TREASURES OF THE ESTRELLAS
The moon over the Mountains of the Stars, and downtown Phoenix
Want gold and treasure? The Estrellas have it. In fact, mile for mile, legend by legend, the Estrellas have more lost mines and buried treasure than any place on earth, not to mention a few real, found mines and natural tresures. I have about two dozen different articles on "lost Mines" but I've given up on them. I only get more confused each time I read them.
Montezuma Head, where at least three treasures are located, not to mention real cool stuff like petroglyphs, the patio rest area, the Peralta Marker, bedrock morters, etc...
Few people realize how pervasive the lore of lost mines and buried treasure was in Arizona. Time after time we find references in early 20th century journals of "normal" folks going out looking for hidden treasure. It is a wonder that the Arizona desert isn't full of potholes from all the digging. In fact, it is on record that several of the old historic places (Maricopa Wells and some of the Jesuit mission sites) were badly damaged by idiots digging around walls for hidden gold. Even today some people take this seriously. There are dozens of books (with maps!) on hidden treasure. I remember in the early 90s while doing research at the Phoenix library, at a table next to me there was a young couple working out the exact location of the Lost Dutchman mine. And they were obviouly very serious about it.
My Dad tells of how common it was to see prospectors come into Maricopa with a string of burros, pick up some supplies and then disappear into the desert for weeks. My Grandpa would grubstake them with a couple of dollars, but the return on investment probably was about the same as the stock market in the late 20's.
In general terms, this page will cover the folowing material:
I think I got all of them. The problem is that buried treasure is a very vague subject. It's hard to get good maps and people aren't always 100% honest about what happened and where the darn gold is. After 300 years of telling and retelling, the facts (if any) in the stories are meaningless. Obviously some of the stories are the same, with different names and amounts. As far as I know, the above 9 or 10 legends make up the basic Estrella corpora on lost mines and buried treasure. I will try to put down what I know. Most of this is from memory, but it can be confirmed (kindof...) in books by Mitchell (the best!), Penfield, Voss, Rose, Lovelace, Roscoe and a dozen other authors.
- Montezuma Head treasure (The Ortega / Campoy story)
- Aztec treasure at Monetezuma Head
- Don Joaquim's Lost mine
- Estrella Gold Ledge
- Wagon Wheel Buried Pioneer Treasure
- Butterfly Peak treasure
- Lost Queen mine
- "Grill Face" prospector's cache
- Buried Outlaw loot
- Dead pedestrian buried money
Montezuma Head treasure (The Ortega / Campoy story)
The most famous of the many tall tales of the Estrella. There are two versions, one with a guy named Campoy, the other Ortega. Anyway, Mr. Campoy Ortega found a chunk of gold in the Estrellas with his Pima and/or Maricopa companion (3000 pounds, including 20 gold bars, worth about $13,000,000 at current prices.) Then because the Indians and/or US soldiers were after him, he hid it in a cave at Montezuma point (the peak just below Montezuma Head). He then killed Tonto, but was taken ill and/or died in his sleep (at Pima Butte!), not before however leaving a manuscript, telling his story, with a map, which I have unopened in my collection.
Lost Aztec treasure at Monetezuma Head
Don Joaquim's Lost mine
This is also a popular tale, and usually linked to the "Montezuma Head treasure" mentioned above. Don Joaquim, sometimes called Joaquim Campoy (sound familiar) digs a gold mine in the Estrellas, loads up a bunch of mules (15) with a bunch of gold, and heads up and over the mountains, following a path over the plateau from Montezuma Peak down towards Montezuma Head, ending at a cave in hidden box canyon in the Southern Estrellas. The really interesting thing is that this trail really exists; there is no other place in the Estrellas, except in the pass below Circus Ridge and the Northern foothills, where a trail "through" the mountains is even possible. This was in 1847, and the griungos soldiers were coming, so the old guy decided to keep quiet about his gold, made a map and decided to hang low until the dust settled. He died however, before returning to get his treasure.
