The Treasure of Madre De Oro

By Gale R. Rhoades
From page 16 of the January, 1977 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © January, 1977 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved

The Ute Indians repeat a story that long ago the Q'uatz (Spaniards) came to the Uintah Basin area of northeastern Utah wearing iron shirts (armor), and that these same men, mounted on magnificent steeds, forced the Indians to labor for them in gold and silver mines. The story continues that the Spaniards named a gold-bearing mountain "Madre de Oro" (Mother of Gold), raped it of its virgin gold, hammered or molded the precious metal into objects of rare beauty, and then buried them as massive treasures until a later date.

They planned that heavily-armed caravans would remove the gold and silver from the mountains forever. But, according to Indian legend, very little of these fabulous treasures was ever recovered. The long-masterminded plot of the Spaniards was at last defeated when the Indians rebelled, killing and driving the Spaniards from the land. Their golden hoard remains.

Most historians today agree that the first Spaniards to enter the Uintab Basin arrived in 1776 with Father Escalante. However, a padre of Spanish descent, Father Ortiz, told members of the American army at Santa Fe in 1848 that, many decades earlier, the Spaniards had been as far as 500 miles up the Buena Ventura (Green River.)

These early Spaniards had built a series of forts to trade with the Indians of the region. In 1650, the Indians rebelled, burned the forts and killed or drove every Spaniard from the region.

The Spaniards, always anxious for gold and silver for the treasuries of Spain, had forced these Indians to work in various mines in and around the Basin, as well as in other parts of Utah and the southwest. This was the primary reason for the rebellion of the natives.

However, the Spaniards did not stay away forever and, about 130 years later, before the Anglos started to penetrate the vast wilderness of the rugged Uintah Mountains, the Spaniards returned to relocate their gold mines and to establish a trade route between Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Great Basin (Uintah Basin) territory, and between California and this same territory. The route followed along the Old Spanish Trail of Father Escalante and many connecting trails.

For generations, great herds of horses, mules and cattle were driven along these old trails by Spaniards, Mexicans and later by Indians, from the large ranches to the south where the stock had either been bought or stolen. This traffic in stolen livestock continued along the Old Spanish Trail into the Rocky Mountains and beyond for many years, and the route eventually became more commonly known as the Horse Thief Trail.

Besides the immense trade in horses, mules and cattle along these old trails, there also had been an important traffic in Indian slaves and in Spanish mining operations. The slaves at this time were of the minority tribes, stolen by the Utes, Goshutes and other tribes, and sold or traded to the Spaniards. The majority of these miserably poor Indians were taken to Mexico, where slavery had been practiced from the most ancient times when the Indian tribes of Mexico offered the enslaved warriors to their Indian gods as human sacrifices. Relatively few of these Indians were forced to work in Spanish mines, but, even so, they numbered in the hundreds.

Many a trapper, working out of Fort Bridger in the 1840's reported seeing hundreds of enslaved, barefooted Indians from the minority tribes in caravans as they traveled along the Old Spanish Trail. They were guarded by many mounted Mexicans on their way to uncertain destinations hundreds of miles away.

As late as the 1860's, many of Utah's early Morman pioneers reported seeing large groups of Mexicans pass by their settlements leading their burro trains to and from the mountains. The Mormons supposed the Mexicans were mining, but in those days the Mormons had their hands full protecting their homes and families. They quietly let the Mexicans go about their business.

Yet the settlers often heard of fierce encounters between the Ute Indians and the Mexicans, and on many occasions old Chief Kanosh told the settlers around Fillmore that his best warriors were often killed by the Mexicans when they went into the mountains for gold and silver. These Mexicans were the Spanish-descent Mexicans whose people had mined for centuries. However, as the country became more thickly settled with the Morman pioneers, and after a final confrontation with the rebellious Indians sometime around the 1860's, those Mexicans who escaped being massacred ceased coming to the area.

Parts of the Old Spanish Trail continued in use as late as the turn of this century, because much of the trail allowed easy access through many vast wilderness areas of barren and almost inaccessible mountain ranges. It was during this period of our western history that there appeared many colorful stories and legends of lost mines and buried treasures, which were reported to be scattered along the old trail and throughout its adjacent territory.

Two of these, the Lost Spanish Pine Mine, more commonly referred to as the Lost Rhoades Mine, and the Treasure of the Conquistadores, have been discussed for years by prospectors, miners and nearly half the residents of Utah, not to mention thousands of treasure seekers from other states. Neither of these has ever been re-discovered, yet evidence of their existence is clear.

The so-called Treasure of the Conquistadores has left clues through Indian legends and testimony of several Mexicans who survived that last great battle of the Uintahs. From these sources, the story has been pieced together as follows:

When the snows were barely gone that fateful summer, the Utes were alarmed to hear that several of their party had encountered a large group of Mexicans riding toward the rich gold deposits of the Uintah Mountains. As a matter of precaution, several braves were selected by the Ute leaders and sent out to spy upon the intruders.

