shultz got there. He come out from Germany when he was a young fella. He was a chemist and tied in with some friends in New York for awhile, but he never did like New York, and headed west.”

The old storyteller drew a long breath and sat in abstracted silence, and the Airedale, released from the caressing fingers, moved to the shade of a bush and settled down for a nap. “Shultz, he dug here and he dug there but never had no luck. He got so low he didn’t even have enough for beans, and, I guess, there were plenty times he was hungry.”

“Gus Peterson and Bill Freeman had a claim near there. They took some gold off of it, but it petered out. Then they started to sink another hole. They went down about five feet but they never hit nothing so they give it up. Well, one day Gus and Bill come out of a saloon - there were 14 saloons there in them days - and they see old Shultz standing on the boardwalk, looking down and out. They give him some money for grub and they figgered as how they’d have some fun with him and they said why didn’t he go work that old hole they’d started.”

“Shultz went up there and started digging right off. Folks thought it was a big joke. They figgered he’d become kind of loony from having so much tough luck, and they were all laughing up their sleeves at the crazy old coot.”

“Well sir, Shultz went down 18 feet and he hit it. It was sure pretty, just like a speckled hen – gold specks all through that quartz.”

I felt a tingle of excitement and exclaimed with delight, but the old man ignored me, intent on his story. “A couple of fellas from Los Angeles heard about Shultz’ strike and they came out to see it”

“Want to sell?” one of them asks.

“Might,” Shultz answers.

“How much you want?”

“Hold on there,” Shultz says. “You can see down there as far as I can. What’s it worth to you?”

“I’ll give you $20,000”

“Is that cash money?”

“Yep. Cash!”

“Mister,” Shultz says, “You just bought yourself a mine.”

I thought that was the end of the story, but the old man went on. “Shultz played it foxy with that $20,000. He took off for Phoenix and put the money in government bonds. When he came back, he had beans – and a ham bone, too.”

Quartzsite, today, may not be the bustling town the old man knew, but neither has it become the ghost town he feared. And, with the lifeline of U.S. Highway 60-70 passing through it, there is little danger that it will be. – END