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The Lost Jesuit Gold of the Sierra Madre



by Tim Haydock



Four bells, the largest weighing 28 arrobas and 17 pounds on which where inscribed Tayopa. One bell inscribed TAYOPA. One bell inscribed REMEDIOS. Weight 11 arrobas and 10 pounds.One small bell inscribed PIEDAD. Weight 5 arrobas. These bells were cast in 1603 by the Right Reverend Father Ignacio Maria de Retana.

One high cross of carved silver from the Tayopa mine, weight 1 arroba, 15 pounds, with an attached crucifix of hammered gold from the Paramo placer.A pair of processional.candle holders and six bars of hammered silver, weighing 4 arrobas, 13 pounds from Santo Nino Mine.Four incensories of silver and gold plated, weighing 1 arroba, 3 pounds from the Cristo Mine. In a cut-stone box are stored jewellery. Box is buried in basement under room built of stone and mud, between the church and side of convent and fruit garden.

One large custody with silver bracket, weighing 1 arroba from Santo Nino Mine, with gold glimmer from placer El Paramo and four fine mounted stones from Remedios Mine.Two silver chalices from the Jesus Maria y Jose Mine, and twelve solid gold cups. Six gold plates made from the Jesus Maria y Jose Mine, and twelve solid gold cups. Six gold plates made from Cristo Mine and Purisima Mine, and two large communion plates of gold made from placer El Paramo.One shrine with four hammered silver columns weighing 4 arrobas from Senor de la Buena Muerto Mine.Sixty-five cargas [packloads] of silver packed in cow-hide bags, each containing 8 arrobas, 12 pounds. Eleven cargas of gold from four mines and placer El Paramo, each wrapped in cloth and cow-hide, with a total weight of 99 arrobas [2512 pounds].Also 183 arrobas of Castilla ore, and 65 arrobas first-class Castilla ore from El Paramo, with a know assay of 22 carats, clean and without mercury.

For the knowledge of our Vicar General, I have written this to inform our Superior. This inventory, written by a Jesuit and sealed on 17 February, 1646, was found by Henry O. Flipper, the Spanish legal expert, surveyor and historian of mines and mining, in 19121. It tallies almost exactly with another of the same date which had been in the possession of the priest of Guadalupe de Santa Ana, a tiny village in Sonora, Mexico, and which came to light in 1927. Both are headed: A true and positive description of the mining camp Real of Our Lady of Guadalupe of Tayopa, made in January 1646, by the Right Reverend Father Guardian Fray, Francisco Villegas Garsina y Orosco, Royal Vicar-General of the Royal and Distinguished Jesuit Order of Saint Ignacio of Tayopa, and Jesuit of the Great Faculty of the Province of Sonora and Biscalla, whom my God keep long years.

Both list the number of mines at or around Guadalupe de Tayopa as seventeen. For many years before these documents were found, there had been tales of a real de minas – a group of mines – at a place known only as Tayopa. This was the first time that its full name had been discovered. Now it only remained, it seemed, to identify Guadalupe de Tayopa and to sear for the treasure in the church vaults and for the mines in the mountains.

The Jesuit MinesIt may at first sight seem odd that a real de minas of such legendary richness should simply have disappeared from written history and form the face of the map. It must be remembered, however, that, although many of Mexico’s mines were owned by Jesuits, it was illegal under Spanish law for priest to own and operate mines. This law was initially passed in 1592 and reiterated in 1621 in the face of gross violation by the Jesuits. In 1703, a royal decree was passed to reproved those who were consistently breaking this law.

It was in the interests of the Jesuits, therefore, to keep their mines secret – not least because they would have wished, as at Plazuela, to avoid having to pay the Royal Fifth to their king.The first Mexican finds seem to have been made in 1600 when a rich lode of silver was discovered in Chihuahua. Sometime around 1603, according to our inventory, the mines now known collectively as Tayopa were discovered in Sonora, the westernmost province of northern Mexico, which rapidly became famous as one of the richest mining regions in the world.

Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende and Queretaro, now architectural gems on the tourist circuit, were once mining towns that owed their existence and in due course their pomp and magnificence to mineral wealth. Even today, the town of Pachuca has the largest output of silver in the word.In Frutos En Que Comercia O Puede Comerciar la Nueva Espana (Fruits In Which New Spain Trades) by Father Francisco Javier Clavijero, published in 1767, we find the following reference to ‘Projecto Sobre La Sonora’ (‘The Sonora Project’): ‘La Sonora…is the province that is the richest in gold and silver. What is said of it in the History of California is no exaggeration; that “there are mountains there that are of little less than solid silver”.’