At a safe distance, the Indian patrol kept a vigilant watch as the Mexicans led their cavalcade from the south to the Green River, then up its eastern bank to a spot where it could be forded, most likely, the old Indian ford near Jensen, Utah.

The Mexicans then followed the course of the Duchesne River and past the present site of Duchesne, Utah. At some point on that river, the Mexicans veered off to the right and rode through Mountain Sheep Hollow to a place called Pigeon Water.

There they made camp for the night near a spring. Early the next morning, they loaded their pack animals and headed northwest, riding through each bend of the the un-named long and narrow mountainous canyons to the pass where perhaps one of the world's richest mines lies hidden.

There were alternate routes used by the Spaniards to arrive at this mine, but the foregoing route and the particular group of miners who used it dealt more directly with the so-called Conquistadore's Treasure.

The Mexicans began their mining operations and, after several days, caught their first glimpse of the spying Indians. The Mexicans made no attempt to capture the Utes or to harm them, and in view of this, some of the Indians eventually became friends of the miners. For a time, the Indians and the Mexicans accepted each others' company without too much fear from either side, but things soon changed.

During their peaceful co-existence, the Mexicans extracted much gold from the old mine(s) and hauled it to a prearranged spot not very far from Pigeon Water, where they smelted the ore and molded the gold and silver into bars and ornaments. The treasures were buried and watched over by a troop of armed guards until the entire caravan could safely escort the valuable hoard into Mexico late that fall. This they did without serious conflict with the Ute tribe.

However, the miners had brought with them from Mexico many brightly colored scarfs, shawls, jewelry and the like with which to befriend the often-hostile Indians. These rare treasures were in great demand by the squaws of the Ute tribe, and, because they were desired, many a squaw and young maiden went to live with the Mexican miners. At this, the braves of the tribe began driving off the Mexicans' mules and the trouble started. Friendships ceased and hatred grew.

The miners decided to leave the mines and return to Mexico until things cooled off. With their mules heavily-laden with sacks of gold nuggets, they packed their equipment and slowly started down the mountain.

At the same time, the chiefs and warriors of the tribe held a council of war. Although the Mexicans were outnumbered by the Utes four to one, the Indians left nothing to chance. They planned to ambush the entire company of Mexicans.

As the Mexicans slowly made their way down the mountain, the Indians formed a human corral throughout the rocks and trees in the bottom of the deep canyon several miles below the weary Mexicans. There they quietly awaited the kill. The ambush began shortly after dawn and by late afternoon the battle was over. The victors swarmed in on the dead and the wounded, and with knives and tomahawks scalped their victims and ravaged their equipment.

The Utes then dug a pit to bury the sacks of gold nuggets. The pit was about the size of a wagon box and about five to six feet deep. When all the gold had been placed in the pit, they ripped cedarbark from the nearby trees and covered the cache. Over this they threw rocks and dirt until the pit was filled and then they leveled the earth.

They started a fire which swept the hillside, burning grass, trees and bodies. Where the huge pine and cedar once adorned the mountainside, only sagebrush now grows. Human bones not consumed by the ravaging flames have long since crumbled away or have been carried off by coyotes or mountain lions.

Two Mexicans survived that tragic onslaught by the Ute Indians. They lived to recount to friends and relatives in Mexico their horrible experience of the massacre near the base of the mountain they called Madre de Oro. They told how they had hidden themselves from the Indians for many days, and of how, when the Indians left - they carved numerous treasure symbols upon the rock ledges and trees of the region to mark the secret location of the buried treasure.

Someday they would return to that region of many nightmares and bring home to their families that mass of wealth for which so many of their comrades paid with their lives.

In reality, only one of these men ever returned to seek the treasure. He arrived near the site during the late 1930's or early 1940's, a weak old man well over 100-years-old, with but a week-long visa from Mexico during which he could search for the treasure. His courageous attempt ultimately was in vain.

Evidence of old Spanish treasure symbols pointing to the fabulous Conquistadore's Treasure exists today in many places, carved deep upon the rock ledges and in aged trees. Several old cannons have also been discovered during the last decade near Rock Creek and adjacent to the Pigeon Water campsite of the Spaniards, once used to protect the treasure site from the Indians.

Even old cannon balls and Spanish bridlebits, smelters and the saber of the Spanish officer have been uncovered in recent years. A man named Foote made a tantalizing discovery during the 1930's while he was herding livestock in the same locality. He stumbled across the strewn and weathered bones of several Mexicans, or Spaniards, some of which still remained intact within badly rusted breast and head armor.

Certainly the evidence is there in the Uintah Mountains, particularly in the Rock Creek Canyon area adjacent to Pigeon Water. Someday a lucky soul will stumble upon it - the dream of all TH'ers. Whether it will be the buried Treasure of the Conquistadores, taken from the Madre de Oro, or treasure from one of the other rich mines which lured the Spaniards there in the first place, or the mines themselves, who knows? Someday they'll be found. And maybe by you.