Many folktales, ballads and legends throughout Mexico tell of bandits amassing fortunes and hiding away their treasures. Some of these stories may not be tall tales at all. Following are three intriguing yarns of Mexican bandidos and their hidden loot.
- The Treasure of Agua Zarca
Near the town of Otzoloapan, in the Valle de Bravo in the state of México, there is a ravine that descends from the rancho at Agua Zarca. Old stories tell of a party of thieves and a mule train in colonial times. Over a period of a few weeks, the bandits had stolen gold, silver and jewels from the wealthy haciendas and fine homes in and around the town of Temascaltepec. News of the mule train loaded with stolen valuables made it to the local authorities and soon the Law was hot on the trail of the thieves. The bandits, finding themselves lost, decided to unload the mules and threw the heavy sacks into a cave in that ravine. They covered the cave’s entrance with dirt and rocks, hoping one day they might return there to unearth the treasure. The bandits fled but the soldiers who were pursuing them overtook them and killed them all in a gun battle. When the dust settled, the lawmen realized that the robbers had no stolen goods on them. The soldiers reasoned that the bandits could have only hidden the vast treasure in the ravine that descends from Agua Zarca. The suspected hiding place was thoroughly searched, but it was all in vain, because the gold, silver, diamonds and other jewels were never found.
Many years passed since that event, but the story of the hidden loot persisted. In 1880, three local men – Antonio Sánchez, Juan Hernández and Rafael Flores – were convinced that the legendary bandits’ treasure was hidden in the ravine that descends from Agua Zarca. They were determined to find it at all costs. The three invited their friend Primo Castillo to accompany them. After weeks of preparation, they headed to the ravine and they began digging. After digging a few pits, they heard hollow groans coming out of the ground. They were first heard by Primo Castillo, who screamed in terror. All four treasure hunters took flight. Twice more they went back to the ravine and both times heard the horrible moans that prevented them from continuing their work. They soon believed that the devil himself was in possession of the riches they were looking for and would not allow them to remove the loot. On one occasion, Antonio Sánchez carried a blessed rosary and hung it around his neck, believing that with that holy object the devil would let them work, but that was not to be. A man unexpectedly appeared and approached Antonio. This stranger reached out to him and he greeted Antonio by saying “good afternoon.” When he spoke those words, he snatched the rosary from Antonio’s neck and disappeared into the middle of the ravine. Such a strange event puzzled the treasure hunters and made them flee once again. Once more, they returned to the ravine to continue their digging and again their work was interrupted. This time a monkey in a top hat appeared and approached them, laughing out loud. They firmly believed that it was the devil, and Antonio Sánchez, who was the most pious of all, prayed the Magnificat. The monkey disappeared, but frightened by those mysterious and supernatural signs, the four young men never returned to search for the treasure of Agua Zarca.
- The Two Gold Bandits and Their Spirits
In colonial Chihuahua, sometime in the early 1700s two Spaniards, who were excellent prospectors in their own right, stole 300 kilos of pure gold from a wealthy miner who had a neighboring claim in the high sierras. They decided to hide the gold in the middle of a large hill under a boulder. When trying to return to Chihuahua City, the two bandits saw someone heading toward them, so they returned to the top of the hill. From that vantage point they realized that the wealthy miner had a patrol sent to apprehend them and the missing loot. Out of desperation they decided to go down the rugged side of the hill and everything was going well until a large stone fell off, causing the thieves to slip and fall into a very deep natural pit. The miner’s search team encircled the hill, but they never found the bodies of the men or the missing gold. To this day they say that the spirits of these men protect all the thieves who take refuge in the hill. Somewhere in that hill the gold still rests, and the spirits of the bandits are said to scare off all who come near it.
