By Mary Cornum
There are many rumors and legends surrounding a vast discovery of gold by French explorers near Summitville, Colorado, in the late 1700s.
With approximately 300 men and 450 horses plus supplies, an expedition of Frenchmen, based in New Orleans, reportedly left an outpost near present-day Leavenworth, Kansas, bound for the Rocky Mountains in search of precious metals.
Their initial prospecting efforts were unsuccessful, leading them south to the area near present-day Summitville on the east side of Wolf Creek Pass in Rio Grande County. There, they reportedly discovered a large amount of gold in and around what is now called Treasure Mountain, located in nearby Mineral County. (There is another such-named peak in the Elk Mountain Range in the Raggeds Wilderness).
Legend has it that the French mined nearly $33 million in gold by today’s standards and cached the vast treasure in three different locations, carefully mapping each spot.
The native Americans who lived in the vicinity, likely Utes, initially left the prospectors alone, but some records indicate there was an uprising and the expedition was attacked by the natives, leaving only 17 to 35 survivors. The gold was hastily reburied with new maps drawn. The explorers were again attacked when they reached the Front Range, leaving only five remaining of the original 300.
After he recovered, Le Blanc returned to France with the maps. They contained a series of clues which would allow others to return and recoup the treasure at some later date. One map was kept by Le Blanc and the other was given to the French government. A party of 50 was later dispatched to recover the gold. It is not known whether it was Le Blanc or the French government who instigated this second mission. A guide was hired out of Taos, New Mexico, to lead the expedition, but he returned months later, without the expedition team. He claimed the Indians attacked and killed them, but soon became suspected of committing the murders. This is where more speculation begins:
• The guide was possibly paid off to keep the rediscovery of the gold a secret, and the French expedition went quietly back to France.
• Several maps are rumored to have appeared over time. A William Yule claimed to have had one and searched as far north along the San Luis Valley as Saguache, with no luck. Yule Lakes and Yule Creek are named for him.
• Later, a prospector named Asa Poor alleged to have gotten the map from Yule and he, with two partners, searched, claiming to have found several of the landmarks indicated on the maps but no gold.
• A partner of Poor’s named Montroy supposedly retained the map but later lost it.
• A local family claiming to be descendants of Le Blanc are said to have an original map and over three generations have quietly been treasure hunting.
• While on such a treasure hunt in 1993, a family member stumbled upon a three-foot opening with a four- by five-foot tunnel behind it. He followed it down to a cave-in and then returned to get help.
• The next day, 20 people returned with him to dig further. Thinking they had found the long lost “eighth clue” to the treasure’s whereabouts in the tunnel, they were soon spooked by a snake, bats and an owl. Was the gold being eerily guarded by entities unknown?
The only other reported information suggests this same unnamed family has filed for Colorado State Treasures Rights to enter the cave legitimately and claim the contents if any were to be found.
If any treasure has indeed been found, it is not known, though it’s possible that some word of it would eventually have leaked out. Treasure hunters everywhere are hereby challenged to come to our beautiful mountains, specifically Treasure Mountain, and if you are getting close to any clues, let me know so that I can strike one more thing off of my bucket list.
Mary is the adventurous mother of five and grandmother of 20. When she’s not hiking the caves or swimming in the Rio Grande, she is escaping reality by diving into books, much like she did as a young girl in a family of 16!