The Lost Treasures of the Incas
For centuries they have defied the invading searchers
A HYATT VERRILL
The Sun; Nov 20, 1932; The Baltimore Sun; researched and collected by Alan Schenker, digitized by Doug Frizzle, August 2011.
Prospectors have an old saying that "gold is where you find it." This might be applied to treasure with equal truth. For treasures are always bobbing up in the most unexpected places. Thousands of dollars and months of time may be spent searching for some lost or hidden treasure without finding a trace of the hoard, then some one plowing a field, digging a post hole, ripping up an old floor or tearing down a dilapidated building comes upon a fortune in hidden gold. There is no telling where treasure may be. It has been found in cows' horns, hollow timbers, old boots and other strange places. Vast treasures have been dug up in the streets of London. Only last year workmen repairing a cellar floor at Cysoens, on the Franco-Belgian border, unearthed a treasure dating from the tenth century and once belonging to a former abbey. It was valued at $20,000,000.
Now from Ecuador comes news of the discovery of another treasure, found, as usual, by accident. This time the finder was a humble Cholo (mixed Indian and Spanish) laborer, digging an irrigation ditch on a hacienda. Scattered over the surrounding plain were crumbling ruins and the burial mounds of ancient Incans, and every now and again the man's shovel would turn up bits of broken pottery and human bones. But he scarcely noticed these, for it isn't possible to dig a ditch in many parts of Ecuador and Peru without unearthing skeletons and potsherds. The Cholo's mind was not on treasure; he was thinking, rather, of the next week's fiesta or the outcome of the revolution raging in Quito.
and then suddenly all thoughts of the fiesta and the insurrectos were driven from his mind and he stood staring at what a stroke of his pick had revealed. Half uncovered in the gravelly soil was an Incan mummy, and scattered about were dull, brown disks and plates and vessels which gleamed dull yellow where the steel blade had struck against them. Gold!
The astonished peon scarcely could believe his eyes. He had stumbled upon the treasures of some long dead Incan chieftain. Falling upon his knees, he scraped and pawed the soil away, ruthlessly tore the wrappings from the dessicated shriveled body in his search for more of the treasure. Never in his life had he seen so much precious metal at one time. Thin plates, disks, cups and vases, crudely cast figures and delicately made chains; coinlike objects and brooches, plume-shaped pins and crescent-shaped collars—a collection of golden objects worth more than $100,000 was piled beside the ditch.
But the Cholo laborer might just as well have left the treasure where he found it, for all it benefitted him. His fellow-workmen had come hurrying to the spot, the foreman had arrived on the scene, and news of the find spread rapidly. And as all antiquities are claimed by the Government, the ancient treasure was confiscated by the authorities. Possibly the poor laborer may receive a small sum, but even that is doubtful.
but news of the discovery of an Incan treasure, even though a very small one, revives interest in the almost mythical, inconceivably vast treasures of the Incas, which at the time of the Spanish Conquest were concealed in Ecuador and Peru. For centuries these lost treasures of the Incas have been the basis of countless tales of fiction, the inspiration of many a novelist and the lure that has drawn innumerable treasure hunters on a vain search for the millions in precious metals and gems concealed 400 years ago somewhere in the vastnesses of the Andes.
As a matter of fact, there were three so-called Incas' treasures. The treasure of Atahualpa, the treasure of Pachakamak and the Valverde treasure. All three are authentic and their existence is verified by history; all three are vast, and all three still remain where they were concealed by the Indians four centuries ago to prevent their falling into the hands of Pizarro and the ruthless Spanish conquerors.
Of the three greatest treasures that of Atahualpa is probably the largest. It has been estimated at a value of more than $100,000,000.
Impossible! Incredible! But borne out by facts and figures.
To secure his freedom, Atahualpa had agreed to fill a room sixteen feet wide and twenty feet long to a height of seven feet with gold. In other words, 2,240 cubic feet, or approximately 250 tons of the precious metal, with a value of close to $150,000,000. Less than a tenth of the promised treasure had been delivered when Atahualpa was put to death; yet this was worth $15,000,000, according to the Spaniards own records. The balance, then on the way from Cuzco and other parts of the Incan Empire, was concealed by the bearers when word of Atahualpa's death reached them.
