Pecos Gold


The Northern New Mexico Village of Pecos lies a scant 15 miles or so from my home here on the llano south and east of Santa Fe, the state's capitol. The Pecos River flows down from the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Mountains past Monastery Lake and the village bearing its name as it eventually winds its way through Texas and into the Rio Grande. The Pecos region in New Mexico is a very popular area for trout fishing, camping, and hiking but precious metals were once mined here as well.

"Cities of Gold"

Long before the Spanish conquistadores and colonistas made their way north into the Pecos region from Old Mexico, Pueblo Indians made this area their home. The last vestige of their pre-and post-Spanish culture in the area can now be seen at Pecos National Monument, which I recommend you visit if you ever get up this way. Coronado himself once camped at Pecos (he called it "Cicuye" at the time) on his fruitless search in the 1540s for gold and other great wealth in an arduous and dangerous expedition that took him and his party from Mexico into what is now New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and back again. Although areas of abundant mineral wealth (including gold) lay along Coronado's route through New Mexico, he and the rest of the members of his expedition failed to see it simply because they were so blindly focused on finding the mythical "Cities of Gold," Cibola and Gran Quivira. It's said the the great American Indian tribes of the Southern and Great Plains had never seen a horse until Coronado and the Spanish ventured into their territory. But once they gained access to and familiarity with this four-legged beast, those very same Indian nations became such skilled horsemen they put even the Spanish to shame...no small feat, I might add.

 (Pecos National Monument

(Francisco Vasquez de Coronado.)

(Coronado's route, 1541-1542.)
What Goes Around...

By 1620 Catholic priests from Spain had forced many of the Pueblo Indians in the Pecos region to renounce their pagan ways and become "civilized," which meant many things, not the least of which was providing free (slave?) labor to build a church at Pecos. Remnants of this very old church can still be seen at Pecos National Monument, by the way. Despite their inherent courage as evidenced by their early expeditions into the New World, it's no exaggeration to say that the Spanish often treated indigenous tribes in a violent and repressive manner here in the Southwest, in Old Mexico, and in Central and South America. What goes around can come around though. In 1680 the Pueblo Indians of Northern New Mexico revolted against the Spanish and went on a retaliatory rampage, burning Spanish settlements and churches (including Pecos) and killing Spanish settlers, priests, and soldiers. The Pueblos did such a good job of "ousting" the Spanish here that it wasn't until 1692 that the Pueblo Revolt (as it is called) was finally put down by Diego DeVargas and the Spanish were able to return to Northern New Mexico. Living here, I often wonder about these things...on one hand there is a DeVargas Shopping Mall in Santa Fe and 16 miles north of town the Pueblo Indians run a casino called "Cities of Gold." A sardonic and thinly veiled slap at Coronado? Or simply a name conjured from the distant past? Either way, the memories of the Pueblo tribes here (Tiwa, Tewa, Towa, and so on) reach far back into history when it comes to the Spanish. Ditto for the Hispanics here who can trace their ancestry straight back to Spain and Portugal (of which I am one, by the way...albeit half-blooded or mitad sangre).

 (Native Americans from San Idelfonso Pueblo.)

Never Known as a Big Gold Producer

Anyway, so much for your history lesson, although such things are always good to know. Now back to the Pecos River and the possibility of finding placer gold in it. Opinions are varied concerning precious metals upstream from Pecos Village and I have to say that some of them are outright fantasies. I recently read one out-of-state source alluding to the fact that nearly 150,000 troy ounces of gold were taken from the Pecos River and that, my friends, is patently false. I think this particular source got their Midwestern wires crossed and was thinking of the Old Placer District (25 miles or so from my front door) in the Ortiz Mountains south of Santa Fe. Ostensibly, there are no historical production records for placer gold mined along or in the Pecos River per se. What is known, however, is that for many years a copper lode mine mine was worked near Terrero, about 12-14 miles or so upstream from Pecos Village where Willow Creek and the Pecos River join together. As most of you know gold is often a smaller byproduct of copper and even silver mining, but any gold recovered at this old mine site was nowhere near 150,000 ounces. Nor has the Pecos River itself (even near Willow Creek) ever been known as good placer or lode gold ground. However, some placer gold has been recovered (even dating back to the days of the early Spanish colonists) from the upper reaches of the Pecos and Willow Creek. So color does exist there. I've made only one foray up to the Willow Creek area which is within National Forest jurisdiction and I found little in the way of gold there, although I really didn't put the full measure of my prospecting abilities to the task at the time. I don't know exactly why I've never returned to this area to get at things a little more deeply, especially since I live so close by. I think I was too heavily involved with work, family, and spending my gold mining hours prowling the Old Placer District at the time. The doors to the Old Placers and their large remnants of dry placer gold are now closed due to private property issues, so perhaps it's time to check out Willow Creek once again. Quien sabe?

 (Pecos River.)

"La Mina Perdida"

For you treasure hunting enthusiasts out there you might like to know about a persistent treasure legend involving the upper reaches of the Pecos River. Yep, it's another one of those lost mine legends called "La Mina Perdida" in Spanish. And if you no habla Espanol the translation of that mine name is...of all things..."The Lost Mine!" Go figure, right? According to local legend the mine was worked when the Spanish first settled in the Pecos area after Coronado had ridden off into the sunset seeking his fabled "Cities of Gold." Much of the golden wealth taken from "La Mina Perdida" was supposedly carried by the Spanish and their "helpers" downstream along the Pecos River for shipment back to Mexico which was a Spanish colony at the time. Fast forward into the 1930s when western and Texas legends writer J. Frank Dobie interviewed a Pecos local named Jose Vaca who told Dobie about finding a very old water flume and anvil deep up Pecos Canyon while deer hunting with his father. In Jose's view, these items were proof that "La Mina Perdida" exists. Now the question that first must be asked is this: is the lost mine simply a mis-identification of the lode copper mine worked centuries later near Terrero? Not likely, for two reasons. The "La Mina Perdida" legend goes wayyyyy back in time, long before mining operations began at the confluence of Willow Creek and the Pecos River. Secondly, the lost mine is said to be in the most remote, upper reaches of the Pecos Canyon as Jose pointed out in his statements to Dobie. I'm not much on chasing chimeras myself, but remember this...every treasure legend contains an element of truth. But the problem is always finding out exactly what that element of truth is...

 (J. Frank  Dobie cooling his heels.)


My best to all of you.

(c) Jim Rocha 2018

Questions? E-mail me at jr872vt90@yahoo.com

Comments

  1. Very interesting tale about some really pretty country.
    I've been to Albuquerque and Santa Fe many years ago while visiting cousins.
    Unfortunately we never got off the beaten path to check out those hidden gems.
    Pecos looks like a heck of a nice little town. I love that kind of country.
    Thank you for taking the time to tell us a little bit about it.

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    1. \You're more than welcome Don and thanks for commenting.

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  2. Great history lesson Thanks, Bob

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  3. J.R.
    I ran a small suction dredge and panned in Willow creek at Terrero in the 70's. I don't remember finding enough color to warrant my going back. However, I did return to do some fly fishing. Rattlesnake jim

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    1. Jim that was exactly my take on Willow Creek the one time I prospected it. Nada y nada in terms of real color. Great place to camp or fish though, as you rightly point out.

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