TALE OF THE DAY

Cattle Tracker Varela's Lost Cache Of Spanish Gold
By Johnny Williams
From Page 5
January, 2002 issue of Treasure Cache
Copyright © 2002 Lost Treasure, Inc. All rights reserved.

As he dallied around the face of the ledge, he spotted what appeared to be the mouth of a tunnel. Squatting down, he clearly saw the entrance to an old mine shaft.

On a cold winter day in February 1918, 97 year old Demetrio Varela died of natural causes in an old adobe house at El Paso, Texas. He was so poor that his relatives had to pay for his funeral. During his lifetime. Varela worked as a cowhand, rancher, animal tracker, and a gold prospector. During his prospecting years, his fortunes varied from rich to poor.

Up until the time of his death, Varela steadfastly claimed that he had once found a stack of dust covered gold bars that measured four feet high, four feet in width, and four feet long. The heavy stack of gold bars were worth a fortune, and were all his just for the taking.

Yet, due to selfishness and procrastination on his part and the disbelief and skepticism of his wife, Varela never sold any of the gold bars, nor did anyone else. The large stack of gold bars still remain in a hidden chamber of the rugged Organ Mountains where Varela first found them in 1878.

The Organ Mountains are a range in southern Dona Ana County, southern New Mexico. They are in the central part of the state, 10 miles east of the present-day city of Las Cruces, and extend 40 miles south into western Texas. They were named by the Spanish explorer Oterim in 1682 and called Los Organos, because the irregular peaks in the chain resemble the pipes of an organ.

Demetrio Varela was born in Mesilla Valley, just a few miles from Las Cruces, N.M. Las Cruces (A Spanish word meaning the crosses) was founded about 1840 and is located today at the Intersection of 1-40 and 1-25, 45 miles north of the Texas border. During his lifetime, Varela lived under the Mexican, Confederate and the American flags.

As a young man, Varela learned the trade of cattle tracker from an old Indian. He soon became highly skilled in the art of finding lost, strayed or stolen cattle. He became highly respected for his skill and was in demand by local ranchers. It was common knowledge that a good cattle tracker could follow a herd of cattle for 100s of miles and never lose the trail, even if the tracks he was following got mingled with the tracks of several different herds. A good cattle tracker enjoyed a professional status equal to that of a medical doctor, and was paid as much or more for his services.

During the early 1850s, Varela married a young widow named Dona Chonita, whose former husband had left her a small cattle ranch in Mesilla Valley. Varela hired a few hands to help him run the ranch and also took on a few cattle tracking assignments from time to time. He also prospected for gold in the nearby mountains in his spare time.

During the winter of 1878, a few cattle rustlers drove off some prize cattle that belonged to a rancher named Armijo. His spread was located near Mesilla, a farming community founded in 1850. Armijo promptly hired Varela to track down the rustlers. The rustlers had a days head start, but Varela and two armed cowboys from the Armijo ranch, quickly picked up their trail. Driving the cattle at a rapid pace, the rustlers headed northeast into the Organ Mountains.

Varela and Armijos vaqueros kept riding hard. Late in the afternoon they followed the tracks into a deep canyon and found where the cattle had been killed, butchered, and the meat loaded on to pack horses.

Studying the situation, Varela believed that the rustlers intended to cross St. Augustine Pass to visit the Indians who lived in the mountains beyond and trade the meat for animal skins. Being familiar with the area, Varela also knew that if he and his armed vaqueros rode hard all night long, they could overtake the rustlers by dawn. They could capture or kill the them and take the meat back to Armijo.

They rode on as hard as the darkness would permit, hoping that the rustlers had stopped and made camp somewhere. As they approached St. Augustine Pass, a blinding snow came in from the north. When a driving gale from the north hurtles over the Southwest and collides with warm air from the Gulf of Mexico, it causes a sudden and extreme drop in temperature. They pulled their hats down low, turned their collars up, covered their faces with their neckerchiefs, and continued on into the face of the storm.

As the storm grew worse, Varela decided that they had to find a sheltered place to wait out the storm. They turned off the trail and headed up a narrow canyon. A short time later they came to a grove of pine trees at the base of an overhanging ledge They dismounted, hitched their horses, and took off the saddles.

They moved in under the ledge where they were sheltered from the blowing snow and cold wind. While Varela made a fireplace from some loose rocks he found lying around, the vaqueros gathered some dry wood and they soon had a warm fire going. They stood around it, hands extended, feeling its warmth.

Being an incurable prospector, Varela walked away from the fire and casually began to examine the face of the ledge above them. He was always on the lookout for odd rock formations. As he dallied around the face of the ledge, he spotted what appeared to be the mouth of a tunnel. It was almost completely covered with rocks, sticks and other debris.

Squatting down, he cleared away the rubble and saw clearly the entrance to an old mine shaft. Varela went to his saddle bags and returned with a candle which he lit at the fireplace. Stooping low, he slowly entered the tunnel. By the candles light, he saw the tunnel was only a few yards long with a large room at the end of it. He entered the room and stood erect. With the candle held high above his head, he saw that he was in a manmade cavern. The room was supported by very old timbers.

Varela stood very still, eyeing these strange surroundings, wondering who had dug out this large cave. Slowly he walked around the large tomb-like chamber. After a few minutes he spotted something in a far off corner that caught his undivided attention. He drew his pistol and slowly walked toward it. The object soon took the form of a table or block of some kind that had been covered over with old cowhides. He stepped forward and pulled off the covering.

