Mad Conquistadors Lost Gold
There is a primal lesson that all people should learn in childhood. Treat people with respect….. If you don’t, it just might end up killing you. Unfortunately for a man named Don Juan, this lesson was tragically learned way too late.
But for whatever reason, this lesson evaded the young Don Juan, so as he grew older he became meaner and meaner. As time wore on, the townspeople came to loathe him so much that he feared for his life. He grew so increasingly weary of his hometowns feelings, that he thought the only thing he could do to save his own skin, was to leave. Late one night he quickly packed sixty mules and left with 24 Indian servants on a long and difficult jornada (journey) to Monterey California. Two things would happen on this trip, Don Juan would get very rich and never live to spend it. According to Philip Bailey author of Golden Mirages, Don Juan only loaded about half the horses when he left town. His route headed north through the Sierra Madre west of Chihuahua and anyone who is familiar with the Taiopa treasure stories will understand why this is important. Because when he arrived in Oposura on the Rio Sonora, all sixty horses was fully loaded. Mr. Bailey had known a man by the name of John Calhoun Smith for over thirty years at the time of his book (published in 1941). John stated that he was able to locate the route that Don Juan had taken.
“He left Guadalupe and went westward to Minaca, then north into the Sierras to the headwaters of a stream near Mulatos, and then swung into the hills of Sahuaripa. John believes that by some twisting around they managed to reach Oposura on the left branch of the Yaqui River, and from there went to Nacori.”
He also believed that he acquired his riches somewhere between Sahuaripa and Oposura. John was also able to meet a local (his name was not recorded) near Sahuaripa who was familiar with Don Juan’s travels. The man’s father remembered the party coming into town and was curios why someone was traveling with so many unloaded animals. But when the caravan arrived at the Casa De Peralta in Oposura, all the horses were loaded. It was also reported that someone with the troupe said that the cargo was “muy rico oro”. At this point the story tends to be a bit vague; no one is quite sure what northern route was taken. But what is known is that Don Juan next appears at the Colorado River crossing, in Yuma Arizona.
Bailey notes that except for some small pilfering, the crossing went by pretty smoothly. However, as Bailey says it,
“It was when he had practically completed the dangerous ninety-mile jornada to the first water at the Carrizo that trouble overtook him”
Like most men of means, they are used to getting what they want and when they don’t, they become enraged. This anger led to many of the Indians being severely beaten. They had enough, so some of the Indians banded with local desert Indians and went on a raid (most likely Quechan and Cupeno Indians). By the time Don Juan had passed Signal Hill, located on the US/Mexico border, he noticed that he was being followed and became very worried. While running, he was looking for a place to make a stand, however in the flat desert that could be difficult. During the ensuing battle with the Indians and while his men were being killed one by one, Don Juan finally found a place to fight. Thinking that the raiding party was after his gold, he ordered his men to dump all the treasure in an arroyo. Then in full view of the Indians he killed six of his men and threw their bodies on top of the gold. Knowing full well that the superstitious Indians would not go near anything, being guarded by dead men. It is also here that Don Juan met the same fate as his men, he was killed and his bones were left on the desert to rot.
In an October 1937 article from the San Diego Union there was a report of “a Spanish breastplate made of steel was found near Signal Mountain two weeks ago. It was identified as belonging to the period between 1770 and 1780”. Could this have been Don Juan’s armament?? Old-timer Happy Sharp of Jacumba also was said to have found many other early pieces near Coyote Wells. Mr. Bailey had spent about 20 years doing research for his book and in addition interviewed hundreds of people. He also holds some of the earliest documented evidence that we have, about some of the truest origins of Southern California lost treasures.
Finally sometime in the 1970’s Peter Odens (author of Tales from the Southwest Corner) adds another piece to this story. A man by the name of Larry Bodge told him that he had found four skeletons and sacks of rich gold ore in the desert somewhere near Signal Mountain, but was unable to carry them out.
The treasure could be found only when certain conditions are just right. You see the Santa Ana winds had just come through this area and cleaned tons of surface sand, leaving the bottom of some of the arroyo’s exposed. But within days, the gold was again swallowed up by more than ten feet of sand and lost once more. Personally I think the treasure is still there today, waiting for the right person and the right conditions. Although the Border Patrol puts a huge kink into any search for the gold, simply because the proximity to the border. With all the illegal activity that goes on in this sector, they just do not allow anyone to venture out and search for lost gold. But then again, I just wonder if someone hasn’t already been there just after a hard Santa Ana windstorm and took what they could……