The legend of Lost Blue Bucket Mine has intrigued people for a hundred and seventy years. Is it still out there, waiting to be discovered, or was it real in the first place?
It all started in 1845, when a wagon train got off the beaten track in eastern Oregon. There are several versions of the story, and no one has proof of what actually happened, but it involved at least one kid, a blue bucket, and some strange pebbles.
A large wagon train had reached eastern Oregon and camped for a few days at a hot spring. The travelers were apprehensive about the coming ordeal of rafting down the Columbia River.
A man named Stephen Meek, who was the brother of mountain man Joe Meek, said he knew a shortcut and could lead them overland, via the “Meek Cut-off,” to the Willamette Valley, their final destination. Some of the families decided to go with Meek. Others kept to the trail heading for the Columbia.
As the story goes, the travelers realized after a while that Meek had no idea where he was going. He left them on their own in the wilderness. They had to get through the Cascade Mountains before winter or they might starve to death.
Most versions of the story say children went to the river to get water and returned with a blue bucket full of strange-looking pebbles. One version says three young men went in search of some straying cattle and wandered for hours before returning with the famous rocks.
Anyway, the grownups of the party puzzled over the kids’ find. The blacksmith put one pebble on a metal wagon rim and pounded it. It flattened easily. They decided it was copper.
Why copper? No one’s really sure. The standard excuse is that it was 1845, several years before the California Gold Rush, and most people had never seen raw gold. Supposedly most of the rocks were dumped, but one woman, Mrs. Fisher, kept one. A few years later, with the advent of the gold craze in California, she had it assayed. It was a gold nugget.
The people who had been on that wagon train started remembering, and prospectors from all over began trying to find the spot. Many people spent years looking for it. Gold was found in various places in Oregon, but no one was ever sure where the so-called Blue Bucket Mine was.
One clue often cited was that the gold was found three days’ ox team journey from the grave of a Mrs. Chambers near the mouth of Crane Creek. You can imagine how many people were out there looking for that grave. Supposedly the grave has been found more than once. And another tale says two Frenchmen moved it to keep people from finding the mine. People living in the area at the time told of 5,000 miners on Canyon Creek in 1863.
The story of Mrs. Fisher, the woman who reportedly saved one nugget from the children’s bucket, was written down by her grandson, but even this version is riddled with errors. For instance, he said the man who led the pioneers astray was Joe Meek, not his brother Stephen.
The wagon train split at a hot spring about a mile below the present town of Vale, near the Malheur River. Dr. Fisher, who was traveling with the Meek contingent, died and was buried August 12, 1845. The man writing Mrs. Fisher’s story knew several survivors of the wagon train. They named other landmarks they had passed.
The wagon train wandered on. Its exact route is a mystery, though many have tried to trace it. Eventually, they rejoined one of the trains they split off earlier. Some settled near Eugene, and some went on to California.
Twenty-five years later, several veterans of that wagon train got together and discussed it. They made a map of the points they knew they had passed and where they thought it most likely the gold had been found. Mrs. Fisher insisted that Mrs. Chambers died three days before the gold was found. Samuel Parker, who was also on the train at the time, said she died three days after. So, within about 100 miles—probably more like 50—in either direction, if anyone knew for certain where that grave was.
The site now believed to be the famous grave of Mrs. Chambers is about six miles east of where Crane Creek flows into the Malheur. If Mrs. Fisher was correct about the timing, that would put the wagon train in the Willow Creek area. Gold has since been found in that area.
My best guess as to the whereabouts of the Blue Bucket Mine? I think it’s been found, in one of the areas where gold strikes were later made, but the people who found it were never sure that was the exact place. In 1960 a group of people claimed to have found it and filed claims as the Blue Bucket Group. At least three other gold mines over the years have been named “Blue Bucket Mine,” but none of them had anything to do with the legendary east Oregon find.
One amusing point made by a woman who was part of the Blue Bucket Group: In 1845, about 3,000 traveled west over various routes in wagon trains. By 1950, she said, at least a third of them claimed to have been in the party that discovered the Blue Bucket Mine.
Seven Brides for Seven
Meet seven of Turtle Springs, Kansas’, finest women who are determined to revive their small town after the War Between the States took most of its men. . .and didn’t return them. The ladies decide to advertise for husbands and devise a plan for weeding out the riff raff. But how can they make the best practical choices when their hearts cry out to be loved? This book includes novellas by seven authors.
In Susan’s novella, The Kidnapped Groom:
Riding through the Flint Hills on his way to Dodge City, cowboy Sam Cayford finds himself the kidnapping victim of two children. When he meets their lovely mother, Maggie Piner—whom the kids insist he should marry—Sam starts to question God’s plans versus his own.
To enter a drawing for a copy of one of Susan Page Davis’s western romances, leave a comment and your contact information. The winner can choose from several of her titles, either ebook or paperback: The Lady’s Maid, Lady Anne’s Quest, A Lady in the Making, Captive Trail, Cowgirl Trail, The Sheriff’s Surrender, The Gunsmith’s Gallantry, The Blacksmith’s Bravery, Echo Canyon, Desert Moon (paperback only), or The 12 Brides of Summer collection (paperback only).
Susan Page Davis is the author of more than seventy published novels. She’s always interested in the unusual happenings of the past. She’s the winner of two Inspirational Readers’ Choice Awards and two Will Rogers Medallions, and also a winner of the Carol Award and a finalist in the WILLA Literary Awards. Visit her website at: http://www.susanpagedavis.com .
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