Searching for Montezuma's Gold: A Detailed Treasure History

by Daniel Bernzweig

Searching for Montezuma's Gold: A Detailed Treasure History

Table of contents:

  • What happened to Montezuma's treasure?
  • The Aztec Empire: Has Aztec treasure been found?
  • Montezuma II and the Spanish Conquest of Mexico
  • Cortez Didn't Take The Gold From Montezuma
  • What was in Montezuma's treasure?
  • Could the Montezuma treasure be in Utah?
  • Did Freddy Crystal find the cave in Utah?
  • What has happened to the Freddy Crystal Cave?
  • Television Shows on Montezuma's Treasure
  • The Legend of the Aztec Treasure - Fact or Fiction?
  • Has Aztec treasure been found?

What happened to Montezuma's treasure?

Few tales of lost ancient treasure have captured the imagination of so many people over consecutive generations to the extent that the tale of Montezuma's Treasure has. Ever since the conquest of the Aztec Empire in what is now Mexico by the Spanish in the early sixteenth century, rumors and legends have abounded about how the last Aztec Emperor, Montezuma II, oversaw the removal of a vast Aztec treasure to somewhere in the isolated and then underpopulated region of what is now northern Mexico and the southern United States. Here Montezuma's Treasure was supposedly buried and has remained hidden for half a millennium. But is there any truth to the legend? Here we explore the facts.

The Aztec Empire: Has Aztec treasure been found?

First, let us assess the Aztec Empire itself. The region of Central America and North America, which encapsulates modern-day Mexico and the smaller states of Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, and El Salvador, was once the center of several thriving civilizations of Mesoamerican people. Particularly notable amongst these were the Mayans, who ruled the area around southern Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala for well over a millennium. At its height between the second and the ninth centuries AD, the Mayans built pyramids that eclipse those that the Ancient Egyptians had previously built in North Africa. In the early fifteenth century, a new power emerged further to the north when several Nahuatl city states merged together into a larger state centered on the city of Tenochtitlan. This was located on the site of modern-day Mexico City and, by 1500, was a thriving city of enormous buildings and temples. It was also an engineering marvel, being located on a series of islands on Lake Texcoco, which were connected to the mainland by lengthy bridges. By the start of the sixteenth century, based on the expansion of the Nahuatl state and the attendant economic expansion which followed, the population of Tenochtitlan had expanded to over a quarter of a million people and perhaps as many as 400,000. This new power in Central Mexico was known as the Aztec Empire. This state built up a robust military machine in the fifteenth century, overseen by its emperors and powerful aristocracy. This was not an empire that was weak or in decline by the start of the sixteenth century, but one that expanded aggressively and had a complex system of politics, trade, and administration.

Montezuma II and the Spanish Conquest of Mexico

The emperor of the Aztec Empire during the early sixteenth century is generally known in European sources as Moctezuma II or Montezuma II; since 1502 or 1503, he was the sixth serving emperor of the Aztec Empire. Though he is generally depicted in the popular history of the destruction of the Aztec Empire as weak-willed, indecisive, and superstitious, the Aztec Empire had actually reached its greatest extent under his rule. But then the Spanish arrived. Following the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus, the Iberians established themselves in the Caribbean. By the 1510s, they were making exploratory journeys to mainland of America. One of these voyages soon uncovered details of a powerful and rich civilization in Central Mexico which could yield great wealth if conquered.

Cortez Didn't Take The Gold From Montezuma

Thus, in 1519 a Spanish adventurer or Spanish conquistador named Hernán Cortés arrived in Central America, intent on conquering the Aztec warriors. Subsequent events are well-known. Cortés and his small party of Spaniards gradually made their way to Tenochtitlan. When they arrived there, Montezuma and his Aztecs were overawed by their guns and appearance and allowed the Spanish to establish themselves in the city, but relations soon soured. Montezuma was detained by Cortés, and eventually, the Spanish were driven from the city, the so-called La Noche Triste, or the Sad Night. Then Cortés gathered many allies from the neighboring Mesoamerican peoples, such as the Tlaxclans, who opposed the Aztecs. With this alliance, he returned to Tenochtitlan and conquered the Aztec Empire in 1521, largely because the introduction of European diseases had ravaged the population of the Aztec capital. So, where does the treasure fit into all of this?

