In St Louis around the late 1800’s a rugged, yet worn out man asks for a room at a boarding house operated by a Mrs. Buckman. He is gaunt, completely exhausted, and is only looking for a quite room where he can rest. Although a bit leery, Mrs. Buckman agrees to take in her new tenant, he did pay with gold nuggets. Along with her daughter Helen, they begin to nurse the stranger back to health, and after a few days it appears that he might be getting better, but this was not to last. He suffered a relapse, and a doctor had to be called in, but there was no good news to be had, the stranger knew that his time was short. One evening he called Mrs. Buckman and her daughter into his room, it was time they knew his story.
Sometime during the mid 1800’s, the stranger and his family were part of a wagon train that was headed west. There were new frontiers, new beginnings, better opportunities and gold. But somewhere along their long trek, the wagon train was attacked by Indians and at five years old, he was the only survivor. He told them about the harsh life he had growing up with the Indians and how he basically had to scrape by any way he could after he left the tribe. Eventually he found his way out to Southern California, and it was there that he was able to find his treasure. He began to tell the ladies how he had found his mine along with some of the landmarks, that marked the way. He also drew a coded map and the maps key, but Mrs. Buckman wasn’t quite sure if it was true. He did have plenty of gold, but he could have stolen it, she just wasn’t too sure. So after the stranger died, she placed the map and code in the family bible and there it stayed for years. However Helen was always intrigued by what just might be, and years later after her mom dies, she decides to head out to California.
Helen finally arrives in Indio and begins her search, but not knowing who to trust, she always searches alone. As most lost treasures story goes, the prize becomes very elusive. She decides to settle in the growing town of Los Angeles, and places the map and code in a safe deposit box. But when she can, she always returns every winter to the Palm Springs area to look for her treasure. The time passes and she strikes up a friendship with early Palm Springs pioneers Zaddie Bunker and her husband Ed (the original story names her husband Ed, but it most likely was Frank), they are the owners of Bunkers Garage. It is now 1923 and she has decided to share her secret with her new found friends. Upon hearing the story, Zaddie quickly thinks that this sounds very much like the lost Figtree John mine, and is very intrigued when she learns of the coded map.
Juan Razon, aka Figtree John is one of those classic desert enigmas. He usually wore an old union soldiers blue coat, that according to Juan, was given to him as a gift from a group of soldiers that he rescued from the desert. He was generally a good person, always willing to help when needed, but he was also know to be very “curt”. The small nearby town of Mecca is where Juan would go to trade for goods, andt has been reported that from time to time he would pay in gold dust or nuggets. Which lead to the belief that he had a gold mine somewhere close. And depending on which stories you read, Juan supposedly killed more than three men to protect his mine.
Zaddie and Helen take a trip to the bank at Los Angeles, where the safe deposit box held the map and key code. There it was, an old rough map with lines and numbers that go take anyone just about anywhere, and nowhere. As Zaddie looked over the map and key, she thought it wouldn’t be that hard to decipher, since she lived in the area and knew some of the clues locations. Helen began to tear out the pages but Zaddie said “Don’t give me the last page, I’ll find the approximate location, and then take you to the spot and you can go on from there and find the mine.” This is something that would not happen today, sorry, but we all know this is true. Trust is something that was commonplace back in the day, but unfortunately not so much in today’s world..
After Zaddie returned to Palm Springs, she prepared for her journey into the desert. Her husband Ed/Frank, along with Zaddie’s friend Cornelia White use a trailer to take two mules and all of their supplies to Oasis, which is near the Torres-Martinez Reservation today. The next morning they packed into the Santa Rosa Mountains, following the first clue which was to follow a wide canyon and follow it till nightfall. It was a slow going affair, since it was all uphill, but the landmarks were fairly easy to follow. On the second afternoon they come across the much needed springs, again just like the map predicted, and decided to make a base camp there. The clues seemed to line up perfectly, but the next part of the journey would be tough.
As they begin the third days quest, they wake up to the sounds of desert bighorn sheep drinking from the spring, to me that would be treasure enough. Zaddie and company, following the directions of the next decoded clue ” Go north, which is south side of Rabbits peak until you reach first wide wash. Up that wash you will find” were on their way towards the peak. they knew they were getting close, but just how close was a mystery. They searched for the next several days and came across ancient Indian pottery that was strewn all over the ground, black rocks the size of walnuts, Zaddie’s husband did not think it was gold, however they could not locate the last clue of “two twin pines”. Even after they went to the high ground to get a better overview, the pines were not spotted. The climb was continually getting steeper, the underbrush was extremely dense, and provisions were running low, unfortunately it was time to head back. Ed/Frank was taken in by the heat and the difficulty of the trip, and the hard headed burros were making it tough to be loaded back into the trailer. They were tired and physically spent….
When Zaddie reached Palm Springs, her husband had to take some time off to recover from the heat, which meant she would have to work in the garage until he was well enough to work. But that wasn’t the worst of it. She also receives the news that Helen has passed away, and she just can’t leave the garage, their was simply too much work to be done. In doing this, she knows that she will never be able to see the last page….
Could this have been the Lost Figtree Mine? Figtree was known to disappear into the Santa Rosa mountains for 3-4 days only to return later with gold. Does it have a connection to the Lost Pegleg Mine? Some clues are compelling. There is a story that has floated around for years that Figtree knew Pegleg, and that each had half of a talisman to prove that they were the rightful owners of the gold. One story stated that a man showed up at Figtree’s oasis with a story and Pegleg’s half of the talisman after Pegleg died. Was this the stranger that appeared in St Louis? And whatever happened to the last page? What did the bank do with her safe deposit box after she died? There really is no way to answer these questions, but who knows, maybe someone with a lot of time will search Google Earth and get lucky. If you do, please let me know… Thx!