Tennessee-born mountain man Pauline Weaver worked for the Hudson’s Bay Co. in Canada before heading to the Rocky Mountains in 1830. Born Powell Weaver in 1800 to a white father and Cherokee mother, he became known as Paulino/ Pauline during the years he spent in Taos. Serving as an Army scout between 1845 and 1865, Weaver explored much of New Mexico Territory and Arizona Territory, and in 1862 Indians led him to placer gold deposits near La Paz, Arizona Territory.
The following year Weaver guided a party of gold seekers under Abraham Harlow Peeples into the Hassayampa River country of central Arizona Territory. The party camped at the base of a mountain south of present-day Yarnell, and while searching for lost livestock in a shallow basin atop the mountain, a Mexican member of the group unearthed gold nuggets “the size of potatoes.” The party members pried them from the ground with knives. Prospectors dubbed the basin the Potato Patch, the mountain Rich Hill and the mining region Weaver District No. 2. The district became Arizona’s richest producer of placer gold. Major claims included the Devil’s Nest, the Leviathan and the Upton.
Miners poured into the district, panning more than 25,000 ounces of gold in the first five years. They established three towns within a few miles of one another: Weaver, Stanton (originally Antelope Station) and Octave. In 1864 Arizonans held an election to determine whether Weaver or Prescott would become the territorial capitol, and legend has it Prescott won because Weaver residents were too busy carousing to vote.
As Weaver became a gathering point for desperadoes, dominated by the Francisco Vega gang, most respectable residents moved to nearby Antelope Station. But their new home also became notorious.
George Wilson and William Partridge ran competing business concerns in Antelope Station. When an Irish immigrant named Charles P. Stanton moved to town, he exploited the tension between the men. Working with the Vega gang, Stanton provoked a feud between Wilson and Partridge that led to Wilson’s death and Partridge’s imprisonment for his murder. In the wake of that blowup Stanton took over the town, renaming it for himself, and the Vegas killed anyone who dared compete with him. In 1886, however, three brothers named Lucero, members of the Vega gang, killed Stanton, allegedly for molesting their sister, and the Vega gang fed to Mexico.
After prospectors had panned out more than $1 million in ore, production of placer gold diminished. By the 1880s miners began working hard rock lode claims. The most successful of these was the Octave, founded in the early 1890s by a group of eight men. With the coming of railroads to nearby towns, fuel became available, shipping of milled ore became possible, and the company town of Octave grew up around the mine. Stanton and Weaver became near ghosts, and in 1900 Weaver’s post office, which had opened in 1899, was moved to booming Octave. The Octave developed extensive underground workings and produced about 80,000 ounces of gold and 80,000 ounces of silver before its abandonment.
Other major lode mines included the Beehive, the Dixie-Rincon and the Yarnell. Production from Rich Hill rose and fell through the mid–20th century, with a Depression-era boost in placer activity. After World War II gold production ground to a halt. The Octave mine and town were demolished in the 1950s.
Sparked by the rising price of gold and the refinement of metal detectors, prospectors once more sweep Rich Hill, finding world-class specimens. The entire area is under claim and is posted and monitored against mineral trespass. Stanton is owned by the Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association, which operates the site as an RV park for members. The owners have preserved three of its historic buildings. Weaver retains only its post office building, cemetery and a rock corral. Virtually no structures remain standing in Octave.
Originally published in the February 2014 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.