Posts Tagged ‘The Gray Ghosts of Colorado’

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!