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Mon, April 22

Mohave County History: The stagecoach was robbed and then ‘vanished into nowhere’
A stash of gold ingots could be buried with the remains of a stagecoach near Beale Springs, or it could just be another legend lost to time

A photo of a stagecoach, titled “The Deadwood Coach,” with formally dressed men sitting in and on top of the coach from around 1889. (Photo by John C. H. Grabill, Library of Congress)

A photo of a stagecoach, titled “The Deadwood Coach,” with formally dressed men sitting in and on top of the coach from around 1889. (Photo by John C. H. Grabill, Library of Congress)

Most legends contain just enough truth to spark imagination. There are just enough facts to make the story easy to follow, but not enough to easily track, through history or on modern maps.

The story of the bandit “Hualapai Joe” Desredo’s lost stagecoach and buried treasure is no different.

One of the only facts that has been confirmed is that in 1880, a stagecoach carrying $200,000 in gold disappeared.

The legend says the stagecoach left Beale Springs headed toward Needles, California on a June night in 1880. Somewhere south of the Beale Springs stage stop, about two miles west of Kingman, this stagecoach, its team and three passengers simply disappeared.

Under the front seat was a large box reinforced with iron. It took six men to get it placed in the stage. This box was so heavy because it contained gold ingots from mines and shipments of money from business men in the scattered towns. There were also two small leather bags of raw gold taken in trade stuffed in between the chest and side wall.

The story goes that four men saw this stagecoach, and its gold, leave Beale Springs. It is believed that later in the stage’s journey it was stopped by three bandits, one of whom was Desredo.

photo

Typical stage of the Concord type used by express companies on the overland trails. Soldiers guard from atop, circa 1869. There is no telling if a stagecoach like the one lost near Beale Springs had a military escort or not, but with gold coming from the mines nestled underneath the seat, it is possible. (Public domain photo from the U.S. National Archives & Records Administration)

I say believed because shortly after the stage vanished, Desredo and his compatriots were killed in a gunfight with lawmen.

Desredo and his fellows were already suspected of robbing a store in Mineral Park and had a posse of five men chasing after them. These lawmen rode to the Beale Springs station, confirmed the stage had been through to change out the teams the night before, and proceeded to the next stop.

The posse arrived a little after sundown, put their horses away and ate a hearty meal. While strolling outside the weather-warped wooden building for fresh air, they saw three men ride in.

“Hualapai Joe” Desredo was identified almost immediately.

The story goes that it was Desredo’s companions who began the gun fight by going for their holstered weapons. The posse shot them out of their saddles; dead.

With the crash of gunfire around him, Desredo went for his six-shooter and the sheriff, who was within six feet, dropped him with a fatal wound.

Desredo began muttering words as his eyes fluttered open and he spoke to the sheriff.

Right before he died, Desredo admitted to holding up the stage and burying the box of gold, though he adamantly denied harming the driver, a man widely known as John “Johnny Jumpup” Upshaw, or any of the passengers.

Desredo said after unloading the box, he and his men allowed the stage to proceed to Needles.

He did add, however, that a strange thing happened as the stage was leaving.

“I could hear wheels cracking against rocks and Johnny Jumpup yelling at his team,” Desredo told the lawmen. “Then, all at once, I couldn’t hear the stage wheels and Johnny Jumpup yelling no more.”

It just “vanished into nowhere.”

The area Desredo spoke of was searched, including the spot where he said he buried the gold, but nothing was found. No horses, no men, no stage and no gold.

As time passed, this story of lost gold and stagecoaches faded from memory.

Until 1940 when an Arizona historian Maurice Kildare was approached by a Mohave County character by the name of Max Bordon. Bordon, a hermit who lived most of his life in and around the Black Mountain range of western Mohave County, claimed he had found the vanished stagecoach.

The stage had been swallowed up by a wide fissure at the edge of a deep wash.

Apparently in the darkness, Upshaw had wandered off the trail and into the crack. Much of the remains had been washed away, but part of the coach was still there. And some of the bones of the passengers were still inside.

photo

A map illustration of the area at the time, showing Kingman on the right and the Beale Springs station toward the middle left. This map was published in Arizona Highways in 1994 with a story about Hualapai Joe’s lost gold. The magazine article can be read at the Mohave Museum of History and the Arts. (Arizona Department of Transportation)

Bordon took Kildare to the spot, but made him promise that he wouldn’t tell a soul. He didn’t want to be bothered by any would-be treasure seekers.

And for years Kildare kept his word.

Then along came World War II, and, sometime during the war years, Bordon died.

After the war ended, Kildare informed the Mohave County sheriff of the incident, but the sheriff seemed disinterested.

More years passed.

Kildare is now gone.

But the stage is probably still out there, and maybe even the gold.

Kildare never said if he tried to return to the spot, only that he “couldn’t find that place” again.

When Kildare went with Bordon to the site, they approached it from the south, from Bordon’s camp in the Sacramento Valley west of Yucca, so it’s possible Kildare didn’t know the way again, especially if he followed what is thought to be the old stage route.

A route that has been lost to history.

Or, this could just be another of those legends from the Old West. Tales of bandits, robbers and gold.

A tale that has disappeared, with only enough truth to keep us guessing.

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