Maximilian’s Treasure

There is a story told in Texas and many parts of Mexico that the puppet Emperor Maximilian, placed on the throne of Mexico by Napoleon III, early foresaw that the empire was doomed. In 1866, according to this legend, 15 heavily loaded carretas, closely covered with canvas and drawn by oxen, left Chapultepec Castle in the dead of night and headed north. This was nearly a year before the empire fell and Maximilian was captured at Queretaro and executed with the Mexican traitors, Maramon and Mejia, at Cerrode las Campanas.

The caravan was in charge of four Austrians, close friends of the emperor, and guarded by 15 peons. After several forced marches, it reached Presidio Del Norte and crossed to Texas soil. At that time the border between the United States and Mexico was the goal for many desperate men. Mexicans who had collaborated too freely with the French were fleeing to safety beyond the Rio Grande, while ex-Confederate soldiers and other Southerners, distrustful of their fate at the hands of carpet-baggers from the north, were crossing into Mexico.

At Presidio del Norte, the caravan met six ex-Confederate soldiers from Missouri, who had ridden west over the Chihuahua trail from San Antonio. The Austrian in charge of the caravan inquired anxiously concerning the condition of the road. He volunteered the information that he had a valuable cargo of flour that he must deliver in San Antonio. When informed by the Missourians that the road was strewn with the bones of animals and dead men, and that every mile of it was infested with bandits and hostile Indians, he seemed greatly disturbed. He offered to reward the Missourians handsomely if they would turnabout and help guard the caravan across the plains to San Antonio.

The Missourians, glad to avail themselves of the opportunity to replenish their rapidly dwindling funds, agreed. When the men and jaded animals had refreshed themselves the caravan pulled out from Presidio Del Norte with the six Missourians as scouts and outriders.

Everything went well for the first few days until the ex-Confederates had their curiosity aroused by the close manner in which the carts were guarded by the Austrians and peons. They were nearing the Pecos river when they decided to find out for themselves what the carts contained. They chose one of their number to make an investigation and report his findings. When the opportunity came the Missourian raised the canvas on several of the carts and was astounded to find they were loaded, not with flour, but with gold coin, gold and silver plate, and chests of jewels. The ex-Confederates decided to kill the Austrians and the 15 peons and obtain the great treasure for themselves. At Castle Gap, 15miles east of Horse Head crossing on the Pecos, the four Austrians and 15 peons were sound asleep after a hard day’s march when the Missourians fell upon them and killed them.

After a hurried consultation the Missourians decided it would be unsafe to venture out on the plains with such a large treasure and only six men guarding it. They determined to take the gold needed for their immediate expenses, bury the rest and return for it when conditions were more peaceful. They dug a deep hole in the sand and dumped in the 15 cart-loads of money, gold and silver plate and the chests of jewels. The hole was partly filled with sand and the dead bodies of the four Austrians and 15 peons thrown into it. Then the carts, harness, and canvas were piled in and the whole set on fire, so the burial resembled nothing more than a burned out camp fire. The Mexican oxen were turned loose to shift for themselves in the marshes around the lake.

With their saddle bags bulging with gold coin, the six Missourians retraced their steps toward San Antonio to seek help of friends in recovering the treasure. One became ill and dropped out, agreeing to meet the others in San Antonio when he was able to travel. When he had recovered sufficiently to travel he came upon the mutilated bodies of his friends who had been killed and robbed for their ill-gotten gold.

The massacre left the one survivor sole owner of the great treasure. His horse was jaded and he was a sick man. However, he plodded on, evading Indians and bandits until he camped, by accident, with a band of horse thieves. During the night a sheriff and posse swooped down upon them and the Missourian was thrown in jail with the horse thieves. He was seriously ill and secured the services of a doctor. The town lawyer was called in and finally secured his release from jail. But the doctor told him that his malady was incurable and that he had only a few weeks or months to live.

Before dying the Missourian made a rough map to his treasure, which was useless to him now and gave it to the lawyer and doctor. Many years later when the Indians had been rounded up and placed on reservations and the bandits were in jail or their graves, these two men took the map and went to Castle Gap to search for the treasure. The lake had gone dry and windblown sand had changed the topography of the country. It was impossible to locate any of the points called for in the map or waybill the ex-Confederate soldier had given them many long years before.

The treasure still lies in wait for the lucky adventurer who is fortunate enough to stumble upon it.

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