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Gold Fever in Ojo de la Casa
as told by Patricio Gallegos
Stories of William Eckert and Juan Maria Gallegos, retold by J. P. Batchen
Whenever men gathered along the old Santa Fe Trail and told of tales they had heard of New Mexico, there was repeated by someone, the legend of the old Montezuma Mine located somewhere at the north end of the Sandia Mountains. Dick Wooten heard of it at Trinidad and at Raton Pass. He became interested to the point of trying to locate it. As the legend goes, every sign of the locations were obliterated. He could find nothing. But he did find an old Indian in the vicinity who lay sick on the floor of his little house. No one lived near him and he was too ill to rise to his feet. Wooten gave him some of the food he had brought with him. He nursed the old Indian back to health. Then he asked him where the Montezuma Mine was. The story goes that it took Wooten several days to persuade the old Indian to talk, then he was told that he could not tell any one of the spot. Wooten waited and continued sharing his grubstake. Finally the old Indian confided to Wooten that he was most grateful for the care he had given him and he felt that Wooten had saved his life and while he could not tell him, he told Wooten to watch him as he walked along the mountainside and note the places he stopped. And so it was that later Wooten discovered arrows cut in the rocks pointing in one direction. He located a spot and set to work with his pick and shovel. He did unearth a working that had been filled in, or else had caved in. For years the mine, or rather, workings that resulted was called “The Wooten Mine.”
But it was in the late 1870s and the early 80 s that things happened in Ojo de La Casa to break the monotony of goat herding, wood hauling, and food problems. The young prospector who had somehow possessed himself of the house of Santos Lavato started a hunt for gold, urged on by the tempting legend of the old Montezuma Mine. And the hunt was stimulated by the fact that there was an awakening in New Mexico to the possibilities of hidden mineral wealth in the Area from Santa Fe to the south end of the Sandias. On the high tide of the excitement a prospector named Wilson came into Ojo de La Casa. He located claims at the north end of the Sandias where legend located the old Montezuma. Many prospectors followed him and soon the whole Sandia ridge, the length of the Las Huertas Cañon was staked with claims and the locations registered at Albuquerque, the county seat.
All this meant assessment work if the claims were to be held, according to the law. Ojo de La Casa was alive to the earning power of the pick and shovel. Digging started, times prospered, and everyone became accustomed to the chink of silver in his pocket. Wilson opened a saloon, and the inevitable gaming table of the day went with it. The peace and quiet of the hidden village was lost in the din of blasts of gunpowder, and the noise of drunken brawls originating at Wilson’s saloon and terminating anywhere and everywhere.
The sudden and mysterious slaying of Wilson and the looting of his place closed the saloon. He was buried with scant ceremony in his dooryard for he had a highly developed ability for piling up ill will against himself. The murder never came to the notice of the law and so it passed.
Through legal steps, his mine came into the possession of the young prospector. However, by now the gold fever had burned itself out in Ojo de La Casa. Besides, the Bland gold fever was on.
Before Ojo de La Casa settled back into lethargy, old Francisco staged a last gold hunt. He thought backward and forward, dipped his hands into his empty pockets, and then he sought the prospector, who was not so young any more but who still believed in tales of hidden treasure. Francisco told him a tale of his youth, how one day while he was herding his goats in the mountains one kid strayed from the flock and became lost. He hunted everywhere, up and down the mountainside until he himself became lost. Then he heard the cry of the kid in thick underbrush. Oaks grew so thick that he could not see through them, so he crawled along peering, breaking his way with his hands. Suddenly he came to the edge of a deep cave with a ladder sticking out of it. He wanted to see what was in the cave, so he went down the ladder, and there at the bottom of the cave he saw a little room dug out of one side. In that room, he saw piles of shining gold and silver bars. He was so frightened at seeing so much treasure right there before him that he did not hear any one come down the ladder. The first thing he knew somebody threw a blanket over his head and he was carried up the ladder and a long way off from the cave. Then rough hands stood him on the ground and jerked the blanket from his head and he saw angry Indians looking at him. They told him if he ever came near that cave, again they would kill him. None of them ever tried to find it.
The prospector hired him at a dollar a day and his dinner to take him over the ground where the cave was located. Francisco’s old eyes lit, and for a week they scoured the vicinity where the cave was hidden in the thick brush but no evidence of it could they find. When old Francisco sensed that the prospector was ready to give up he said, “That be a long time ago. Big rains they come every year. They fill up holes, they make big change, now no can find.”