Two treasure hunters read a magazine story about a Belen, New Mexico, train robbery whose loot had never been found. On May 23, 1898, two robbers known as Bronco Bill and Kid Johnson jumped aboard the engine of a train as it stopped at the Belen depot. They forced the engineer at gunpoint to move the train a short way out of town, where they uncoupled the engine and the express car. They ordered the engineer to travel another half mile or so. Then they stopped the engine, gained access to the express car, and pushed an iron safe through the side door and onto the ground. They quickly blasted the safe open and stuffed their pockets with paper money and silver dollars. Afraid that a posse would come after them, the two robbers decided to bury their silver dollars between three trees on a small sand hill northwest of the tracks. They were eventually tracked down but killed two deputies in a shoot-out and escaped. A new posse cornered them two months later at the Double Circle Ranch in Arizona; this time Kid Johnson was killed and Bronco Bill was returned to New Mexico, where he spent twelve years in the Territorial Prison in Santa Fe before being paroled. According to the story, Bronco Bill tried to find the silver but soon gave up in frustration. He died a pauper.
The two men became so interested in the story that they decided to search for the missing money. Their first stop? Not the site of the robbery, but their library. They checked the references the author had consulted in writing his story. They located old stories in microfilmed Albuquerque newspapers which confirmed the account of the robbery. They also found the story mentioned in a regional treasure hunting guide.
Convinced that the story was true and that the money remained hidden, they set out with their metal detectors for Belen. Their first find, in a sandy hill northwest of the railroad tracks, was an 1880 Morgan silver dollar that seemed to prove the train robbers had been in the area. The two men dug deeper. A little over a foot down, they discovered a cache of 332 silver dollars. Most were in Extra Fine condition, a term that coin collectors use to indicate that coins have not been put into wide circulation. Many of the silver dollars would now sell for forty dollars or more apiece.
Had they found the train robbery cache? No train robber was about to ride up and ask for the money back. No one else could verify that these were the silver dollars taken from the train that day. But the two treasure hunters were certain they found the train robbery loot. And they accomplished this, first and foremost, by researching the story.
Copyright © James M. Deem. Taken from How to Hunt Buried Treasure (Houghton Mifflin, 1994). All rights reserved.