A group of prospectors at a gold strike near Dale, Ore., in September of 1936 believed their claim was the fabled Blue Bucket Mine discovered by a pioneer family heading west on the Oregon Trail.
R.H. Russell of Spokane, along with Franz Hailberg, C.W. Curl and Bart Crisman, struck gold 16 miles east of Dale in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon during the summer of 1936. Hailberg and his brother had set out with $50 in their pocket and fellow prospectors Curl and Crisman, who had searched for the Blue Bucket Mine their entire lives.
According to Russell, the mine near Dale was producing a great deal of gold. A team including 10 workers had, in six or seven weeks, dug out 50 sacks weighing 150 pounds apiece that were hauled to a smelter at Tacoma for processing. The gold was valued at $210,000 per ton, and Russell said the mine was being guarded night and day.
“This sounds like a dream, but it’s true,” Russell said. He related the group’s good fortune during a visit to Pendleton on Sept. 3, 1936, where he was gathering truckloads of lumber and supplies to establish a permanent camp at the mine.
The legend of the Blue Bucket Mine began in the summer of 1845, with a family that was traveling west by ox team and camped overnight at Desolation Creek after getting lost off the Meek Cutoff of the Oregon Trail. The children of the family spent a day hunting berries (or water, in some versions of the story), carrying with them a blue bucket. The bucket was left behind when the settlers broke camp, and later travelers allegedly found gold nuggets mixed in amongst the berries. The travelers thought the rocks the children had picked up were copper ore. An exhaustive years-long search was unable to unearth the mine itself.
Other versions of the legend place the possible site of the mine along the Malheur River, the Bear Creek tributary of the Crooked River in Crook County, or a tributary of the John Day River. All versions agree that the coarse placer gold was found in a dry stream bed or canyon bottomed with lava pocked with cavities and potholes. The story set off a gold rush to the area of present-day Baker City, Ore.
Three mines named Blue Bucket exist in the U.S., including one in Grant County, Ore., though none of those are related to the legendary mine.