Archive for December, 2018

For over 150 years the legend of “The Reynolds Gang” and their buried treasure has occupied the minds of fortune hunters and history buffs alike, especially those residing in Colorado where the legend is a deeply ingrained part of the lore of the South Park region.

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In a nutshell, the legend involves a group of bushwhackers who appeared in Colorado Territory in the summer of 1864. These men were under the leadership of brothers John and Jim Reynolds, and soon became known as “The Reynolds Gang.” In late-July of 1864 the band carried out a series of stagecoach robberies between Fairplay and present-day Conifer, Colorado, along the old Denver-to-Fairplay wagon road, which roughly followed the course of present-day Highway 285. Eventually, a posse stalking the bandits grew too close for comfort, forcing the gang to bury an estimated $20,000 to $60,000 in gold, cash, and other valuables (in 1864 prices) taken in their robberies. A day after the treasure was hidden, the gang was ambushed along Geneva Creek, a tributary of the South Platte River- One of the gang was killed, several were taken prisoner over the next few days, and two, John Reynolds and a man named Addison Stowe escaped and made their way to New Mexico Territory. Somewhere high in the mountains near Grant, Colorado the buried loot of “The Reynolds Gang” remains to be found today.

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Many wildly different versions of the legend, laced with lies and false information regarding “The Reynolds Gang” exist, but one part of the legend which can be found in each different version is that a horse carcass is one of the main clues to locating the treasure- Jim and John Reynolds set out the morning prior to the ambush in Geneva Gulch, riding ahead of the rest of the gang to bury the stolen gold. In a timberline swamp one of the brothers’ horses sunk into the soupy-black muck and could not be freed. The Reynolds brothers left the horse sunk in the swamp, presumably still alive as a gunshot to humanely put the horse down would have alerted the nearby posse hot on the gang’s trail.

In 1871 John Reynolds reappeared in Sante Fe, New Mexico under the alias “Will Willace” and teamed up with another shady character named Albert Brown, the pair began stealing horses in northern New Mexico, and then decided to ride on to Colorado in an effort to retrieve the gold stashed in 1864. Near Taos “Will Wallace” was shot in a gunfight as he and Brown attempted to steal more horses. On his deathbed “Wallace” confided in Brown that his real name was “John Reynolds” and before he breathed his last breath he drew a crude map of where the treasure lay buried and told Albert Brown the following:

“It’s no use pard; the jig is up, and I’m goin’ across the range mighty shortly. If we could have got to Denver, we’d have been alright. I’ve got over $60,000 buried not fifty miles from there in the mountains, and I could go right to the spot Jim and me buried it in 1864. But there’s no use in me wastin’ breath, for I’m to the end of my rope now, an’ I’ll tell you just where it is, so that you can go an’ get it after you’ve planted me deep enough so the coyotes won’t dig me up and gnaw my bones.

Jim an’ me buried it the morning before the fight at the grove on Geneva Gulch. You go up there a little ways and find where one of our horses mired down in a swamp. On up at the head of the gulch we turned to the right and followed the mountain around a little farther, an’ just above the head of Deer Creek we found an old prospect hole at about timberline. There was $40,000 in greenbacks, wrapped in silk oil cloth, an’ three cans of gold dust. We filled the mouth of the hole up with stones, an’ ten steps below there stuck a butcher knife into the tree about four feet from the ground an’ broke the handle off, an’ left it pointing to the mouth of the hole.”

The legend is confusing, as John Reynolds mentions the gold being buried at the “head of Deer Creek” but he also says the gold is buried at the head of Geneva Gulch. Deer Creek and Geneva Gulch are in the same general area, but are separated by a dozen or so miles of very rugged country. The treasure is buried at the head of one, but not both.

Treasure hunters have focused on the Deer Creek headwaters almost exclusively since the “map” to the buried treasure first appeared in the 1897 book “Hand’s Up!” the biography of early-Colorado lawman Dave Cook who had supposedly been given the map by Albert Brown in 1874 following his arrest for stealing donkeys during his search for the treasure. Dave Cook went on to fund his own search for the treasure for nearly a decade before giving up and writing his memoir, where he published the map for the general public to see for the first time.

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At the time of it’s publication, the map set off a stampede of treasure hunters to the Deer Creek area, but today a close look at the map reveals several geographic discrepancies, which seem to indicate the gold was buried somewhere other than Deer Creek. Comparing the map and John Reynolds deathbed confession with The Full Statement of Thomas Holliman- Member of The Reynolds Gang also seems to paint a different picture of the whereabouts of the buried gold. Comparing the various statements would indicate that the gold is, in fact, somewhere in the Geneva Creek drainage, and not along the Deer Creek headwaters.

In June of 2011, long before I had ever heard of “The Reynolds Gang” and their buried treasure, I came across some very old and decayed bones, high in a timberline swamp, in a very remote reach of Geneva Gulch. I packed out the jaw bone which I found the most interesting, and left the other bones in the mud and moss, not thinking much of it. Once I had positively identified the bones as a horse, I began to look into old mining records and claims in Geneva Gulch, thinking the bones were likely those of an unfortunate pack animal lost long-ago in the gold rush era when Geneva Gulch was busy with prospectors and miners.

