Maximilian’s Loot

Emperoe Maximilian

The American Southwest has many, many stories of lost Spanish fortune from Louisiana to Southern California.  Most involve lost gold and silver from the hundreds of mines the Spanish operated with slave Indian labor over hundreds of years from the 1500’s to the early 1800’s.  I love reading about these tales of lost treasure.  However, there is one story of lost wealth in West Texas that captured my interest because it did not involve the Spanish but rather the French.  Also, it was not just lost gold and silver ingots that had been mined but rather gold and silver coins, plates, utensils and candlesticks.  And, in addition the lost loot included jewels. The story also takes place long after the Spanish are gone, actually during and shortly our Civil War.  It is the tale of Maximilian’s treasure.

In 1862 Mexico defaulted on some loans to France.  Napoleon III was wanting to expand the French empire and used the excuse of Mexico’s loan default to invade.  Neither Britain nor Spain offered protest and of course the United States was embroiled in conflict.  The invasion and defeat of Mexico took over a year and in 1864 an Austrian named Ferdinand Maximilian was placed as Emperor of Mexico.  His rule would not last long.  During his short reign the upper class of the Mexican populace lavished him with expensive gifts which he seemed to have a never ending appetite for.  The American Civil War ended shortly after he gained his throne and it was obvious the United States wanted the French out of Mexico.  He realized his time was short and that the Mexicans may not let him get out of the country alive much less with his wealth.  In 1866 He devised a plan to transport his riches by way of Texas to Galveston and form there back to France.  

        The loot was hidden among barrels of flour on fifteen wagon loads as it crossed into Texas near present day Presidio.  I live in West Texas and have traveled it extensively and let me tell you Presidio is way out in the middle of nowhere.  It is west of Big Bend National Park and east of El Paso. 
A very remote area, and a long, long way from San Antonio, much less Galveston.  The wagon train had the ill fortune of meeting a group of renegade Confederates on the way to Mexico.  The Confederates reported seeing Indians so the Austrians hired the Confederates to protect them on the long journey from Presidio to San Antonio.  During the trek the Confederates noticed the Austrian guards were over protective of the flour.  As they headed east somewhere near the Pecos River the curiosity of the Confederates got them to spying into the flour barrels.  After discovering the hidden treasure, you guessed it, they killed everyone who had traveled from Mexico. They buried the jewels and most of the loot and made the wagons look like they had been attacked and destroyed.  They then decided to carry with them as much of the coins as their saddlebags would carry, anxious to get to San Antonio.  They would of course return later to retrieve the buried riches.  One of them fell ill and was thereafter shot and left behind to die in the Texas sun.  He survived only to catch up with the others who themselves had been killed by either Comanche or outlaws, empty saddlebags strewn about.  This lone survivor of Maximilian’s expedition was picked up by some horse thieves who were then arrested by a sheriff.  They need to make a movie about this if they have not already. 

        The wounded man placed in jail told his tale to a doctor and an attorney shortly before succumbing to infection from his gunshot wound.  He drew them a map on where to find Maximilian’s treasure.   Several years passed until the Indians were pushed further west before the doctor and attorney used the map to try and locate the loot, and once again as you probably guessed they found nothing.  Supposedly, the whereabouts is somewhere along the Pecos river south of Odessa.  Sounds easy enough but that is still a big area, even if the tale is true.  I suspect there is some truth to the story but then again Texans like to tell tall tales. 

        As for Maximilian, he never did get out of Mexico, and was executed in 1867.  So there you are, a little bit of history entwined with a treasure tale.  Those are some my favorite to share.