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Notes For Unsolved: Vulture Mine

Research notes for Supernatural Season 3 Episode 1

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**Research compiled for Ryan & Shane on July 26, 2016 by Alaina Rook.

Background/History

  • Vulture Mine is an abandoned gold mine located in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.
  • In 1863, Henry Wickenburg, who started out as a prospector during the California gold rush, found a quartz deposit with gold.
  • Shortly after, a mine was established there, which went on quickly to become Arizona’s most successful gold mine at the time. According to a report by the Arizona Geological Survey, between 1863 and 1942, the mine produced over 340,000 ounces of gold and 260,00 ounces of silver,
  • Estimates of how much the ore has been valued at range widely from $20 million to $200 million, but it’s safe to say that millions of dollars of gold were mined there. Just rounding from the value of an ounce of gold from what is was valued at the time most of the gold was being mined, it would probably be accurate to say the more modest estimates are more realistic. But 340,000 ounces of gold now would be valued at $430,066,000!
  • However, due theft, a lack of reliable water supply, and various financial scandals/setbacks, it is said that the mine never truly paid off for its investors.
  • By 1866 an accompanying mining settlement called Vulture City had been built to meet the needs of the many new miners.
  • Shortly after its founding, the town’s population was as much as 5,000 residents.
  • Vulture City had establishments including a workshop, saloon, brothel, mess hall, and tennis court.
  • Because there was little fresh produce available in the desert, an agricultural center was built outside thanks to efforts of Vulture City residents, like Jack Swilling who reopened irrigation canals that had originally been built by the Native Americans of the Phoenix Valley.
  • Eventually the city of Phoenix, AZ grew out of this agricultural hub.
  • They also built a grain route which still exists today as Grand Avenue.
  • Vulture City is now a ghost town, which became defunct after the mines were closed due to World War II.
  • However, still existing is the other nearby town of Wickenburg, AZ, was also founded by Henry Wickenburg and fellow miners established around the time the first gold began being mined.
  • By 1891, Vulture City had begun to see a downturn in prosperity, as the vein of ores being mined in the main shaft seemed to abruptly stop.
  • The post office closed there in 1897 effectively serving as a “postmortem” though there would be numerous attempts to keep it open for the next few decades.
  • In 1942, the War Production board ordered all mines considered non-essential to the war effort to be closed.
  • While Vulture Mine appealed and continued to run for a short time after, the lack of men and resources forced it to close permanently within a few years. Vulture City was abandoned.
  • According to legend, Vulture Mine got its name because on the day that Henry Wickenburg found the first gold at that location, there were several vultures circling overhead a nearby peak (now known as Vulture Peak, in the Vulture Mountains).
  • The peak and the mountain range were likely named after the mine (rather than the other way around).
  • There is another alleged version of the story of Wickenburg’s discovery, saying he was out shooting, and found the gold beside one of the vultures he had felled.
  • The mine was recently purchased by Vulture Peak Gold Inc. and its CEO, Rod Pratt
  • They are currently attempting to evaluate and mine the land again for gold using “environmentally friendly, portable heavy mineral extraction technology.”
  • The “Vulture Peak Gold Mine” currently rests on 275 acres.
  • Up until it was bought, it appears to have been family-owned and operated, and people were allowed to do self-guided tours/hikes around the mine.
  • Additional Sources: [1]

Mine Locations

There are several buildings still open for touring.

  • The Assay Building: A two-story lab and manager’s office made of stone, adobe, metal, and concrete. Construction began in 1884. Here ore samples were assessed and Doré bars (bars of semi-pure gold and silver which can later be brought to a refinery) were produced. Also housed “a bullion room” (an underground vault intended to be for the safe storage of precious metals), an office, and a company store.
  • The Cookhouse: However, the stove dates back to the 1600s and other artifacts such as a large ice box remain. A mess hall and saloon was also constructed in the 1890's, however, the roof collapsed during a storm.
  • Henry Wickenburg’s cabin (under restoration): The 15 x 20 foot cabin was built in the summer of 1864. The roof also collapsed but some of the the stone and adobe walls still remain.
  • And of course, The Hanging Tree (see below). Although it is not on a map, sources say you can also hike to the original school house (as well as a second schoolhouse that was built to accommodate the growing population which is now used for storage). There are rumors, that near the schoolhouse there may be “mass graves of children who died of a plague.”


