FIG TREE JOHN'S LOST GOLD
AND A TRIP TO FIND IT 60 YEARS AGO
DESERT FEBRUARY 1984
There Is a lure to It like nothing else. A pick and a "frying pan strapped to the back of a grizzly prospector's burro.
It's adventure, uncertainty, and riches. If you are one of the fortunate. If you find It, you can buy all that your heart desires, after making a contribution to the Internal Revenue Service. And If you don't find It?? Well, there has been the fun of looking for It and just because you didn't find any paying color doesn't mean that It Isn't somewhere out there In the hills. Someday you will go back for another try.
Let's go back In time say 130 years ago on so. The place is St. Louis, Missouri. A wagon train has just left for the new land in the west.
Wide open spaces, clean fresh air, a new life, and maybe riches—GOLD had been discovered in California. It is a hard journey but the
travelers always have their eyes on the far horizon that never seems to end on the plains of Kansas and Oklahoma, but which gradually disappear as the Rocky Mountains come in to view. It Is raw, undeveloped country with no freeways, no motels, not even an Howard Johnsons or gas station. Its population is mostly animals and Indians. And then comes the deserts.
The deserts and fierce Indians.
One morning there Is the streak of an arrow screaming towards the wagon train, the spine-chilling yells breaking the stillness of the glistening sands that means Indians on the attack. The whole affair does not take long. The travelers don't have a chance against the greater number of Indians on their superior knowledge of the area and attack abilities. The wagon train Is now a smoking heap under the same blue sky that
earlier smiled at the travelers. The Indians have left now, taking their booty with them. But, what Ls the spot on the horizon??
A survivor?? Yes. A survivor, running aimlessly across the burning sands, unseen by the attackers. Tears In his eyes, fear in his heart, he runs as fast as he can. He Is a five year old boy. But what is this?? An Indian on a pony Is swiftly approaching. Quickly he Is scooped up by a strong bronze arm and held to Its rider. The pony and Its rider rejoin the other Indians galloping across the desert towards the low foothills to the south. The hills close in behind them. The wagon train is now only a mess of glowing embers. The thoughts of a new life and riches have gone up In smoke.
The time Is now about 1880. A man knocks on the door of a St. Louis boarding house run by a Mrs. Bruckman. The man Ls Looking for room and board and he appears very weary and sick. He walks with a very noticeable limp. His skin Is brown from many years of sun In the desert. He Is very muscular and appears to be used to hard work. Mrs. Bruckman shows him the rear room, which he takes without discussion.
All he wants at this particular time Is peace and quiet and to a few well Intended questions from Mrs. Bruckman, he has few answers. He will
pay her well. He takes a bag from his old suitcase and scatters some shining rocks on the table. She may have them all If she will just Let him rest for a while. Mrs. Bruckman goes down to the kitchen with a frown On her usually placid forehead. She talks to her young daughter, Ellen about their new boarder. There Is a mystery about him and she openly wonders If she should have taken him In. They have no man In the house to protect them. There is no doubt that the man is ILL. Maybe he is just too sick to act friendly. So, with a shrug of her shoulders, she puts doubts and fears aside.
But mystery and the spell of the unknown are at work today. There is a quickened light In Mrs. Bruckman's eyes. Life goes on day In and day out without much of anything to break the monotony. This stranger spells adventure—the mystery of adventure--and that is something, even
In St. Louis. The man shows Improvement after a time under the understanding and kindly care of Mrs. Bruckman and her daughter. He has gained weight and started to talk about leaving as soon as he Is able to travel again. And he has been most generous In his appreciation of the hospitality that the Bruckmans have given him. He has also been generous with the yellow colored nuggets from still other bags In his
suitcase. After all, he confided to Mrs. Bruckman, his has been a hard life with his father and mother taken from him when he was five.
But beyond that unhappy bit of Information, he Is quiet about his past.
Then one day the stranger becomes very III and the doctor who Is called In gives the Bruckmans little hope of his recovery. Good care and good food have brought only a temporary Improvement. The stranger is going to die. One evening shortly after the doctor's visit, he asks Mrs. Bruckman and her daughter to sit with him for a while. He has something he wants to tell them and something to give them also. He tells them the story of the lost wagon train, his boyhood spent with the Indians who carried him off that terrible day, and speaks of such names as Fig Tree John, which means nothing to the women from St. Louis. Had Mrs. Bruckman been familiar with the history of the Coachella Valley In California and the Cohullla Indians, she would have known of that famous old Indian character. Fig Tree John, who disappeared at Intervals
only to return with his pockets bulging with gold studded nuggets. But this is St. Louis, Missouri, and no one has heard of such a desert valley as the Coachella, much less Fig Tree John.
The stranger asks her to bring him a pencil and paper and slowly he starts drawing lines on the piece of paper. Then he hands It to her. It is a map, he says. A map to a gold mine In the mountains near a large dry lake on the desert. There is much gold there and he wants her to have the map and maybe somehow she can get out there and get some of the gold. There is too much gold that they could live any place they wanted to. Ellen can go to a young womens college and have beautiful clothes. Mrs. Bruckman could live like a real society lady.
