The Lost Mine of Juan Mondragón
A true folk tale, told by Melaquías Romero...
Let me tell you about the very rich mine of the late Juan Mondragón. Thousands and thousands of people are searching for that mine and nobody has been able to find it. I wish someday it would be found, so that it could provide a living for everyone.
There is enough for everyone, you know. This mine could make everyone rich. But nobody has been able to find it, because the late Juan Mondragón sealed it with very heavy rocks and stones, and then he threw dirt over it, and then he drove sheep over it.
But someone will find it someday, I'm sure...
Three Germans, Judge Long and my aunt Floraida
This very rich mine of Juan Mondragón was first worked by the Spaniards. They knew how to find gold with wooden rods, you see. Then the mine was worked by the Sãnchez from over there, in Mora... They found it and took mules loaded with gold to Mora, and they buried the gold there in a house and in a church.
And then there were these three Germans. They used to live in La Cueva, where the road turns to the left, to Las Vegas, nearby the big orchard they planted when they found the rich mine of Juan Mondragón. The corral was filled with cattle and sheep, because they were millonaires, ad the house is still there, on the hill. It has a wall about four feet high, made of rock and it's big, very big.
The three Germans came all the way from Buena Vista on a spotted donkey and early one morning they simply disappeared somewhere between Tres Ritos and the Cañada de los Alamitos. They disappeared for three or four days and they came back with their spotted donkey loaded with small sacks and lots of gold.
It's said that on one of their return trips from up at the mine the two younger Germans killed the oldest and buried him in the mine.
When they came across a man on a spotted horse, they offered him a handful of gold for his horse, but the man said: ‘No, I don't know what this is, you see? Maybe it's worthless! You should give me a hundred dollars for my spotted horse!'
The ruins are still there, the ruins of the store where the two Germans took the man to weigh the gold. They gave him a hundred dollars and a gallon of wine for his spotted horse.
After you go way up into the Cañada de los Alamitos, into the mountains... there is a ridge, long and barren, to Truchas Peak Lake. And somewhere on the other side, you'll find the very rich mine of Juan Mondragón... I know it for sure, because one of the two Germans was the great-grandfather of my aunt Floraida and she said that they brought the gold and shared it fifty-fifty with ‘Sito Candelario, the one with the museum in Santa Fe. They didn't know what to do with the gold, you know. They used to travel as far as New York to make jewelry of the gold.
New Mexico was a territory in those days and the one who was in charge in Las Vegas was called Judge Long. He was like the late Vicente Mondragón here in Córdova, a local judge who was in charge in Las Vegas, like a governor. Judge Long was a great friend of the two Germans and whenever the time was drawing near that they would go over there, he asked them to take him to the very rich mine of Juan Mondragón, but they never did. They didn't go until the end of June or the beginning of July, because when there was a lot of snow like this past winter, people couldn't go up there...
But this summer, when Judge Long saw his friends getting ready to go, he asked again why they wouldn't take him to the mine, since they were such good friends. And now, finally, they said: ‘Okay, we'll take you there... but on one condition! We'll leave from here and we'll go on horseback as far as a certain place, and from that place on up, we're going to blindfold you. And when we arrive at the site, we'll get you down from your horse and we'll open the entrance to the shaft, where you have to go down... It's a short descent, only nine feet deep, to two rooms inside... If you agree with this condition, we'll take you with us.'
Judge Long agreed and they left. They went up through the Cañada de los Alamitos, blindfolded him and when they arrived at the spot, they unsealed the entrance to the shaft so that he could descend. They lowered him, still blindfolded... and when he was already inside they sealed the entrance above him and kept him two, three days inside.
Judge Long wrote a memoir about everything he saw in this very rich mine of Juan Mondragón, because there was water here and there was the very best kind of foods. There were sacks of coffee too, and grinders to grind the coffee and there was a forge to melt the gold. In his written account, Judge Long said they melted three or four bars from the gold, worth three to four million dollars.
