Society of the Old West

From early westward expansion through the early 20th Century.

 Skeleton Canyon is located in the southeast corner of Arizona. Smaller side canyons lead into New Mexico. It is quite close to the Mexican border. In the 1800's, it was used by Mexican smugglers and bandits to smuggle goods and riches into the U.S. for sale on the black market. In July of 1881, Mexican bandits, known as the Estrada Gang, had looted the town of Monterrey. An American bandit named Jim Hughes overheard them discussing their plan to smuggle their treasure into the U.S. through the long narrow canyon that we now call Skeleton Canyon. Jim Hughes spent much of his time in some of the wild and lawless towns of the area frequented by many outlaws. Because of this, he had access to many friends, shall we say, “of ill repute” to confide his secret in. He went back to Arizona to tell his gang about the potential big score. If they could ambush these Mexican bandits, they could steal all of their riches. He first talked to William "Curly Bill" Brocius. Then met up with Billy Clanton, whom he had come to know in the previous year. Billy Clanton was a member of the famous Clanton gang, involved in the Shoutout at the O.K. Coral in Tombstone three months later on October 26, 1881. Newton Hayes Clanton, aka "Old Man" Clanton, was impressed with the potential riches. When some of their spies told them the gang was figgering to make their trek, it surprised Hughes, who thought they had more time. Curly Bill was out of town, so Jim Hughes decided to take over the plans. He recruited Zwing Hunt and Billy Grounds, aka William Boucher. The Estrada Gang was spotted about a mile or two into Arizona close to an area known as Devil's Kitchen. The Mexicans stopped to rest themselves and their mules. The gang could not believe their eyes when they saw the thirty packed mules with the Estradas. Hughes waited for them to take a siesta and then gunfire erupted. The Mexicans did not stand a chance in hell. The scared mules scattered and some were shot to keep them from running off with the goods. When the smoke cleared, nineteen Mexican bandits and 26 mules lay dead in one of the worst massacres in Arizona history. Legend says that the gang gathered up over $75,000 in coins, jewels and artifacts, but with no mules, they had no way to pack it out of the canyon. Also, their horses couldn't carry such a heavy load and the theives. They divided up a small amount that they could carry, burying the rest nearby. They returned to their outlaw towns to spend the loot that they had brought back. While the other bad boys were enjoying a little bit of their booty, Jim Hughes entertained other ideas. He met with Zwing Hunt and Billy Grounds and hatched a plan to double cross the other crooks. (no honor among thieves,,, such a surprise) Hughes was to stay in Galeyville, as to not rouse any suspicions. The other two would ride back to Skeleton Canyon and dig up the treasure and bury it elsewhere. The three of them only would know where it was buried. Zwing and Billy found a Mexican willing to take his wagon rug into the canyon. They dug up the treasure at the end of the canyon and reburied it somewhere closeby. Poor ol’ pancho was then shot and buried at the site. Now, only Zwing and Billy knew where the loot was buried. Fearing retalaition from their ex-partners, Zwing and Billy went into hiding. They found a desert cave to hide out in for a few months. At this time, Billy wrote some letters to his sister Maggie Clinger in San Antonio, Texas. He told her where the treasure was buried in case they would not make out alive. (as a side note, I have this lake property in Nogales for sale) Once a week, he came out of the canyon and flagged down a stagecoach driver and gave his letters to him. (of course the stage driver didn’t suspect a thing) They finally came out of hiding in March of 1882 (some of the old gang had recently been killed in the shootout at the O.K.Coral in Tombstone). They rode into Charleston (near Tombstone) and on March 25, tried to rob the Tombstone Mining and Milling Company. One man was killed, but the robbery didn't go as planned. They fled the area, but were identified. A sheriff's posse was soon out hunting down Zwing and Billy, who were hiding out at Jack Chandler's ranch near Tombstone. When the posse arrived at Jack Chandler's ranch, a shootout ensued. Billy Grounds was killed and Zwing Hunt was wounded pretty bad. Zwing was taken to the hospital in Tombstone. When Jim Hughes heard the news, he rushed to the hospital to find out where the treasure was. Upon arrival, he found that Zwing was doing better than expected and persuaded his doctor to let him take a buggy ride with a friend, which was presumed to be his brother Hugh Hunt in disguise. Zwing was never seen again. Later in Tombstone, Hugh claimed his brother was shot and killed by Indians after his escape from the hospital. Supposedly, he was buried in what is now called Hunt's Canyon. The other story that had been heard was that Hugh and Zwing made their way back to their home in San Antonio, where Zwing later died of his wounds. It is said that he gave his uncle a map to the treasure site before he died. On this map, it is said that the treasure is at the base of Davis Mountain. Zwing and Billy named Davis Mountain themselves after their friend Jim Davis, who they buried here. It could be any number of peaks in the Peloncilla Mountains. More clues provided by Zwing Hunt to his uncle were of no help. Zwing said that very close to the mountain, was a curving canyon with its east wall completely rocky and bare and the west wall covered in trees. Through this canyon was supposed to be a small stream. The stream had a ten foot drop where water cascaded down near two springs. Twenty steps east of the treasure site was a square shaped rock about three feet high. Over the burial spot there would be a burnt wagon. The Hunt family searched for years and never found the treasure. They could never even find the two springs. It is believed that the earthquake that shook the area in 1886 made the stream reroute or dry up. They may have only flowed after periodic heavy rainfall anyhow. Remains of a burnt wagon were found in the canyon once, but no treasure was ever found under it. One of the letters that Billy wrote to his sister claimed, "the is a cave at the mouth of the canyon...from our lookout you can see the turf growing back over where we buried the treasure." Numerous caves have been found that could be the one Billy talked about. Even one cave had been found with remnants of old ropes in it, but no treasure ever found in the area. Through the years, many old Mexican coins have been found in the canyon. And numerous human skulls and bones and bones of mules have been found in the canyon. In 1891, a cowboy and a government official found a leather pouch with several thousands of dollars worth of Mexican coins in it. It is believed that the treasure included a cigar box full of jewels, two figures of pure gold, $90,000 in Mexican silver dollars, 39 gold bars, and numerous bags of gold coins. Enough evidence has surfaced to suggest that the treasure really does exist.

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