Sunday, 24 March 2013
The Lake of Gold!
The Lake of Gold!
The TRUE Story of the Man of Gold! He used to bathe in a lake at the bottom of which now lies £300,000,000 in Treasure. It's still there—waiting for someone to take it!
From The Modern Boy magazine, 17 February 1934, No. 315, Vol. 13. Contributed by Keith and Brian Hoyt, digitized by Doug Frizzle, March 2013.
EL DORADO is a name that has come to stand for rich gold mines and diamond fields. But its literal meaning is "The Man of Gold." and there actually existed a golden man among the ancient Indians of South America!
One of the world's most amazing true stories of treasure is linked with the real El Dorado. At a low estimate £300,000,000 in treasure lies at the bottom of the lake where, once a year, the Man of Gold used to bathe.
If you have a map of South America handy, take a glance at the countries in the north above the mighty Amazon River. On the east is Guiana, then Venezuela, Colombia, and down on the west coast Ecuador, Peru, and Chile, which extends south to Cape Horn.
The jungle trails of those countries in the north were the trails of the old Spanish conquistadors. The armed hordes of Pizarro and Cortez tramped through the undergrowth, and many left their bones in swamps and on the high passes of the Andes Mountains.
It wasn't mere love of adventure that drove those hard-bitten men through a country of wild animals, poisonous reptiles, fever, and hostile Indians, but the lure of gold.
In the fifteenth century, Spanish adventurers learned of the vast treasure of the Incas. Strange stories reached the Pacific coast of cities built with gold, of temples filled with jewels, of a mysterious lake whose bed was paved with gold. An even more fantastic story was that of a man of solid gold who lived in the mountains and had been seen to walk and to swim.
At that time, many Spaniards were along the coast from Colombia to Peru. On the seaboard of Venezuela to the north there was a German colony, and news of the vast Indian treasures leaked through also to this Caribbean coast.
Proof was soon forthcoming that there was solid truth in the stories, amazing though they appeared. Individual adventurers returned from the interior, some of whom had secured wonderful golden ornaments and rare jewels.
It is safe to say that all the gold got by the early conquistadors was smeared with blood. The hardy Indians of the Andes did not trade or present this gold to the white man. It was taken over their dead bodies when sword and flame had done their grim work.
Proof piled upon proof until the facts were established of the world's most amazing treasure hoard.
To the south of Colombia was a great plateau inhabited by the Chibchas, a powerful Indian tribe who had their own civilisation and arts. Back there in the fifteenth century they built stone houses, suspension bridges which would have done credit to a European engineer, and shrewdly traded salt and other products for gold-dust.
For centuries the Chibchas had been engaged in that trade. They were a wealthy people, and their goldsmiths had remarkable skill. For centuries they made ornaments with gold and jewels, and many of these were buried in the burial mounds, called guacas, of the tribe.
At the head of those Indians was a hereditary prince and high priest combined, and it was he who was known as El Dorado, or the Man of Gold.
At seed-time and harvest the tribe held a great festival at which athletic sports were held. The youths were splendid athletes, and many a little young Indian dropped dead in the strenuous foot races. The chief event occurred at the famous Lake Guatavita, a pool nine thousand feet up in the Andes, and not far from Bogota, the present capital of Colombia.
For the ceremony at the lake the prince smothered his body with the gum from trees, possibly the chicle gum of the kind used nowadays for making chewing-gum
The prince felt sticky, but he was not allowed to remain looking undignified for long. His priests came with their blow-pipes and wafted gold-dust all over him. By the time they had done that, he looked like a gilt statue, and when he walked forth into view of the great gathering of Indians round the lake, a murmur of awe and admiration rose upon the mountain air.
The lake was no bigger than many a pond in an English park, and it took little time for the man of gold to voyage in a decorated boat to the middle. There, after prayers and ceremony, he hurled himself into the lake.
THERE is historical reason for believing that the dive itself was hidden from the populace by a smoke-screen made by attendants on board the craft.
However, the splash was the signal for great happenings. Uttering mighty shouts the whole vast crowd produced either ornaments of gold or jewels, and hurled them far out into the lake. This ceremony, mark you, was carried out religiously over the course of centuries.
These precious offerings were to appease the tribal god whose home was supposed to be at the bottom of Lake Guatavita. The prince himself came out minus most of his gold-dust, and back on board his decorated craft proceeded to add one or two sackfuls of gold and jewels to the already vast treasure in the lake.
Two of Pizarro's captains were the first men to get on the trail of this mighty treasure. The first, who took a force of soldier-adventurers with him, was set upon and defeated by Indian warriors who ambushed them. The second, Captain Gonzalo de Quesada, took a party of 715 men with him. The existence of the lake was known, but Quesada had to find out its exact location.
In those days there was only one way for the conquistadors to find out the secrets of Indians. They caught every Indian they could find and put him to the torture. Quesada's progress was a trail of sword-work and roastings—and the charred bones of brave men who died with the Chibcha secret still locked in their hearts.