The Glory Hole

  • There is some contention over where Wickenburg first “stuck” gold within the mine’s premises.
  • Some believe the concrete slab at the entrance of the main shaft of the Vulture Mine marks Wickenburg’s first strike.
  • The mine’s main shaft is reported to be 2,100 feet deep and falls at a 35% incline.
  • Near the entrance to the main shaft there is also the remains of a blacksmith shop.
  • Other sources say the site of Wickenburg’s original gold strike is known as The Glory Hole, which has since been sealed.
  • The Glory Hole is also a reported site of tragedy.
  • In 1923 this cavern collapsed after one of the stone support pillars was over-mined for the valuable ores inside of it.
  • Seven miners and 12 burros were killed.
  • Some say the Glory Hole was named for those who were "sent on to glory" in the incident, which brought over 100 feet of rock crashing down, and turned the cavern into a pit.
  • According to the mine’s former caretaker, Marty Hagan, it is believed the collapse happened because those mining it were stealing from the mine, and thus, chipping away extra without regulating how much they were taking from the pillar.
  • Hagan claims that their bodies are still down there, both because their were buried, and because as thieves, recovering their bodies for a proper burial wasn’t’ a concern for the mine.
  • Hagan seems to be one the leading authorities on the supernatural element of Vulture Mine.
  • I believe this is Hagan’s contact info: [redacted]
  • Additional Sources: [1] [2]


The Hanging Tree

  • Perhaps the most haunted aspect of the mine is the notorious “Hanging Tree.”
  • The tree is an Olneya tesota (also commonly known as an ironwood tree)
  • A horticulture evaluation estimates that the tree is between two to three hundred years old.
  • According to legend, as many as 18 miners were hung there from the 1860s to about 1900.
  • The crimes they are believed to have been accused of was high-grading (which in this case, refers to the concealment or theft of gold/silver from the mine)
  • High-grading was so common that it is believed by some just as much gold/silver was stolen as was legally mined over the years it was open.
  • One of the most infamous alleged high-graders was Jacob Waltz, who was said to have worked as a foreman at the mine for several years.
  • Walz is better known as the "Lost Dutchman," and according to legend, in his later career as a prospector, he had a secret mine he would go out to somewhere in the Superstition Mountains, where he would find huge quantities of gold.
  • Some believe that the gold he claimed to have found was actually stolen from the Vulture Mine during his time working there.
  • To this day no one knows the location of the “Dutchman’s Lost Mine.”
  • According to the owner of the Wickenburg Legends and Ghost Tours, Gloria Henkel, at the time Wickenburg/Vulture City was run by vigilante justice, and for many years, there wasn’t an official law enforcement system.
  • She also says hangings at the time were known to be particularly brutal, due to the fact that the condemned person was either set on a mule or a rock, which was then kicked out from under him. Using this method, the amount of time it would take to die/suffocate could take between two minutes and two hours.
  • However, according to local historians Gary Carter and Joe Stephens, there are no news clippings or records of any deaths at the hanging tree, and say there is no substantial evidence to back up the hangings, much les the hauntings.
  • Slightly confusingly, there is also a second hanging tree in the town of Wickenburg known also as the “Jail Tree.” (additional source)
  • According to legend, the town of Wickenburg didn’t have an official jail of it’s own, so criminals apprehended there would be shackled to the tree until law enforcement agents from Phoenix came to get them.
  • Allegedly, even using this method of jailing, they had no escapes.
  • Despite the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that this tree was used for hangings, it is a location used by the “Wickenburg Legends and Ghost Tours.”
  • They say of the inclusion of this location, “Criminals were chained to the tree and it is said that no one ever escaped. However, there may be more to the story.”

