State Treasure - Colorado

By Anthony M. Belli
From page 41 of the August, 2011 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © 2011 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved


The Cherry Creek Treasure
DOUGLAS COUNTY – Roughly 63 miles separates Denver from Colorado Springs along U.S. Highway 25.
About midway, a treasure of gold ingots worth about $400,000 at the time was reported to have been cached after those hired to transport the gold to the Clark & Gruber Mint in Denver became involved in some gunplay in the vicinity of the headwaters of Cherry Creek.
The incident is said to have taken place during the 1860’s. The gold has never been found.
There are two versions of the story, both very similar, but they differ as to how the gold got buried in the first place.
The story goes that Thomas R. Gavin was contracted with the Clark & Gruber Mint in Denver to transport raw gold from the “Pikes Peak gold fields” to the mint.
Gavin hired Peter Larkin and James Bullock to assist him. The plan was to pick up the gold, melt it down into ingots the shape of four-leaf clovers, and then transport the ingots to the mint.
Both versions state the gold had been smelted, packed onto burros, and was en-route to Denver. Here the stories vary.
One version claims the three men got into an argument over a game of cards on their first night. The argument then turned into a gunfight that left Larkin and Bullock dead, and Gavin mortally wounded.
Unable to lead the mules to Denver himself, Gavin buried the gold in the holes of a groundhog colony, and departed for Denver alone. He arrived at a relative’s home in Denver where it was learned that gangrene had already set in.
Gavin died soon after, but told the story of the gold ingots to his family, though he was unable to estimate the distance to the cache site.
The second account claims all three men were ambushed “along the headwaters of Cherry Creek.”
In this version the three men put up a good fight, but Larkin and Bullock were killed and Gavin was mortally wounded. The road agents then stole the treasure and fled.
Gavin was able to get a miner’s posse together from the prospectors mining on Cherry Creek who then pursued the outlaws.
Moving slowly because of the weight of the gold, the highwaymen buried the loot before being overtaken and killed by Gavin and the miner’s posse.
A careful search was conducted between where the robbery occurred and where the bandits were killed, but no sign of the treasure was found. In this account there is no indication as to where Gavin expired.
There is some doubt as to the amount of gold buried. Since these events took place before the alleged “Pike’s Peak Hoax,” it’s unlikely that the gold came from Pike’s Peak, however, it has been argued that that much gold could’ve been produced by other area mines and Gavin and his men simply picked up the gold at Colorado Springs.
Regardless, there are enough details to the story that sync to give it some credibility.
Missing Bookie Currency
ARAPAHO-JEFFERSON COUNTIES – For years it has been a well-guarded secret among Littleton locals that there may be a buried treasure nearby.
The story goes that, in 1960, $34,000 in U.S. currency was robbed from a Denver cigar shop by three men.
The three who robbed the shop were Denver police officers, and the cigar store was in fact a front for a bookie operation.
Since the money was obtained from unlawful means, the shop owner could not report the loss to police, something the robber-cops no doubt counted on.
It is said that $4,000 was divided up among the three cops “to live on,” while the rest was buried at two separate cache sites.
The first cache is reported to have been buried near a churchyard in Littleton, and the second was buried somewhere along Lookout Mountain Road, south-southwest of Golden. No known recovery was ever made.
As far as the three cops are concerned, one was indicted a short time later during Denver’s notorious police scandal.
Another one is said to have died, and the third is said to have never attempted to recover the treasure because he was absolutely convinced he was under constant surveillance.The Lost Boy Mine
PITKIN COUNTY – It was about 1899 when a young man arrived in the boomtown of Aspen, broke, hungry, and tattered.
He explained that he’d spent the night before sleeping under a quartz ledge after he’d been robbed of his money, horse, and provisions by Indians. He had brought a sample of the quartz containing free gold into Aspen and showed it to a local merchant who was quite impressed.
The merchant agreed to pay the young man money for food, clothing, and a night’s lodging if he agreed to take the merchant to the gold ledge the following day. Of course the young man readily agreed.
That night the young man vanished and was never seen or heard of again. The merchant stated he thought the gold ledge was located about 10 miles east of Aspen, toward Independence. It has yet to be found.Brown’s Hole
MOFFAT COUNTY – Brown’s Hole is located in the extreme northwest corner of Colorado, about nine miles south of the Wyoming state line along the Utah border.
Though this place name, used during the time of the fur trade, no longer appears on maps, the site is within the Brown’s Park National Wildlife Refuge. Map research places the location about a 1/2 mile north of the pavement’s edge of the westbound lane of Colorado Highway 318, north of the Dinosaur National Monument.
Brown’s Hole is said to have many natural caves in the vicinity and was the location of a fur trading post in 1837. The site was the winter headquarters for many trappers and was later used as an outlaw hideout for such notables as Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch, as well as many others.
According to legend, a number of fur traders cached their pay here, several of which are said to have been lost and not recovered.
During the 1890’s, Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch frequently fled into the remote valley of Brown’s Hole to escape from lawmen. Several Wild Bunch caches are said to have been buried here and never recovered, including one of $50,000 in gold specie and nuggets.
Another treasure said to be buried here is that cached by William Ellsworth “Elza” Lay (1862-1934) aka: “Elzy,” and William McGinnis.
Simply known as Elza Lay, the cache is reputed to be his cut of the $30,000 loot taken in the Wilcox, Wyoming, train robbery.
An interesting side note is that Lay was Butch Cassidy’s number two man in the Wild Bunch until he was apprehended in New Mexico on August 16, 1899, in connection with a New Mexico train robbery he pulled with the Ketchum Gang on July 11, 1899.
Lay’s residence, where he also engaged in the saloon and counterfeiting business, was on the infamous Duchesne Strip, a triangular piece of land 7,040 acres in size just east of Fort Duchesne, Utah, and 58 miles southwest of Brown’s Hole.
If Lay was comfortable hiding stolen loot at Brown’s Hole, then perhaps he would’ve been comfortable hiding his other “unexplained” income from his counterfeiting operation here as well.
If someone today were to unearth a cache of silver dollars here, don’t be too disappointed if they turn out to be fakes. Owning one or more 19th century silver dollars counterfeited by Elza Lay is still a treasure nonetheless.Featured Ghost Town:
California Gulch
LAKE COUNTY – The ghost town of California Gulch was founded in 1860 after gold was discovered nearby. Originally named Oro City, the town site is located on Colorado Highway 24 at County Road 39, 2 miles west of Leadville.
By 1862, the population of California Gulch had reached 5,000, but by 1870, and after more than $5 million in gold had been extracted from the gulch, the mine played out and the town was quickly deserted.
Today the site has been incorporated into the Mineral Belt Trail, so check locally to determine if detecting is allowed.Sources:
Eberhart, Perry Treasure Tales of the Rockies, 1969, New York, N.Y. Ballantine Books, Inc., 3rd Edition, p. 212, 220, 222.
MacGowan, Douglas, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid-Riches or Retirement, trutv.com, http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/gangsters_outlaws/outlaws/cassidy/6.html
MacGowen, Douglas, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid-Elza Lay and Sundance, trutv.com,
http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/gangsters_outlaws/outlaws/cassidy/5.html
Marx, Richard F., Buried Treasures of the United States, 1978, New York, N.Y., Bonanza Books, p. 186.