The American West has long been a place for cowboys, gunslingers, and hidden treasure. Its history is rife with tall tales of murder and hidden treasure, but keeping track of all the details is of low priority while the sheriff is busy fending off cattle rustlers and other outlaws. Some of these mysteries, lost to the ages, have never been solved.
10 Butch Cassidy
The most famous version of the story is the one that was immortalized in the movie starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford as the infamous outlaws. According to that story and other accounts, the pair fled from the United States to Bolivia when the heat from their 1890s spree of robberies got to be too much. It was in Bolivia that they were supposedly killed in a shootout.
That’s absolutely not the final word, though.
According to Cassidy’s sister Lula, she’d heard stories of a number of his acquaintances who had run into him well after the reported date of his death in 1908—including herself. In 1925, Cassidy supposedly appeared at a family reunion that included Lula, their brothers, and father.
Documents uncovered by historical researchers suggest that the confrontation with Bolivian authorities happened in a home while Cassidy and his gang were sorting through the spoils of a payroll heist. Two men were dead in the end, but it’s been suggested that neither of them was actually confirmed to be Cassidy or the Sundance Kid. Some believe that Cassidy shot his long-time partner rather than see them go to jail.
Other stories say that he escaped, gave up his life of crime, and lived either in Paraguay, Chile, or Spokane, Washington for decades. That idea is given a bit of credence by the research of Bolivian president Rene Barrientos, who concluded that the story of the shoot-out was completely fabricated. Among those who didn’t believe it were the Pinkerton detective agency, who searched for the outlaws well past 1908 and believed they were killed in Uruguay.
Cassidy’s sister maintained that he died in Washington in 1930 of pneumonia.
9 Chief Cochise
Chief Cochise is one of the most well-known figures in the conflict between the Native American people and the European settlers who constantly pushed westward. For someone so prominent whose name is so well-known, he’s a figure shrouded in considerable mystery.
Almost nothing is known about his life before the middle of the 19th century when he was already established as the leader of the Chiricahua Apaches in the areas of northern Mexico and southern Arizona. Decades of raids and conflictsbetween the Apaches and the settlers in the area ultimately led to the creation of a reservation on the southeastern edge of their territory.
Cochise died in 1874, only two years after the establishment of the peace he’d rarely seen. The location of his traditional burial somewhere in the Dragoon Mountains was known only to a handful of his contemporaries who never divulged the coordinates. Several legends have grown up around the burial of the great leader. According to the story, Cochise’s dog and horse were both shot to be buried with him to keep the animals from being a public reminder of him and his death.
8 The Lost Cement Mine
Though accounts disagree about how exactly the Lost Cement Mine was discovered, there’s one point of agreement between all the stories: The site was loaded with gold.
One account of the mine, written in 1879, says that it was discovered by two men headed to California in 1857. They broke away from their caravan, sat down by a stream to rest, and saw a massive amount of gold. One of the men—the other couldn’t believe it was gold—took about 5 kilograms (10 lb) of it with him. By the time he had reached California, he’d become incredibly sick. He used the gold and a map to pay for his treatment.
The other account was written by Mark Twain. According to that story, the finders were three brothers from Germany who were hiding in the mountains to escape an attack on their caravan when they found the gold.
Either way, countless prospectors descended on the area looking for the mines. While the Lost Cement Mines have indeed taken on something of a legendary status, there are records of a Dr. Randall finding red rock that was rich in gold in the area.
In 1869, two men arrived in Stockton, California. They replenished their supplies, then headed out again. Between 1869 and 1877, they returned each year with a sizable amount of gold. It wasn’t until the fall of 1877 that one of them told an incredible story to a priest before he died. He said that he and his companion had been mining up in Mammoth Peak, then known as the Pumice Mountain. They had found the legendary gold and mined somewhere in the neighborhood of $400,000 worth of it over the years. He didn’t say any more about it—aside from the fact that they had shored up their spot and hidden it from other prospectors—before he died.
It might seem like the stuff of fairy tales today, but Bodie, California, one of the areas explored in the hopes of finding the Lost Cement Mines, was the site of the discovery of gold deposits that ended up totaling more than 28,000 kilograms (60,000 lb).