Pay Dirt

Pay Dirt

Ed Schieffelin finds his tombstone.


By Marshall Trimble

The tall, lanky prospector brushed back his thick, matted, unkempt hair and looked out across a jumble of high mesa hills, scanning the rough terrain east of the San Pedro River. Somewhere out there he reckoned, lay the vast riches he had long sought.

It was a well-known fact that this virtually uninhabited area, some 60 miles southeast of Tucson, was rich with gold and silver. Several bold men had lost their lives trying to wrest the riches from the rugged hills. It was into this hostile land the prospector ventured in the spring of 1877. He had a gut feeling that this is where he would finally hit pay dirt.

The rags-to-riches story of prospector Ed Schieffelin is one of the Old West’s greatest success stories.

In 1877, after years of fruitless prospecting in Nevada, Montana, and California, Schieffelin came to Arizona. Down in what would become Cochise County the Apache had been moved to the reservation at San Carlos and with the exception of a few bands of renegades including the notorious Victoria, the area was open for prospecting.

He joined a party of soldiers on their way to establish Fort Huachuca in the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains and when he told them he was going prospecting, they laughed and said, ”All you’ll find out there will be your tombstone.”

Schieffelin was determined to find more than his tombstone. His instincts, honed by years of prospecting, convinced him the rugged hills held a treasure trove and he aimed to find it.


Arizona’s official state historian, Marshall Trimble, is a cowboy singer, a humorist, and a storyteller. He would need a couple of partners, so he gathered up some promising ore specimens and hiked across the territory over to the mining town of McCracken in Mohave County. There, he enlisted his brothers Al and Richard Gird, a mining engineer and assayer of renown, to join him in his quest. They formed a verbal partnership, one that sustained them for many years. It stands out as the hallmark of honesty and trust when lawsuits and litigation were commonplace among others of the same profession.

The trio sneaked out of McCracken as Gird’s abrupt departure would arouse suspicion and attract followers. They headed down the Hassayampa River to Wickenburg and from there they passed through Phoenix and Tucson then headed east for the San Pedro River. They set up headquarters in the old Brunchow cabin overlooking the river.

The old adobe ruins on the eastern side of the San Pedro was once the home of German engineer Frederick Brunchow. It’s been called the “bloodiest cabin in Arizona history.” Sometime around July 25, 1860, Brunchow and two others were murdered and the cabin looted by Mexican laborers. The killers were never apprehended. It’s said that between 1860 and 1890 more than 20 people died violently and several are buried at the site.

Each day Ed combed the nearby mountains and each time the results were the same, the ore was too low grade to be profitable. Then one day, he was prospecting about nine miles northeast of the cabin when he uncovered a ledge of ore-bearing granite from a deep running vein of almost pure silver, so soft that when a coin was pressed against it an imprint was visible. Gird ran a test and it assayed out at $15,000 dollars silver to the ton and $1,200 to $1,500 in gold. Gird looked up from the final results of his assay and with a big grin said, “Ed, you are a lucky cuss. You have hit it.”

His long-awaited dream had finally come true. Faith and perseverance had paid off handsomely. He named the claim the Lucky Cuss and filed it on March 15, 1878.

The next big strike was named the Contention. It was named after a run-in with another prospector, Hank Williams, over a broken promise. Williams had made a deal with Gird that in exchange for assay work he would share equally if they hit pay dirt.

Williams struck a rich silver lode then attempted to cut Gird out.

Gird and the Schieffelin brothers headed for Williams’ claim and convinced him to honor his deal with Gird. Williams agreed and they named their claim the Contention. Williams named his half of the claim the Grand Central. Both turned out to be among the richest mines in the district.

The trio’s third big strike was the Tough Nut. It also went on to become one of Arizona’s richest silver mines. Soon a town grew up around the mines. It was a tent town near the claims but would soon become one of the largest towns in Arizona.


In March 1879 a town site was laid out on the mesa above the Good enough Mine. In honor of the soldier’s grim warning it was named Tombstone.

Now when Ed Scheiffelin walked down the street people no longer snickered at his tattered clothes. His words, once the object of ridicule, were now considered prophetic. From Wall Street to San Francisco everyone had heard of the man who made one of the richest silver strikes in America.

Ed Schieffelin reaped a fortune from his rich silver strike in the Arizona Territory. Through it all, he remained a kindly, generous man, always ready, honest, and reliable as a railroader’s timepiece. He represented the best features in every jackass prospector who ever turned over a rock or flipped a flapjack. He built a mansion in San Francisco, married and traveled extensively in the east where his rags to riches Arizona adventure story had by now become a part of the romantic lore of the Old West.

Once more, the call of the wild beckoned to him. He missed the solitary life in the wilderness, the smell of bacon sizzling in the pan and coffee boiling in the pot over an open campfire. Most of all he missed the sensational feeling gleaned from discovering another rich lode. He had all the money he could spend in a lifetime, but that did not fulfill the need to go looking for another bonanza.

Once again, Ed donned his red-flannel shirt and floppy hat and tucked his corduroy pants into a pair of hob-nailed boots and set out prospecting. He spent his remaining days searching for another pot of gold at some rainbow’s end. On May 12, 1897, his body was found in a lonely cabin. His last written words were an epitaph that defined what it was to be a true prospector.

“I am getting restless here in Oregon and wish to go somewhere that has wealth for the digging of it. I like the excitement of being right against the earth, trying to coax her gold away and scatter it.”

In honoring his last request, Ed was dressed in prospector’s garb along with his canteen and pick. He was taken back to Tombstone for burial. His tombstone was a 25-foot high stone monument, the kind prospectors use to stake their claim, erected fittingly near the site of his fabulous discovery.

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