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Death Valley's underground city of gold: The final part

The actual mountains that may hide the underground city. Could it be under Tucki mountain?
The actual mountains that may hide the underground city. Could it be under Tucki mountain?
Todd DiFronzo

When Thomason related that a severe storm had buried the entrance to the underground city of gold, Jack and Bill had become certain that the treasure hunters were just spinning some fine Southwestern yarn.

Death Valley as seen from Dante's Peak in January 2014
Todd DiFronzo

But all that certainty was put on hold because Thomason and White were still grinning from ear-to-ear, despite the apparent bad news.

Thomason belted out, "You've forgotten about the old boat landings on the Death Valley side of the Panamint Mountains! All we have to do is climb up the mountain to the openings where the galleries come out. Do you know the mountains along the west side of Death Valley?"

"I've been down there," said Bill.

Thomason and White figured that the galleries were around forty-five hundred or five thousand feet up from the bottom of Death Valley. Looking out from these ancient windows, they were able to see the green of the ranch below them and Furnace Creek Wash across the valley.

"We'll find those windows in the mountains, all right," said Thomason.

Bill asked, "You going down there now?"

"That's what we came here for," said Thomason.

Tired of the scientists and government officials trying to rob them, Thomason and White were now intent on getting rich, while at the same time, turn the hidden city into some sort of a tourist attraction for all to come and see.

Jack asked them what they wanted him and Bill to do.

"Nothing," said Thomason, "absolutely nothing. You've done a lot for us already. You've been mighty good to us. That's why we told you about this place. You can go down there yourselves, and you're welcome to all you can carry out. There' s plenty to go around. But please don't say anything about it. We don't want the news spread around until we're able to protect our property."

"Sure, " said Bill, "there'd be an awful rush in here if people was to find out about this place. We'll keep it quiet, won't we Jack?"

"Quieter than they've kept it themselves, " said Jack.

When day broke, the treasure hunters made their good-byes and promised to stop by on their way out to show Bill and Jack some treasure.

Ten days had passed before Bourke Lee returned to Emigrant canyon to see Jack and Bill. None of them had seen the treasure hunters since. After another week had passed with no word from the treasure hunters, Bourke and Bill decided to go down to the valley and take a look at the side of the mountains.

Using Bill's field glasses, they scanned the face of the Panamint Range across the valley to the west. They spent forty minutes between them looking for those galleries until their eyes had had enough.

"This is all foolishness," said Bill. "There's no windows in that mountain. I knew it before I come down here. See that big red streak across the mountains? That's an iron stain. Three hundred of the best prospectors in the world have climbed over that face of the mountain. They covered every foot of that range. Are you trying to tell me they wouldn't have found these windows or boat landings or whatever they are?"

"Underground city!" Bill said in disgust.

The men returned disappointed and perplexed as to why the broken-down guests would make up such a story. They told Thomason and the Whites they wanted nothing in return for their hospitality. So, if the guests had more to lose than gain by revealing their secret, then what would be the point if it wasn't true.

In less than a year, the secret found its way out and everyone in the Death Valley region knew about the story of the hidden city of gold. It was even being told as far away as San Francisco and Salt Lake City.

An expedition, headed by a Pacific Coast industry business man, set out to find the hidden underground city but to no avail.

Bill, still haunted by the possible existence of this underground city, convinced his neighbor Tom Wilson, the Paiute whose grandfather had been through the tunnel, to help him search for the tunnel. Their trip ended up uncovering a shaft in a spot that it shouldn't have been in but it didn't lead anywhere.

The following Spring, Bourke Lee and a partner, spent six weeks in the Panamint highlands searching as well but they too were unable to find anything.

Others kept coming, continually hiring Tom Wilson out to be their guide.

But by the time John Thorndike arrived to do some hidden city hunting, Tom Wilson's superstitions about approaching the sacred portals of the shaft, that probably led to an Indian hereafter, suddenly prevented him from being used as guide.

Or so he said. Undeterred, Thorndike set out to find the shaft himself.

Thorndike did indeed locate the infamous shaft but it only appeared to be an old abandoned mine shaft with an unknown history. Frustrated, John told Tom that the tunnel was just an Indian fairy tale and decided to return his camp in Wildrose.

Strangely enough, when Tom arrived back at camp, a multitude of vehicles and people were waiting for him. And even more interesting was the fact that Maxfield, one of Death Valley Scotty's men from the Death Valley Ranch, was sitting down awaiting his arrival as well.

Maxfield said, "Scotty's partner, Johnson, is up on Telescope Peak with the horses. Scotty's camped down the road. We been wondering where you were. Heard you were hunting this lost city."

Thorndike acknowledged he had searched for it but had decided to give up. Thorndike then made his way over to where Scotty was camped at. Oddly, this place just happened to be Scotty's favorite spot. Scotty had said that he was drawn to this spot because it had a nice breeze that blew through while the rest of the area sweltered.

"Scotty pushed his sombrero back on his head and snapped his bright shrewd eyes at John Thorndike. Scotty had to laugh at John and his looking for the golden Panamint caverns. Scotty pulled up his pants and his well-knit body shook with strong inward laughter, some of which escaped."

"Humph!" said Scotty. "So you didn't find it."

"No," said Thorndike. "We didn't find it."

"Humph!" said Scotty. "I can go right to it. Death Valley Scotty knows his country."

Bourke Lee's book, Death Valley Men, ends right there with the region's most intriguing character uttering a most telling statement.

The book appeared from the outset to be just a wonderfully written description of a land carved out by nature along with its colorful characters, based on the author's personal experience. Put in ink perhaps to both inspire and attract the blossoming automobile tourist to a place of unbelievable beauty in the 1930's.

But soon questions concerning one of the region's most famous people, Walter Scott, are asked as to why and how he built his castle out in the middle of an unforgiving desert.

The why can be chalked up to perhaps someone who loves the beauty and serenity of such an isolated region. People are eccentric so if something seems weird to you, it probably seems quite normal to them.

The how he did it is a bit more complicated.

Scotty always said he had a secret mine. That is immediately rejected because those who knew him said he was neither a prospector nor a miner. More of charming conman who had a knack for telling tales and emptying pockets. So when Scotty saddles up with Albert Johnson, the Chicago millionaire, it is assumed that is how Scotty got the money to build the castle.

What doesn't make sense, however, is that just two years earlier, Johnson discovered that Scotty was defrauding him and left the area. But Johnson suddenly returns, helps build the castle and becomes very close friends with Scotty.

Something big had to have happened during that two year period for Johnson to forgive so easily. And for millionaires to forgive easily, money has to be involved.

That "something big" is dropped as a bombshell extra-grande style in Lee's final chapter titled Old Gold: The existence of an ancient underground city of gold in Death Valley, estimated to be worth billions and billions of dollars.

And Scotty found it.