The mountain is actually named Citadel Mountain. The legend of the lost “Spanish Gold” stems from an expedition financed and organized by Napoleon Bonaparte. Rumors of gold had been heard by the French court, at this time the French had laid claim to the whole of the Louisiana Territory. Napoleon needed to finance his ambitions and had decided to sell the territory. So an expedition was organized in New Orleans to explore and put to rest this rumor before the decision was made to sell.
The Spanish had laid claim to the territory and of course the Conquistadores had done much of the early exploration of the area and the Spanish naturally felt the territory was legitimately theirs.
200 Frenchmen were recruited and headed up the Mississippi from New Orleans, ostensibly to map the territory for the Spanish government. They followed the Arkansas river to it’s headwaters then over the rugged passes toward the southwest, this was most likely Monarch Pass into the Gunnison Country. Following the Gunnison River to the West one of the most prominent peaks from the vantage point of the explorers having been stopped by the impassable Black Canyon of the Gunnison in the western end of the Gunnison Valley would have been Citidel Mountain.
This area has been one of the most productive gold fields in the State of Colorado. Being the first explorers to look for gold, there were a lot of nuggets and placer gold right on top, and it was relatively easy to recover. They set to work and amassed a large amount of gold in their first season. The decision was made to go to Taos, New Mexico for supplies and stay one more summer.
The Spanish governor became suspicious and sent spies to follow the Frenchmen. In due course the Spanish discovered the true intent of the expedition. They took steps to see that the Frenchmen didn’t return to New Orleans. Due to the Spanish trade with the local native American tribes a good rapport had been built up with the Apache and Commanche nations. They were “hired” to take care of the French problem.
The second summer season the French expedition was in full gold recovery mode. They mined and smelted a lot of ore. The refining process included the use of mercury. When mercury is heated it’s fumes are extremely toxic and many of the expeditions members got sick and several died from exposure to mercuric oxides. Some fell victim to the extreme environment at 10,000′ elevation, attacks by bears, mountain lions, wolves, starvation and exposure to the generally harsh conditions.
The Indians started by stealing mules and horses and what supplies they could raid. Concerted attacks commenced and the Frenchmen decided to take what they could and head back to the Arkansas River. During the last siege the few members that were left took the last few mules, loaded the gold they had smelted into 40lb ingots, and under the cover of darkness went a short distance and hid the cache of gold.
The party retreated fighting a running battle for nearly 100 miles. In the end only 2 members of the party were able to get to the Arkansas River and subsequently back to New Orleans. These were the two Cornet cousins. In the intervening time Napoleon had sold the Louisiana Purchase to Thomas Jefferson.
Around 1878 two cowboys lost in a snow storm high in the San Juan mountains found shelter in a small cave. There they discovered the cache of French gold, each of them took one ingot of the gold marked with a Spanish mint mark. Eventually they made their way to Redcliff and to the official assay office there. They spent the rest of their lives looking for the cave but never found it. One of the gold ingots is reportedly in the Colorado State museum. The other was probably melted down and converted to living expenses.
Now most folks would think that this was just a great story… in fact My Uncle Lee Osborn spent many summers looking for the lost “Spanish Gold”. He was a dowser and had a real knack for tracking down ore of various kinds. That is where I first heard the tale. Many years later I worked with a master electrician while building the new International Airport in Denver. Maynard Cornet Adams, the great great grandson of one of the surviving members of the French expedition.
Maynard wrote a book called Treasure Mountain, in his book this story is laid out in magnificent detail. He too has looked for many years trying to find the artifacts associated with the story. One day he brought to work some pictures of trees with a blaze cut into them. Several years prior to that project I worked as a surveyor for a man who was nearly 80 years old. He explained the use of bearing trees to me and told me a long time ago there were two types of markings used. One had stemmed from French Masonry and the other from English Masons. The French Masons had used a classic marking that I recognized.
I told Maynard how to interpret the signs and Maynard the next summer went right to the original French campsite. There he found the stone corral they kept their horses and mules in, a stone hearth and the smelter they refined the gold in. Last I knew he still hadn’t found the gold but several artifacts did surface. Coins, buttons and belt buckles that sort of thing.
Maynard retired several years ago and I believe he and his wife live in Fort Lupton Colorado about 30 miles north of Denver. I haven’t seen him in all that time but If you find him he’d be the expert. He researched the story with the French archives in Paris and the Spanish archives in Madrid.
I would love to crank up the Jeep and take you to the sites that I know about. I also have several more stories that pertain to the subject of lost miner stashes and lost gold mines relating to the area as an aside.