Only a few men had survived to this point, and they were now racing to get out of the Rocky Mountains and past its Front Range.
They hoped that they would live to bring the story to the rest of the world of millions of dollars’ worth of gold hidden in Colorado.
In the end, only one did.
The last Western U.S. mountain with a treasure I wrote about was Kokoweef and the legend of Earl Dorr discovering a river of gold beneath it.
Treasure Mountain, however, doesn’t have a gold-filled cavern under it. Instead, it’s where a group of Frenchmen stashed gold meant for Napoleon.
Treasure Mountain Gold
In the late 1700s, Napoleon, like leaders usually do, was looking for ways to get more funding.
Stories of gold had been floating over the seas to Europe along with ships filled with the stuff. So, he ordered an expedition that left New Orleans, traveled through what would become the state of Kansas, and ended up in a place now known as Colorado.
350 men and 450 horses, what seems to me to be a small army, left New Orleans and headed west. They kept going until striking gold and mining it in the Elk Mountains.
They probably extracted about $5,000,000 in ore though one estimate puts it at $33,000,000.
Things seemed to be going well with the Native Americans in the area, but something happened.
There was a battle. The expedition chose to bury their treasure to keep it safe and high-tailed it out of there. One version of the story says that the treasure was divided and hidden in three places with one officer keeping the map.
Apparently, only 17 to 35 men got out of there and made a dash for the Front Range and the plains. But they were hunted down. They were attacked again on the Front Range. All but one were killed.
He made it back to Kansas and is said to have made two treasure maps.
Later, a fellow named William Yule claimed he had one of the maps. He headed up an expedition that looked around the south and west sides of Treasure Mountain but found nothing.
Mr. Yule did receive the consolation prize of having Yule Lakes and Yule Creek named after him. He also had a type of marble there named after him that was used in the construction of the Lincoln Memorial.
The Twisted Tale of Treasure Mountain
Treasure Mountain is one of those treasure stories that has different details depending on which story you’re hearing or reading.
For instance, you can find variations in the names involved in the story, the exact route, how many survived, which tribes were supposedly involved (Ute, Comanche, Arapahoe, or other) and other details.
Perhaps the most interesting difference is in what they were doing and how they were kicked off the mountain.
For instance, in some stories, the Frenchmen are simply on the mountain living just fine with the Native Americans until something happened and a battle began.
In another one, members of the Ute tribe supposedly got their hands on some of the gold and hid it in the area of the Grand Canyon.
But, you can find a more intricate story. For example, in this account, the Spanish governor sent men to follow the French. The expedition lost men or was slowed by debilitation from sickness, from altitude sickness (around 10,000 feet), mercury poisoning (used in gold refining), animal attacks and exposure.
Seeing that Napoleon’s people were taking gold out of the ground, the Spanish appealed to several tribes with whom they had established a good rapport to get rid of them. In this version of the tale, the Native Americans began by stealing pack animals and supplies, and this escalated into several fights. The remaining French chose to pack up what they could and head downhill to the Arkansas River.
Along with other items, they loaded 40 lb. ingots of gold, moved them a short distance under the cover of darkness,
They fought a running battle for about 100 miles, ending up with only a few Frenchmen at the Arkansas River and only one to five, depending on the story, making it back with treasure maps.
Enticed by Treasure
Like most major treasure stories, the event is followed by others trying to profit from this misfortune.
Another French expedition to find the treasure entered the region. In this story, they stopped in Taos, New Mexico, picked up a guide, went to the area of Treasure Mountain, and only the guide returned to Taos three years later.
He claimed the group had been massacred by Native Americans, but the locals didn’t believe him and tried him for murder. In the end, he was acquitted.
Two cowboys were lost in a snowstorm in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado in the 1800s. When they found shelter in a cave, they found a cache of Napoleon’s gold. Each of them took a bar, and eventually ended up in an assayer’s office. Like Earl Dorr, they spent the rest of their lives looking for it.
Many people still try to take the elusive cache of wealth from Treasure Mountain.
For most, it’s just a good excuse to get up in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado and enjoy themselves. But, there are some who still take it very seriously.
One family, for instance, claims to be the direct descendants of the sole survivor. And, they say they have a treasure map.
They looked for eight landmarks for years and say they found seven of the eight. Then, in 1993, they claim to have stumbled onto something.
One of them was hunting elk when he spotted a three-foot hole in the ground and, after removing underbrush and some rocks, he entered a 20-foot-long tunnel that was blocked at the end. Supposedly, the eighth clue that the family knew from the map was on the wall.
He rushed to town, gathered many family members, and went back to dig it out. They went in 12 feet and claim to have found a large boulder that was rolled into place. The sun was setting, and the family took a break at the entrance.
Then, they describe a series of eerie events including a large rattlesnake, bats, candles going out, and the finale of a giant, dive-bombing owl chasing them away.
Okay, I’ve heard stories similar to this that were the products of excited imagination or a need to explain why someone came back empty handed. Plus, since all the stories talk of the French beating a hasty retreat, I’m not sure how a 32+ foot tunnel was dug.
On the other hand, I’ve seen a few strange things, too, so I won’t be the first to point a finger.
Nobody has found the gold yet. Part of the problem might be sifting through the differing variations on the tale – I’ve only presented some main points here.
Though there are many tales, the basics seem to stay the same in all the variants: the French went to Treasure Mountain, got gold, and lost it along with nearly all of their lives.
So, if you’re hiking the trails in that part of Colorado someday, it might be worth taking a moment to check out the glint under that rock.
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