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That August, Packwood saw a man approaching his cabin. He quickly recognized him: it was his old friend and Army comrade, Manley Martin, whom he hadn’t seen since 1853.
Over supper, Martin told Packwood the reason for his visit: He’d heard about Packwood finding the old campsite. The ledge, he said, was not in the campsite; it was several miles away from it. He, Martin, could easily find the ledge, if he could find the campsite; and Packwood knew where the campsite was. Would Packwood like to team up and go make some money?
Yes, Packwood would! But Packwood, unfortunately, had a big mouth, as soldiers sometimes do. So when, in the middle of the two men packing their kit for their journey, a neighbor named Mr. Brown dropped by and asked what they were up to, Packwood told him.
Brown then begged to be allowed to come along, and Packwood said that was fine, and off went Brown to pack up his own stuff.
This turned out to be a very expensive mistake.
The problem was, it was 1861. Pro-Confederate and pro-Union men had started killing each other in April of that year, and it was now August. Manley Martin was from Kentucky and was a committed Confederate rebel sympathizer; Brown, as it turned out, was a passionate abolitionist and zealous Union man. Packwood had his hands full keeping his two traveling companions from murdering one another. They quarreled and battled all the way to the campsite.
Finally, with what must have been a profound sigh of relief, Packwood brought his belligerent companions into the clearing at the center of the blazed trees, where a skilled woodsman could still plainly discern the eight-year-old remnants of the soldiers’ encampment.
Martin promptly disappeared into the bush and was gone all day, returning just before dusk. Packwood figured he’d gone to make sure the ledge was still there.
But the following morning, Manley Martin coldly informed his companions that he’d decided not to look for the ledge, and stalked off in the direction of the Rogue River road.
Packwood was unable to persuade him to stay. Plus, he was sick of the constant bickering. So he let him go. Most likely he expected to find the ledge himself anyway — it could only be within a few dozen yards of the creek, up a steep slope, somewhere upstream from the campsite. Now that he knew it wasn’t inside the square of blazed trees, it should be easy to find, right?
But it wasn’t.
Finally, out of time and out of patience, Packwood and Brown returned to their farms. And a week or two later, Packwood got a letter from Martin.
Martin wrote that he had, as Packwood and Brown had surmised, gone to the ledge on that day, and taken some samples off of it. But he’d gotten so angry with Brown that he didn’t want to share his find with him, so he’d decided to come back later. But, he added, when he got the ore samples assayed, they turned out not to be as rich as he’d thought they would be — only $200 a ton or so. So, he’d decided to skip it.
Whether that was true or not, Packwood never learned. A little later that year, gold was discovered on China Creek out in Eastern Oregon, and Packwood — who knew from experience the importance of getting to the diggings early — flew to the scene. There, he staked and worked a fruitful claim and became one of the most prominent citizens of the town of Auburn.
It wasn’t until 1914 when, as an old man, William Packwood returned to the scene of the soldiers’ lost ledge in the Coquille Mountains.
When he arrived, he found that a forest fire had burned through the canyon, destroying the blazed trees and all the landmarks that he’d noted.
Not that it much mattered; it had, after all, been more than 50 years since he’d last been there. It would have been transformed beyond recognition anyway.
In the end, the ledge went undiscovered. So far as is known, somewhere in the mountains near Cow Creek that ledge still peeps through the topsoil, and many local hunters and fishermen over the years have kept an eye out for it on the off-chance of rediscovering it.
And, if Manley Martin’s “$200 a ton” estimate is correct, it would be a fabulously rich mine. $200 would buy almost 10 ounces of gold in 1861; today, that amount of gold would fetch about $15,725 — per ton. That’s about $400 in every five-gallon bucket of rocks. Which might have been a fair-to-middling prospect, as mines went, during the height of the California Gold Rush; but it's pretty dazzling today.