Treasure Mountain Mine and Animas Forks
Colorado

The Legend of Treasure Mountain (Part IV)

PART IV: THE LEGEND OF TREASURE MOUNTAIN

Tales of buried treasure gave the mountain its name long before gold mines dotted its face; this is that story.

Sometime in the early 1800s, a group of French trappers traveled to the San Juan Mountains from St. Louis, Missouri in the search for fur. Shortly after they set camp at the foot of one of the mountain valleys some of the group found small gold nuggets in the stream nearby. The following day, the trappers found more pieces of the precious metal nearby and decided to make the camp a more permanent one.

The Frenchmen kept camp there for a few years while trapping and secretly amassing gold. A few times a year, some of them would journey south to Taos with a pack mule train to trade their furs for supplies. When returning from such a trip, local Utes, whose lands the interlopers were poaching on, attacked the trappers. More than half of the Frenchmen were killed and, leaving all their supplies behind, they ran for the camp. With all of their pack mules dead or stolen, moving the gold from camp would be impossible, thought the Frenchmen. Under the threat of another onslaught, they buried their golden cache above the camp and marked the treasure by pounding the imprint of an iron mule shoe on the trees nearby.

Only two would ever leave the mountains alive; when the remaining trappers fled south they came under attack again. The survivors successfully retreated to St. Louis and, before they left the country again for France, they made a map of their former mountain home. They never returned, but their story and their map lived on to change the lives of those that followed, like that of Asa Poors.

Train starting up the grade from Eureka to Animas Forks, 1910, Denver Public Library
Train starting up the grade from Eureka to Animas Forks, 1910, Denver Public Library

The Frenchmen had been gone for some years by the time Asa was shown the mysterious map. He was familiar with the area around the Animas and was sure that this was what was on the map. With the help of some unemployed Silverton miners, he located the mule-shoe-marked trees near the peak of the mountain and began to excavate a suspicious mound near the trees. It revealed only a few chunks of charcoal.

I was surprised to see the roof was in such great condition. You can tell by the making on the wood that this wall is covered by a snow bank for most of the year.
I was surprised to see the roof was in such great condition near the top of Treasure Mountain. You can tell by the making on the wood that this wall is covered by a snow bank for most of the year.

One of the miners approached Poors after this letdown and shared that he had seen another map of the buried treasure with instructions missing on the Asa’s copy. The missing instructions are as follows:

“Stand on the mound at 6 o’clock on a September morning. Where falls the shadows of the head, there dig for the buried treasure.”

Poors returned in September and faithfully carried out the instructions. Where the beam of sunlight was most intense, he excitedly buried his shovel to find…

Nothing.

Not knowing what to do, Asa and the Silvertonians scoured the mountaintop again, digging at every loose-seeming patch of dirt. They found no sign of their treasure and, when winter came, the men returned to Silverton and Asa moved to Durango. Poors died in Durango that winter of an unknown disease, perhaps Spanish Flu, but one of his fellow adventurers, Leon Montroy, survived him to continue the hunt for the trappers’ loot.

Taken as I drove out of Silverton, CO. One of my favorite landscapes of 2015. Want a print? Email me!
Taken as I drove out of Silverton, CO. One of my favorite landscapes of 2015. Want a print? Email me!

The next season, Leon found what appeared to be a stone circle and was convinced he had found the treasure. However, as he began to dig, it became clear that what he found was an old well, perhaps from the Frenchmen’s original camp. He excavated the well until the stone walls stopped, about 12 feet below the surface, without even finding coal. He, like so many others, gave up on the mountain.

In the early 1910s, a forestry official familiar with the area decided to take a more scientific approach. He located the emblazoned trees, cut into one of them, and counted the rings. The tree with the markings dated to 1827!

There have been some modern and high-tech searches for the namesake of Treasure Mountain, but nobody has ever claimed to have found it.