The Lake of Gold

The Lake of Gold

The American West abounds in legends of buried treasure and fabulous lost mines. Most are nothing more than tall tales based on overactive imaginations, but a few of the legends have some basis in fact. . . . This is one of them.

In the year 1849 Richard Stoddard and a companion became lost while prospecting somewhere in the vast Sierra Nevada in California. By chance they stumbled onto a small lake and, as they stooped to drink, suddenly forgot their thirst. The shoreline of the lake was literally covered with nuggets of gold gleaming in the sunlight. Taking many samples, the two prospectors tried to make it back to civilization. Their hardships were many, and only Stoddard survived, his partner having been killed by Native Americans along the way.

It was a human wreck who stumbled into Sacramento many weeks later. There, during the next few months, Stoddard was gradually nursed back to health. He still had on his person a number of nuggets, but sick of mind and spirit, he had no memory of how they had come into his possession. Eventually, as his health returned, so did his memory — more or less.

His tale of a golden lake spread quickly — almost frantically — for he had a fistful of nuggets to verify its existence. Stoddard had no difficulty in assembling a group of miners who were willing to finance the expedition and return into the mountains with him. Each was to have an equal share.

Weeks later, as they wandered deep into the great Sierra, it became quite evident to the miners that Stoddard was not sure where he was. Day followed day, and frustration followed frustration. Finally, angered by his futile attempts to relocate the treasure lake, the miners gave him just twenty—four hours for one last chance at success — or he would be hanged!

That night, under the cover of darkness, Stoddard slipped away from the camp and was never seen again. The area, now known as Last Chance Valley, is indicated on local maps. It serves as a guide for those who would seek the lake whose shores are strewn with gold gleaming in the midday sun!

From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth