One of Nevada’s most enduring legends involves a prospector named Charles Breyfogle and his lost gold mine.
There are several variations of the story but most begin with Breyfogle prospecting in the Austin area in central Nevada in the early 1860s. In about 1863, he set out on a prospecting trip with one to three companions (again, each story seems to tell it differently). The group headed south of Austin to the Amargosa River Valley.
One night while they were sleeping, hostile Indians attacked the camp but overlooked Breyfogle, who had decided to sleep a little bit away from the others. He awoke to see his companions being killed and managed to slip away unnoticed.
Because of his hasty escape, Breyfogle was only able to grab his bedroll and boots but had no water or food. He wandered around the desert for several days without any supplies before stumbling onto a small spring.
While drinking the water, he noticed a deposit of quartz laced with shiny, golden strands and recognized it as gold. He chipped off a handful of samples, made mental notes of the location and set off to find civilization. His plan was to return to make a formal mining claim.
Breyfogle headed south and arrived at another watering hole, Stump Spring, where he decided to wait, hoping he could catch a ride with the next wagon party that might pass through.
Unfortunately, a group of Shoshones showed up and took him prisoner. According to one version of the tale, he was treated as a slave, made to gather wood with the women and perform other menial tasks. After several months, a Mormon wagon train stopped by the village, took pity on Breyfogle and paid for his release.
Here, once again, the stories vary. In bad health, Breyfogle, who had somehow managed to hang on to his gold samples, was taken to a ranch at Manse Spring, near modern day Pahrump, where he regained his strength and shared the news of his discovery.
Interestingly, several websites claim Breyfogle was taken to Helen Stewart’s ranch in Las Vegas, which would not have been possible since Stewart didn’t own the ranch until after 1880.
After he had recovered, Breyfogle returned to Austin, shared the news of his discovery, and organized the first of several fruitless expeditions back into the wilds of southwestern Nevada to find his gold strike.
Reportedly, for the next 26 years he searched the area, roughly northeast of Death Valley and in the vicinity of Beatty, for the site. It is believed that he died sometime in the late 1880s or early 1890s, still insisting that his gold discovery was real.
Among those who apparently believed that Breyfogle had stumbled onto something was George Montgomery. In January 1891, he discovered gold in the hills (now called the Johnnie Hills) north of Pahrump while allegedly looking for Breyfogle’s lost mine.
While many believe the Johnnie mining district includes the site of Breyfogle’s discovery, others still believe it is out there waiting to be rediscovered.
Meanwhile, Montgomery developed a small mining operation at the site, which became known as Johnnie (also spelled Johny or Johney). Within a few months, about 100 miners labored at the site and, in 1895, a small stamp mill had been erected.
The town quickly declined after that but was revived in about 1905, when new investors reopened the mines. According to a story in the Pahrump Valley Times, Johnnie grew to several hundred people before the mines began to fade.
By about 1914, Johnnie was well on its way to becoming a ghost town. Today, not much remains of the old mining camp besides a few rock foundations, abandoned mine shafts and an old structure or two on private property.
And maybe Charlie Breyfogle’s lost mine.