This vast treasure, hidden somewhere near Piscobamba, consisted of a 700-foot chain of gold which the Inca Huayna Kapak had had made in commemoration of the birth of his eldest son, Huascar; the burdens of gold of seventy-five pounds each carried by 7,000 Indian cargo bearers; the twelve life-sized gold statues of former Incas, and the golden flowers, figures and fountains from the Temple of the Sun in Cuzco, besides a great quantity of diamonds, emeralds and other precious stones. Hence the estimated value of $100,000,000 is very conservative; and the treasure, if found today, would be worth many times as much as archaeological specimens.
The treasure of Pachakamak was hidden somewhere in the Valley of Lurin, only twelve miles from Lima, when the priests of the temples learned of the approach of Hernando Pizarro and his men. It was this treasure of the temples of Pachakamak that first lured Pizarro to Peru, and not the treasures of Cuzco as many think, for Pizarro never heard of Cuzco until long after he reached Peru.
No one can say what the Pachakamak treasure was or is worth. Pachakamak was the most ancient and the most holy of Peruvian cities, a veritable Mecca that drew pilgrims from every portion of South America to worship at the Temple of Pachakamak or its twin Temple of the Sun for countless centuries offerings and ornaments of gold and silver and gems had been accumulating.
About the walls of the Temple of the Sun were more than one hundred immense golden idols, the fifty doors of the stairway leading to the summit and the holiest shrine were covered with gold and were studded with precious stones. In addition, there was a treasure house filled with gold, silver and other riches, to be used only on special occasions. Even the timbers and woodwork of the temple were fastened together with golden nails. When the temple was burned and the Dons raked the golden spikes from the ashes, they were found to weigh 32,000 ounces—roughly half a million dollars worth of gold! Aside from these nails, the Spaniards found a storehouse containing gold and silver worth $4,000,000. But they found no trace of the vast treasures of the temples. These still remain secure in some secret hiding place in the little valley of Lurin, almost in the shadow of the temple walls.
No one knows the origin of the third of the Incan treasures—the Valverde treasure, as it is called. Possibly it was being sent by the Incas in Ecuador to help free the captive Atahualpa and was hidden when word of the Inca's death reached the treasure bearers. It may have been a temple treasure that was hidden by the Indians to prevent it from falling into the Spaniards' hands. Or again, it may have been put in its hiding place by the rulers and priests of Ecuador when the Peruvian Incas led their armies on Quito and the kingdom was threatened with conquest.
But whatever its origin, it unquestionably is a vast treasure. It, undoubtedly is hidden in the mountains of Ecuador. And it is by far the most interesting and romantic of the Incan treasures, for it is the only one the exact location of which is known, and the only one which has ever been seen by a white man. And finally, in connection with it, there is the thrilling, fascinating story of a hard-headed New York business man who sought for and almost found the treasure—a tale of adventure equaling the wildest fiction.
The story of this treasure begins with the romance of a Spanish soldier named Valverde, who married an Incan woman soon after the conquest of Peru. Ostracized by his countrymen because of his poverty and his Indian wife, Valverde complained bitterly of his lot until one day his wife declared she would make him the richest of the Spaniards and the envy of them all.
Setting forth secretly at night, she led him by hidden trails through the mountains and unknown passes until they reached a cavern where his dazzled eyes looked upon a treasure so vast that he could not believe it real. Golden dishes and utensils, images and idols and figures of gold, golden ears of maize with silver husks; ingots of gold, gold dust and nuggets, golden ornaments incrusted with great emeralds and other gems; pearls by the quart and bales of thin plates of beaten gold were piled high within the cavern.
Loading themselves with all they could carry, Valverde and his Incan wife made their way back across the mountains to their humble home in safety and unseen.
Naturally, when the poverty stricken ex-soldier suddenly blossomed out as a rich man, all knew that he had found the Incan treasure. But never did he reveal the secret source of his wealth. Throughout his life he never wanted for riches. He was the envy of all his countrymen.
All this is verified by history, and it also is recorded that before he died Valverde willed the map of the road to the treasure cave, with the contents of the cavern, to the King of Spain, with the proviso that a certain portion of the riches should be used to defray the cost of carrying his body to Spain, interring it in a fitting tomb and erecting a shrine to his memory. For some reason or another the representatives of the king never could find Valverde's hoard. Very possibly his chart was not as accurate as it should have been, or perhaps he purposely altered portions of the map in order to mislead anyone who might steal it, and forgot to mention the fact to his legatees.
