- Chapter 12 Gold from the Files
It isn’t always necessary to spend months and years in an effort to discover gold in the many rivers and streams throughout the old Inca Empire. Here is a true factual account of two daring Americans who, within the past few months, found their bonanza in the yellowed pages of old documents in the office of Ecuador’s Director of Mines.
Virgil Benson and Tony Williams stood on a small sandy playa at the edge of the Rio Nangaritza and carefully surveyed the scene which unfolded before them.
“The river’s about a hundred yards wide at this point,” drawled the rugged Tony Williams in his Texan accent. “It’s got a good deep channel - deep enough to bring up our dredges and any other equipment we’ll need. Transportation won’t be any problem.”Benson, a six-foot-four blond giant, originally from Minnesota, nodded in agreement. As he watched the brown muddy river sweep by, he broke into a broad smile.
“Look like we’ve got it made, Commanche!” he exclaimed. “Let’s head for Quito and start ordering our equipment. We’re going to need a lot of it.”
They walked along the stony river bank to a small Cessna 180, and climbed into the cockpit. Moments later, the single motor roared into life and Lieutenant-Colonel Virgil Benson, with a service record of twenty-two years in the United States Air Force behind him, manoeuvred the little plane at ever-increasing speed down the sandy beach, barely gaining sufficient altitude to clear the giant trees which lined either side of the river. Soon they were high above the foreboding Amazon jungle on their way back to civilization. From an altitude of three thousand feet, they could follow the course of the surging Rio Nangaritza twisting and winding like a gigantic boa as it flowed northward through rugged terrain before emptying into the Zamora and Pastaza rivers.
Little wonder that both men were exuberant and elated. After months of arduous physical labor, deprivation, and research, they had finally come up with one of the greatest gold strikes of the century, a bonanza that well could make them two of the world’s richest men over the next decade. For according to geological reports, their 125-mile claim along the banks of the Rio Nangaritza carries a gold-content averaging $13 per cubic yard. And if you’re interested in nice round figures, their concession consists of about a billion cubic yards!
Lieutenant-Colonels Benson and Williams are not amateurs when it comes to adventure. Their backgrounds are as colorful as their own striking personalities.
Benson, forty-one, was born in Marshall, Minnesota, of Viking stock. He took his first flight at the age of four and solo’d at fourteen. Enlisting in the Air Force at the age of nineteen, he was sent to the University of Maryland where he received a degree in military science. During World War II, he became a fighter pilot and served with distinction in the European theatre, rising rapidly to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. At war’s end, he was transferred to the Philippines where he worked in the Air-Sea Rescue Service. Always a man of action, Benson looks the part - he is a strapping six-four and carries 220 pounds of brawn and muscle. During the past few years, he has spent considerable time as a pilot in various parts of Mexico and South America and has become an expert in jungle flying procedures.
Two years ago while in Houston, Texas, Virgil met Tony Williams, a former Lieutenant-Colonel in the U.S. Army who saw service during the war years with the fighting First Ranger Battalion. Williams, part Corn¬manche Indian, comes from a long line of Texans who date back to the days of Steven Austin. He is tall, wiry, and his grey eyes carry a glint of steel. Born in 1920 in Amarilla, he studied at the Utah State Agricultural College and later at the University of Colorado where he received a degree in forestry and a minor in geology. After graduation he worked for the United Geophysical Company in its Foreign Division and was sent to Venezuela and other parts of South America where his knowledge of geology proved a dominating factor in his adventuresome career. After the war, he returned to South America, worked for a diamond company in Brazil, and located several metal deposits, including gold and copper in the Brazilian Amazon.
Later, while working as a roving geologist for a North American mining group on the West Coast of South America, Williams first heard about the gold potential of the Rio Nahgaritza, located in southern Ecuador near the Peruvian border. According to the story, in 1939 a small Canadian syndicate sent a well-known geologist by the name of Paul Sorison into the area in a search for gold-bearing rivers. The crew worked its way up the Nangaritza and after core-drilling in various locales to a depth of twenty-seven feet, down to bedrock, Sorison realized that he had made a fantastic discovery. At a depth of only one foot, the gold yield was 85 cents per cubic yard. At seventeen feet, in coarse sand and gravel, it jumped to $11.08, while at twenty-seven feet in very hard compact sand with clayish gravel, the gold content reached an astronomical $38.90 per cubic yard.
Sorison then returned to Canada and gave the company a detailed breakdown of his findings. A Canadian lawyer then descended upon Quito and filed for a gold concession on the Nangaritza which was eventually granted. But in spite of its great potential wealth, there were mitigating factors at that time which proved insurmountable.
In the first place, it was impossible to bring barges and other heavy duty equipment to the Nangaritza as there were no roads into the interior, but to make matters worse, World War II suddenly broke out. Not only were most Canadians drafted into the army, but equipment became impossible to buy, and the entire project was abandoned. Eventually, the concession expired. Under the laws of most South American countries, when a mining concession is granted, a certain amount of work must be done each year in order to hold the concession; otherwise, the claim reverts back to the government.
When Tony Williams first heard the story of this fabulous bonanza, he was skeptical. But later, while working in Colombia, he flew over to Quito, Ecuador, to delve further into the matter.