Father Clavijero also described, however, the principal hazard of the area:These mines were first worked by various individuals, but when the Royal Council of the Indies declared that they were not mines, but treasure trove, and as such belonged to the Royal patrimony, the workers withdrew, and they were abandoned to the incursions of the barbarians. These incursions which prevent the working of extremely rich mines, which there are in the provinces of Primeria, Sonora, Tarahumana, Tepehuana and others of New Vizcaya could be avoided by the erection of various strongholds and fortresses along the frontiers with the Apaches – according to representations made to the Viceroys by various zealous missionaries of the Company [i.e. the Jesuits].

Guadalupe de TayopaSome traditions maintain that Tayopa was razed after only fourteen years in the great Apache uprising of 1646, thus dating its foundation to 1632; however it is clear from Father Clavijero’s account more than a hundred years later that the Jesuits maintained an active interest in the area.Other evidence shows that Tayopa was inhabited regularly or even continuously during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Flipper, the most dedicated and successful of Tayopa seekers, found documents referring to marriages and deaths in Tayopa in a village in Eastern Sonora. Other Tayopa records were discovered in the town of Granados. In 1927, Carl Sauer of the University of California, trapped by rain in Arizpe, Sonora, inspected a chest full of documents including marriage banns drawn up at Tayopa shortly before 1700. Various ‘miners of Tayopa’ testified in these as to the pure Spanish blood of the men and women to be married. Sauer also learned that the baptismal records of Tayopa were kept at Bacadeguachi.

‘The records that I saw established the fact that, in the seventeenth century, Tayopa was a mining camp of sufficient importance to have its own cura (priest). At the time there were probably not three other curas in what is now the state of Sonora. If it had a cura, it had a church. The church should have been built of stone; if so, remains of it should be evident today. The Apaches were very hostile towards the close of the seventeenth century; my guess is that Tayopa had to be abandoned because of them. I judge it lay somewhere between Nacori Chico and Guaynopa.’

Britton Davies, an office in the United States army, was leading troops in pursuit of Apaches in 1885 when he came to Nacori. He found there, he says, ‘a curious state of affairs. The population was three hundred and thirteen souls; but of these only fifteen were adult males. Every family had lost one or more male members at the hands of the Apaches.’ He also heard here of the lost mines of Tayopa. ‘This mine was said to have been of such wonderful richness that blocks of sliver taken from it had to be cut into several pieces so that mules could carry them to sea coast for shipment to Spain. My informant, the white-haired presidents, a man over eighty years of age, told me that his grandfather, who also had lived to be a very old man, had worked in the mine as a boy, and that it was ain a mountain range to the east of Nacori.

‘The Apaches attacked the place one day when the men were nearly all away at a fiesta in one of the river (Rio Bavispe) towns, killed everyone in the camp, destroyed the buildings, and blew up the entrance to the mine. A hundred years went by with no force in the country strong enough to conquer the Apaches, and the mine has never been found.’ The presidente’s grandfather had also stated that ‘Here in Nacori, where we stand, on a still night one could hear the dogs bark and the church bells ring in Tayopa.’ If we take the presidente’s evidence literally and assume that the word ‘grandfather’ was not, as in many tongues, a generic word for an ancestor, it is unlikely, although not impossible, that his grandfather could have been working at the mine earlier than, say, 1720.

The Gold and Silver BellWhether as a result of the Jesuit expulsion order in 1767, or as a result of Apache depredations, then, the mines at Tayopa seem to have been closed and the village itself lost by the mid-eighteenth century. Flipper, incidentally, heard of another tradition that, from Tayopa, one could hear the dogs barking in Guaynopa. This proximity of the two settlements may find confirmation in the evidence of a bell of gold and silver which was dug up near the Sonoran border in 1896, but has since been melted down. The legend inscribed upon it read, “TAYOPA, GUAYNOPA, GUAYNOPITA, SONORA. TRES MINERALES DEL MUNDO’. This as been mistranslated as ‘the three mines of the world’ and even, by optimistic implication, ‘the tree richest mines of the world’. We can find no evidence, hover, that the word ‘minerale’ has ever been used to mean ‘mine’. The legend, simply translated, means ‘three minerals of the world’ – a reference, perhaps, to gold, silver and copper. ‘Throughout history and throughout the world,’ says Alan Hughes of the Whitechapel Bell foundries, ‘Bells have been cast in bell metal, an alloy of copper and tin, because their brittleness give the bell its tone. Soft metals are totally impracticable.’ If, therefore, this bell existed, tit was not a church bell, but might, perhaps, have been a memento cast by the mines, or even a Jesuit device to disguise a large amount of precious metal. It is, at any rate, an unsatisfactory piece of evidence.

