1902, a man named David M. Arnold, who was described as being "as
fat as the town dog," rode into the town of Haskell
on an iron-gray horse and inquired as to the whereabouts of the
town's druggist, Caleb Terrell.
Terrell had in his possession a treasure map he'd taken as payment
for treating an elderly Hispanic man some years previous. Arnold
also had a treasure map with a puzzling array of lines and symbols
drawn on sheepskin. Combine the two, he told Terrell, and they would
find a vast treasure - Coronado's mythical stash of gold from
the seven cities of Cibola.
It sounds cockeyed and crazy, but Arnold was actually on to something
- but what? At least partially financed by Caleb, Arnold hired half
a dozen people to help him look for the treasure. The problem, of
course, was that the hieroglyphics on the sheepskin map were indecipherable
to them. They were going on guesses and hunches until a Mexican
sheepherder showed up and said he could read the map.
sheepherder, identified only as Fernandez in some accounts and not
at all in others, told the men the map led not to the treasure,
but to stone tablets that would show them where the gold was buried.
He also told them they were digging in the wrong place. He pointed
them to a place near the confluence of the Salt Fork and Double
Mountain Fork of the Brazos River, where they found the first of
three tablets that they would call Spider Rocks because a series
of concentric circles made it look a spider's web.
The stone was about 16 inches square and a couple of inches thick
and covered with both Roman and Arabic numbers and an ancient Mexican
version of the letter "H" along with a lot of circles, rectangles
and strange figures.
Not far from where they found the first rock, they found a mass
grave, which Fernandez had predicted. He said the skeletons were
native slaves, buried there so their spirits could guard the treasure.
Arnold and his men believed something else - that Fernandez was
tricking them, leading them away from the treasure so he could keep
it for himself.
Fernandez left, never to be seen again. The men found a decomposed
body not far from the site a couple of weeks later - Fernandez,
this time, the ranchers Arnold hired to look for the gold got tired
of it and went back to taking care of their animals and pastures.
But Arnold persisted, and two years later he found a second tablet
on a farm near Baird. The
second tablet looked a whole lot like the first, except the first
stone had eight circles in its "web" and the second one had four.
Arnold believed that Spanish conquistadors had the gold with them
in the early 1700s but buried it in a series of chambers and drew
the map to mark its location after encountering hostile Indians
somewhere in that country. He kept finding artifacts - copper amulets
shaped like daggers and leaves and crowns inscribed with symbols
similar to the ones on the tablets. But no treasure. He left most
of the artifacts with Terrell, who stored them at his drug store.
Arnold then hired a "seer" to help him find the gold, but the seer
foresaw bad things happening to anybody and everybody who tried
to find the gold. Sure enough, Caleb Terrell died bankrupt in 1909
after spending most of his money with Arnold, who, unbelievably,
found a third spider rock near Rotan
in Fisher County,
this one with two circles in its web.
But Arnold's quest was nearly over. Fire destroyed Terrell's drug
store in 1909, and for a long time historians believed the artifacts
were lost in the fire. The story caught the attention of J. Frank
Dobie, who recounted much of it under the title "Lost Copper
Mines and Spanish Gold" in Legends of Texas: Lost Mines and Buried
a 2001 article for the Houston Chronicle, writer Evan Moore detailed
how the search for Coronado's gold has continued for generations,
and how certain parts of the land in an area running north from
Abilene to Kiowa
Peak near Aspermont
and along the Salt Fork of the Brazos River to Rotan
and Baird is pockmarked with
holes left over from the many searches.