Few things fire the imagination more than the words “buried treasure” do; men have spent lifetimes and fortunes in the pursuit of what saner individuals call quixotic endeavors; yet, those same sane individuals, when their minds wander into the unguarded twilight zone between fantasy and reality, also drift into dreams of riches, adventure and danger -for there is danger and more than one would-be treasure hunter has met an untimely death.
Whether we admit it or not, there is a part of us that craves the thrill of the unknown and the lure of adventure, partly because for hundreds of thousand of years we were hunters, in constant search of prey; some few thousand years ago, we became sedentary creatures and for the last 100 years or so, our lives have become as predictable as the calendar -and as boring.
The following are stories and legends of buried treasures. From time to time, I will post additional entries as they are brought to my attention by my research staff, which unfortunately consists of only the trinitarian me, myself and I.
Are There 17 Tons of Gold Buried in New Mexico? Leon Trabuco’s Gold
On April 15, 1933 or 1934, a meeting was held in the resort city of Cuernavaca, Mexico, to discuss a plan authored by Professor Guzman Morada, economics counsel of the University of Mexico. Present at the meeting were Leon Trabuco, rancher and large scale miner from Chihuahua, Mexico; Ricardo Artega, wealthy rancher from Torreon, Mexico; Carlos Sepulveda, rancher from Chihuahua and last, but not least, Rafael Borega, international banker for Spain and Mexico. It was he who had called the meeting.
Professor Morada’s plan was simple. Because of his connections in the United States, he was sure that the U.S. was getting ready to set the price of gold at least $10.00 above the then current price of $20.67 per ounce; if the group gathered enough gold in Mexico, transported it across the border and waited until the price rose, they stood to make a handsome profit indeed. He had forecast a price as high as $40 per ounce.
The only hitch was that Mexican laws forbade the exportation of gold and likewise, US laws frowned heavily on gold smuggling, but Professor Morada had designed plans to deal with these difficulties.
Leon Trabuco contributed an estimated 12 tons, some 350,000 troy ounces, combined with Ricardo Artega’s gold. In addition, Artega and Carlos Sepulveda provided millions of pesos, in dollar form, to Rafael Borega to purchase more gold from small Mexican private miners who sold gold for cash and in this manner, they accumulated 5 more tons. The group melted the gold and recast it in ingots.
Trabuco, who had become the leader of the enterprise, and his associates, chose the area near Farmington, New Mexico, in the Four Corners region as far enough from prying eyes and set to work locating a secluded ranch and a landing strip. He contacted a crop dusting pilot from Utah named William C Elliot (in other versions of the story the pilot’s name is given as Red Moiser) Elliot had a Stearman crop duster equipped with a 440 hp engine and extra fuel tanks for long runs. He met Trabuco at a small landing strip near Kirtland, half way between Shiprock City and Farmington and agreed to fly the gold. He could only carry 1,500 lbs at a time and he is said to have made 10 flights, landing on a small airstrip a few miles northwest of the town of Shiprock. The strip was adjacent to the mesa where Trabuco had decided the gold was to be buried. The gold was transfered from the plane onto a pick up truck; according to Elliot, he saw the truck going up a narrow dirt road toward the top of the mesa. In one instance, after takeoff and while circling to gain altitude, he made a pass close to the mesa and saw where the gold was being buried.
Six months after the final flight, the Gold Reserve Act of 1934 became law; the price of gold soared but the group decided to wait hoping it would go higher; instead, FDR’s Executive Order 6102 made the ownership of gold illegal. The group owned 17 tons of dead weight.
One by one the partners died of different causes; Borega died in his Mexico office in 1939, Carlos Sepulveda was killed in a car crash outside of Monterrey in 1940 and Bill Elliot, who had enlisted in the Air Force when the war started, was killed in action over Germany in 1944. At the end, only Trabuco was left.
Up to now, the story contains all the classic elements of lost treasure stories: secretive burials, death of all involved, except one lone survivor and no treasure map; however, this one has unexpected twists. Trabuco tried to sell the gold to private buyers but they were all weary of the Gold Act and would have nothing to do with it. In 1946, the Treasury Department opened an investigation. Trabuco hired an attorney to represent him; the Treasury Dept called in the Justice Dept which made a determination that Trabuco and his partners had violated the Gold Act plus US smuggling laws; however, if he came forward and revealed the hiding place and allowed the US Government to recover the gold, he could then sue for rightful ownership and take his chances in Federal Court. Trabuco, being no fool, declined and did not cross the US border. In 1952, the Justice Department turned the case over to the Federal Grand Jury in Los Angeles.
Trabuco sold his mines and ranches in Chihuahua and departed to Spain. In 1962 he visited Mexico City, called his lawyer in Los Angeles and returned to Spain. Inquiries were made in 1974 by his attorneys in Los Angeles to the US Treasury and Justice Departments; the outcomes were not made public and no more has been heard of him. In 1974 he might have been 86 years old. As far as anyone can tell, the gold is still buried on top of a mesa in New Mexico.
Ed Foster, of Farmington, has spent 35 years of his life searching for Trabuco’s gold in the desert around Farmington. He thinks he has found the landing strip on a plateau called Conger Mesa. He interviewed a Ute lady who, as a child, had seen planes landing many times and another who remembered seeing several Mexican men living in the reservation when she was six years old.
20 miles west of the mesa stands a Mexican style house, with windows, a front door and a back door. Ed also found a stone outcropping with some words etched on it, reading “1933 16 ton”. He calls it Shrine Rock and is sure that the gold is buried somewhere within the triangle formed by Conger Mesa, Shrine Rock and the Mexican style house. The problem is that 16 or 17 tons of gold (the amount varies) do not take up much space. In ingot form, 17 tons only occupy some 29 cubic feet.
The only statement that anyone can remember Trabuco making was “The gold is only a few miles from a major New Mexico land mark”
W. C. Jameson “The Silver Madonna and other Tales of America’s Greatest Treasures” Taylor Trade Publishing, Copyright 2003 by W.C. Jameson
W.C. Jameson “New Mexico Treasure Tales” Caxton Press, Coldwell, Idaho, 2003
Ken Hudnall “Spirits of the Border: The History and Mystery of New Mexico” Omega Press, 2005
“The Four Corners Story” History and Research
If nothing else, the above mentioned sources make great reading.