Monday, July 27, 2009

This myth is busted!

Who wouldn't want to find a lost treasure? I'm not sure anyone would leave it lie if they found one. I think this is why one Fort Collins legend has managed to grow to pathetic proportions. In the few months that I've worked for the local history archive I have discovered that when it rains it pours. There is some weird historical force behind what people look up and when. In the last couple weeks, the topic of choice has been the lost treasure of Coyote Pass in northern Colorado.

The story goes that in June 1872 a Conley line stage, loaded with $62,000 gold coins, left Denver for Fort Laramie. The stage was headed north to Fort Collins where it would stop and await additional troops to escort the stage and its heavy coffer. Upon arriving in Fort Collins, Colonel Critchell could not provide the additional troops to escort the stage. All of his troops were chasing Ute Indians west of the newly established town. Permission was granted for the stage to head north for Fort Laramie without its troop escort. Leaving Fort Collins, the stage followed the Overland Trail north and headed through "coyote pass" by Livermore near today's Highway 287. As the eight-mule stage reached neared the pass it was "bushwacked" by the Borrell gang.

Back in Ft. Collins, Colonel Critchell was having second thoughts about sending the stage ahead without protection and sent a small dispatch of men to catch up with the stage. They arrived in time to see the Borrell gang running off with "pokes" full of coins. The troops persued the robbers but all of the men got away. When word returned to Critchell that the stage had been robbed he ordered 40 men to scour the mountainsides until the gold was recovered. All members of the gang were caught and shot, but none of them revealed the location of the gold that they hid in the mountains in their hasty retreat from the soldiers on horseback.

Eleven years later, as the search for the gold continued, a "ruffian" gang from Loveland confronted a rancher in the lower Poudre Valley about the gold. When he denied knowing anything, they shot him. On his body, they found uncirculated gold coins of the Clark, Gruber, & Company mint - the exact coins that had been carried in the chest on that fateful day in 1872. The search of the gold continued, but with no luck. To this day, the gold coins have never been found and "coyote pass" continues to draw the attention of 21st century pirates in search of their treasure.

Now, for the fun part - multiple people have been wanting to do research on this hidden treasure. And each had a different strategy for finding it.

Patron #1 was looking for bodies. In the scuffle to steal the treasure two good guys were killed. The patron wanted to know where the men were burried so that she could then locate Coyote Pass and then, of course, the treasure. This path reached a dead end (pun intended) because the bodies were returned to Ft. Collins and not burried at the scene of the bushwacking.

Patron #2 wanted to look at an old map to find Coyote Pass. After talking to her, I discovered that she was neice of Patron #1. Apparently, treasurer hunting was a family thing. After doing research for #1, I was already skeptical, but I obliged, and pulled out the earliest trails map that we had. There was no Coyote Pass listed on the map. And as a lifelong resident of the area, nothing is known by that today. This frustrated Patron #2 so I began to dig even deeper for information. Enter Patron #3.

Patron #3, having become impatient while waiting for his wife (Patron #2), walked into the archive and started asking questions too. He was after the treasure. Period. It had to be out there and he was going to find it. While listening him to ramble the same story that I heard and read, I revealed to him more information that I had uncovered. The story of the Coyote Pass stage raiding was first published in Treasure magazine by a Loveland author in 1979. After being harrassed by treasure seekers for more information, the man admitted that he often wrote about "ficticious treasures." As I spoke these words, silence fell upon the room. The treasure seekers were not happy. They asked me to repeat what I had read. I did. Grudgingly they thanked me for my help and left, grumbling about what fool the author of the story was and how they had been taken.

The treasure story stayed with me a few more hours and then something dawned on me. The story said the men were headed to Fort Collins and would receive troop reinforcement before heading to Fort Laramie. Prior to finding my last tidbit of information about the original author of the story, I should have deduced that the story was false. Why? Well, two months ago I wouldn't have known this, but I do now. First, by 1866, the military post of Camp Collins had been disbanded and all soldiers were evacuated from the area. There were no troops here in 1872 that would have been ordered to protect any stage. Private security forces would have been used, not the U.S. Army. Second, a BLM search of geographic features in Colorado reveals that there is and never was an area named Coyote Pass in Colorado. And third, Fort Laramie is located east of I-25 and north of Cheyenne - not on the Overland Trail stage route. The town of Laramie was never considered Fort Laramie. This was an interesting play on words that first slipped by me. Kudos to the author for crafting such a sly tale with close but no cigar connections to days past.

It's a good feeling to get paid to hunt for treasure! And an interesting side note - in my digging I discovered that the Clark, Gruber & Company was an actual mint for coinage. It was located in Denver and its coins are very valuable today, which would explain why Patron #3 had his heart set on finding his lost treasure of gold coins and calling Cabo San Lucas home for the rest of his life.

One last side note - I think Coyote Pass sounds like a great movie title. And everyone loves a great treasure hunt. I'll try calling Johnny Depp tomorrow and see if he's busy.

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