The Gospel Truth (Conclusion)

Tall tales abound when it comes to treasure hunting and gold mining. I've been involved with both for 40 years now (although mining now takes precedence in my life) and I've heard a lot itting around campfires in my day...some of it true but most of it a kernel of truth coated with many layers of desert varnish, wishful thinking, and liberal does of highfalutin' bullshit.

All Sorts of Stories

I could go on and on here presenting you with myth after myth about how certain gold and silver strikes came about, both here in the United States and other countries as well. Invariably the stories behind these finds tend to have a common theme...a stray burrow or mule wanders off and leads his prospecting owner straight to a rich ledge of gold or silver. Or a shepherd chases a stray goat or lamb up a hillside and finds nuggets of pure gold scattered about. Then there are those tales about rich strikes brought about by the earth-removing abilities of ants, gophers, badgers, prairie dogs, etc. These sorts of stories go on and on and on in endless variations and they also form the basis for many treasure tales as well. I mentioned in my previous post the tale of how the fabulously rich San Luis Potosi silver mine was found in Bolivia. I also mentioned how a big gold strike not far from where I now live had a similar story at its core. So here's a comparison tale for you about the finding of that gold.

(It's all in the finding...)

A Long Tradition

But first allow me to digress a bit historically once more. The main impetus for the Spanish entering the New World in the late 15th and 16th centuries was gold, silver, and any other sort of treasure they could get their hands on and claim for the king or queen of Spain. As I've mentioned elsewhere in Bedrock Dreams, early Spanish expeditions into what is now the United States were primarily based on finding chimeras or "will-o'-the-wisps" like the fabled Lost Cities of Gold, Cibola and Gran Quivira. These supposed lost cities were, of course, golden dreams that were based on myth and even hearsay evidence. Fast forward to New Mexico in 1828. The Spanish had already been here for nearly 300 years at this point and New Mexico had been a Spanish colony and was now part of Mexico. There is a long tradition of both placer gold and lode silver and gold mining in both Spain and Mexico so it seems logical to believe that at least some experienced miners were in Northern New Mexico long before rich placer gold ground was found in 1828 a scant 30-40 miles south of the Governor's Palace in downtown Santa Fe. This dry placer discovery (now known as the Old Placers) took place in the Ortiz Mountains and happened a good 20 years before gold was discovered in the California Motherlode Region. The following year rich dry placer ground was discovered on the other side of the Ortiz Mountains near what is now the small village of Golden. So here's where I get to scratching my head. All that placer (and eventually lode gold) sitting there silently not very far from early Spanish and Mexican settlements for hundreds of years and neither the Spanish nor the Mexicans had a line on it? Even with their long-held traditions of gold and silver mining?! Perhaps one of you amateur historians out there can clue me in on how this apparent precious metals "ignorance" came about because it remains a mystery to me.

 (This is what the Spanish thought was out there.)

(This was where they walked right past it...Ortiz Mountains.)

It's All in the Comparison

But the real message here is again, making a comparison between how Bolivia's San Luis Potosi silver mine was discovered and how the Old Placers south of Santa Fe were discovered. From a purely historical standpoint I've never come across information stating with exact certainty how gold was discovered at the Old Placers nor do I have a specific person (or persons) to attribute that find to. So I'm open to being informed of the same. Anyway, the legend or myth of the Old Placers gold find goes something like this:

A Spanish shepherd named Juan (or Juanito) was in the employ of the Ortiz family who owned or was ceded by Spanish land grant the area encompassing the Ortiz Mountains...or at least the north, northeast facing slopes and areas below them. One day while Juan was tending sheep there one of those critters bolted and made a run for it upslope with Juan in hot pursuit. At one point Juan got winded from the both the chase and the altitude (9,000 feet or so) and sat down to catch his breath. While resting his eye was caught by a nearby rock that glowed golden in the sunlight. Curious, Juan reached over and picked it up. As legend (or the myth of the find) has it, what Juan picked up was a large placer nugget. Not long after the first gold rush in the West was on. Now compare this tall tale of finding gold in the Old Placers to the legend of how gold was found at the San Luis Potosi mine. Once again, marked similarities if not an exact duplicate.

(Best follow that wanderer.)

Think Twice

OK, do I discount all these tales or stories? No, for two reasons: 1) There's always at least one element of truth in their telling, and 2) numerous (and very rich) precious metals strikes were evident in the locations mentioned. It's the finding of those deposits that's suspect. That's all I'm getting at here. So the next time you see one of those YouTube videos of certain "miners" or mining companies consistently pulling nuggets out of tiny creeks, finding vein after vein of "rich ore," and so on, you might want to pull back on the reins a bit. Some of these dudes are creating their own tall tales, stories, and myths and legends...albeit on a much smaller scale. So think twice before you send your folding green to their Patreon profile or you click that PayPal button. If you're gonna throw around a few bucks out there, why not support this site with a small donation? That way you can rest assured you won't get any tall-tale smoke blown up your ass.

I'm just sayin'...

(c) Jim Rocha 2018

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Well Jim I was going to send you a few bucks last month and I got to spending a lot on equipment I will maybe need for mining this summer.
    I ran short after I spaced out sending you a few bucks. I live month to month on S.S. so it's easy to run short.
    I just checked my balance and I got $18.01 on my card until the third of August.
    I promise you that I will send you some support the first week of August! At least $20 bucks.
    Have a wonderful day buddy and thank you for another interesting installment of New Mexico history.

    1. No worries my friend...and, you're welcome.

  2. There are a LOT of "Lucky Prospectors" on You Tube! What is wrong with the rest of us? All you have to do is pick up a rock, any rock and the other side is pure gold! Ha!
    I have a book like this about lost treasures of fact, I think that might be the tittle.. Anyway, full of tales about rich gold strikes, that couldn't be found again, or maybe the guy got killed. Hold ups where the bandits were captured but the gold wasn't found (Wrong guy or maybe the posse struck it rich? Maybe just plain lies?) . I view it as entertainment. Places not too far away that I can go to I may not have been to before. Fun to read and keep an eye ball peeled for, but not to take seriously. There are real things out there to find.
    Years ago, I had a saddle shop of my own. One day an old man came in and after talking awhile, said he had been chasing cattle horseback and saw the barrel of an old octagon rifle sticking straight up out of the ground. There had been an Old West payroll robbery in the area long ago. Most was recovered, but not all, or so the story go's. After gathering in the cattle, he went back but couldn't find it again...I would have said the hell with those cows, you CAN find them again! A rifle sliding out of a saddle scabbard would be flat on the ground, so either it was marking something, or it was a piece of sucker rod and not a rifle at all.......or maybe he just thought I was a sucker. True? Tall tale? Who knows?

    1. Well, tall tales or not Gary these stories enrich our lives by keeping dreams alive. Plus, they're fun to read or listen to.

  3. Ya gotta remember JR, that truth is USUALLY stranger than fiction! Most true adventures won't sell as books because people won't believe them! Remember when Mel Fisher found the Atocha? It was only TWENTY TWO feet under water. Several divers living nearby said the had beeen AT THE WRECK several times, but never searched for ANYTHING, believing it was at best an old fishing boat! Adter all, you CAN'T FIND TREASURE IN 22 FEET OF WATER WHERE YOU SWIM ALL THE TIME! Can you? They never even considered it. And look what THAT disbelief cost! PA

    1. You got this right Paul. But Mel Fisher was the iron rod of persistence. He NEVER gave up, shallow water or not. But I'd hate to be one of those folks who bypassed the Atocha...what a treasure trove!


Post a Comment