James Kirker's DiscoveryIn 1842, James Kirker, riding with a party of seventy Shawnee warriors, came to a ruined town on the western slopes of the Sierra Madre, which many have since believed to have been Tayopa. Kirker was a bounty-hunter, who made his living by collecting Apache scalps. He was pursuing a large band of Apaches who had captured some freight near Vera Cruz and killed many Mexicans.‘In wonderfully rich country,’ beside a lake some six to eight miles across, wrote Captain James Hobbs, who was riding with Kirker, ‘we found some ancient ruins, the cement walls and foundation stones of a church and a lignum vitae cross, which seemed as sound as it had ever been. We also found remains of a smelting furnace…and some drops of silver and copper. From the appearance of the ruins, it seemed as if there had been a considerable town there. The lake was the headwaters of the river Yaqui…Besides the remains of furnaces, we saw old mine shafts that had been worked, apparently long before. Specimens of gold, silver and copper ore that we took to the mint at Chihuahua were assayed and pronounced very rich.’

Whether this was Tayopa – and it may well have been – it is not likely to be the same site as that seen by Casimero Streeter just a few years later. Streeter was a ‘white Apache’, a renegade white man who lived and fought of some years with the Indians. He was on a raiding-party to the south-east of Cananea in Northern Sonora, when his fellow braves pointed to some ruins way below in a canyon and told him, ‘That is Tayopa, leave it alone. Never try to go to it.’ He could just make out a bell in the ruined church tower. He subsequently identified this spot as lying on a fork of the River Yaqui. Neither the canyon or the church bell are mentioned in Hobbs’s account of the town which he visited. It is therefore unlikely that they are the same, though both are said to be on the Yaqui, from whose headwaters, Hobbs tells us, ‘the Indian [i.e. Mayos] bring down much gold, thought they dare not venture far into the mountains for the fear of the Apaches.’

The Search for TayopaIn 1909, Henry O. Flipper, still searching for Tayopa, was living in Ocampo, when a surprising activity was noted in the area; ‘Many Jesuits came into the Sierra Madre, taking charge of churches that had for generations been abandoned and even establishing themselves where there were no churches. In one little Indian village without a church there were four Jesuit priests. The mountain natives thought theses Jesuits were after Tayopa and other lost mines or hidden treasure. Whatever they were after, the Revolution of 1910 prevented their accomplishing anything.’ In 1910 another attempt to find Tayopa was made by a mining company on the basis of a map copied some fifty years previously by the caretaker of an ancient by regrettably unnamed church in which man y Tayopa documents have been housed. This map gave clear directions to Tayopa. Following these, a party of thirty arrived at a remote and hidden valley in Yaqui country. They found traces of adobe houses and between fifteen and twenty mineshafts some eighty feet deep and full of water. The samples of ore which they took there proved rich in silver. They returned to civilization, founded a new company named Cinco de Mayo, staked their claim to the site, and were poised to sell out to some larger company which could exploit the mines properly when the Revolution also put paid to their hopes. The number of mines that they found is consistent with that in the Tayopa inventory, but we have no idea where the site lies.

In 1911, Flipper was in Spain where he discovered a paper giving directions to Tayopa. He quotes it verbatim:On the 7th day of March stand on the summit of Cerro de la Campana, near the Villa de la Concepcion, and look at the sun as it sets. It will be setting directly over Tayopa. Travel eight days from the Cerro de la Campana towards the sunset of March 7th and you will come to Tayopa.

He was able to identify Cerro de la Campana with considerable confidence as Cerro de la Minaca, a bell-shaped hill a few miles south of the town now called Guerrero, in Chihuahua. But Flipper could never avail himself of this clue: the Revolution prevented further work in Mexico, and he was sent to Venezuela. He never came back. In 1927, C. B. Ruggles, a latterday frontiersman and veteran Tayopa hunter, and the writer, J. Frank Dobie were approached at their camp in La Quiparita, a valley to the west of Chihuahua, by a man who gave his name as Custard. Custard possessed an extended version of the original inventory which included directions to Tayopa from a flat-topped mountain or mesa

Campanero. He also had an approximate and highly stylized map which placed Tayopa amidst the hills of the Sierra Madre. These documents had been copied from originals left by Father Domingo, the parish priest of Guadalupe de Santa Ana, a man who was described by an old Indian parishioner as ‘a queer man…always walking about and looking, looking.’ Custard proposed that they pool. Their skills and resources. IF they should find the lost village, Custard would take the treasure in the church crypt and Ruggles and Dobie could have the mine.

Ruggles agreed. He believed the Mesa Campanero to be an alternative name for the Sierra Obscura, a mountain which stand alongside the river Mayo.The three men spent ten days exploring the Sierra, searching for the two cerritos chapos or ‘runt’ hills which were said to form the gateway to Tayopa and the ‘two notably thick guerigo trees’ mentioned in Custard’s directions. They found nothing.

