Montezuma’s treasure has been on people’s minds for ages. The question is, does it really exist? When Cortez arrived in Mesoamerica in the early 1500s, Montezuma thought he was the Great White God Quetzalcoatl, who had promised to return one day. It didn’t take long for Montezuma to realize that he had made a mistake. Cortez was a cruel man and began treating the Aztecs abominably. The king, for his own reasons, refused to fight Cortez, but the people had had enough and decided to rebel.
After a great and terrible battle, the Spanish conquistadors were driven back, away from Tenochtitlan, Mexico. During this rebellion, Montezuma was killed, either by the Spaniards or his own people. No one knows for sure. While the Spaniards were taking care of their wounded, the Aztecs quickly bundled up their treasure and took off with it. They had to protect it with their lives because it was sacred. For years, they kept the treasure in honor of their god when he returned. It was a gift to Quetzalcoatl and was estimated at around $10,000,000 worth of gold and jewels.
Is this just a myth? A legend? Cortez actually left a record telling about the Aztec gold. In 1519, his chronicler, Bernal Diaz, recorded what he saw in the village: “All the riches of the world were in that room.” Diaz said that he saw a golden wheel in the form of a sun that was as big as a cartwheel with pictures engraved upon it. There was a silver one, which was an imitation of the moon, and golden statuettes in the shape of jaguars. When Cortez finally won the battle and entered the room where the treasure was kept, he found nothing. After searching the whole village, he found a few statues, which had been thrown in the lake. The Aztecs tried to hide what they didn’t take with them. They didn’t think he would look in a lake. The archeologists figured the rest had been transported to a faraway land where Cortez would never find the treasure.
The search for Montezuma’s treasure has intrigued many people. In 1914, an old prospector by the name of Freddy Crystal had a newspaper clipping of Anasazi art. It was a photograph of a petroglyph engraved on the side of a cliff located in Johnson Canyon, not far from Kanab, Utah. The petroglyph was similar to the etchings on a treasure map he had found years earlier. After searching the canyon for two long years, he left and returned in 1920 with another map he had obtained in Mexico. It was a copy of a four hundred-year-old maguey map that he found in a depository of a Mexican monastery.
Maguey is a fibrous plant that is cultivated in Mexico. Years ago they used it like paper and it lasted for centuries. Freddy said that he met a descendant of Montezuma who gave his interpretation of the second map. It showed a canyon with seven mountains: four mountains to the north, one on the east side, one on the west, and another on the south. That described the topography of Kanab to a tee. The petroglyphs matched his first map, but the topography matched his second map. The second one had more details. It showed steps on the side of a mountain and marshland below. White Mountain just happened to have steps carved into the sandstone that ascended more than one hundred feet. The only exception was the marshland, which didn’t exist. According to Freddy, marshlands dry up so he didn’t worry about it.
Freddy Crystal promised to share the treasure with all the townsfolk in Kanab if they helped him dig and search for it. For the next two years, at the bottom of White Mountain, a large tent city was erected and townsfolk went everyday to help Freddy search for the gold. All the stores and businesses shut down every day so they could dig. It was an exciting time for everyone.
The town of Kanab was unlike any other town in the United States. They had elected a mayor and a city council of all women, something unheard of in 1920. Women’s rights were not yet recognized in the East. It was the first petticoat government in all history. In fact, these good women made sure the county court opened and closed with prayer every time they met. Wow! A petticoat government! How awesome is that!
When the townsfolk agreed to help Freddy, Kanab’s city council voted to not have any publicity about the treasure because they didn’t want the word to get out. If that happened, people from all over the country would invade their little town and no one wanted that. They remembered what happened to California and the gold rush. So, if anyone uttered the word “treasure,” they were fined.
They dug and blasted until they found a cave with a series of rooms. They actually found tunnels with booby-traps, but no gold. Three boulders almost killed Freddy as they fell to the ground. He claimed they had been set on purpose by the Aztecs. When no gold was found, they figured the Aztecs had moved the treasure to another spot. After everyone gave up, Freddy left…disappeared…never to be seen again.
Every now and then someone will find the “Aztec Treasure Sign” but no treasure. Many tribes believe that the treasure is protected. But protected by whom? Legend says that after hiding everything from Cortez, the tribe designated certain guardians to protect the treasure. If someone gets too close, they will do everything in their power to protect it and quickly move it to another spot. Some people believe their spirits still guard it today.
So where is Montezuma’s treasure? Does it still exist? Is it hidden among the Utah Mountains? It’s still a mystery to this day. The subject was so intriguing to me that I sat down and began writing my new mystery/adventure novel: Montezuma Intrigue. This book is about mysterious events, the search for Montezuma’s treasure, a good-looking rogue, and family secrets. How important is it to learn about the past? When a leather parchment of Montezuma’s map is found in great-grandfather Evans’ old chest, April and the twins know this summer is going to be a memorable one.
Written by Linda Weaver Clarke, author of Montezuma Intrigue: The Adventures of John and Julia Evans mystery series. To learn more, visit www.lindaweaverclarke.com.