When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a treasure hunter. I imagined it would be a grand adventure with the remote possibility of actually striking it rich someday.
In my 20s and 30s, I spent my working hours sitting at a desk writing computer programs. At age 42, I turned my back on the rat race of big city life and spent about six years prospecting for gold in Central Arizona.
One day, I stumbled upon an old man who lived in a school bus on a dirt road at the southern base of the Bradshaw Mountains, between Congress and Stanton, about 60 miles north of Phoenix. He was barefoot and shirtless, and had such hard skin it looked like he was weatherproof. He had more tattoos than teeth and his eyes twinkled when he spoke, either madness or glee -- I could never quite tell.
We were both wary loners and became friends over time. He spent his summers in Oregon, along the Rogue River, and his winters in Arizona, buying gold from prospectors at 80% of spot. Paid cash. No questions asked.
He claimed he had encountered an ancient Indian woman many years earlier who confided in him that her tribe had picked up most of the loose gold nuggets from the top of Rich Hill (near Congress, AZ) and hid them in a nearby gully to discourage white settlers. He appeared to believe the story and swore he never told another soul about it.
Prospectors are like fishermen; the big ones always get away. I had heard many tales of lost treasures from dusty old coots but this one had an air of possibility to it.
I never spent any time searching for this lost cache of gold nuggets. However, during my research, I did learn that Rich Hill initially had gold nuggets the size of eggs scattered about the top and that the local Indians had a reputation for hiding gold to discourage white settlers. Perhaps there’s some validity to the story after all.
I now live in Fulton County in northern Arkansas, where there also seems to be a couple of lost treasures in the immediate vicinity waiting to be discovered. According to the U.S. Treasure Atlas, Volume 1, the following is true.
SHARP COUNTY (Page 79) – In 1907, 6 or 7 bandits robbed the Frisco freight train at Mammoth Spring, loading a wagon with several crates. Two trainmen died in the incident. According to witnesses, the bandits headed toward Tick Ridge (or the head of Cold Spring Creek). The loot was placed in a cave and the entrance was dynamited shut until they could return and split it. All the bandits were captured and served long sentences in prison, never to recover the cache. In 1936, a former prison guard began searching for the cache, spending 10 years in a futile effort. He revealed that the train robbers were a gang of burglars that worked Gary and Bloomington, Indiana, Chicago, Illinois, and St. Louis and Springfield, Missouri. The gang had hidden all of their accumulated loot, including jewelry, gold & silver coins and gemstones, in the cave.
IZARD COUNTY (Page 85) – A cache of gold and silver bars worth $110 million (worth much more today) and known as the Madre Vena Treasure is located in the Pineville area of Izard County.
In my experience, the real treasure is in the hunt itself -- any finds are merely frosting on the cake.
Quote for the Day -- “Every treasure is guarded by dragons. That's how you can tell it's valuable.” Saul Bellow
Bret Burquest is the author of 12 books. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a couple of dogs and where lost treasures wait to be discovered.