Lost Wells Fargo Gold

Sometime between the years 1870 and 1893, a Wells-Fargo express stage was making its regular run from Virginia City, Nevada, to the state capital, Carson City, where a branch of the United States Mint was in operation. The trail it followed was one etched across the desert by wheels of emigrant wagons, traders and freighters. Deeply rutted, filled with rocks and potholes and covered with thick alkali dust, it was the only route between the two towns.

The regular driver was accompanied by an express messenger, for this was a special trip. The strongbox that lay on the seat between the two men held more than three hundred pounds of gold bullion, valued at about $60,000 and destined for the mint. Both men were alert and watchful. The driver handled the six horses skillfully over the rough road, and the guard, his rifle resting across his knees, kept a sharp eye out for Indians and bandits.

Stage robbery in Nevada in the late 1800’s was a recognized occupation. The Wells Fargo Company controlled all the express business in the territory with undisputed firmness. So high were their tariffs that in the opinion of some of the miners their operations themselves fell just short of highway robbery. To many, a stage robbery was merely a case of robbers stealing from thieves.

Crossing the Carson River, the stage with its precious cargo left old Empire City behind, and off a few miles to the west the driver and guard could see their destination. The guard relaxed his long vigil, and began thinking of that evening when their jobs were completed and they were free to search out the entertainments of the town. The bright lights of the dance-halls, saloons, and theaters beckoned gaily in the minds of the two men.

While they were thus happily preoccupied, four armed men sprang out from behind the tall sage brush. Brakes screeched as the stage came to a sudden, jolting stop. One man stepped forward and seized the bridles of the lead team, while another held at gunpoint the helpless driver and guard. The two other bandits lifted the heavy strongbox from the seat. Then the two frightened men were motioned on their way, unharmed.

Soon they were in Carson City, excitedly telling the news of the hold-up to a rapidly gathering crowd. A posse was quickly assembled and galloped out across the desert to the place where the robbery had happened. The trail of the bandits, who were on foot, was picked up immediately and off rushed the posse in hot pursuit. They soon sighted the escaping men and in a blazing gunfight, three of the hold-up men went down. The fourth, a Mexican, was captured alive and was brought back to Carson City.

It was impossible for four men on foot to carry three hundred pounds of gold bullion very far. Before the posse had caught up with them, they had buried their treasure, planning to return for it later. No amount of threats, bribes or other means of persuasion could make the one remaining hold-up man tell where the gold was buried. The Mexican was given a quick trial in the court at Carson City and was sentenced to 20 years in the Nevada State Prison. The records of the prison in those days were very sketchy affairs, written completely in longhand. They listed only the name, type of crime, the possessions on the prisoner at the time of his arrest and any identifying marks. One robbery by a Mexican in Ormsby County (the location of the crime) in the year 1885 was recorded, but the lack of detail makes it impossible to say whether this was the same crime.

The prisoner languished for years while the Wells-Fargo Company sent representative after representative to interview him in the hope that he might reveal where the gold was buried. After eight years of his sentence had been served, the old Mexican contracted tuberculosis. A sympathetic governor, at the urging of the Wells Fargo Company, gave him a complete pardon. The Wells-Fargo agents hoped that the old fellow were might inadvertently lead them to where the treasure was buried. Detectives were assigned to watch his movements at a discreet distance. To everybody’s disappointment, the ex-convict showed no interest whatsoever in returning to retrieve the gold. Instead, he became a pitiful sight on the streets of Carson City. He was emaciated almost to the point of helplessness. At last a kindly old Dutchman offered him a job cleaning up his butcher shop, and a bedroom in his own home.

The old butcher and his son found themselves more and more intrigued with the old Mexican’s stories. With access to sudden wealth laying right there under their own roof, they begged and pleaded with the old man to let them in on his secret. They offered so many inducements that finally the Mexican’s last resistance broke down and he set a special date to take the butcher and his son out to dig up the gold. But before they got the chance, the old man was seized with a hemorrhage and died.

For many years, the butcher and his son searched for the gold, but they never found it. One of the guards from the state prison hunted for it every off-duty moment, but he, too, failed. Through the years many other people have sought the treasure, some using metal detectors and divining rods. The robbery took place between the Carson River and a low swampy spot near the state prison, in an area of approximately one square mile. Many of the rocks in this location have high iron contents, and it is possible that a metal detector could not give the proper reaction.

The snows of winter cover the ground around Carson City with a protective blanket, but the furious gales of spring and autumn can befriend or foe of those who seek the treasure. They can pile it high with sand, or lay it bare. Searchers have undoubtedly walked over the shallow, hurriedly-dug hole filled with gold bullion many times. But the gold is still there, some where in the strip of desert that lies to the northeast of the prison, waiting for some lucky person to come along and find it. At today’s prices, the treasure is worth an astonishing $6,644,448!

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