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Jaw bone of the lost Reynolds horse?

It was during this research that I first learned of “The Reynolds Gang” and their lost gold. Needless to say, my heart stopped when I read John Reynolds deathbed confession for the first time and he mentioned the mired horse in the high-alpine swamp. As I continued my research into the case, separating fact from fiction, the area where the horse carcass and the buried treasure could be narrowed down sharply to an area (which I will keep to myself) encompassing  a circle of about seven miles, which I call the “golden circle” in reference to the secret society the Reynolds brothers were members- The Knights of the Golden Circle.

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Subsequent searches inside my “golden circle” have yielded more clues- Several very old campsites, and odd stone formation made by the hands of man, and a rusted shovel dating to the 1940s where someone else, possibly another fortune seeker had been digging within the “golden circle.” In 2016 I returned to the spot where I found the horse bones and packed the rest out, they now reside in a chest in my closet- I am convinced, based on their age, and location, that these are the bones of the lost horse in the legend, and that puts me within a few hundred yards of the gold.

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I have begun to write a book series “The Gray Ghosts of Colorado” which details the true history of events from 1856 to present which follows the trail left by ‘The Reynolds Gang” and their contemporaries, separating fact from fiction, dispelling many versions of the legend and proving false the claims of early fortune hunters who said they found the treasure in the early-1900s. I was interviewed and appeared in a June 2015 article in “Colorado Life” magazine which recounted the legend of “The Reynolds Gang” and the modern day treasure hunters who seek the lost fortune. I’ve published numerous blogs on the topic, and have had my research added to the online Colorado Encyclopedia the first official source to recognize the true story of “The Reynolds Gang” as opposed to one of the various versions of the legend.

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Since I began researching this fascinating topic, I have been approached on several occasions by shady individuals claiming to be descendants of the Reynolds brothers, other treasure hunters prying me for details on the exact whereabouts of my finds, and others posing under a variety of schemes and scams trying to get me to divulge the details that I know, and they do not. It is not worth your time or effort to hound me- What I know puts me closer to the Reynolds treasure than anyone else in the last 50 years and I’m already a fool for sharing what I have. The historical information I have researched and freely published is available to all, and if you are willing to dig deep enough with the right kind of eyes, everything is there that you need to know. The photos I share of the evidence I have found are genuine. That being said, I will continue my hunt in the “golden circle” this coming summer, and I wish the other fortune seekers good luck in their hunts! It is, after all, the thrill of the chase that keeps us going!

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My 20 best photos of 2018- A little bit of everything, and in no particular order-

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Abandoned Church, Las Mesitas, Colorado

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Twooch aka “Busy Feets”  my polydactyl or “Hemingway” Siamese, she has 25 toes!

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Century House, Golden Gate Canyon, Colorado

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Somewhere in Colorado

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Columbines, near Red Feather Lakes, Colorado

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Masonic Lodge, Victor, Colorado

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Hawk, Derry Ranch Placer, Colorado

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View of the Collegiate Peaks near Turret, Colorado

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Grouse, somewhere in Colorado

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Mr. Campbell’s cabin, Campbell Town, Colorado

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Wild Turkey, somewhere in Colorado

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Hot Rod Hill Climb, Central City, Colorado

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Miner’s Shack, Freeland, Colorado

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Near Rabbit Ears Mountain, New Mexico

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Mills, New Mexico

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La Liendre, New Mexico

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Sandhill Crane, Pecos River, New Mexico

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Along the Pecos River, New Mexico

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Holman, New Mexico

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Moon over the Sangre de Cristos, near Taos, New Mexico

Just got home from another mini-vacation to Victor, Colorado and was once again impressed and amazed at all of the things I found that I had missed on previous trips. Missing little details is easy to do in a town that once had a population of 12,000 around 1900, which now has about 400 residents. Whatever you do, however, DO NOT call Victor a “ghost town” I made that mistake once and only once. A week’s worth of hate mail and  subsequent explaining and apologizing, and I was back on in good graces with the locals!

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Panoramic Painting of Victor circa 1900

 

Victor has always caused me mixed emotions- On one hand it heartbreaking to see so many empty store fronts and vacant properties, I imagine how beautiful and bustling this town must have been in its heyday, when it even boasted a fancy “San Francisco” style trolley line known as the “Victor Inter-Urban Railway.” On the other hand, I love Victor as it is, and would be devastated to see the gentrification that has destroyed so much of Colorado happen here- I want Victor to retain its character, and anymore in Colorado, “character” is too often bulldozed to make way for luxury condos and coffee shops for people with no ties to Colorado and no respect for the State’s history.