I remember that I went to see my aunt Floraida in Las Vegas. When I got there, I saw this portrait of her great-grandfather, the German. And she told me he once was an owner of the very rich mine of Juan Mondragón. When he got ill, the other one came to see him and he stayed there all day long. He left for home and the next morning the great-grandfather of my aunt Floraida died. When she told his friend about his death, he came right away and as soon as he saw his companion lying dead, he began to weep out loud for him. In the afternoon he died as well and so, there was this very rich mine up there and the two owners who were dead by now...
The Death of Juan Mondragón
His name was Ambrosio Romero, he came from Colorado and he lived for nine years here in Santa Fe, when he told my cousin Miguel and my brother Severo that he had found a shaft, and went straight down, and found two rooms there and everything inside was pure gold. Ambrosio went to work as a sheepherder up there, for the Garcías... but when he returned, he found the very rich mine sealed with logs and rocks and dirt. I guess what happened is that the late Juan Mondragón had found it after the late Ambrosio, and that he was the one who sealed it.
It's said that Juan Mondragón had this rich mine, because he used to take gold to ‘Sito Candelario. It's said he had this mine in Bordo Pelón too, the one we call El Bordo, and another very rich mine in Sierra Mosca.
Juan Mondragón worked for this man García, together with Marcelino Trujillo, who was a good friend of my brother Severo. So Severo told me that Marcelino told him how their boss went up there, on about the tenth of September, to take them supplies. It was a long way to the campground and he slept a night up there and in the morning, after they had breakfast, he started to saddle his horse.
‘Boss, don't go!' Juan Mondragón said. 'I feel like... showing you one of my mines! I have three rich sites, you know, and I'm going to show you one of them today.'
‘How could you have any mines?' this man García laughed. ‘If you had rich mines, you wouldn't be working for me!'
Juan Mondragón earned eighteen dollars a month. Out of the goodness of his heart he wanted to show his boss one of his mines - he sure liked the man! - but García didn't believe him. He didn't want to go and see one of the mines and Juan Mondragón said to him: ‘Well, if you don't want to go... someday you'll remember me... and you'll regret it.'
García went back home, it was about the fifteenth of September and everyone used to come back with their sheep now, from up the mountains, down here and towards Santa Fe. And Juan Mondragón stopped by and told him that he no longer would work for him, and he gave him a little bag, something like that Golden Grain Tobacco bag, and it was full of pure gold nuggets. And this man García gave the bag to his wife and said: ‘Put it over there in the toolbox!' - And they forgot about the gold, because in those days men didn't think about anything other than sheep. They were rich in sheep and they didn't think that gold was of any value, I guess.
From there Juan Mondragón went to his own house. He brought things to his wife Elena and to his sister Tonita: rolls of cloth, wrapped in bundles, to make dresses and shirts and aprons. My mother said that when Juan Mondragón came back from herding sheep up there, he would fight a lot with his wife Elene. This was all because of that guy named José Agapito; he had green eyes and he looked like an Anglo-American, he was already an older man but he was single, you see. And when Juan Mondragón went off to herd sheep, José Agapito went in to herd his woman.
José got angry because Juan Mondragón brought presents to his wife Elena, and at that time they had enormous bell shaped fireplaces, you know, and I guess he wanted to kill himself, because he went to the rooftop and he jumped down headfirst, from on top of the chimney. And they couldn't pull him out, because he was stuck, upside down, with his feet sticking up... and when they were able to get a hold of him somehow, with a rope, by his feet, they lifted him up and they had a good laugh.
By the next summer, this man García sent for Juan Mondragón to work for him again, but the answer was: ‘No.' My father, my uncle José, my uncle Benito... they all told me that one day, in the afternoon, Juan Mondragón arrived at the camp of my grandfather, on a donkey and with his dog and some sheep. They really welcomed him and gave him supper and he slept up there. The next day they had breakfast, and then they talked, all day and all night long.
My grandfather, my father, my uncles, they all asked Juan Mondragón: ‘Why don't you show us that rich mine you've got? Look at us, we have nothing but moccasins. All year long, our feet are wet. In the summer because of the rain, in the winter because of the snow... We're poor, we don't have a thousand sheep, but if you show us that rich mine of yours, you'll still be rich, and we... we won't have to be sheepherders.'
