TREASURE OF SKELTON CANYON
Back in June of 2007, while writing about Wyatt Earp, I mentioned Old Man Ike Clayton participating in a attract on a group of Mexican bandits making their way over the border with a large amount of ill-gotten loot. This is a more in-depth look at the event and the legend that has grown out of the action. (Here most of these facts are gleaned from a article printed Atizona True Legends).
Located gust a few miles from the Mexican border in southeast Arizona is Skeleton Canyon. A long narrow canyon with fingers reaching into new Mexico it was a popular route for smugglers from Mexico to bring contraband into the U, S. for sale on the lucrative Black Market. It was also well known to the bandits on this side of the border, and the Mexican bandits were a easy prey for the more adventuresome American desperado.
In a small Mexican village the Estrada Gang was taking their ease after looting Monterrey in a successful raid in July of 1881. Jim Hughes a American Bandit who spent much of his time roaming the lawless areas of the southwest and Mexico overheard the Bandits discussing their plans to smuggle their plunder over the border through the long narrow canyon that would later become known as Skeleton Canyon after their ill-fated adventure.
Hughes rushed back to Arizona, to the town of Tombstone where he advised "Curly Bill Brazos" of the Mexican outlaws plans. He later met up with Billy Clanton, whom he had met the year before, who then took hin to his father Newton Hayes Clanton (Old Man Clanton) who was impressed with Hayes plan to ambush the Estrada gang as they traversed the canyon.
The newly enhanced gang was still in the planning stages when their spies informed them the Estrada’s were intending ot smuggle their good in earlier than expected. Curly Bill was out of town, so Hughes decided to take over the enterprise. He recruited a few friends, Zwing Hunt and Billy Grounds, (real name William Bloucher.)
The Estrada Gang was spotted in a area known as the Devil’s Kitchen, just a few mile into Arizona. Here they stopped to prepare a meal and rest their mules. after eating it was time for the afternoon siesta. The American gang was truly awed at the large heavily packed, thirty mule pack train. After all the Mexican gang had fallen asleep the Americans opened fire, the Mexicans stood no chance at all and all were slaughtered. However all the gunfire panicked the mules and thay began to run. They were scattering so badly that in desperation the gang shot them all.
When the gun-smoke cleared nine-teen Mexican bandits and twenty-nine mules lay dead. It is the worst Massacre recorded in Arizona history. According to the legend the gang gathered up a total of $75,000 in coin, jewelry and artifacts. How ever with the slaughter of all the mules they had no way to pack out the vast treasure trove. Their horse could not carry such a heavy load, so the each divided up a small amount they could carry with them. They buried the rest nearby for later retrieval. They then retired to their hangouts in the nearby towns to sped their new found wealth.
While the others were enjoying their new wealth with new-found friends Jim Hughes had other plans. He rejoined with Zwing Hunt and Billy Grounds and concocted a plan to double-cross the others. Hughes would stay in town so as not arouse the suspicions of the others, while Grounds and Hunt would go to Skeleton Canyon and dig up the treasure and re-hide it elsewhere. The idea was only the three of them would know the new hiding place. Zwing and Clanton found a Mexican teamster agreed to take his wagon and horses into the canyon. They dug up the treasure at the end of the canyon and moved it further up the canyon or someplace nearby. Of course you know the type of people we are dealing with here, they killed the Mexican and shot hishorses after they had served their purpose and were need on more. It is said they buried the man and his horses and burned the wagon over the spot where they had buried the loot-to mark the spot..
Now only Zwing and Clanton knew where the loot was buried. Fearing retaliation from the rest of the gang they went into hiding. They supposedly found refuge in a desert cave where they stayed for four months. At this time Billy wrote a series of letters to his sister, Maggie Clark, in San Antonio, Texas. He told her where the treasure was buried in case he did not come out of the event alive. He would come out of the canyon and stop the stagecoach to have the driver post his letters.
After some of the old gang was killed in the shootout at the O. K. Corral in Tombstone, they came out of hiding. On March 25, they tried to rob Tombstone Mining and Milling Company in Charleston, near Tombstone. The robbery did not work as planed one man was killed. They fled the area, but had been positively identified. (why in God’s name would two men sitting on top of a buried treasure like they were do something so stupid, I don’t know. Just the criminal mentality I guess.) They went into hiding at Jack Chandlers Ranch.
A shoot out ensued when the posse trapped them at Chandler’s Ranch. Billy Grounds was killed and Zwing badly wounded. Zwing was taken to the hospital in Tombstone . When Hughes heard of Zwing’s wounding and capture he rushed to the hospital in tombstone, hoping to learn where the treasure was concealed. On his arrival he found that Zwing was doing better than expected and had persuaded the doctors to let him go for a buggy ride with a friend. It is believed it was his brother, Hugh Hunt, in disguise. Zwing was never seen again.
Zwing’s brother Hugh, later declared his brother was killed in a Indian fight after his escape from the hospital. A group of Army scouts were reported to have buried him in what today is known a Hunt’s Canyon. A third story is that Hugh and Zwing made their way to their home in San Antonio where Zwing died of his wounds. It is said that he drew a map of the burial site of the treasure for his uncle. On the map it gave the burial site was at the base of Davis Mountain. The only trouble was that Billy and Zwing named Davis mountain after a friend of theirs and no one else knew the mountain by that name. Other clues were worthless also one said that very close to the mountain was curving canyon with its east wal completely rocky and bare and the west covered with trees. also through the same canyon ran a small stream with a ten foot drop where the water fell to two springs. Twenty steps east of the treasure was a square shaped rock three feet high. Over the treasure was the remains of a burned wagon.
The Hunt family hunted for years and never found the site. The two springs nevere were lcted. The earthquake of 1886, might have caused the springs to be buried or dry up, or they migh have only flowed after a spring rain. The remains of a burnt wagon was found once but no treasure was found under it.
Billy wrote in one of his letters that from the mouth of the cave you can see the turf growing over where we buried the treasure. Many caves have been found in the astrea one even had remains of rotting ropes in it. but still no treasure in the area.
Through the years, many old Mexican coins have been found in the canyon. And numerous human skulls and bones and mule bones have turned up in the canyon. In 1891 cowboy and government official found a leather pouch with several thousand dollars of Mexican coins inside. The story is that a cigar box full of jewels, two figures of pure gold,$90,000 in Mexican silver dollars, 39 gold bard and numerous bags of gold coins were included in the lost treasure. The article says enough evidence exists to validate the legend.
If it exists(?), it is still hidden, or someone sure has a closed mouth. How many expeditions do you suppose has been mounted to find this treasure? I expect the Radio Shack in southeast Arizona has done a good business in metal detectors. I know I have a seldom used one hidden away in the junk in my bedroom. I have never heard much about this one, I suppose if you lived in the area you would be well versed in the lore. I know in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona near Phoenix, there were a number of people killed looking for the Lost Dutchman. There were some large well funded parties involved in that search. I have seen those rugged mountains from a distance and even have a topographical map of the area. My thirst for the old west and adventure never pulled me in that area.
Well this little peek into history is over for now. If you have more to add pleade do.