Old Gold and Bones in Colorado’s Spanish Cave?

By Richard Rhinehart ~ June 30th, 2009. Filed under: Caving News, Rocky Mountain Caving.

Denver’s 5280 Magazine reports in its July 2009 edition the sensationalistic story of old gold and human skeletons in Colorado’s Spanish Cave. The feature article, by Boulder outdoor author Peter Bronski, tells of a recent visit to the high altitude Sangre de Cristo Mountains cave with members of the Northern Colorado Grotto of the National Speleological Society. During this trip, the team visited much of the known cave system but sadly saw no indication of 15thGolden Opportunity century Spanish Conquistadors and gold mined by Native American slaves. Indeed, no trip to the cave in the last 90 years has seen any indication that the cave once was a Spanish gold mine.

Denver cave historian Donald G. Davis is a veteran Colorado caver, and a man who has been involved in many Western American cave discoveries, from New Mexico to Colorado to Montana. In the early 1960s, as a young caver seeking approval from the “establishment” Colorado Grotto members in Denver, Donald and other cavers from Colorado State University made several major discoveries in Spanish Cave, greatly expanding the scientific knowledge of this important Colorado cave. Yet, his teams and hundreds of other cavers who have visited the cave in the four decades since have failed to find a single piece of evidence indicating the cave was visited 400 years ago by anyone, much less Spanish Conquistadors. Unfortunately, through sensationalistic articles published in publications such as Denver’s 5280 Magazine, rumors of old gold and skeletons persist – not so much because the stories are true, but because they are good stories helpful in selling subscriptions and single copies at newsstands.

Donald Davis is a prolific writer and distinguished cave historian. During the 1960s and 1970s, Donald extensively researched the history of Spanish Cave and found it dates back to only the late 19th century, when residents of the Wet Mountain Valley began exploring the region, mostly for recreation, but also for valuable mineral deposits. It appears that the stories of old gold and skeletons date back only to the late 1910s and early 1920s, when Denver’s two major newspapers, The Denver Post, and the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News, were engaged in a newspaper war to gain paid subscriptions at the expense of the other. Like many other stories of the time, the stories of the “legends” of “La Caverna del Oro” were developed by clever newspaper men seeking to freely mine the gold from reader’s pockets, rather than by journalists who researched news for the truth.

Though the golden era of “yellow” journalism is long gone, it appears the need to sell magazines no matter the truth of the included content continues to this day. Peter Bronski’s “Golden Opportunity” is the most recent example regarding caves.

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Reader's Comments

  1. Scott Webber | December 29th, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    Back in the mid to late 1960’s, I remember seeing an expose’ on Channel 7 (now KMGH) about this cave. I remember clearly their showing a red cross by the side of the entrance. Inside was a shaft and a tunnel that went back to a table and possibly a chair. I’m not sure if there was anything else. When they tried to explore the shaft, they apparently only made it about have way from their description.
    I’ve always wondered if ‘d ever hear about the mine(?) again until now. I would like to know more.

  2. Billy Bog Gascan | April 17th, 2013 at 7:12 am

    Naturally they didn’t find any evidence of 15th century conquistadors because the conquistadors arrived in Mexico during the 16th century. Specifically Cortez arrived in Veracruz on good Friday in 1519 and the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, fell on Tuesday August 13, 1521.