Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, standing before a firing squad, handed each of his executioners a gold coin and entreated them to shoot true… and preferably not in the head. The marksmen obliged, and on July 19, 1867, bullets ended Maximilian’s three-year career as Napoleon’s New World puppet.
Before his overthrow, the emperor had lived lavishly in his colonial empire. An Austrian archduke by birth, he had expensive tastes. So did his wife, Carlotta, and the two were thought to possess great wealth. But Maximilian’s fortune disappeared with his life.
Months before Maximilian’s execution he sent what was left of his personal fortune in Spanish, Austrian and American gold coin, gold and silver plate, and jewelry back to Austria.
The fortune never made it out of Texas — or so the story goes…
According to one account, the Emperor, realizing his overthrow was imminent, had his personal fortune crammed into forty-five wooden barrels. The barrels were loaded onto a caravan of wagons guarded by a few trusted Austrian soldiers.
The drivers were instructed to head for the Texas port of Galveston where the treasure would be loaded aboard a ship bound for Europe. Carlotta was already in Austria, and Maximilian would soon follow.
But In wild Texas, troubles began along the trail when Maximilian’s men ran afoul of six former Confederate soldiers. The six had been hired to augment the guard, but when they learned the true nature of the cargo, the southerners killed the Austrians and stole the treasure.
The six bandits were not prepared to transport such a tell-tale store of valuables through hostile indian territory, so they agreed to take only enough coin to satisfy their immediate needs and then, after taking careful note of the landscape of rock and sand, they buried the treasure near the trail in the vicinity of Castle Gap near Horsehead Crossing.
The leader of the pack, Bill Murdock in some accounts, became so ill that he had to be left behind when the group reached Fort Concho. It was his good luck because his compatriots, who went on ahead, were attacked by Indians and killed.
When Murdock was well enough to travel he set out for San Antonio. On the way he discovered the mutilated bodies of his friends.
Murdock was now the sole owner of Maximilian’s fortune – the only man on earth who knew where the massive fortune was buried.
He decided to go to Missouri and enlist the aid of Jesse James and his gang to help retrieve the loot. But on his way to Missouri it was Murdock’s ill fortune to fall in with a group of men who turned out to be horse thieves. A sheriff’s posse from Denton captured the group and took all of them, including Murdock, to the Denton County jail.
In a dank, Denton jail cell, Murdock grew deathly ill. A local physician, Doctor Black, gave him no hope of recovery unless he could secure his freedom. Murdock sent for a lawyer named O’Connor. But when O’Connor arrived, it was already too late, Murdock was on his death bed.
Realizing his fate, Murdock turned over to Black and O’Connor a map to the fortune buried at Castle Gap. He confessed to the murder of Maximilian’s men – then gave up the ghost.
When Black and O’Connor finally made it out to Castle Gap – a dangerous journey then that required time and preparation – the lake was dry, and the terrific sandstorms common to the region had shifted the landscape – the marks called for in the map could not be identified. The dying bandit’s instructions led nowhere.
To this day no one has been able to discover the whereabouts of Maximilian’s gold, although many have tried.
Castle Gap – A Treasure Hunters Mecca
Castle Gap is somewhat of a Mecca for Treasure Hunters. In addition to Maximilian’s Gold, there are no fewer than seven other well know treasures supposedly secreted near this remote section of Texas:
During Maximilian’s reign, coins were struck with his bust on the obverse, and the Mexico Coat of Arms on the reverse. These little beauties would, no doubt, make up a large portion of his fabled stash.
- Gold carried by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in 1540.
- The Catholic Cross Cache of 1780.
- A horseshoe keg full of gold lost by a returning California Forty-niner.
- A Butterfield stage treasure hidden in 1860.
- A gold cached buried by Old Bill Castle and Little Bill Castle in the 1860’s.
- Another $40,000 stashed by outlaws who preyed on passing wagoners.
- Gold and rifles from a United States Army wagon train of the late 1860’s.
Only 12 miles north-northeast from Horsehead Crossing the legendary Castle Gap is a mile-long break between two mountain ranges. King Mountain on the southern and Castle Mountain to the north.
Everyone who was anyone in West Texas history seems to have visited the Gap, beginning with Cabeza de Vaca. The scouting expedition of Captain Felipe Teran is believed to have visited the Gap as well as multitudes of Comanches and later Texas Ranger “Rip” Ford.
It was also used by the Butterfield Stagecoach Line as a way station. Oliver Loving and Charles Goodnight later made the Gap a crossing on their soon-to-be-famous cattle trail.