The Spaniards were not squeamish, and they had determination and pluck despite their cruelty and greed. Quesada's band gradually melted like the snow on the Andes in the summer sun. Still the survivors pressed on, fighting with sword and pistol against the spears and blow-guns of the warlike Indians, who had many old scores to pay off. In the jungles and swamps fever took its toil, and the cold nights of the upper Andes picked off others weakened by wounds and malaria.
Quesada had his troubles, too, from a party of adventurous Germans who had made their way from the Caribbean coast.
At last, his determination and tortures gained him the knowledge he wanted. He discovered the situation of the lake of gold, and after managing to set the Chibcha Indians fighting with one another, he reached it with a handful of the armoured men who had set out with him. Unluckily for himself, practically the whole remaining treasure of the tribe was dumped into the lake not long before his arrival.
Perhaps there were Indians still lurking in the jungle who smiled ironically at the spectacle of Quesada standing on the lake-shore, baffled. In the middle that lake was forty fathoms deep—240 feet—and now that Quesada had found the cache the problem was how to lay hands on the treasure.
With his armed men, Quesada went forth and rounded up hundreds of fugitive Indians and set them like slaves to dig a channel for him.
By means of that channel much water was drained from the lake, but it was found impossible to empty it. For all his pains, Quesada got no more than £350 worth of treasure from the £300,000,000 hoard.
Once the location of this lake of El Dorado became known, there were not lacking other adventurers to try to get the wealth sunken in it.
Another Spaniard, Antonio de Sepulveda, went direct to King Philip II to ask the king's help in draining the lake. This time the job was done with more thoroughness, but still the water remained twenty feet deep in the middle of the lake where most of the precious offerings had been thrown.
He took out a quantity of golden ornaments, though, and in those days when precious stones were cheap compared with their value now, a single emerald taken from the lake was sold in Madrid for the equivalent of £40,000.
Yet the treasure hunters had barely scratched this vast treasure. Sepulveda's attempt came to an abrupt end when his huge draining channel fell in and killed most of the Indian workers. And once more the lake filled to a depth of over two hundred feet.
All kinds of attempts have been made since then to reach the lake into which the man of gold used to dive.
Near the beginning of the nineteenth century, Captain Cochrane, an Englishman, went into partnership with Ignacio Paris, a South American, in a determined attempt to dig out Sepulveda's channel. Like previous lesser attempts, the venture was a failure because too much capital was needed for the engineering work, and the sum was not forthcoming to complete the job.
IF ever a Chibcha god dwelt at the bottom of Lake Guatavita, he must have smiled- at man's puny efforts to despoil him.
A large company was formed in Bogota City for a new great treasure attempt. Little was done for three years until, in 1900, the objects and assets of the company were taken over by an English concern.
This English company had the princely sum of £30,000 to play with, and that represented a small enough outlay for the sake of getting a treasure of £300,000,000.
The work went on for years, and yet another £10,000 had to be found to continue the engineering of a tunnel for draining the lake. When the water ran out, special arrangements were made to catch any gold ornaments or jewels which happened to be dislodged with it.
Imagine the wild excitement of the workers, when articles of gold, great emeralds, jewelled brooches and rings were disgorged from the lake.
Those who had thought that, after all, the story of El Dorado was a fable, had the solid proof in gold and jewels before their eyes.
At last, by a shaft through the bottom of the lake, all the water was drained away. More articles were found, and the whole lot were worth some thousands of pounds, but not enough to give a profitable return on the capital outlay. The great bulk of the treasure, had gradually sunk into the mud of the lake-bed daring the centuries, for gold is one of the heaviest of metals.
The sun blazed down from a clear-sky, and a crust was formed over the dry lake-bed. Almost before digging could be got under way, this place which once had been a lake had become a basin of solid concrete!
It had cost a fortune to drain Lake Guatavita, and now the dismayed engineers recognised that it would take another fortune to obtain and employ the means for, breaking through this sun-baked lake-bed, and delving deep in the mud where this fabulous treasure lay.
And if they did manage to raise sufficient money with which to pay for the machinery and labour necessary for breaking through, they could not be sure that they would find sufficient treasure to make the venture worth while—or even to pay the expenses. They had staked a fortune on the chance of finding the treasure by draining the lake, and now that the prize had eluded them they were not prepared to take a second chance and risk losing money in a venture that might or might not turn out trumps. They decided to give it best!
From that day to this no other serious attempt has been made to wrench the treasure from El Dorado. If you go to Bogota, you can hire a motor-car and drive over good roads and through magnificent mountain scenery to the place where once the man of gold used to dive. The lake has filled up again; there remains the rotten timbering of the tunnel made by the last engineers, and the ruins of huts where some of the workers lived.
Look down into that shimmering water and imagine generation after generation of ancients flinging their precious offerings to the god of the lake. Forty fathoms down and deep in the mud of the lake-bed still lies the bulk of a £300,000,000 treasure. Gold and precious stones, sufficient to transform three hundred poor men into millionaires, remain there in the Andes.
Will this mighty treasure ever be recovered? Men still dream and plot how to drag it from the depths into the light of day. Meanwhile, the Indians of Colombia say that the laughter of the lake-god can be heard when the wind ruffles the surface of the water!
Another Splendid TRUE Story Next Saturday, the Hunting of a Human Tiger! And Don't YOU Miss It!!!
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.