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.


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                When I hear the word, “explorers,” the first thing that comes to my mind are the Spanish explorers.  Nowadays, I often think of archeologists such as Indiana Jones in the context of explorers with the adventure element.  For the most part my mind is still captivated by the wooden ships of the high seas discovering unknown and exotic far away destinations during the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries.  

            I love history and it began for me in early childhood during the 1950’s with the Davy Crocket and Daniel Boone stories.  Then in fifth grade we studied world history and the chapter on the Spanish explorers still rings in my mind.  I recall memorizing names such as Columbus, Balboa, Pizarro, Cortes, Ponce de Leon, Magellan and many others.  The picture in our schoolbook introducing that chapter had a colorful picture of the Spanish with their swords and muskets strapped to their belts standing on the sandy seashore with the masts of their ships in the nearby blue ocean behind them.  One of the men held the Spanish flag.  They looked like they were about to embark on an adventure.  They also had those cool helmets.

Francisco Pizarro

            We all know the wealth in gold, silver and gems that Spain acquired from the New World and the fortunes to be found.  Stories of fabled gold such as El Dorado in South America and Coronado’s golden Seven Cities of Cibolo in western Texas continue to intrigue us.  Not to mention tales of pirate treasure that also emerged during that same period of European exploration in the context of world history. 

            When I was creating the board game TreasureTrove I wanted to give players an option of choosing a player token representing what they might want to be if they were searching the world for fabled treasure.  For some, that might be like Indiana Jones and therefore they would want to be an archeologist.  Someone else may be fascinated with underwater diving and they might want to SCUBA for wealth such as a deep sea diver.  Others my think of an oil man exploring for black gold such as a wildcatter of the early 20th century.   A tycoon with money to invest in treasure hunts is in many ways the adventuresome individual of modern times.  For me though it will always be pirates and Spanish explorers that come to my mind when treasure is to be found.  Player tokens representing each of these give participants a choice in what they would want to be if they could travel the world hunting for treasure. 

            I choose to use a purple helmet to represent the conquistador.  You had to be of royalty to be given ships to explore the high seas and purple represents royalty.  I thought the helmet more than anything represents the Spanish explorer.  I also think conquistador is a cool name.

player token from TreasureTrove game board

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Brugge Belgium

            The older I get the more I value my happy memories.  Some years I don’t have as many good memories as others, and it seems the years we traveled more bring back a host of good stories. My early years with the Air Force while stationed overseas was a good time in my life.  Such times I have begun to treasure in my memory bank.

           The year was 1980.  My wife and I were recently stationed in Germany with the Air Force.  After years of school and no money we were ready to travel.  I told her one of the men at work told me we would enjoy visiting a small quaint town in Belgium called Brugge.  We hopped in our little Opel Manta on a Friday morning and drove off.  No kids yet, a little free time, and finally, we had a little bit of money.  About a five to seven hour drive depending on how often we would stop. 

            The weather was beautiful all weekend.  We stooped in Brussels on the way and walked the town square.  Spent a little bit of time finding what we thought was a famous landmark called the Statue of Pis.  It turned out to be a little dinky statue of a little boy relieving himself.  I guess everyone that visits Brussels gets suckered into this silly tourist trap about a block off the main square.

Statue of Pis, Brussels, Belgium

            We arrived in Brugge late in the afternoon.  The window of our hotel room overlooked the cobblestone town square where several eateries awaited.  The church on the square would chime hourly.  I have always liked church bells although most of my life I have not lived near churches that have bells to ring.  The first night we dined at an open air restaurant on the square.  I enjoyed the clickity clack of the cobblestone as people walked or rode their bikes through town.  I also delighted in sipping some delicious purple wine.  I’m not much of a drinker so it doesn’t take much for me to get tipsy.

            The next morning we took a short tourist boat ride down the canals of the small river that traversed through the little town.  Brugge has an interesting past.   It was the primary harbor for the area for centuries.  In time the harbor filled in with silt and Antwerp replaced Brugge as the main harbor to Belgium.  The architecture of the buildings reveals the various people who have ruled over the town for almost a millennium.  In addition to its Flemish , it has been has been under the oversight of the Spanish, the English, the Dutch, and the French.  The tour guide on the boat ride pointed out that each of these cultures may have been present in the area for centuries thereby leaving their influence. 

            Belgium is full of antique shops if that is your thing.  We spent a few hours at a flea market that had some cool antiques.  Some of it was really old.  I was surprised at the significant amount of military paraphernalia such as helmets, canteens and so forth from both world wars. 

            For lunch we drove a short distance to an ocean side café with a cool breeze.  What do you think we ordered?

            a.  crepes

            b.  Brussel sprouts

            c.  Belgium waffle

            Well, you guessed it; a delicious waffle.  By the way, I also like crepes, but will never like Brussel sprouts.  That evening we dined at an Italian eatery nestled on the river within the town. 

             We left on a Sunday morning with unusually warm weather and stopped at a nearby American cemetery called Flanders Fields.  I was a little intrigued with the place because while in high school I had given a brief oral report by a poem written by a soldier who was at Flanders Fields during the First World War.  We had a wonderful visit.  That afternoon we stopped at Waterloo.  It has a decent little museum but the battlefield itself is gone.  Our last stop of the day was a Bastogne, Belgium where the World War II Battle of the Bulge was fought.  All three battlefields visited in one day and not rushed.  It was a delightful trip and one of the ones we most fondly remember of our many while stationed in Germany.




Bastogne, Belgium