In 1871 “Nugget Tom” had a small gold claim in Star Gulch near the headwaters of the Sixes River in Curry County. For a long time he had been wondering if there wasn’t a ledge up above him that all his placer gold had come from. If there was, and he could find it, he would be a rich man, indeed. The only drawback that presented itself, was age. Nugget Tom was getting a little long in the tooth, and mountain climbing in one of the wildest and steepest areas in the Oregon Mountains was a chore he wasn’t quite up to.
Nevertheless, late in the fall of 1871, Tom packed his gold pan, pick, shovel and enough food for a week and made his way slowly up Star mountain at the head of Star Gulch. It was a long and hard job. He hammered and pecked at each favorable looking outcropping. Evening found him high on a lonely mountainside, where he made a dry camp.
The next morning dawned bright and clear, but Nugget Tom didn’t feel quite right. He wasn’t tired, he had slept well as he always did in the mountains, but he didn’t feel right. He had an uneasy feeling that someone or something was watching him. He kept on hammering and pecking along, but every so often he would whirl and look to see if anyone was behind him. He would carefully eye the bushes and other areas of concealment, but he never saw anyone. Tom laughed, and shook his head. He must be just getting spooky. He climbed for a spell and started hammering again. His hammer knocked off a piece of quartz that took his breath away. It was rich with free gold. He knocked off several more pieces and stowed them in his packsack. He felt great, but he still whirled around and looked behind him, for the uneasy feeling wouldn’t go away. He continued to look carefully all around him as he made his way back down the mountain towards his cabin. Tom took a break and sat for a spell. He tried to get ahold of himself and the feeling that he was being watched.
Suddenly he was on his way over a ledge and into a gulch below.
The next day a searching party found him. He had been broken up pretty good and was laying at the foot of a cliff, but he was still alive. They carried him back to his cabin and patched him up as best they could. One of the search party noticed a lump in Tom’s jacket and reached in and pulled out the richest piece of gold quartz he had ever come across.
Tom was still unconscious, and of course could tell them nothing. Two of the boys went back to the cliff where that had found Tom and picked up his pick, pan and shovel. His backpack had broken open and the rich pieces of quartz Tom had collected were strewn over the mountain side. They gathered the samples up and headed back to the cabin.
They intended to talk to Tom and learn where he had got the gold quartz and then stake their own claim, but Tom was still unconscious.
Many days later, Nugget Tom finally opened his eyes and looked around but he didn’t get up right away. He spent many weeks recovering and thinking about that day on the mountain. He knew he didn’t just fall. He knew he had been pushed over that ledge, but he couldn’t figure out what had done it.
He rested up all winter and the next spring he sneaked away from his cabin with his pack, pick, pan — and this time there was a gun. He would be more alert this time and would use the gun if he had to. It had been six months since his fall and this time he did not have the uneasy feeling. But maybe the fall was responsible for that because it had also erased his memory of where he had made his strike, Try as he may he could not find that ledge.
Tom was 76 years old, and getting more feeble every day, but he wouldn’t give up his search. He kept looking for four more hears, and when he turned eighty he quit and left the country.
In 1899, twenty years later, in the spring of the year, two propectors by the names of Robbins and Benson decided to make an allout effort to find the lost mine of Nugget Tom. They outfitted for a long stay in the mountains, and starting from the head of Star Gulch, they started up Star Mountain.
They studied the mountain for any indications and finally found a small trace that led them up a little stream bed to the source of the stream, a small spring that went dry in the summer. There was plenty of water in it now though. On a ledge above the spring they hit gold, but they knew that it was not the mine of Nugget Tom. They worked the claim and carried the crushed rock down to the stream and panned the gold. It was a rich find.
At noon they knocked off for lunch and fried their bacon and bannocks over a little fire and laughed and congratulated each other on their find. After lunch they went back to work. Benson got the uneasy feeling that someone was watching him and he whirled and looked behind him. He froze in his tracks. He tried to pull his gun but he couldn’t. He watched the thing throw all their camping equipment over the cliff. It was neither man nor beast, the men said afterwards. It was big and powerful and it stood erect. There was a yellow fuzz all over it’s body. It ran as soon as they got their guns ready to shoot. They got several good shots off but the bullets did not seem to have any immediate effect on the creature, and the wild man disappeared in the brush.
The two prospectors named their claim the “The Wild Man” and sold it soon after. But the buyers never came to work it even though there was rich rock showing. The mine was abandoned probably because of the wild man episode which was made all the more fearful because of a previous series of unexplained deaths that took place a couple of years after Nugget Tom had left the country. Four men had been buried on Huckleberry Knoll overlooking Bear Pen Flats. Their names were Johnson, McLean, Madigan and Jenson.
The death of these four men occurred over a period of time and exactly what caused their deaths was never determined. It appeared that they had either fallen or been thrown off a ledge or cliff. No one believed that these experienced men had carelessly fallen.
There had always been a legend among the Indians about the lost devils that inhabited the area. The Indians called them Swalalahists and said that they lived in the upper reaches of Sixes River. The were so bad that no Indians would go into that country for fear that they would be killed.
The Swalalahists were described by the miners that saw them as standing well over six and a half feet tall. They estimated their weight at two hundred to two hundred sixty pounds. They had massive jaws, powerful shoulders and torsos and their bodies were covered with a short coat of yellowish hair. Their teeth were catlike and their eyes bulged and were black and seem to burn right through a man. They could run and jump with the speed of a deer.
It is possible that one of these devils pushed Tom off of the ledge. Tom was never positive and never saw was shoved him. Robbins and Benson however, never forgot the thing they saw and shot at. There description was very concise.
A man named “Doc” Elgin was heading from his camp to get some water one fine August morning just as the sun was coming up over Rusty Butte. As he approached the stream he couldn’t believe his eyes. There, standing at the water’s edge was a creature the likes of which he had never encountered. The thing bounded away immediately, but it left some tracks in the soft ground around the water. Doc measured the tracks. They were sixteen inches long and a full eight inches across.
The wild man stories have probably helped to keep many miners from the area, but wild man or not, Nugget Tom’s Lost Mine still awaits the man willing to take his chances with Swalalahist, the devil of Star Mountain. All you have to do is head up Sixes River until you come to the South Fork. Follow the south fork through Hell’s Gate and past Butcher Creek and Bear Pen Flat. There you’ll find Star Gulch. Start looking. …Bill Wallace