Luthena Caston, or Alleghany Lu as she was popularly known. Here are a couple of stories.


Elegant Lady Goes Underground

By John Trumbo

(The Union March 10, 1981)


Luthena Caston doesn't look like a hard rock miner. With her soft-white hair, bright blue eyes and polite conversation, Lu takes it easy in an overstuffed rocking chair at her Nevada City home. Who'd think this elegant lady has spent more than half her life as an underground miner? One would expect the independent owner-operator of the San Francisco Mine near Washington to be a whiskey-soaked, unshaven, rough-talking Cornish powder man, who likely lives on the claim and brews seven percent beer for himself and his dogs.

But Lu's life has been that of a lady....albeit a high class lady in a hardhat. Since before World War II, Lue's fame around the Sierra mines has been well-known. "I've worked the mines with the best of them," Lu boasts. And so she has. It was her enthusiasm for the underground treasure of Alleghany's Seven Acres mine that got her dubbed Alleghany Lu.

A Montana native and a once-upon-a-time talent/beauty starlet, Lu (at right) has little but rusty machinery, rotting timbers, and title to 2 acres of God's beautiful mountains to show for her glittering past. Somehow, the gold never came. In 1968 she dumped everything she had into buying the San Francisco claim. With rough-cut Ray Bush as her work partner, the two of them hacked, blasted and shoveled their way a hundred yards into the pristine mariposite ore over the next eight years. All they got was plenty of pyrite. The money gave out often enough, but never Lu's determination. Finally, however, her health brought the quest to a standstill. Now, 72 years old, Alleghany Lu rarely gets to her claim more than once a month. Bush lives on the property overlooking the Sierra hamlet of Washington. It's been three years since he entered the San Francisco's tunnel. "This is a mighty tough game," says Lu. "When you've got a strike, everybody's your friend. Nobody will throw money in a hole." Lu has. Upwards of half a million dollars have gone into her unfulfilled life's dream. Hundreds of tons of hardrock debris litters the landscape. The tunnel entrance is partially caved in. An abandoned mill, never used, with rusty skeletons, stands as a silent sentry to Lu's unfound riches.

The mine is for sale. There's a seven-foot wide quartz vein following the same fault as the 16-to-1 mine in Alleghany, a couple of miles away over the hill. Some $35 million in gold came out of that one, says Lu. "If anybody's got a million bucks they can have mine," she states.

Lu's life in the mines came in a roundabout way. She was born in Montana on an "old Army cot on the banks of the Yellowstone River." Lu's parents were homesteaders at the turn of the century. "I got out of there as soon as I could get a pair of shoes," she says. "It was the Depression and I got a job as a waitress in Reno." While in Reno, Lu won a talent/beauty contest, sponsored by the Reno Gazette. She was selected to be a movie discovery (Ann Sheridan was discovered the same way, says Lu), but when officials found out she was married, Lu was disqualified.

Lu soon found herself as a waitress in the National Hotel in Nevada City. "I met a lot of down and out miners then, and there was this old fellow who told me about the Alleghany district." Those were happy days. Full of dance and fun, says Lu. "We used to come down to Grass Valley for Saturday night dances. I met this Polish man (later to become her husband), who was a good dancer. He'd say, 'Come on Lu, show 'em your pretty legs.' And he'd swoop me up on his shoulder and I'd get a little embarrassed, you know." Then came the war, and the mines started closing. Lu's last big stake was the San Francisco. She's still convinced of the hidden wealth. "I believe in that vein. If it were mined to a depth of 1,000 feet from the town of Washington to the 16-to-1, it would pay off the national debt." But Lu's grubstake has petered out. She knows it. Bush knows it. Her quest has attracted publicity throughout the state. Ten years ago a Los Angeles Times Journalist wrote..."Alleghany Lu won't give up. Gold's in her blood, but she can't find the vein."

"It's really too bad," says Bush, "because Lu's got a heart of gold."


