X is for....Treasure!
Okay...the subject should start with an X...but with lack of X words, I thought X
would mark the spot.....and a treasure tale is more fun than xylitol or xray any old day.
New Mexico is an enchanted land, indeed. Mountains and deserts and
Indians and the Spanish. The Spanish were always seeking gold, while the Indians
had little use for gold. Besides, gold always brought those pesky people tracking across
their land, digging things up and trying to say they owned any spot they found something
they wanted. Never mind that it was someones backyard or their hunting ground
or a sacred spot.
The Hembrillo Basin is a dry desert lake. Dry....and the desert around it is
suitably known as Jornado del Muerto which translates as Journey of Death.
It was supposed to be a shortcut.
"Juan, let's take the shortcut!"
"Shortcut, I didn't know there was a shortcut. Where's the shortcut go?"
"Through the Journey of Death desert."
"Oh, sounds good.....err...why do they call it that?"
"No water and lots of angry Indians."
In the middle of the Humbrillo Basin is a peak....well....more like a rocky hill.
Only five hundred feet high, but rising above the surrounding landscape.
The modern history of this peak, known as Victorio Peak, starts in 1937 with a deer hunt.
The earlier history must have been fascinating.
In 1937 a group of men were out hunting deer. One of the men went off by himself.
Rain began to patter down on Victoria Peak and the man looked for shelter.
He found a place out of the rain under a rock overhang. There he noticed a stone that
looked like it had been worked on by human hands. It was too big for him to lift, but
he dug around it and got it to move...and then discovered it covered a hole that led
down into the mountain. Peering into the hole, he saw a thick pole on the side of
what he realized must be an old man-made shaft.
The hole was dark and he didn't have a lantern, so when the rain stopped he
returned to the deer hunter's camp where the men's wives had remained while
they were out hunting. He told his wife about the hole under the rock. They decided
to keep the discovery to themselves and a few days later, they went back with ropes
and flashlights. Examination of the pole ladder showed it was probably unsafe, so
he used a rope to descend into the depths. He found a small chamber with drawings and
carvings on the wall. A shaft led further downward and he followed this to what
appeared to be a large natural cavern deep inside the mountain. There were small
chambers that seemed to have been cut out of the sides of the cavern.
Then he saw what must have been a heart stopping sight. A skeleton, kneeling and
tied to a wooden stake with its skeleton arms still tied behind its back. There were
more similar skeletons, as well as some stacked in a chamber.
Why didn't he just shoot out of that cavern screaming!?!
No, he went on exploring and he reportedly found:
coins, jewelry, saddles, bejeweled swords, artifacts, and letters.
Oh, and a gold statue of the Virgin Mary.
The most recent letter was dated 1880. The oldest document was from
1797 and was a translation from Pope Pius III concerning the
fabled Seven Cities of Gold.
He went further and found a room with stack of iron bars.
Deciding this was enough excitement for one day, he stuffed some
jewelry and coins in his pockets and clambered back up to the
surface where his wife was waiting. She wasn't happy he hadn't
brought one of the iron bars up and made him go back to get one.
They were heavy and he selected one small enough to carry back up without getting
a hernia. When he got back up, he told her emphatically that he wasn't going back
again for any of those worthless iron bars.
She noticed they were gold under the dull iron surface.
He went back for more many times, finding more artifacts and riches.
There were stacks of the worthless iron bars.
He got rather secretive and took to burying a lot of the stuff in
the desert, not even telling his wife where he buried it.
And she being the one who insisted he go get them in the first place.
Four years prior to his find, Congress had passed the Gold Act, making
it illegal for a person to own gold, making it difficult for him to profit from
the treasure. He had to find people who would buy the bars and not talk to the
government about it. This led to trouble.
He filed a lease and mining claims in 1938 which brought his discovery to
the attention of others. He kept burying bars in the desert. In 1939 he
hired someone to use dynamite to enlarge a passage because he had been
having a terrible time squeezing by a big boulder. The expert wanted to use
eight sticks of dynamite which he thought was too much. He was right.
The dynamite caused the shaft to collapse and he could not get back into
the fabulous cavern. He only had the bars he had hidden in the desert.
Things continued to go bad. He was so grouchy (understandably so) at
the dynamite disaster, that his marriage failed. Which resulted in his
wife wanting part of the claim. Then in 1949 he was shot dead by
a man with whom he was having dealings with concerning the gold.
His ex wife continued to try and reopen the way into the mountain, but
the US government intervened when the White Sands Missile Range was
expanded to include Victorio Peak.
Oh..and there's more ...but it all has to do with the government
and the military and legal wranglings. You can have the fun of
reading more about it yourself.
What happened to the artifacts and the treasure is still a mystery.
Victorio Peak is still part of White Sands Missile Range and as such
can't be explored by you or I or even archaeologists.
The treasure is somewhere....whether it is where it was found
in 1937 is another question. Somehow I wish Spain would file
a suit in court to recover what surely is at least in part treasure
that was originally possessed by them. At least then we might get
to find out what happened to the treasure of Victorio Peak.