Various Instances of Abnormal Activity

  • Some of the abnormal activity that has been reported around Vulture Mine include disembodied voices and the sighting of “spirit orbs.”
  • Gloria Henkel (of Wickenburg Legends and Ghost Tours), claims that in one incident in which she was showing people around there at night, they were able to get recordings of voices speaking German in one of the closed, abandoned pits.
  • This is said to be notable because it is citing that as a native language of Henry Wickenburg, who was born in Essen, Prussia (now known as Germany)
  • Henkel also claims that “the Assay office” (presumably the same as the Assay Building) there “is a very negative feel” in one corner where they were able to record a small voice telling them to “get out.”
  • Henkel also mentions various “cold spots” that can be felt around the property (even when the temperature around is far over 100 °F).
  • In 2009, a horror film called The Graves was shot at Vulture Mine.
  • The 1980 movie Nightkill was also filmed there.
  • People who worked on the film reported a series of mysterious and supernatural events during the period they were filming.
  • Director Brian Pulido told that one night, a stranger walked onto the set with a rifle (though there were only a few security and production people on site at the time). The police came and stayed with the crew for the rest of the night, but the man with the rifle was never found.
  • There was a “cult” rumored to be living a few miles away from the set, and infer the stranger could have been a member of it.
  • Crew members noted that “eerie” things would happen near the entrance to the mine, which was one of the few places people could also get cell service so people often went there alone to make calls.
  • The location manager Mike Tank described an incident as he was leaving the mine’s entrance, saying, "When I opened the door and went to get back in the car, I felt this tingling on my shoulder… And then it felt like somebody shoved me, really hard, right back down into my car."
  • Producer Brian Ronalds reported a similar strange occurrence in the same spot: “I'm sitting there, and I locked my truck doors, and all of a sudden, the locks came open again… Then I saw that my passenger door had popped open."
  • Near the old schoolhouse, the unit production manager Mark DuFour was on a golf cart making a call, and says when glanced in the rearview mirror he saw someone walking up behind the cart, but when he turned around, nobody was there.
  • There was also a commune across from the mine (it is not specified if it is different than the earlier mentioned nearby “cult”).
  • Producer Brian Ronalds also reported that he believed a member of the commune may have trespassed the set and written threatening messages.
  • He says, "Across from the mine is this commune that doesn't use water or electricity... We came in one morning, and somebody had written 'Go home' on the wall in our fake blood."
  • Additional sources: [1] [2]

Henry Wickenburg’s Tragic End

  • Born Johannes Henricus Wickenburg in Essen, Prussia (now Germany), in 1819.
  • He immigrated to the US, arriving in New York City in 1847.
  • Within a few years, he set out to be a gold miner in gold fields in California.
  • He became a naturalized citizen in 1853, which is around the same time he is believed to have moved to Arizona.
  • By 1862, he was working driving wagons in Tucson, before his landfall prospecting find the next year at Vulture Mine.
  • In the years that followed, Wickenburg established both the mine and the nearby town of Wickenburg (as well as helping to lay the ground for the growth of Phoenix).
  • He served as a judge, justice of the peace, school inspector, census taker, member of the seventh Territorial Legislature in 1873, and for a short time served as president of the local mining district.
  • He donated land for the town’s first church.
  • However, he lacked the kind of money it would take to fully develop the mine.
  • In 1866, Wickenburg sold four-fifths (most) of his share of the Vulture Mine for $85,000 (though others report that number is $50,000)
  • Sold to the Vulture Mining Co., who mined it between 1867 and 1873.
  • In the deal, he got $20,000 in cash, but soonafter, he was reportedly “swindled” out of the rest, as the new owners refused to pay, claiming Wickenburg didn't have clear title to the mine.
  • Wickenburg would exhaust all his savings in legal attempts to collect the remainder, but failed.
  • After a flood destroyed his small farm, with his health deteriorating and penniless, Wickenburg is believed to have committed suicide, dying of a gunshot wound to the head on May 14, 1905.
  • He died in the in the shade of a mesquite tree on the bank of the Hassayampa River.
  • Though others say he killed himself near his home near the hanging tree on the bank of the Hassayampa River.
  • This seems less plausible is because as the banks of the river are 11 miles north of the mine.
  • Additional Sources [1] [2] [3]

GA Vulture Mine

  • According to former caretaker Marty Hagan, the assay building is where they would store all the gold in the vault
  • It’s said that the assay building which was the target of many heist attempts by bandits, in fact anywhere beyond the perimeter of the mine was not safe.
  • Legend has it that when they would hang people, sometimes they wouldn’t bury them in a cemetery and would bury them on the spot, some believe that there are bodies all around the property.
  • There has been reports of rocks being thrown at investigators in the assay office as well as dirt falling from the ceiling as if someone was above them
  • Reportedly, the cavalry come into town to clean up the crime rate, but the cavalry was corrupt and therefore just as bad so they were told to leave.
  • There’s apparently a bordello where a spirit named Mexican Rita is said to be active
  • There has been reports of voices in the generator building, the caretaker apparently heard, “I’m not free”
  • There was a schoolhouse on site to accommodate the families that actually lived on the mine. There has been reports of a figure being seen as well as a physical attack where an investigator was pushed.
  • There’s also a supervisor or caretaker house
  • Video Source: [1]

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