Two treasure hunters meandered through the parched West Texas landscape, leaving holes, broken branches, and winding trails as their calling card. For two days, they trekked across cotton fields and pastureland proving beyond shadow of doubt that “X” never marks the spot.
When they first started their journey they were proud of their idea to use horses instead of all terrain vehicles. However, after experiencing the punishing heat of the merciless summer sun and the dry winds, they were less romantic with their quest. Even so, horses were the best choice. There were too many fences to cut and ravines to cross, not to mention the thick tangle of mesquite trees growing unabated in the pastures to make vehicles practical.
Tony Blanchard, an historian from Sul-Ross University in Alpine, Texas, had discovered an old map at an estate sale some ten years before. At the time, it was nothing more than a curiosity and he framed it and hung it on his office wall, as a conversation piece. It worked. Students and staff would file into his office to see the treasure map of the conquistadors; word of mouth was great advertisement. Then one day, while reading the field journal of Captain Randolph Marcy, who had mapped the roads and trails from El Paso to California in the mid 1800’s, he noticed that Marcy’s maps and the treasure map corresponded. Was his map authentic?
He took it to an anthropologist from New Mexico State University, whose hobby was collecting and studying old maps, for his opinion. After a brief inspection, they concluded that the map was an original drawn by a Spanish monk who worked out of a mission in Ysleta, Texas in the late 1700’s. The monk busied himself by copying the maps of travelers stopping at his mission on their way from Mexico City to Santa Fe or California.
The next step was to determine if the map actually revealed a hidden stash of gold in remote West Texas, miles from any significant location. He pinpointed the proposed search area and called a local historian, Jim, and asked if he had ever heard any good stories of lost gold. Remarkably, Jim had heard several versions of the same legend; his story fit into the map.
In the days before white man started frequenting the Indian country of West Texas, a Spanish trader hired a member of the Jumano Indian tribe to guide him to the Llano Estacado, or present day high plains in the Texas panhandle, to meet with a Spanish outpost located around the Palo Duro Canyon, near Amarillo. They climbed onto to cap rock near Post, Texas and encountered a Comanche raiding party leading some pack mules across the plains toward Tahoka Lake. Not wanting to waste an opportunity to trade tobacco for some mules, they spent the afternoon dickering over several small items to trade.
The Comanches, notorious for bragging of their exploits, told how they attacked a Spanish convoy and captured the mules, which they intended to eat. Upon inspection, the trader discovered that the mules were loaded with gold. He traded all his supplies, including wine and muskets, to the Comanches for the gold, plus five of the ten pack mules. The Comanches needed no gold so they eagerly traded. The Spaniard and his guide reversed course and descended back into the broken country below the Cap Rock, with a destination of San Antonio, making camp against the soaring cliffs.
Early the next morning, the two were hit by a small hunting party of Kiowas and the mules scattered. The Jumano, who proudly sported an ornate and decorative musket, fled into the canyons and caves along the Cap Rock and disappeared. The Spaniard, holding onto one of the mules, fled east, and managed to evade detection. He hid in the midst of an enormous herd of buffalo around Green Springs and wandered along with them until he reoriented himself and found the Comanche war trail to Mexico. His route led him along to the Colorado River where he found an area known as Seven Wells. From there, he wound his way west until the Kiowas relocated him. The Spaniard shot several warriors and fled to Beals Creek, eventually backtracking to a hiding place near the Wildhorse Creek in some low lying hills, south of present day Westbrook. He piled rocks over his dying mule and marked the spot by tying his golden ring to a tree with his bandana. Slowly, he retreated across the West Texas desert until he found the mission at Ysleta, where he told his story to the monk. It was recorded it into history.
“There is no way to verify that the story even happened. Moreover, that it happened here,” Tony argued with Jim, the historian, while pressing a finger onto a small mark on the photo copied map.
“Well,” Jim countered, “in the 1930’s, some hunters found an ornate muzzle loader, wrapped in oil cloth, in a cave just north of Gail, Texas, on the Koonesman Ranch.” He looked around his office, moving stacks of papers and folders. “Oh, I remember, I have the newspaper article in this file.” He filtered through his cabinet and pulled out a red folder. “See, these fellows had their picture made with it. It says here that the rifle was from the late 18th century, and of Spanish origin. Not only that, but the trail that the Spaniard took was one of the same used by Colonel Mackenzie during the Indian Wars in the 1850’s. See?” He pulled out a photocopied map. “The trail runs right past Greene Springs, outside of Snyder, and crosses over the Colorado River and continues toward El Paso. From there, he could have followed the River to Seven Wells. Col. Mackenzie’s route crosses right through the area. It is all possible.”
“So, why haven’t you gone to find the gold?”
“Who says I haven't?” Jim’s eyes sparkled. “There was supposed to be a map made of the burial site, somewhere south of Westbrook. If we had the map, we might have better luck. However, the map doesn’t exist. Therefore, neither does the gold.”
Tune in later for the conclusion, when Tony starts digging for lost gold...