Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 7

The Lost Mines of Sapo

The Caballo Cunco Treasure: First Attempt, Part 4

The town of Palca consists of a few houses and has a church and a priest. It is noted for its excellent brew of chicha, which makes a wholesome and refreshing drink.

The tanner’s wife, a pleasant, civil Indian woman, asked her brother to take me to the ranch of a very old Indian, who lived on a sheep and maize farm at the foot of the Sapo mountain, and who, he said, would know all the old men in the district. He took me there the next day, and I put up at the old man’s house. His name was José, and he claimed to be 99 years old; he knew José Maria well, and said that he was some years older than he was himself. He was a strong, healthy fellow, and had lived all his life in this pure atmosphere. The scenery round here was very fine; the lands for leagues around belonged to a man at Palca, and were worked by several families of Indians, who grew maize, wheat and barley on the share system, and had flocks of sheep feeding on the extensive grass lands between the River Cori Mayo and the forest. José sold me sheep whenever I wanted one for 4/- each, rented me two huts, one for myself and the other for a kitchen, and lent me the oven for 2/- a day. By his advice, I sent Zambrana down the river to José Maria Ampuera with a present of tea, sugar, cocoa, tobacco, matches, biscuits and cheese, and a few pounds of coca leaves, with a note, telling him I had come to look for the treasure with the data supplied by Corina San Roman, and wanted to visit him. Mariano was sick just then with a sort of cholera, which had been brought on by his own greed. On the way to Palca, I had bought half a sack of apples at a farm with an orchard, and he had eaten too many. He wanted to return to his home in Cochabamba, so I paid him off, gave him provisions for ten days, and took the Indian boy from Palca in his stead.

José told me that the Sapo Mountain, as far as he knew, had never been visited for thirty-five years, that there were several abandoned socabons (mining tunnels) there, and that the settlers occasionally washed gold out of the Cori Mayo, so I decided to explore this mountain while waiting for Zambrana to come back. The next day, after breakfast, I rode off on the white mule up a path which José showed me, which led to a dip in the mountain where he said I should find a big socabon. I took Juan and the Indian from Palca with me to clear the path when necessary, leaving Manuel to look after the horse, mules and donkey, and his wife to make bread and attend to the kitchen. It was not more than two leagues to the hollow, but it took from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to get there, as we had constantly to clear the track, which was overgrown in most places, so we went down again, intending to go and look at the tunnel next day. I saw lots of bush chickens in the forest on the way up, and decided to take the gun with me next day. Next morning I took Manuel’s son, Juan, and the Indian boy with me, and rode off with the white mule to explore the socabon. It was situated at 14,200ft. just above the forest line, which stops at about 14,000ft. The view from here was quite magnificent; a vast expanse of country could be seen for miles around, entirely unoccupied except for three or four isolated huts. The socabon was thiry-five [sic] yards long, fifteen yards wide, and fifteen high; there was no dump to be seen, and everything had been taken away. The rock was so hard that no timbering up was required at all; in fact, there was not a post to be seen, although there were many hard wood quebracho trees in the forest below, ready to hand. The roof was ventilated in six parts. In the left-hand corner near the entrance it appeared to be hollow on sounding. I took some samples of blue quartz rock and lime from the lode, where the Jesuits had left off. There was no doubt that this was one of the old Jesuit mines, which had been lost to sight and abandoned for many years. There were several other old workings in the vicinity on the mountain, all showing the same clear work, and no dumping. Another big tunnel ran underneath the hill about a quarter of a mile from the first one. This mine had no supports, or timbering of any kind. I saw another tunnel of the same sort high up on the top of the mountain, of the same blue rock quartz. I took samples from the first mine; some of them gave indications only, others which I had essayed later in London by Mix, a mining engineer, gave 2ozs. 3dwt. of gold, and 3ozs. 6dwt. of silver to the ton. The priest at Palca told me afterwards that the lapis lazuli sent to Rome by the Jesuits and the famous chain worn by the Archbishops of the La Paz Province of Ayacucho, called Upper Peru in those days, had come from a mountain called Mount Sapo, but that nobody had ever been able to locate the place, until I found it. On my return to Cochabamba I took up the concession and denounced two hundred per tinencias, which was about five hundred acres. Mr. J. O. Gentry, of Kansas City, a partner of Haggin & McEwan, and the owner of the Cerro Pasco, Peru, told me that if I put on eighty men, got out quartz during the six months’ dry season, and left it there, they would then send one of their mining expert engineers to report, and if the report was favourable they would take it over, putting on as many stamps as the mine would carry, and giving me one-third of the profits. There was plenty of water and wood near and good grazing ground all around, at the foot of the mountain, but up to now I have never been able to get any Company to take up this proposition.

Zambrana returned soon after with an answer from old José Maria, saying that if I would come and see him in a fortnight he would take me to the foot of the hill, where the bulk of the treasure was supposed to be buried.


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