In the office of the Director of Mines he came across the original application and the Canadian geologist’s report. No other concession had ever been filed on the Rio Nangaritza since that time. A feeling of elation surged through him when checking further, he discovered that within the past few years, a new highway had been opened between Guayaquil, Ecuador’s major seaport city on the Pacific Coast, and Loja, lying near the Peruvian border, a city dating back to the days of the Spanish Conquistadores.
Williams traveled by jeep to Loja and found the highway adequate for the transporting of heavy equipment and machinery. In Loja, he learned that it was possible to follow the Zamora river into the gold-rich Nangaritza. The greatest obstacle had now been removed. Between the road and the river, it would now be possible to bring all the barges and machinery necessary to the gold site, at a very low cost of operation.
Now, for the first time, in Williams’s opinion, it could be a successful and profitable venture. True, there were still tribes of head-hunting Jivaros living in the vicinity, but over the years, they had become docile and friendly and did not now represent a threat.
Keeping secret the news of his discovery, Williams took off for his native Texas in the hope of further developing his strategy. He needed a working partner and adequate financing, for be realized only too well that a gold-mining project, to be profitable, must be worked on a large scale, oftentimes involving the expenditure of several million dollars.
While at a friend’s apartment in Houston, he was fortunate in meeting Virgil Benson. No sooner had the two met than they were enveloped in that bond of camaraderie born not only of military service, but a mutual love of adventure and the quest for gold. Benson had his own plane and was an expert flyer. Together, the two of them possessed the capabilities of surmounting every obstacle.
They became partners and a few weeks later, accompanied by a well-known geologist from Houston, journeyed to Ecuador.
During the next several months they core-drilled over one hundred miles of the Nangaritza and when the samples were analyzed the results corresponded almost exactly with Sorison’s original geological report. Pooling their assets, Benson and Williams obtained a concession from the Ecuadorian government to work this river for a distance of 125 miles. With the granting of their concession, their secret was now out in the open.
Interviewed at their home in Quito, Tony Williams said: “We’re not going down there with some rubber fins, an oxygen tank, and diving gear. That’s strictly for amateurs. We’ve got to have machinery and equipment that will carry us down to bedrock - dredges that will eat up the cubic yards by the hundreds. But hell,” he added, “the Swede and I don’t want to become the richest men in the world. We’ll be satisfied with a few million apiece - just enough to live comfortably - perhaps a hacienda in Mexico, and a trip to Paris now and then. The rest is up for grabs. For those who are looking for excitement and adventure, and some gold - this is the place. Not only the Nangaritza, but all of the other rivers in the vicinity are wide-open, with no complications.”
For the time being, the two men are going to begin operations on a small scale, but even so, according to Benson, the machinery they need will cost about $200,000. Later, when the gold starts rolling in, they intend to expand and purchase larger and more expensive equipment, including a Couple—Jet-6 Sluice Dredge with suction tubes that have the power to chew up three hundred cubic yards a day.
I asked Benson and Williams if they had any practical advice for the thousands of ambitious young men who want to strike it rich in adventures of this type.
“We’ve seen lots of amateurs operating around Ecuador and Peru,” admitted Benson. “Some of them don’t even know gold when they see it. And others come down with a couple of pans expecting to find dozens of nuggets just waiting to be picked up. Things don’t work out that way. Gold-mining is big business - you’ve got to know what you’re doing every step of the way. And concessions cost money. If you don’t work them, you lose them, together with your investment. In my years of experience in this field, I’ve learned one thing - you just don’t go running wildly through the jungle panning here and there in the hope of coming up with a bonanza. Sometimes it’s much more profitable to go to the Director of Mines in these various countries, and examine their files - you can come up with some old concessions and geological reports that have long since expired, and which can save you a lot of time and trouble, giving you exact locations and the gold-content in the rivers involved. But on top of everything else, you’ve got to have adequate financing. A light plane like ours is invaluable. In two hours’ flying time, we can reach a location that would take us three weeks by road and river. Then, too, we use it for bringing in food and supplies.”
Does all of this sound too unbelievable to be true? Well, in this instance, Williams and Benson have geological reports to verify their momentous discovery. Over a century ago the Sacramento gold strike, too, sounded far-fetched, until the cry of “Gold!” was heard around the world, with thousands of daring adventurers answer¬ing the call.
Little-explored Ecuador has over the past few years become the centre of a new gold rush. Some have come digging for Inca treasures, others searching for lost emerald mines. These quests have ranged from the snow-capped Andean peaks to the impenetrable Amazon Rain Forest. Only a handful have succeeded. The inexperienced have not only suffered tremendous hardships, but failed in their efforts to strike it rich.
Virgil Benson and Tony Williams are of a different breed - they are rugged individualists, but more important, have a precise knowledge of what they are doing. Oftentimes, this spells the difference between success and failure.
There is little reason to doubt that there are still vast quantities of gold to be found in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. These little-explored regions comprise one of the world’s last frontiers, offering untold opportunities to those with an insatiable yen for adventure.
But beware - rotting crosses along jungle trails still mark the final resting places of those who dared and failed.
Inca Gold - Chapter 6 - A Fortune in Emeralds
Inca Gold - Chapter 12 - Gold From the Files