by Edi Sheldon
SPANISH PEAKS– Most folks who read about the Spanish Peaks know the story about the six Catholic priests who came to this region escorted by Spanish militia in the mid-1700’s. The priests had been sent on a mission to find gold and bring it back with them. Upon discovery of a rich vein of ore on the west peak, the decision was made to employ slaves from the local Indian tribes to dig the gold. Much ore was mined and the priests filled their bags for the trip back. The militia killed the Indian slaves before embarking on the long journey.
They traveled back over Cuchara Pass whereupon they were attacked by the Indians who had banded together to retaliate for the murder of their fellow tribesmen. The entire party was massacred just as they reached the river. Thus the name, El Rio de Las Animas Perdido en Purgatorio, meaning: the River of Lost Souls in Purgatory. None of the transported gold was ever found.
One hundred years later after a fable had circulated repeatedly that maybe the priests had left some of the gold buried on the peak, two fortune hunters who were exploring for the would-be treasure sat down to take a mid-day repast. As they stood up to leave, one of them kicked a rotting log. He looked down and saw a bit of ragged burlap under the log. He pulled on the cloth. As the rotten log fell away, a gleam of metal caught his eye. He dug more of the cloth up and called to his friend to help. The two of them pulled the cloth from the dirt and foliage. They found themselves looking at a pile of rocks with streaks of gold running through them.
They were not equipped to haul this load down the mountain and decided to hastily cover it all up and come back with horses to haul it out. As luck would have it, they could not return for several days. They hunted the area for several days, but were never able to unearth the ore again.
Another story that may not be as familiar is that of a middle-aged cowboy who had concerns about his waning years when the time would come that he was no longer able to support himself being a cow herder. He had heard stories of a hidden entrance to a gold mine on the west peak. The cowboy decided to try his hand at finding the gold mine and working it. For many weeks he camped at timberline and worked from daylight to dark moving shale and unearthing the entrance to what is now known as Bullhead Mine. He cut timber and shored up the tunnel into the mine. His pick swung repeatedly looking for the vein.
Ultimately, nothing but a few small nuggets were found and the cowboy came off the mountain for the winter. In the spring he decided to try again and returned to the peak with renewed resolve. However, one night as he was sitting in his camp eating his meager dinner, the mountain trembled violently with a quake. The mine entrance was completely obliterated the next morning when he got to where the entrance should have been. Saddened & discouraged, he came back off the mountain. He lived out his remaining years with a widowed niece and with very little money.
And so it seems, the real treasure of the Spanish Peaks is their unique and fascinating structure and beauty. It is amazing to behold these mountains from anywhere in Huerfano County as well as Las Animas and Pueblo Counties. I was even thrilled to have seen them from the window of my plane as we descended for landing at D.I.A. after a trip to the east coast