Some of you will know this story as the “Frenchman’s Gold” from Steve Wilson’s book, Oklahoma Treasures and Treasure Tales. I have purposely not looked at his book while writing this article so that I wouldn’t be influenced by his information. It may turn out to be the exact same story but I have gathered the information from other sources to hopefully add something new to the legend. A legend that appears to have some pretty good merit to it. This will be a condensed version due to the blog but for those of you that haven’t heard the story it may just get you doing some more research. This one is just for you Rockman!
This story starts out in the very late 1700’s with a man named Padre La Farge who wasn’t really a Padre at all. Padre La Farge was a frog (French) that had gone into the priesthood. He was sent to Mexico to spread the word however he failed to heed the word himself. La Farge was convicted of killing a nun, defrocked and sent to prison. He was released from prison several years later but continued to act and dress like a priest and later found that this worked well as a disguise as he killed and robbed Mexican miners. It would seem that the Padre wasn’t paying attention during his priestly classes.
Padre La Farge joined up with six other frogs and journeyed to Taos where they tried to mine gold from a placer mining operation. The Padre and his cohorts were as bad at mining as La Farge was at being a Padre and they couldn’t make much money with the work they were doing. This is when they decided it would be easier to take the gold already mined by others instead of mining it themselves. Over a period of several weeks the seven frogs robbed and killed twenty-two miners, taking their gold and storing it to dispose of later.
Once they had a fairly large hoard of gold the Padre and his pals hired a Mexican by the name of Jose Lopat to smelt the gold and form it into ingots. Jose was able to make 500 gold bars, apparently weighing about eight pounds each, before the frogs decided it was time to high tail it out of Dodge, so to speak.
In 1804 they loaded the 500 gold bars onto six oxcarts and then covered the gold with furs and other supplies and headed out for the Santa Fe Trail with New Orleans as their final destination. They planed on shipping the gold back to France and living the high life with their gold. They took with them Jose Lopat as a guide and several Indian slaves for any hard labor along the way.
As the frogs got into what is now the panhandle of Oklahoma they ran across some other travelers that told them New Orleans had become part of the United States and didn’t belong to France anymore. Fearing that the U.S. might confiscate their gold once they got to New Orleans Padre La Farge decided to camp out at a spring near Sugar Loaf Mountain, (also called Sugar Loaf Peak) which today is thought to be Flagg Spring in Cimarron County, OK.
La Farge sent two of his party on to New Orleans to arrange for a boat to meet them along the coast where the prying eyes of the U.S. government would not be found. He instructed the Indian slaves to build several dug outs and a few small rock buildings so they could make it through the winter as it was thought the round trip of the two men going to New Orleans would take 3 ½ months.
By the end of December 1804 the two men that had left for New Orleans had not returned and the Padre decided to bury the gold until he could figure out how to get it back to France. La Farge sent Jose Lopat and the Indian slaves to Santa Fe and he and the remaining Frenchmen buried the gold.
Several months later the Padre arrived in Santa Fe by himself and tried to enlist Jose Lopat to act as a guide to lead him back to the gold bars and help him recover the treasure. By this time Lopat had learned of the Padres past indiscretions and thought that the Padre had more than likely killed the other frenchies that were with him at the spring. Lopat told La Farge he wanted a few days to think over his offer.
During that time someone who had been in one of the mining groups the Padre had robbed recognized the La Farge. It wasn’t long before a mob had formed in the town and was searching for La Farge. They found him several miles outside of Santa Fe and that is where he was buried, never to retrieve his five hundred bars of gold.
Lopat thought that from what he knew from being there and what little information La Farge had told him in Santa Fe that he could locate the gold bars himself. Jose Lopat went to look for the gold but couldn’t find any clues as to where the gold might be hidden.
I should point out that majority of the story up to this point is mainly due to Jose Lopat and his foresight of writing down the particulars of what had happened into his family bible.
In 1870 a series of stone markers in the shape of a V were found along the “Old Spanish Trail”. The markers were made of large stones rolled into place and each V was between 5 and 10 miles apart. These started near Santa Fe and continued “to the settlement of Las Vegas” before they disappeared. Each V pointed in the direction to go. In 1900 part this trail of V markers was found again near Clayton, New Mexico and the trail headed towards the Oklahoma panhandle. This trail of V shape markers was followed over the next two years and led the man following them, a rancher named Ryan, to Flagg Spring. He continued his search around Flagg Spring for several more years but never found any gold.
Ryan’s great nephew, Cy Strong, had a ranch near the base of Sugar Loaf Mountain (Peak) and spent time searching for this treasure too. Mr. Strong found the remains of some old dugouts and adobe buildings near Flagg Spring but his search never revealed any gold.
There are stories that indicate there may be two treasures, one very near Sugar Loaf Mountain/Peak and the other very near Flagg Spring. These stories could be about the same treasure and both locations could be valid. Nothing says that Padre La Farge couldn’t have split the treasure into two or more separate caches and hidden them in different places. I would find this to be a very likely scenario.
I will say that I have a very reliable source that has told me that at least some of this treasure has been recovered. It took a large truck to move it and the truck was driven out onto the plain where a hole was dug and the treasure recovered. This happened 35-40 years ago. Did they get it all? I don’t think so based on what I was told. Was I told the whole story? Of course not! Would I think this was worth a trip or two to the Oklahoma panhandle to check out, you betcha!!