His story is Like a fantasy to the Bruckmans. The stranger tells her to guard the map carefully and not to tell strangers about It; to tell no one about It. A fortune in gold lies within the grasp of the person who follows the map. Almost as he cautions her, he passes away. Mrs. Bruckman folds the map up and places the pages In her family Bible. Between those pages lie adventure, riches, fame, and maybe death. Look what happened to the stranger. She begins to think of people she can trust with her secret but a fear and suspicion new to her nature Is born In her mind and she and Ellen decide to keep their secret until someone comes along who can help them. Time passes and Mrs. Bruckman dies. The map remains In the Bible for many years, and It Intrigues Ellen.
She still has several of the gold nuggets the stranger gave her mother. Within her grasp Is everything she would like to have, thanks to the
map. The spell of mystery and adventure grow with each passing day and finally she leaves the city of St. Louis for the far west, where gold
just lies on the ground to be picked up by the finder and magically turned Into money to buy all things one could want. With time, Ellen arrived by train in Indlo, California. She proceeded to search, always alone, for the location of the gold. She dares not tell anyone her secret.
The days pass and the gold eludes her search. She studies the map and the code carefully and with each new trip she seems to draw closer to the location Indicated on the map and the two pine trees that mark the spot.
Tired and dlshartened, but not discouraged, Ellen moves to Los Angeles, California and takes up residence. Each year, when the heat leaves the valley, she returns to search more. But her efforts are not rewarded as time passes and she grows older, she becomes less physically able to continue her search. It is then that Ellen decides she will never enjoy the riches of that fabulous lode of gold the stranger had so painstakingly mapped for her mother back in St. Louis so many years ago. And, Incidentally, there is a code required to translate the locations and reference points on the map. She must decide what to do with the map and code.
It is in 1923 Ln the little town of Palm Springs that Ellen's friendship with Mrs. ZaddLe Bunker and her husband Ed, prompts her to talk about the lost mine. It could be one others have looked for. It was, she believed, the long lost Fig Tree John Mine. Gold Is supposed to lie on top of the ground waiting for someone to pick It up. Just like the stranger said In St. Louis. Mrs. Bunker accompanied ELLen to her bank in Los Angeles and they removed the map from its resting place In a safe deposit box. With a quickened anticipation, they unfolded the now-yellowed sheet and looked at the curving lines, the crosses, the marks that Indicate the railroad tracks and the strange groups of figures: 880 149 880 049 separated by three dots within a circle. Then she looks at the code. It seems as though surely It won't be too hard to read.
And Mrs. Bunker tells Ellen that she and Ed and her friend Cornelia White will search for the lost mine. And when they find It, they will take her to It so she may have the thrill of standing at last on the site of the fabulous treasure of gold. It Is her mine, after all, and when she Is physically able to stand another trip Into the mountains of the desert, they will Insist she come with them.
Mrs. Bunker watches as Ellen tears out pages from a notebook, each bearing the explanation of the groups of figures. The Last page of the notebook Is left in the safe deposit box with the understanding It will be brought out when the mine Is found. And so on a clear, warm day
In May, the three, Mr. and Mrs. Bunker and Cornelia White, set out for a spot believed to be in the vicinity of a big dry lake. However, by this time, the Salton Sea has been created and the big dry lake Is now full of water. They rent two burros to pack their provision and equipment on.
Using a ranch near Oasis as their base camp, they start out on foot with the burros. They enter a wide canyon which Is followed until nightfall and camp Is then made. They realize they must find water, but according to the code and the map, by the end of the second day, they
should find the spring shown on the map. Just in case, however, they bring an emergency supply of water. Just 10 years ago, Ulysses S. Grant's grandson had almost perished in this area for lack of water. It Is a slow, uphill journey all the way but they have no difficulty finding the landmarks Indicated on the yellowing map. Nature seems to have stood still In her growth, or change in this area, but then the desert changes very slowly, naturally.
By sunset on the second day they find the spring shown on the map. It is a perfect spot for a new base of operations and they set about gathering wood for the stove and fire. So far, fortunately, everything has tallied with the map. The three buttes, the high mountain to the northwest, the spring. Surely they will find Ellen's mine for her. They are up with the sun to find mountain sheep drinking at the spring.
The sky is a faint blush of pink and they are tense with excitement for they really have started in earnest in their quest for the lost mine.
They keep their eyes to the ground looking for an outcropping that will appear to be gold-bearing ore. The stranger told Mrs. Bruckman that the precious metal was lying around on top of the ground. There were a great many pieces of broken Indian pottery half burled in the ground,
evidence of one time Indian habitation. However, as yet, nothing resembling this had appeared. It is possible that the band of Indians that attacked the wagon train lived in these canyons or that they had been the home of the boy they raised. But wagon trains were rare in the Coachella Valley and the Indians not often warlike. There are many stories of Indians in the vicinity with rich quantities of gold in their
possession, sometimes In the form of black metal, generously sprinkled with free gold that was readily passed for currency at the country store.