Juan Mondragón was a good man. He promised to take them to the mine. But his wife Elena had sent for him and first he had to see what she wanted. ‘I'm going to get up at dawn tomorrow and go there on my donkey, and I'll take some meat in bags with me.' - He would stay no longer with Elena than three days, and then he would return and take my uncle Benito up there. He left them all very happy. ‘This is it!' my grandfather and my father and my uncles exclaimed. ‘Now we won't have to be sheepherders any more!'
Juan Mondragón arrived late that evening and his wife Elena started to cut up the meat he brought with him in little pieces, and she peeled potatoes, and she made a mulligan stew. The next morning, by the time they got up, the mulligan stew was ready and with the potatoes and the onions it tasted very good. But as soon as Juan Mondragón finished his meal, he died. And the food that was left over from the pot was given to the dog and the dog died too.
About four days later, some people from Chimayó arrived at the camp of my grandfather, and they told them how Juan Mondragón became the late Juan Mondragón. ‘Maybe the food was bad,' they said.
My grandfather, my father, my uncles... they all started crying for the late Juan Mondragón. ‘We'll always be sheepherders!' they said.
After Juan Mondragón was buried, it did not take long for his widow to marry again with his guy with the green eyes, José Agapito.
In Search of the Lost Mine of the Late Juan Mondragón
‘They told me in the plaza Juan Mondragón is dead,' this man García said to his wife. ‘Do you remember, last year, that he brought a little bag of small stones? Where did you put them? Go and see what kind of stones they are.'
He was a rich man, but he had never seen any gold in rock form. And they were pure nuggets, you see? So he went with the bag to the home of the late ‘Sito Candelario and he asked him: ‘What's this?'
The old man answered the little bag was full of gold nuggets and they were worth a fortune. ‘What a fool you are!' he said. 'You could be a millionaire today, you wouldn't need to bother with sheep!'
So this man García asked himself who was working with Juan Mondragón... and that was Marcelino Trujillo. He might know something, anything... about one of these three mines.
Marcelino Trujillo said they stayed long at the meadow that is now called Garcías' Meadow, on the lower side of Truchas Lake. ‘The late Juan Mondragón used to go alone up there and when he came back, he never told me anything,' he said.
In the spring, García and Marcelino and my brother Severo and some other men went up there and build a log house where the water falls. Truchas Peak Lake is up above, you know, and the water is coming out of the lake this way, towards Garcías Meadow, and passes on the right side next to the hills... And the other stream comes down alongside the mountains on the left side, over the edge of the meadow on the upper side, in the direction that the sun rises in the morning... And it comes out of the exact middle of the lake, and it drops down a fall, from very high... And that's where the Germans once had their camp...
They looked there for the rich mine of the late Juan Mondragón, but they couldn't find it. They found a beautiful rock and some of them thought it contained gold, but it did not. They didn't find anything... but I do believe you have to search the very rich mine to the north, in the direction of Truchas Peak Lake, not far from the edge of the meadow, in the forest where this man Ambrosio Romero once found a shaft, near a giant spruce tree... I discovered on this tree his initials, you see... A very big A for Ambrosio, a backwards written R, the month 9, the day 14, the year 933... Ambrosio Romero carved his name in that three on September 14, 1933!
I learned that Ambrosio Romero had two sons and I went to talk to them. And they told me their father had found this pit, and he had gone inside and found these two really beautiful rooms there, with walls of white rock. The gold was intermixed with pure white quartz and there was a forge inside. But when he came back, the next year, he found the site sealed, undoubtedly by the late Juan Mondragón.
Ambrosio found work in Santa Fe and didn't return to site, but he used to say that thousands and thousands of people looked for it and had spent millions of dollars searching for it in the area of Priest's Hill, San Antonio Peak... and that's the wrong place, at a distance of some six miles from the right place, here, by Garcías Meadow and Truchas Peak Lake...