Big Jim: El Tejano's treasure

2013-06-28T00:00:00Z 2013-07-11T11:52:19Z Big Jim: El Tejano's treasureJim Griffith Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

If el Tejano was a successful stage robber, he must have accumulated a lot of loot, and it is that loot, el tesoro del Tejano, that is the subject of this blog. Or at least the stories about the loot.

One popular account has it buried on or near el cerro del gato – Cat Mountain, where he was supposed to have been killed. Or somewhere in the Tucson Mountains, at least. But one of the most popular stories goes like this:

If you happen to stumble upon the treasure, you will hear a voice, the voice of el Tejano, saying “Todo o nada” — “Everything or nothing.” This means that if you don’t take all the treasure in one trip — and there is far too much for that — you will not find your way out of the cave or die some rapid and unpleasant death. And if you leave the gold where it is and return later with your burros or your 4x4, you’ll never find the place again.

I have heard that many, years ago, a man and his sons were rounding up cattle in the Altar Valley. The father was off on a long swing by himself. When he returned around sunset, he was very excited. He told his sons to hitch the horses to the wagon in the morning, for they were going to be rich men. He also mentioned that he had thought he had seen a horseman following him.

However, the next morning the father had a raging fever and died very soon. When his sons were cleaning his saddle, they found an old coin thrust up under the saddle skirts, and then they knew what had happened. The father had found el Tejano’s treasure and carried away one coin, and the horseman following him was el Tejano himself. The curse had come true.

I don’t know whether there was an el Tejano, but I do know that payrolls got robbed and that the loot has occasionally been found.

Several years ago in Sonoyta, Sonora, workmen were widening a road cut, when the dozer blade scattered vast quantities of silver coins on the ground. All were new-looking, silver one-peso pieces, dating from between 1890 and 1900. Naturally, the whole town turned out to sift the dirt for more wealth.

At that point, an elderly Tohono O’odham man walked by and said, “That’s the silver. The gold is over there,” and he pointed with his chin. Of course, everyone made a dash in the direction he pointed.

No gold was ever found, and the site is now a military reservation and closed to the public.

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About this blog

Jim Griffith is the former director of the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona, and co-founder of Tucson Meet Yourself. He’s also the author of seven books on the folklore and folklife of our region, most recently “A Border Runs Through It.” His books can be purchased at tucson.com/wildcatgear.

If you have questions or suggestions for Jim Griffith or this blog, e-mail bigjimgriffith@gmail.com