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NEW MEXICO

The Lost Padre Mine

THE TALE


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Albert Jennings Fountain first appeared in New Mexico Territory as a member of the famous California Column commanded by Colonel James H. Carleton. After the Confederate army was driven east into Texas, the Union troops of the California Column settled down to garrison duty. Fountain found himself assigned to the Union garrison at Franklin. In the nearby village of Mesilla, he met and married a beautiful Hispanic girl named Marianna Perez. Fountain fought Mescalero, Mimbreno, and Chiricahua Apaches throughout the remainder of the Civil War. After the war, he settled down in El Paso, Texas where he practiced law and delved into state politics. Fountain was an influential Republican Party leader in western Texas from 1865 to 1873. After 1873, he moved to Mesilla, New Mexico where he again entered the political scene. For 25 years, Albert Fountain served the people of Mesilla and southern New Mexico Territory. He was prominent in politics, journalism, and the law. On February 1, 1896 Albert Fountain and his young son Henry vanished somewhere in the desert sands east of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Their bodies were never found and no one was ever convicted of their murders. It is one of the great unsolved murder mysteries of the Old West.

George Wythe Baylor first appeared in New Mexico Territory as a member of General Henry H. Sibley's Confederate invasion force. At the time, Baylor was no stranger to action and adventure. He had fought Comanche Indians prior to the Civil War and had served as aide-de-camp to General Albert Sidney Johnston during the Battle of Shiloh. After the defeat of Confederate forces in New Mexico in 1862, Baylor was transferred east to Louisiana where he participated in the Red River campaign of 1864. After the Civil War, he entered politics, serving as a representative from El Paso, in western Texas. John W. Baylor died in 1916 at the ripe old age of 84 and is buried in the old Confederate cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.

The Civil War brought Albert J. Fountain and George W. Baylor to southern New Mexico in 1862. Both were young (Baylor was 30 and Fountain 24) and both would eventually leave their marks on the history of the American Southwest. The two men had many things in common. Both were accomplished frontiersmen and Indian fighters and both would eventually serve terms in the political arena of western Texas. The two men had something else in common - both had samples of ore from one of the legendary lost mines of the American Southwest.

 

The famous Lost Padre Mine of Dona Ana County, New Mexico, is said to be located in the mountain range known to the Spaniards as "Los Organos", but now known as the Organ Mountains. The mine has a venerable history extending back to the time of the early Spaniards.

The mine was originally discovered by a Spanish soldier sometime in the late 1700's. On his way south from the northern province of New Mexico, the soldier fell ill in a small village near Durango, Mexico. Just before his death, the Spanish soldier revealed the location of his mine to the local padre, Father LaRue (or LeRuz). The mine was said to be located in the Los Organos range, just north of El Paso del Norte. It consisted of a vein of native gold in quartz and was extremely rich.

Father LaRue and his flock eventually decided to move to the area described by the soldier. After a prolonged search, they located the mine somewhere near San Augustin Pass in the Organ Mountains. The padre and his followers worked the mine for a number of years, amassing a fortune in gold ore and crudely-smelted bars. But all good things eventually come to an end. A representative of the Spanish crown showed up and demanded that the production of the mine be turned over to the proper authorities. Father LaRue refused and the Spanish official was forced to return to Old Mexico. Shortly thereafter, a column of soldiers showed up but they were unable to find the mine or any of the gold. The colonists had hidden it!

From time to time, the Organ Mountains yield up hints of this hidden wealth. Many travelers who have passed through the area have discovered rich samples of gold-bearing float. Colonel George W. Baylor found some during the Civil War but he couldn't find the source. Colonel Albert J. Fountain had some samples of ore and was rumored to have actually discovered the location of the hidden mine shortly before he disappeared. In 1878, a Mexican vaquero apparently stumbled onto the mine while wandering the mountain slopes near San Augustin Pass. The mine entrance was partially exposed and the Mexican cowboy managed to squeeze into the opening. Inside he found sacks of gold ore, a primitive forge and ore crusher, and some crudely-smelted gold bars. He took some of the gold bars and returned to his home in Mesilla. Unfortunately, the Mexican vaquero lost his sight in an accident shortly after his return from the mine. All he had to show for his discovery were a few bars of gold. The Lost Padre Mine remains hidden today.

MINING HISTORY

Dona Ana County, New Mexico has a venerable mining history extending back to the time of the early Spaniards. It is a history that is both intriguing and somewhat cryptic. It includes two decades of intensive prospecting in the Organ Mountains at the end of the 19th Century followed by a massive production of silver and lead ore amounting to nearly $2 million. The mining history of Dona Ana County also includes an element of the unknown. On the northern border of the county Victorio Peak rises up from the surrounding mountains of the San Andres chain. Rumors of a fabulous hoard of Spanish treasure buried deep within the peak have circulated throughout the region for many years. Near the southern border of the county, the Organ Mountains rise up from the desert floor. Somewhere in these rugged peaks the famous Lost Padre Mine lies hidden.

The first official mineral strike in the Organ Mountains occurred in 1849. It was during that year that a Mexican prospector discovered extremely high-grade silver ore on the western flank of the Organ Mountains. The Mexican recruited a local prospector named Hugh Stevenson for his partner and the two worked the mine for a couple of years. Eventually, Stevenson became the sole owner of the mine - at least until the 1850's. At that time he sold the mine to an army officer named Bennett, who was stationed at Fort Fillmore. The Stevenson Mine produced some $90,000 worth of silver ore during its first 8 years of operation.

 


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In the late 1870's, prospectors began to uncover a number of rich mineral deposits in the Organ Mountains and surrounding country. Indeed, the last two decades of the 19th Century witnessed a flurry of prospecting in the region. Most of the important metal-producing mines were discovered during this period of time. One of the first discoveries was the famous Modoc vein, discovered at the foot of the Organ Mountains. The Modoc Mine produced mostly high-grade lead ore with minor silver and copper. In 1883, the Mountain Chief Mine was discovered by a prospector named Patrick Breen. The Mountain Chief Mine was a leading producer in the Black Mountain Mining District. Four years later, the famous Bennett ore body was discovered in the Stevenson-Bennett Mine. This discovery rejuvenated the now aging mine for a few more years. In 1895, the Galloway Mine was discovered just one mile east of San Augustin Pass by a remarkable prospector named Henry Foy. Most prospectors spend their entire lives searching for the big strike. Most of them never find it. Only a few are lucky enough to find a rich vein of ore. But in the annals of mining history, there are a handful of extraordinary prospectors who have made not one, but two major strikes in their life. Henry Foy is just such an individual! Just 4 years after his first discovery near San Augustin Pass, Foy located the rich Torpedo deposit.

The Organ Mountains have officially produced much silver but very little gold during its mining history. Prior to 1906, only 12,000 ounces of gold are reported from the area.