Lost Rhoades Mine - Part 1

It is perhaps the greatest of Utah’s Lost Mines legends. The LOST RHOADES MINE. While I shall do my best to communicate the essence of the story, there are so many bits and pieces, that communicating them all would be nearly impossible. Though it seems long, It is a story of many parts, and what I share is just a fraction of what it could be, so sit back, relax, and enjoy!
The story or legend of the Lost Rhoades Mine is interwoven with Mormon history in Utah, Indian or Native American history and legends of Utah, Spanish History and legends of Utah, the California gold rush, politicians, curses, callings, promises, plottings, modern-day seekers, authors, businessmen, and right here, right now, you and me.

Like any good story or legend, there is a bit of truth and fact, mixed with a bit of could-be and maybe, a healthy dose of “well that’s what I heard” or something like that. I state the facts that are known as facts, and the rest, the legend, mixed with the stories and tellings of others. Some you may know, some you may not. Still, this is my telling, that which I have learned, read, researched, gleaned from old newspapers, and been told, in some instances by direct descendants of the Rhoades family. You may know the story, but then again…

Part 1

It begins with the namesake of the legend, Thomas F. Rhoades (1796-1869). Born in Kentucky, he was one of many early converts to the Mormon Church, and would come to be known by some as “The Mormon Pathfinder”. Not to be confused with Brigham Young, the second President of the Mormon faith and called by some “The American Moses”. 

While Young would lead the great and formal migration of Mormons from the United States into Mexican territory in 1847 and the land that would become Utah, Rhoades was sent out a year earlier in 1846, leading a smaller "first" party of Mormons to head west. This group, as instructed by Brigham Young, was to seek out in the west an "appropriate" place to settle. Their trek would take them to north-central California.  

It was a time of great upheaval and persecution for the Mormons in the 1840’s. Driven from state to state, their church’s founder and first Prophet Joseph Smith murdered, they dreamed of finding their own “Zion”, a place where “None shall harm or make afraid”.  The quest had begun, and the Rhoades expedition to California was a first attempt to find this possible Zion. They were to explore, settle, and report back to the new church President Brigham Young. 

Whether it was fate, divine inspiration, or just plain dumb luck will be debated from now until the eternities, but Rhodes and his party would end up settling near Sutter’s Fort. He and other Mormons would go to work for and become friends with John Sutter, (Yes, that John Sutter).  

After discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in January of 1848, Rhoades and other Mormons of that first California party and others discharged from the Mormon Battalion would make money not only mining the gold-fields of the Sacramento Valley, but by farming and selling crops, establishing ferries at various river crossings, and by outfitting and supplying the first wave of miners and prospectors arriving in California as news of the strike began to circulate and the rush was in its infancy.

It is not known exactly how much money Thomas Rhoades made in those early gold rush days, but when Brigham Young made the declaration that the Great Salt Lake Valley was to be the new home of the Mormon faithful and not California, he called Rhodes to aid in the building up of  “Zion”. Rhodes came, and he brought his gold with him. 

He was not the only one. Though some of those first settlers would choose to leave the church and stay in California, unwilling to walk away from certain wealth and the life they had established, many of the Mormon faithful would return as called. Those that did, brought their gold with them as well. 
Some estimates place Rhoades fortune at near $17,000, a tidy sum in the late 1840’s. The total of the others combined is not known. What is known is that the growing Great Salt Lake City needed currency, coins to be specific, a medium of payment for goods and services. Up until this time it had been done in the form of script or paper vouchers. 

With the arrival of California gold, a mint could be established and coins struck, gold coins in four denominations, $2 ½, $5, $10 and $20. The $20 denomination was the first twenty-dollar gold piece struck in North America. (Mormon coins are extremely rare, as such, can command premium prices at national and international coin auctions.)

Thomas Rhoades was one of the richest, if not the richest man in Utah. It is estimated by some that he deposited in excess of $10,000 of is personal fortune in the mint account. This and other tithes and offerings paid in gold by returning Californians provided the raw material from which most of the coins were struck. 

With so much invested in the treasury, it seems only natural that Thomas Rhoades would end up as Treasurer of Salt Lake County. 

That brings us to the end of Part 1 - More will follow...



(1)  Verbal communication - Scoutmaster Larry Hartly, Scout camp 1973, Settlement Canyon, Utah