French Ambitions – Treasure Falls, CO

Treasure Falls is at the western end of Wolf Creek Pass near Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Above the falls is Treasure Mountain.

Throughout the 18th century the Spanish and the French fought each other over conflicting claims to the Southwest. The French claimed that Louisiana extended south to the Rio Grande. The Spanish had it that their northern boundary was the Missouri River. The Seegesser Hide Paintings on display at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe depict the Villasur Expedition in 1720, an encounter between French and Spanish. More on the Seegesser Hide Paintings.

So, it is not surprising that legend relates that a party of Frenchmen entered the San Juan Mountains around Wolf Creek Pass sometime after 1750. There they prospected and panned for gold amassing a fortune that might today be worth $33 million. The party was attacked by Indians and perhaps by Spanish. In between attacks they cached their gold near Treasure Falls. Only a handful survived to return to French territory.

In the 1840s, a party of Frenchmen returned to the mountains with a map. They were attacked by Indians and all slain except a single, sole survivor who made his way to Taos where he was arrested. He related a tale of Indian massacre. The authorities didn’t believe his story. They thought the Frenchman responsible for all those deaths and conducted one of the last murder trials in New Mexico under Mexican rule. Some think the French, who were supposed to have been killed, invented the massacre story to help cover their departure from Mexican lands.

In the late 1850s, there was gold-mining activity in the San Juans and around Pagosa Springs. There is gold in those hills even if there isn’t any truth in the story. But, the names Treasure Mountain and Treasure Falls persist.

All treasure stories should be taken with a grain of salt. But, often wrapped up somewhere in the mystery is a grain of truth, something that sparked the original tale, something much distorted and changed.

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