Whatever, the reason, every expedition in search of the treasure failed. Some abandoned the quest after going a short distance, unable to endure the biting cold, the freezing gales and the blizzards of the high altitudes. Some continued on until the trail was lost, and many who set out vanished forever, swallowed up in the labyrinth of peaks and glaciers and mile-deep canyons of the Andes. Yet there was no doubt that Valverde's map was genuine, that he actually had traveled the route and had followed the trail that lead to the treasure, and that he had done so not once but many times.
But as years passed and no one succeeded in retracing Valverde's route, the map came to be regarded as useless. Thus it became common property available to anyone.
In 1857 the English botanist and traveler, Richard Spruce, was in Ecuador, where he heard of the Valverde treasure and the map. Being of a rather romantic and adventurous character, Spruce made a copy of the old chart and had a try at finding the long-lost treasure cave. But like those who had preceded him, the Englishman failed. He succeeded in reaching the Margasitas Mountain, one of the landmarks indicated on the map, but there the trail was lost. But Spruce reported that as far as he had gone the map was accurate and "corresponded perfectly with the actual locality." And in his opinion, he added, failure to find the treasure was due to the fact that he and the others had misread the portion of the chart which gave directions for passing the mountain which always had baffled the treasure seekers.
And now comes the story of one of the most remarkable treasure searchers of history—the amazing, perilous, almost suicidal adventure of a hard-headed, practical, unimaginative New York business man who attempted single-handed to find the lost treasure of Valverde.
There was nothing visionary, reckless or romantic about Colonel Brooks. He was a graduate of West Point, he had served in the United States Army, and after the Spanish War had been appointed auditor of Cuba. Resigning from the army for a business career, he later became identified with the American Bank Note Company, and as the firm's Latin-American representative he traveled throughout South and Central America.
Everywhere Colonel Brooks was noted for his keen business sense, his shrewdness, his cautiousness and his invariable rule of investigating any proposition thoroughly and weighing and measuring its every detail and angle before taking it up. All of which goes to prove that Colonel Brooks never would, have embarked upon his most noteworthy undertaking had he not been convinced that Valverde's treasure was still there and that it could be located.
With a copy of the ancient map and accompanied by Indian porters, Colonel Brooks followed in the footsteps of Richard Spruce and all those treasure seekers who had gone before. But he had had little experience in exploration, he had been unable to secure any first-hand information in regard to the country he would be forced to traverse, and his first trip into the heart of the Andean wilderness was more in the nature of a preliminary survey than an attempt to reach the treasure cave.
Moreover, he had selected the worst time of the year. But despite drenching rains, bitterly cold weather and frequent snowstorms; despite the fact that he was improperly equipped and that his men were incompetent and terrified, Colonel Brooks kept on until he proved to his entire satisfaction that Valverde's map was accurate as far as he himself had gone. And his observations convinced him that he had discovered the cause of all his predecessors' failures and had hit upon the secret that would enable him to pass beyond the baffling Margasitas Mountain.
Waiting patiently until the rainy season was over, providing himself with waterproof containers for supplies, with raincoats and heavy clothing, with adequate provisions and proper equipment, and with an ample number of Indian porters, Colonel Brooks again started on his treasure hunt. But he realized that despite his careful planning and his precautions, grave risks were involved in his undertaking. He prepared for eventualities by arranging with friends for a searching party to be sent after him if he did not return within a certain time.
All went well. In due time the Margasitas Mountain was reached, and to the colonel's delight he found that his interpretation of the chart was correct, for he succeeded in passing the mountain—the first man since Valverde to leave Margasitas behind! And imagine his satisfaction when against the sky in the distance he saw the three conical snow-capped peaks that, according to the Valverde map, marked the hiding place of the Incas' treasure.
For more than three centuries no human eyes had gazed upon those gleaming heights. In the crater valley at their feet was the cavern containing the hoard from which Valverde had taken his riches.