Estrella Gold Ledge
This is one for the Northern part of the Estrellas, up in the foothills where the County Park is or maybe even a little more to the west near Goodyear. A Frenchman married a Pima woman, but as he was a mean old cuss, he would beat her. The lady figured out that if he had money he might be nicer to her, or at least leave her alone, so she took him to a remote place in the Northern Estrellas, that came to be known as the Estrella Gold Ledge. Well, Frenchy got rich and promptly took off do the rounds in the bars of Phoenix to spend his new found riches. It was known that when his money bag was low, he'd head off to the Estrellas and soon return with more gold. One day he and his lady disappeared, the word being that he was killed by indians and she went back to Sacaton.
Wagon Wheel Buried Pioneer Treasure
On this story I have really good info. During the gold rush (1847-49) a small wagon train was ambushed just beyond Montezuma Head at the beginning of the Jornada. Actally my Dad says the graves were still visible in the 1930s, arranged in a circle, with old wagon and wood pieces around the area. In about 1960 we went out and tried to find the site, but time had obliterated any traces of the mounds. At one time there was a paper in the Maricopa Town library by Dallas Smith, who also mentions the grave site. Now, of course, the story is that during the attack the pioneers buried about $50,000. Some accounts say that pioneers buried their gold every night, after putting the cat out I guess. I doubt that any party facing the 40 mile jornada would leave Maricopa Wells, travel 4-5 miles, and then camp. Duhhh. I don't know about the gold, butfor sure the graves are there. RIP. parts one
Butterfly Peak treasure
Lost Queen mine
This is an interesting one. A couple of years ago I got a call from some young men that had seen my name and phone number in the bottle at the Old Spanish Mine (the real lost mine!). They wanted to know if I had ever heard of the Lost Queen Mine in the Estrellas. Their father had been taken there in the 60s with friends and had seen it. It was a mine with a large stone house and stone curral next to it. I asked the gentleman if he thought it possible that it was "my" mine, given that almost 40 years had passed, and memories can be tricky. He said no, that the Lost Queen mine was different, only a short distance from the valley bottom, not way up the mountain like the Old Spanish mine. He was a pharmacist, very serious and seemingly in control of his intellect, so I believe him. There are account of another old Spanish era mine in the Estrellas, so why not? Whoever built one could have done two. As he wasn't driving he did not really pay much attention, but he thinks he was on the South and West side, possible in the area between Montezuma Peak and Head. One more mystery for the Estrellas.
"Grill Face" prospector's cache
This is a legend about an Old Timer with a drinking problem. He found a pretty good gold cache up in the mountains above Laveen, enough at least to keep him supplied with firewater. One time, while drunk, he fell over his campfire and landed with his face on the hot grill, leaving its markings burned into his face - hence the name. After a few years and a lot of cheap wiskey his liver gave out, and he took the secret location of his gold nuggets to the grave.
Buried Outlaw loot
In the 1880s the old road from Maricopa Wells to Phoenix, particularly above Gila Crossing, near the pass between the Salt River Mountains (now called South Montains) and the Estrellas, was the favorite holdup site for a group of outlaws preying on travellers. After about a half a dozen holdups in as many months, the authorities began to run them down. At least one member of the gang stated that he had buried his share "at the foot of the ridge" on the west side of the pass. He died in Florence jail without ever being freed. Oh well. Here is a clipping from the 1889 Arizona Herald about the Outlaw activity, and the reward offered for their captute.
Dead pedestrian buried money
In the saloon at Maricopa Wells, a young traveller was having a drink on a hot summer day before making his way north to Phoenix. He let it be known that he had a good sum of money in gold coin for a business venture. Somehow he missed the stage but decided to make his way on foot, insomuch as it was only a dozen or so miles and he had to be in Phoenix early next day. He didn't make it; his body was found beside the trail. All indications were that he died of thirst (remember that the Gila was no longer running, and on a hot summer day you can dehydrate and die quickly. I know). It is believed that he buried his gold to lighten his load, intending to come back later. Its out there.
There are a couple of other old legends about treasure in the area: the twins story, the two Mexicans, or two Frenchmen. Then there are a bunch of Casa Grande treasure stories, one dating back to Coronado and Marcos de Miza that tells of gold buried in the big canyon at the east end of the Salt Rivers mountains (South Mountains) near Guadalupe. Last but not least, there is also a body of documentation that state that the Lost Dutchman gold was really in the Estrellas (Seriously!). More about that later.
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