Looking at Bob Crabb's map of the town of Washington indicates the proximity of Alleghany Lu's San Francisco Gold mine near the Washington Hotel. Los Angeles Times journalist Charles Hillinger wrote about her in his story:

Widow Works Gold Mine - Hopes to Strike it Rich

"Ever eat a lilac, Lu?" shouted Ray Bush over the deafening clatter of the jackhammer. Alleghany Lu brushed the smudge from her face, yelled to Bush that she couldn't recollect she ever had. "You ain't missed nuttin'," Bush shouted. "Lilacs taste terrible."

Alleghany Lu, 62 year old lifelong gold miner, and Bush, 48, her hired hand, were engaged in small talk as they worked in Lu's diggin's at the San Francisco Mine on the south face of a hill overlooking the tiny hamlet of Washington in Nevada County. Miners have called Luthena Caston Alleghany Lu since the late '30s when she operated the Seven Aces in Alleghany, a gold mine a few miles north of her present location.

Lu had a string of luck in earlier years. But no one's making money on gold since difficulties have beset the industry the last quarter century. How long she'll last is anybody's guess. But the days of Alleghany Lu's mining career seem numbered. Lu Caston admittedly sank over $200,000 of her own money and money she's promoted from others...her partners...into the San Francisco. She's carved a wide swath of mountain, moving thousands of tons of dirt looking for that elusive rich vein. She's built a mill, spent money on bulldozers and expensive equipment. "I know there's at least a million in cold cash somewhere in here. I can't stop now. I got 10 years and my life savings at stake," she said. Lu sees all the indications of a high grade vein. "Solid gold right behind the mariposite," she said. "See that white rock up there? I'm getting close...getting so close I can smell it. This is one of the richest spots in the state. Several giologists have looked at this thing. They agree. Formations here are identical to those at the Sixteen-to-One just over the hill. You know the Sixteen-to-One...$35 million in gold taken from it...Come on up here. Let me show you something," Lu said as she grabbed a small pick and pan.

Bush laid aside the jackhammer as he finished the last of a series of holes he and Lu drilled for blasting, and reached into a portable cooler for a beer. Lu hoisted herself up the steep mountainside, and chipped away at a rock to demonstrate a show of color. "This is pocket country. A big outfit could hack it. I had hopes I could. I'm not giving up yet..." she said. Watching, Bush gulped his beer and commented, "She hasn't paid me in weeks. Not a dime. But I'm hangin' on for a little while. I've lost most of my friends." Lu added..."They think I'm crazy"......

Another article in the Cape Girardeau Southeast Missourian (Sunday, February 29, 1976) wrote: Nevada City, Calif. (AP)..."It's right here, just a few feet away," said 67 year old Alleghany Lu, uncorking a great whack at the mine rockwall with her rusty pick, still hunting the elusive El Dorado after 40 years. The woman's eyes lit up in the shower of sparks that briefly brightened the gloomy tunnel. She sat down in the dust to study a chunk of yellow rock, shrugged, and tossed it away...just another yellow rock. Alleghany Lu's been working around the mines on the northern edge of the Mother Lode since she first came to California from Montana in the 1930s, hunting more of the $600 million in gold dug out by the '49ers. "I'm going to hold on until they come up and hang me." Lu vowed recently. The years have whitened her hair but failed to cool the gold fever that hit her so long ago, and her faith is as strong as ever. "The pitiful thing is just when I'm close to hittin' a big pocket of gold, I don't have the money to go on," she sighed. Bob Clinch, who sells mining supplies and has known her for 30 years, said, "Lu's quite a lady. She used to be quite a looker in her day. She would come back from San Francisco wearing white gloves and all the trimmings of a San Francisco lady. She's got a kind of Diamond Lil complex, you know."

History author Bob Wyckoff recalled, "she drove a luxury car and was well-spoken. Sorta auburn hair. I think she had gold mining interests in Sierra County." (Pete Scribner asked me on Facebook "to not forget 'Alleghany Lou' . I did quite a bit of survey work for her 'way back when.") I was glad he reminded me, because I remember seeing her photo and reading about her...probably in the 1970s. She was even attractive wearing work boots.