- The Viceroy’s Treasure at Nevado de Toluca
This story hails from the Mexican state of México and dates back to the early 1940s. Agustín Monroy Carmona was a boy who was invited by his classmate Gilberto to spend the holidays on a small ranch near the Nevado de Toluca. That little ranch had been owned by Gilberto’s father, who in turn had inherited it from his grandfather who had inherited it from his grandfather. Every day the boys woke up early to hike through the mountains, sometimes on horseback and sometimes on foot. Afterwards they usually went swimming a hot springs. One rainy day Agustín and Gilberto decided to stay home. Feeling cooped up and bored, the boys went up to the attic of the main house where there were many things that were very old. For the two of them, that place was incredibly fun to play in and the boys found things of great interest and possibly great value. An elaborate wooden box that looked like a pirate’s chest was particularly intriguing. They opened it up and it contained old papers. The boys read them eagerly because they were about the history of Gilberto’s family. Among these documents they found a statement written in the 1700s when Mexico was still New Spain. The statement was written in pencil on plain paper and despite the passage of time, the words were clear. The document had the yellowish color of old papers, and when the boys unfolded it, it separated into parts. The boys carefully arranged the parts on the attic floor to decipher its content. The document read:
“Year of 1760, I, Bartolomé Juan del Castillo, in the name of God the Father who raised me and preserves me, I make the following confession: Being the head of the thieves who operated in the Sierra del Nevado, we stole many great treasures that were destined for Spain, that passed through these fields and from various points. I declare in the name of Almighty God, everything that I am going to write to be true. I declare that in the Cañada del Jicote that is in the Montes de los Estrada, from its place where two waters meet, a small hill and a larger one, from there below where there is a small waterfall, there is a subterranean passage. Its opening is small, and the body of a man can hardly fit through it. It is at the foot of a short rock, said opening is covered with a slab that in turn is covered with earth. And up from the small waterfall, in this same ravine there is another tunnel that has no rock covering up its entrance. It is on the hill or side of the ravine. It is where many otatillo herbs grow. From there, going up towards the west, until you reach the top of Espinazo Hill, being there above the south, you will take to the right down until you find a small hill that has many trees. There you will look for an oak with two branches that are like elbows. One is pointing at Zacualpan and the other in the opposite direction. At the bottom are eight jars of money buried. You will then go downhill until you find a very small stream of water that comes out of the same hill and will make a small waterfall. On one side is the entrance of the cave. Half of the cave is obscured by the little waterfall. If you find this place, you will get rich. In the passage of the larger cave there is the chest that was taken from the viceroy O’Donojú and this has a million pesos of gold in it. In front there will be an altar where an image of Jesus is placed, which is the one they venerated in times past. Along with this large wooden strong box will also be found the silver and gold tools used by the viceroy’s men. Deep inside the cave there is a large number of silver bars forming a ridge. There will also be a large deposit of ornaments, and on one side, another altar with the Viceroy’s golden Christ. There is also the skeleton of Don Cristóbal de Nova, who died while delivering this treasure to the Spanish. My son, there are few days that remain for me of life and my soul is eaten up by cruel remorse. In this fatal state I think and remember your orphanhood since the death of your tender mother, who died of you, the one who gave birth to you. I want to reward you and Inés my sister, for her humanitarian actions. My son, you know that you have a father that you do not know. He still lives, but sent in a sea of crimes, makes horrible memories of the honorable title of father. I committed several crimes, sometimes driven by revenge and others by the defense that I had to make of myself. Anyway, dear Paulino, you will understand that I want to do you good and I ask God to keep you for many years. The treasures are many, you can be accompanied by whoever you like, no matter how many. I only ask of you a single condition, that you send many masses so that God forgives us, both the evildoers who walked with me, as well as me. All the sacred objects that belong to the Church such as chalices, monstrances, sacred vessels, Eucharist plates and other religious ornaments, I beg you dear Paulino, see that they are delivered to the Church and can be used for what they were made, so that everything that will be remedied, because as I have told you: there are many more treasures for you to make another new Mexico. Begin your tour of the Cerro del Manzano, it is a hill that has a large wild apple tree. It is near the Barranca del Muerto. In its trunk it has a nailed horseshoe and at the foot of that trunk there are six jars of gold coins. I, your father, was in so much danger that I don’t know why God preserved my life. I suffered many mortal wounds, however I was able to bear them because one of our companions was a healer and knew the healing properties of many plants in these mountains, so thank God I was able to preserve my existence. Everything that is there is yours. Take care of your needs and keep looking and do not forget, dear Paulino, to help the poor. I entrust it to you as a first obligation and have many Masses said for the soul of your father and for everyone the other evildoers who need it well.”
Agustín and Gilberto tried many times to find these lost treasures of the viceroy’s loot, but the nearly two centuries had changed much of the landscape described in the old document. Descendants of the boys also made several attempts to locate these fabulous stolen riches, but also had no luck.
Well into the 21st Century treasure hunters still follow clues in old legends in hopes of striking it rich by locating hidden loot from Mexico’s many bandits found throughout its history. It’s only a matter of time before some diligent searchers stumble upon great caches of riches that will make them wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. Will it be you?
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