The trail became Increasingly steep and difficult to travel and after five days they reached the spot where the pines are shown on the map. Here, there Is a great amount of underbrush, many trees, and such, so It Is decided to find a high point from which they may obtain a perspective of their location. They know they are close to where the mine Is. And the May sun Is hot. They push through the undergrowth,
startling a young mountain sheep with a badly swollen jaw. "Probably snake bite", says Mr. Bunker. They reach the summit, exhausted
from the heat and dripping with perspiration. They eagerly look for the pine trees. But there are none. Without the 2 pine trees, they are without a map point and Lost. Provisions are running Low so they return to the base camp to rest and study the map for a possible misreading or error.
Returning to the summit the next day, the three branch out In another direction. For several days, they repeat this procedure, but nothing
Is found. Short of food and with the May hot spell upon them, they return to the Oasis Ranch. From there they travel back home to Palm Springs. There they get news that ELLen has passed away. Mrs. Bunker remembers the Last page of the notebook, but Is unable to go
to Los Angeles to try to retrieve It. The map and code remained In the possession of Zaddle Bunker for many years. Thus there Is some physical evidence to this treasure tale. No one seems to question that Fig Tree John had easy access to some fountain of great wealth.
His existence and his habits were known to at least a few pioneer people of the Coachella Valley. He possessed gold nuggets and he found
them somewhere not too far from where he lived In the "dry wash" area near the present day Salton Sea.
When he needed gold, he would disappear for three or four days, returning with his pockets filled with nuggets. One would wonder, however,
If he were actually 135 years old when death finally claimed him. It Is quite true that many of the old desert prospectors became quite unreliable, after years In the sun and seasons spent alone with only a burro for a living companion. The constant thought of finding that
evasive treasure kept them going against all odds. It could be that an old prospector might Imagine he knew just where that mine was located.
He could very well draw a map, and he could quite accurately remember places he had visited afoot and possibly many times. However, the area around the Coachella or Salton was not a mining area In the 1850-1870 era. But gold has been found In the Julian area, from this, there Is also the chance that the old man who died In St, Louis all those years ago did know, as somebody must have known then, that gold actually was found In the desert hills, and If It was there then, it must still be there. And how can one explain the accuracy of the points
on the map??
There Is no question about the age of the map. It was Inked on a paper that was commonly used In the 1870 - 1880 era. The notebook adds further credence to the accuracy of the time element. The notebook had printed dates at the top of each page. The year was "1871".
For all of those readers who long to find a long lost treasure, the reproduction of the map on the following page may lead you to finally
discover the true source of the mysterious wealth of "Fig Tree John" and the stranger. If you find It, at least bring us a sample of the nuggets.
This from Treasurnet.com
John would say that he was born on Coyote Mt and most likely was from the Rockhouse Canyon clan. He roamed the Santa Rosa's and because of this there were many stories written about him Some say that he had a mine in the S Rosa's. One such story comes from Peter Beidler ( John's biographer ) about a published account from W A Linkletter. Linkletter records a 1912 conversation with H E Marshall ( nephew of James Marshall-gold discoverer ), Marshall said that before Pegleg died He told the following in which Marshall dutifully recorded:
" Pegleg said he had a Indian by the name Juanito Razon, who was afterward the chief of the Agua Dulce ( sweet water ) Tuba tribe of Indians and was known as Figtree John guarding his mine. He was getting old and just before he left he gave me a will to his old Spanish Land Grant on which he said his mine was located. He gave me a map showing the location of the mine and also gave me 1/2 a talisman which he said fit the other half that Figtree John had. By this talisman and a Indian salutation, which Pegleg told me to greet Figtree John with when I saw him, it was agreed between them that the Indian would know that I had become the owner of the land grant and mine. Pegleg said the last time he and Figtree John were at the mine, after taking out about 200lbs of rich ore, they had covered up the ledge ( placer ? ) so no one could find it easily. Figtree John was the only living person that has been to the mine so far as we know. He was sworn by Pegleg never to reveal the location of the mine. Figtree John guarded the Lost Pegleg mine for years.... "
I am a firm believer that there was more than 1 Pegleg. The original Thomas L Smith died in San Francisco in 1866. I don't know for sure this is the Pegleg they are referring to. As to where it might be, I think one has to find out where Agua Dulce spring was first.. I have also read that the trip John took was a 4 day affair ( 2 in and 2 back ). In the book California Desert Trails by J Smeaton Chase ( 1919 ) he recalls John showing him several documents. One of these was from Chief Cabazon giving full tittle to John as captain of the Agua Dulce Tuba village and for him to exercises the same authority as Chief Cabazon. He also had " ragged maps, apparently rough drafts of surveyors. These, he held, made him owner of all the territory shown., running from the last low ridge of the Santa Rosa's ( the ridge was named Hiawat on the map, evidently a word, though John could not translate it into Spanish ) as far as Conejo Prieto or Black Rabbit Peak. "