Creepy Colorado: The Reynolds Gang Treasure
A well-known nickname for our state is, “Colorful Colorado”. It can be seen on all the highway signs when crossing the border into Colorado welcoming visitors. This nickname is derived from the state’s magnificent scenery of mountains, rivers, and plains. While the state may be colorful in its scenery, it has also had a colorful history. Mining operations, Plutonium warhead plants, and other unique spikes on our states timeline set us aside from any other state. This unique history is not the sort of history you would find in your high school text book. My goal for this series of articles is to touch on the bizarre and obscure history that our state has to offer welcome to Creepy Colorado. This month we delve into a tale of death, mystery, and treasure.
Living in Colorado we have all heard of gold in the mountains and hills, the gold rush was a pivotal piece in our states history and led to its initial booming growth. While this story comes from the same era, it is a legend of buried treasure which to this day is still hidden and unclaimed in the untamed wilderness.
In July 1894 Colorado’s only invasion of the Civil War occurred. Jim Reynolds and 8 Confederate sympathizers began a raid of the Colorado Territory. Their goal was to rob local gold mines in an effort to assist in funding the Confederate cause. The gang began their attacks outside of Fairplay starting with Adolph Guirand and stealing his horses, cash, and molesting his wife. Their next stop was a stage coach station where their estimated value of stolen items to be over $3,000. Heading over Kenosha pass they hit another stage coach house stealing more horses. With success the gang’s boldness and efforts grew with larger attacks and higher more profitable yields.
A local man near Conifer by the name of Mr. Berry began to grow concerned of the gang’s activities and attempted to raise a posse aimed at taking the men dead or alive. Mr. Berry tracked the gang’s whereabouts down and on July 30th a posse was organized and set out in pursuit. The Reynolds Gang had set up camp in the forest while en route to Shaffer’s Crossing and encountered the posse. A gunfight quickly ensued leaving one outlaw by the name of Owen Singleterry dead. One of the posse’s members decapitated Owen to take his head back to Fairplay preserving it in alcohol and placing it on display as a trophy. Fleeing for their lives the remaining gang members quickly buried their entire loot. The gang was blamed for every robbery within the area and for that it was estimated the gang stashed up to $100,000. With the death of Owen, a larger posse was composed totaling over 75 men and soon began pursuit of the remaining gang members. Within 4 days 4 more of the outlaws were captured. Eventually a 5th member of the gang would be captured while attempting to flee to canyon city. Ringleaders of the gang Jim and John Reynolds made their escape to New Mexico where John would eventually meet his demise.
The two outlaws continued their pillaging in New Mexico till John Reynolds was shot attempting to steal horses outside of Taos. As John lay dying he shared his story to fellow outlaw Albert Brown. John drew a map for Brown in his final moments, promising him gold and buried greenbacks. After Reynolds died, Brown and his partners traveled to the South Park area in search of the treasure. Unfortunately upon their arrival Brown and his partners discovered that a forest fire had ravaged the area destroying most of the landmarks that Reynolds had given them. While they were able to find the scene of the skirmish via a decapitated skeleton and horse bones in the marshy landscape the cache was never found. Three more attempts to find the treasure were made by Brown and his gang to no avail. After being mortally wounded in a skirmish in Wyoming Brown shared the map and information on his death bed with Detective David J. Cook a Colorado Lawman.
In 1897 Cook’s autobiography publicized the treasure giving his word for word conversation with Brown from his bedside. Cook recreates Brown’s conversation with Reynolds and some of the details as follows:
“Jim and me buried the treasure the morning before the posse attack on Geneva Gulch. You go up above there a little ways and find where one of our horses mired down in a swamp. On up at the head of the gulch we turned to the right and followed the mountain around a little farther, and just above the head of Deer Creek, we found an old prospect hole at about timberline. There, we placed $40,000 in greenbacks, wrapped in silk oil cloth, and three cans of gold dust. We filled the mouth of the hole up with stones, and ten steps below, struck a butcher knife into a tree about four feet from the ground and broke the handle off, and left it pointing toward the mouth of the hole.” – Excerpt from “Hands up; or, Thirty-five years of detective life in the mountains and on the plains“, Detective David J. Cook’s Autobiography
By all accounts over 152 years later the treasure still lies buried in the Mountains of Colorado waiting to one day be discovered. While many have attempted to find it over the years it awaits someone fortunate and maintains its place as one of Colorado’s great mysteries.