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Victor in 1899, the building on the left is the Victor Hotel which still welcomes guests today

A huge amalgamation of abandoned, occupied, old and new (mostly old though) and a sense of a mining boom town suspended in time best describes Victor, Colorado, sister city of the more famous Cripple Creek, just six miles away around a mountain of mine tailings. Preservation efforts have been carried out or started on a number of the buildings around the town, and visitors can still stay in the historic Victor Hotel, comfortable, large rooms, with great views and giant arched windows are available for a very reasonable rate year-round. A couple of small cafes, The Side Door and The Mining Claim 1899, and a the Fortune Club Saloon (the Fortune Club also offers rooms) serve the needs of hungry and thirsty visitors as well as the locals, many of whom work at the nearby Newmont gold mine. A few antique and gift shops, a liquor store, and a tiny general store round out Victor’s business district. The most impressive building to be found in town (in my opinion) is the old Masonic Lodge, be sure not to miss it!

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A view looking west down Victor Avenue, the Victor Hotel is the tallest building on the right. Several blocks of largely vacant storefronts radiate out, north and south, from Victor Avenue.

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Part of the Victor business district, note the “Undertakers” advertisement

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Masonic Lodge

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A look downtown and you can imagine what it must have been like in 1900

One thing you will quickly notice about Victor are the stunning views of the rugged, snow-capped spires of the Sangre de Cristos Mountain to the southwest- The view of the Sangres can not be beat from the 4th floor rooms of the Victor Hotel.

(Click Here for Victor Hotel Website) 

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View of the Sangre de Cristos Mountains from the 4th floor rooms of the Victor Hotel

Another aspect of Victor that first-time visitors may find unusual is the large amount of wildlife that freely roam the town, deer and foxes, unconcerned with the people and cars around them. And, almost as if trained, it seems the wildlife prefers to use the painted crosswalks in town when crossing the road- I have been entertained watching this numerous times! Just a reminder though, never ever, ever, feed the wildlife, they are still wild animals, no matter how tame they might appear. Human food harms wildlife, it also causes wildlife to associate humans with food, which is bad for both us and the animals, just don’t do it. Enjoy the critters from a distance and take only photos.

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This well-behaved fox and its family are regular fixtures in downtown Victor

 

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From my hotel room window above I watched this fox use the crosswalks every time it needed to cross the streets in town, take it slow driving through, there are lots of animals roaming town!

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The deer in Victor have the same street smarts as their fox neighbors

Vintage advertising and forlorn, antique mining machinery can be found all over the town. Adding to Victor’s unique personality is the fact that mine shafts exist right in the middle of town! When you find a rich vein of ore while excavating the foundation for a building, you forget about the building and get into the mining business! One the east edge of town a colossal two-story red brick schoolhouse with an imposing flight of stairs leading to its front door dominates the view. Below the school is the “Gold Bowl” a football field built many decades ago- The entire project was paid for with gold ore excavated while leveling the playing field!

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Vintage advertising abounds in the streets of Victor

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A small fraction of the vintage mining equipment scattered about Victor

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An old tractor

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This beautiful old Buick watches over things from a ridge above town, deer tracks nearby

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The old Colorado & Midland train station in Victor

North, east, south, and west of Victor’s business district are rows of Victorian era residences. Many occupied year-round, others occupied seasonally, and plenty abandoned and forlorn. You can take one look up and down the streets and sense what a beautiful town Victor was in its prime. The people here lived a good, comfortable life, before the mines went bust.

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Trapped in time

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Remarkable woodwork on this old beauty!

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Withered beauty

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If walls could talk

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Craftsmanship which has weathered the harsh winds of time

 

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Mine tailings in the middle of a row of homes

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Once called “home” by a miner and his family

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The old Texaco at the edge of town hasn’t plugged a flat or changed oil in many years

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A  doe deer inspects the “skinny” house on the east end of town

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And a minute later….the buck deer arrived

Victor, Colorado, now only a shadow of its former glory is truly a gem to visit if you are a history buff or interested in the history of mining. Victor and Cripple Creek, Colorado were the heart of a massive gold-producing district from around 1895 to 1930s. Mining structures, debris, and abandoned and occupied homes and businesses dating to the boom years radiate out in all directions from Victor. Newmont Gold which still operates the sprawling mine nearby along with Teller County and various historic/preservation societies have teamed up to construct a series of walking paths that wind their way through many of the old mining areas, which give visitors an up close look at the structures and equipment used 100 years ago.

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Miners at the Vindicator just north of Victor, today a foot path leads you to the ruins of the mill in he background of this photo, much, much more impressive in person!

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The towering remains of the Vindicator north of Victor, a foot path I didn’t care to walk in the snow leads below for an awe-inspiring view of this enormous ghost structure

 

If you find yourself in the Colorado Springs or Canon City, Colorado area, be sure to plan a day trip to visit nearby Victor and soak up this town’s very unique atmosphere and wonderful sights!

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Locals

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A handsome fella

2019 Ghosts of Colorado Calendars Only $14.99 CLICK HERE!

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