Bourke Lee, in his book 'Death Valley Men' chapter: "Old Gold", describes a conversation which he had several years ago with a small group of Death valley residents. The conversation had eventually turned to the subject of Paihute Indian legends. At one point two of the men, Jack and Bill, described their experience with an 'underground city' which they claimed to have discovered after one of them had fallen through the bottom of an old mine shaft near Wingate Pass. They found themselves in a natural underground cavern which they claimed to have followed about 20 miles north into the heart of the Panamint Mountains.
To their amazement, they allegedly found themselves in an huge, ancient, underground cavern city. They claimed that they discovered within the city several perfectly preserved 'mummies', which wore thick arm bands, wielded gold spears, etc. The city had apparently been abandoned for ages, except for the mummies, and the entire underground system looked very ancient. It was formerly lit, they found out by accident, by an ingenious system of lights fed by subterranean gases.
They claimed to have seen a large, polished round table which looked as if it may have been part of an ancient council chamber, giant statues of solid gold, stone vaults and drawers full of gold bars and gemstones of all kinds, heavy stone wheelbarrows which were perfectly balanced and scientifically-constructed so that a child could use them, huge stone doors which were almost perfectly balanced by counter-weights, and other incredible sights.
They also claimed to have followed the caverns upwards to a higher level which ultimately opened out onto the face of the Panamints, about half-way up the eastern slope, in the form of a few ancient tunnel-like quays. They realized that the valley below was once under water and they eventually came to the conclusion that the arched openings were ancient 'docks' for sea vessels. They could allegedly see Furnace Creek Ranch and Wash far below them.
They told Bourke Lee that they had brought some of the treasure out of the caverns and tried to set up a deal with certain people, including scientists associated with the Smithsonian Institute, in order to gain help to explore and publicize the city as one of the 'wonders of the world'. These efforts ended in disappointment however when a 'friend' of theirs stole the treasure (which was also the evidence) and they were scoffed at and rejected by the scientists when they went to show them the 'mine' entrance and could not find it. A recent cloud- burst, they claimed, had altered and rearranged the entire countryside and the landscape did not look like it had been before.
When Lee last heard from the two men, Bill and Jack, they were preparing to climb the east face of the Panamints to locate the ancient tunnel openings or quays high up the side of the steep slope. Bourke Lee never did see or hear from his friends ever again.
In 1946 a man calling himself Dr. F. Bruce Russell, and claiming to be a retired physician, told a similar story about finding strange underground rooms in the Death Valley area in 1931. He told of a large room with several tunnels leading off in different directions. One of these tunnels led to another large room that contained three mummies. Artifacts found in the room appeared to be a combination of Egyptian and American Indian design. The most amazing thing about the mummies though was the fact that they were more than eight feet tall.
Dr. Russell and a group of investors formed "Amazing Explorations, Inc" to handle the release, and profit, from this remarkable find. But, as stories of this type usually go, Russell disappeared, and the investigators were never able to find the caverns and tunnels again, even though Russell had personally taken them there. The desert can be very deceiving to anyone not used to traveling it. Month's later, Russell's car was found abandoned, with a burst radiator, in a remote area of Death Valley. His suitcase was still in the car.
The old TV series Death Valley Days once ran a short story about western pioneers also finding mummies in the desert. Since one of the script writers stated that "there had never been a script without a solid basis in fact", it would be interesting to find out what their source had been.
For now, these stories will have to be shrouded in mystery, along with the 21,000 year old bones found in California's Imperial Valley, also rumored to have been spirited off by the Smithsonian.
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