During the 18th century there were hundreds of pack trains carrying gold and silver bullion from the Spanish mines in southern Colorado to Mexico City. Enslaved Indians worked in the mines that produced rich ore destined for the treasury of Spain.
Millions of dollars worth of gold and silver was hauled to Mexico City, but the most interesting stories are those of pack trains that never reached their destination. To this day there are cargoes of gold and silver ingots lost at some location along the route that have never been found.
One disaster that was documented, involved a mule train carrying hundreds of silver ingots from a mine in Durango. It was when the train reached the lava beds of west-central New Mexico that the multi-million dollar treasure was buried and the drivers and their military escort was attacked and slain by Indians.
As the story goes, it was in the year 1770 that the military captain, who was given command of the mule train carrying the silver to Mexico City, started to feel uneasy.
His concern grew as he guided the team into a passage way called the Narrows, which was the start of a route that led through a hazardous maze in the lava beds. It was so narrow that the riders could touch the basaltic walls on both sides giving the travelers an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia. In addition to this, they were exhausted from weeks of travelling in difficult weather conditions of heavy rains, floods, and severe sand storms.
Even the mules grew jumpy as the team traversed the narrow passageway and, as soon as the pack train streamed out of the Narrows into a lush grassy meadow bathed in sparkling sunshine the captain ordered a halt. He ordered the herders to unpack the mules, stash the silver under an overhanging rock, and turn the animals loose to graze while they rested and ate lunch.
While lunch preparations were being made, one of the soldiers lifted his canteen to his mouth to drink and spotted at least two dozen Indians blocking the entrance to the passage way they would have to take to continue their journey.
After a two-hour standoff the Indians attacked by firing a round of arrows wounding two members of the team. The soldiers returned the attack killing several Indians. A decision was made by the captain to retreat deeper into the overhang when more Indians appeared on a basalt rim above the grassy meadow there was no choice to retreat further into the overhang. They were trapped.
By the fourth day they were starting to run out of food, they were left with no choice but to try to fight their way out of a grim situation. The captain issued the order to bury the silver in a long narrow trench at the rear of the overhang.
The following morning just before sunrise the team attempted to fight their way out only to be slaughtered by the Indians who took their horses and mules leaving the treasure that lay buried under a few inches of soil.
During the 1930s a young Indian arrived at the York Point ranch in New Mexico and requested directions to the lava beds, specifically the entrance called the Narrows. The rancher enquired as to why he wanted the directions and was shown an old map that apparently marked the location of a treasure of silver buried in a grassy meadow within the lava beds.
According to a story handed down through the generations the Spanish officer had drawn a map showing the location of the silver just before he led his me into the final battle. One of the tribe searching the bodies had found the map, which remained in his family for several generations.
With the help of some ranch hands the Indian searched for several days and found nothing. They had missed the picture of a snake scratched into the wall at the back of the rock shelter.
In 1992, two men arrived in Albuquerque to sell rattlesnake venom to a dealer who in turn sold for research. The two said that they had found their search for rattlesnakes had taken them to the lava beds of west-central New Mexico where they found a large number of rattlesnakes. They knew that their trip would yield plenty of snakes when they found the image of a coiled snake scratched into the wall of a remote rock shelter.
Two years later the dealer was conversing with a friend who was familiar with the story of the lost Spanish treasure and tried to contact the snake hunters without success. Their contact information was no longer valid.
In recent years at least three expeditions have searched the area and none have been successful.