The large square block was covered with a thick layer of dust. He scraped his hand across the top of it. He was astonished to see that it was gold bars, hundreds of them neatly stacked in a pile. Varela was so excited that he dropped his candle and extinguished its light. He fell to his knees and fumbled around wildly until he found and relit it.

Dios Mio, he whispered, as he lifted one of the gold bars and scraped it with his hunting knife. It was almost pure gold. An uncontrollable rush of blood gushed to all parts of his body. His pulse was thumping and his heart rate went up to over 200 beats per minute.

Varela had to breathe deeply to catch his breath. His temples were thumping as he stared open mouthed at the rows of gold bars lying there in a neat pile. Due to Varelas age at the time, it was a miracle that he hadnt suffered a heart attack.

Regaining his composure Varela carefully replaced animal hides on the gold bars, and continued to explore the cavern. In the corner he found several large cowhide sacks. Tearing one of them open, he found that it was full of gold-bearing quartz nuggets. Another exciting find. He was rich beyond his wildest dreams. In the other corner of the cave he found an ore crusher and a forge.

Knowing the history of the area, Varela knew that this mine and smelter must have been owned by the early Spanish Padres and worked by the Indians. He wondered why had it been abandoned with such a golden fortune hidden in it. Had they all been killed by hostile Indians? What happened here?

He shook with excitement as he thought of all the fine things that he could buy with this gold: a fine ranch, pure bred cattle and horses, a trip to Spain for himself and his wife, or just about anything they will ever want in life.

At this moment, he was the only one who knew about this fantastic find. Yes, the vacqueros who were with him might have a claim to some of the gold. But hadnt he, himself, found it through his own efforts? Yes, and he would not share the gold with anyone. Regaining his senses, Varela slowly made his way out of the cavern. The vacqueros were still gathered around the fire, drinking coffee. We were just coming to look for you, said one of them.

We thought that you might have been killed by a bear or bitten by a rattlesnake. Varela replied, I found an old cave back in there. I poked around it some, but saw no bears or snakes. I saw nothing but a lot of old bat droppings in there.

It was still snowing heavily and the men gathered some more wood for the fire. One of the Vacqueros dragged a log into the overhang that was about four feet long and two feet in diameter. They placed the log along the back edge of the fire to serve as fuel and a reflector of heat. They laid their blankets out between the fire and the wall of the overhang.

The following day the storm blew itself out. Varela pondered the situation carefully. He decided that with two days lost time and a deep snowfall between him and the rustlers, he decided to return home. Furthermore, he was too concerned about the gold and all its ramifications to worry about the rustlers. He and the vacqueros headed for home.

After Varela was home for a few days, his wife noticed that he wasnt his usual self. He was tense and meditative. She felt that he was upset because they had failed to capture the rustlers. She tried to console him, Dont worry. Surely the vaqueros told Don Armijo about the terrible blizzard. He is well aware that you are still the greatest tracker in all of New Mexico.

Varela knew that, but didnt answer her. He had other problems to consider at this time. Like so many other men who had suddenly struck it rich, he was worried how to handle his new-found wealth and to protect it from the greed of others. His biggest problem was how he could secretly get the heavy gold out of the cave and take it to a big city where he could sell it.

He wanted to tell his wife about it, but decided against it. She was inclined to be gossipy. She would surely tell her women friends, and within a short time, people as far away as El Paso and Albuquerque would know about it.

A few days later Varela and two of his friends went to work on a claim in the Sierra Blancas. The day after they began work, he suffered a serious setback. While he was preparing a powder charge to blast open a rock wall, it ignited prematurely. The explosion drove fine bits of rock into his eyes. His partners rushed him to a hospital in El Paso, Texas, but the doctors couldnt save his eyesight. He was destined to be blind for the rest of his life.

After Varela returned home from the hospital, Varela was in a state of depression for many months. Finally, his outlook improved and he thought about the gold again. He also decided to tell his wife about it. She did not believe him, but pretended to. That much gold was more than her mind could fathom. She promised to organize a party of relatives to go search for it, but never did.

Down through the years, the word got around about Varelas discovery. A group of professional treasure hunters talked to Varela about the gold and made a deal with him about the recovery of it. With him as a guide, they headed into the Organ Mountains. He told them what directions to take, approximately how far to go, a narrow canyon, a grove of pines and a big, overhanging ledge.

They continued the search for several weeks, but the party found no landmarks resembling the ones Varela described. Finally, they gave up the search. Since the winter of 1878, many high, strong winds have ripped through the Organ Mountains. Many winter snows have covered them, and many rainstorms have gushed the land. Erosion and mud slides may have completely altered the canyon and overhanging ledge where Varela found the cave of gold.

Varelas Lost Cache Of Spanish Gold

The treasure: Hundreds of solid gold bars. Todays value: a few million dollars.

How to find it: Go to Las Cruces, New Mexico, a city on 1-25 in the south-central part of the state. The Organ Mountains are only a few miles directly to the west and can be seen from miles away. Backpack or drive into one of the canyons and search carefully all caves, depressions and overhangs. There are quite a few canyons to search, so start at the southern end and work north.

Sources:

New Mexico Place Names. P-114.

Penfield, Thomas. Guide to Treasure in New Mexico.




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