Elated, feeling certain that success would soon be his, Colonel Brooks pushed on. But his Indians hung back. They were, becoming nervous, filled with vague fears of this unknown, untrodden land. And very possibly they had heard tales of the hidden treasure and they still had a lingering faith in the gods of their ancestors. To them the treasure was a sacred thing, probably guarded by a spell or curse or by spirits, and they tried their best to induce the white man to abandon his search and to return.
Colonel Brooks was not the type of man to be troubled by such things as spirits, curses, spells or the superstitious fears of Indians. He had no intention of abandoning his search, now that he was within sight of his goal. So despite the mutterings of his men, he pressed onward, following the trail with little difficulty until at last he came to the base of the mighty peaks. There in a basin-like valley among the mountains was a little glacier lake precisely as shown on the old map.
The end of the long journey was near at hand. Colonel Brooks had succeeded where all others had failed. On the farther side of the valley, hidden in a cavern in the mountain side, were the gold, silver and priceless gems stored there centuries before by the Incas, the treasure which Valverde had scarcely scratched, the riches so many men had sought for in vain.
But it was late in the afternoon when the colonel had reached the valley. Darkness was rapidly approaching. He was footsore and weary with his long tramp, and his Indians were getting panicky. So he decided to camp for the night beside the lake and visit the treasure cave the following day.
He retired that night filled with visions of the morrow, certain of being in possession of unlimited wealth before another night came. And he fell asleep to dream of Incan gold and blazing gems.
He was aroused by terrified cries, by the crash of thunder and the roar and rattle of torrential rain and driving hail.
He leaped up to find himself knee-deep in water. The camp was flooded! He dashed half-clad from his shelter tent and realized instantly what had happened. One of those sudden, terrific storms so common in the high Andes had swept over the valley. The lake, swollen by the torrents of rain pouring down the mountain sides, had risen rapidly. The crater valley was swiftly filling with water and soon would be completely inundated.
Colonel Brooks and his men had barely time to race across the narrow bit of dry land that remained and reach the tumbled rocky slopes of the mountains.
Their plight was even worse than they had feared. The camp had been swept away. Food, clothing, weapons, supplies—all had vanished. Nearly everything was at the bottom of the lake, or had been carried beyond reach by the torrent that had flowed down the canyon-like outlet from the valley. A few garments, a pair of old boots, a ham and a few cans of food were all that could be found. Worse yet, rain was still falling, the summits of the peaks were hidden in lowering clouds and at any moment a second terrific storm was likely to break over the valley.
Faced by starvation, left without equipment or supplies, with a long and terrible journey before him, Colonel Brooks' thoughts were of saving his life rather than that of treasure. Even had he wished to do so, he could not have reached the opposite side of the valley where the cave was situated—this would have been possible only in a boat. To wait until the water drained off would be a grave risk. Yet he decided to wait for another day.
That night nearly all the Indians vanished. Silently they slipped away, too terrified, too filled with superstitious fears to remain longer. Finally, Colonel Brooks found himself left with one Indian. His only chance of ever reaching civilization was a hurried and forced march, and despite the weather the two men with their meager food supply left the treasure valley and started on their weary, almost hopeless attempt to return.
No words can adequately picture what the two endured on that awful journey. As Colonel Brooks expressed it, it was one continual nightmare. With barely enough food to keep them alive, they stumbled on. There was seldom fuel for a fire and only a few matches remained. Famished, weak, half frozen, they were overtaken by a snowstorm and lost their way. When the blizzards passed they found themselves on a strange, trackless puna or mountain desert. Not a landmark could they recognize.
Only the colonel's forethought saved them. The searching party he had arranged for had set out, and just as the two famished, exhausted men were about to give up and await death, they sighted men in the distance. A little later the two were safe.
Colonel Brooks never again attempted to find the Incas' treasure. Though he had been within a few hundred yards of the gold he had failed as utterly as all the others who had sought the ancient hoard. Once more the guardian spirits of the Incas had triumphed. But Colonel Brooks had proved that Valverde's map was correct. He had been the first man to pass Margasitas Mountain. He had seen the snow-capped peaks and actually had reached the valley of the treasure. There the Incas' riches still remain.
And the chances are that if the treasure is ever found it will be found by accident—just as the treasure recently found in Ecuador was discovered by chance—by workmen employed in digging a ditch.