On their gloomy descent from the mountain, they stopped at the little range of an Opata rancher named Perfecto Garcia. Garcia’s brother had that day pursued a big boar. At bay, it had gored his dog and, when he attacked it with his machete it had turned and nearly slashed off his ear. Ruggles had some skill in medicine. He washed, stitched and bandaged the man’s wounds. When he had finished, in Dobie’s words, ‘Don Perfecto was in an expansive humour.

“Are you not hunting for mines?” he asked Ruggles. “Yes.”“Do you have any documents to direct you?” “Yes.”I have one also. Let me show it to you.”’

And incredibly, Garcia drew from a niche in the wall an old parchment entitled ‘Conocimento de Tayopa’ or “Recognition of Tayopa’. Ruggles and Dobie copied it eagerly. Garcia informed them that the Opatas had taken the document in a raid on a ranch owned by the Pima Indians. It read, ‘It is worthwhile to remember and never to forget that there is a famous mining camp of prodigious richness known to the ancients by the name of Tayopa. It is situated on the first flowings of the River Yaqui, on the downward slopes of the Sierra Madre, in the direction of the town of Yecora in the ancient province of Ostimuri. The smelters remain there not only with great deposits of ore of high assay but with considerable silver in bullion form, stored away just as the antiguos left it. During long years Ostimuri has been almost altogether depopulated.’ From this point onward, the partly torn parchment was unreadable except for a few disconnected words.

The searchers left immediately for Yecora, which still bore the same name. The natives had seen no strangers for two years and in their own curiosity were happy to answer Ruggles’ questions. Asked for directions to Mesa Campanero, they at once pointed to the pine-clad ridge to the west of their village.Here, on top of the mountain, the party found the ‘first flowings of the river Yacqui’ to their west. They followed Custard’s map from this point. They had already concluded that Guadalupe de Tayopa might be Guadalupe de Santa Ana, but resolved for fear of error to follow the map implicitly. It took them two weeks. Amongst others whom they met were the descendants of some Confederate soldiers who, in the aftermath of the Civil War, had turned their backs on their country. At last they found two giant trees of a variety u familiar to them. Ruggles rode ahead to Santa Ana and brought back with him an old man who at once identified them as guerigos, which Dobie later ascertained to be populus wislizeni.

The villagers show them the MinesThey followed their road down to the village, passing between two ‘runt’ hills. After initial hostility from the villagers Ruggles’ medical skills once more saved the day. He treated some fifty influenza sufferers over the next three days. Only then did they broach the subject which had brought them so far. Was Guadalupe de Santa Ana really Guadalupe de Tayopa? To their delight, the villagers, now deep in their debt, showed them the ancient circle of mines. Even the names mentioned on the map and in the inventory were still in current use. The smelters were still there too, and many told of evidently Spanish provenance.

The villagers told stories of other treasure seekers who had come to the village and had dug towards the church. It seems probable, however, that the present church, built by Father Domingo in 1888, was not on the same site as that which the Jesuits had built. Flipper at some stage in his researches had come upon a traditional document which claimed that a huge quantity of bullion was secured in a tunnel or vault 2, 281 varas (about 57 years) south of the church door. This tunnel was said to have a metal door or lock. Flipper had been sceptical of this story, but the head of the village independently confirmed it. His mother and aunt, he said, had found an iron door in the ground somewhere east of the village about fifty years before. They had never been able to guide the villagers back to it, and had been subjected to much mockery. Their story had never changed, however, and the village head knew that it must be true.

The villagers gave Ruggles and his party several old derroteros, one of which had guided an ill-fated expedition to Tayopa in 1858. A Jesuit had led the party. Only one member had survived. Those who were not killed by Indians on their way, died one way or another at their destination. The sole survivor had been hidden by an Indian girl who later married him. Ruggles and his party surveyed the mines and made estimates as to the time and money necessary to re-open them. They then, tantalizingly and mysteriously, disappear apart from Dobie who later wrote up the story of their expedition in detail. Dobie suggested that Ruggles returned to Guadalupe de Santa Ana shortly afterwards but does not record that he succeeded in extracting any of the silver ore or in finding the great Jesuit hoard.

For the Modern Prospector and Treasure Hunter. There is still much to find in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico. A prospector with his gold pan and pick and a treasure hunter with his metal detector could still do very well. If they have managed to do all there research. For it takes much more than courage to crack the secrets of Jesuit order.If you are interested in searching for Jesuit Gold. Go to the following section of the website to learn about some rare maps that will help you in your quest.

The Treasure Map Collection

The Lost Treasure of Mexico

The Buried Treasure of Cocos Island

Digging for Pirate Treasure on Roatan Island

Seekers of Gold

The lue map

The Lost Treasure of the Inca

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