What was in Montezuma's treasure?

Montezuma's Treasure is believed to have been a vast treasure Montezuma had ordered to be removed from Tenochtitlan during the initial Spanish occupation of the city in early 1520. The nature of the treasure is unspecified, though we may speculate that it consisted of Aztec gold jewelry and coins, or perhaps headdress pieces similar to the elaborate headdress of Montezuma. This was made up of a gold crown and an elaborate series of peacock feathers and those of other tropical birds. The legend states that the treasure was taken north when the emperor's relationship with Cortés began to sour. It was then buried somewhere either in northern Mexico or the southwestern United States. The site most typically associated with the buried treasure is in Arizona or New Mexico, especially the Casa Grande region situated between Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona today. But some treasure hunters over the year have even speculated that the Aztec emperor's treasure might be buried as far north as the state of Utah.

Could the Montezuma treasure be in Utah?

It may seem silly to some people that the Montezuma treasure could be located in Utah. However, there are rumors that Montezuma had the treasure taken to what is now the United States by his people. The Montezuma treasure was then buried in modern-day Utah.

In 1914, prospector Freddy Crystal arrived in Kanab, Utah, a small farming community at the time. Crystal hoped to make it rich, but not like most residents would have initially thought. The prospector brought a treasure map with him with illustrations of Aztec petroglyphs.

Freddy Crystal came across old manuscripts during a trip to Mexico. The manuscripts were from the time of Hernán Cortés and amongst the manuscripts was a hand-drawn map. Crystal claimed the map had a striking resemblance to the area around Kanab.

He believed the Montezuma treasure was in a cave with the Aztec petroglyphs at its entrance. If Freddy Crystal could find it, then the Montezuma treasure would be inside.

Did Freddy Crystal find the cave in Utah?

In 1922, eight years after arriving in Kanab, Freddy Crystal found the cave he believed housed the Montezuma treasure. According to local treasure stories, Crystal and his companions stood on top of the Grand Canyon rim following years of searching. Crystal looked across the desert and suddenly realized the cave standing in front of him matched the cave on the hand drawn map.

The cave had stairs carved into it, and the steps led to the base of the cave. Crystal found the cave was sealed by stone mortar and could not get inside it. Crystal returned to Kanab to inform the townspeople of the Montezuma treasure potentially being found.

Townspeople rushed to the cave and helped dig to locate the lost treasure of the Aztec ruler. Kanab residents spent months digging in the cave for this fabulous treasure but found nothing. Eventually, the digging stopped as all hope of finding the Montezuma treasure evaporated, and Freddy Crystal soon left Kanab. He was never seen in the Utah town again.

What has happened to the Freddy Crystal Cave?

The Freddy Crystal Cave still sits in the desert outside of Kanab today, holding mystery to all who go near it. More adventurers have come to investigate the cave that Crystal once believed held Montezuma's lost treasure. The cave is located in Johnson Canyon, and it has attracted many individuals since the 1920s seeking to find lost gold and jewels.

Freddy Crystal and his companions found an extensive system of tunnels underneath the ground. It is claimed that the men found several artifacts and bones. There were also booby traps inside the caves. Unfortunately, no lost treasure was located.

Although the hidden treasure of Montezuma wasn't found inside the cave, many Kanab locals believe it to be elsewhere in the area. The speculation has led to other areas around Kanab being searched. Like Freddy Crystal's investigations, these searches for Montezuma's treasure have all come up empty-handed. The National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, Mexico, houses a golden brick thought to be part of the lost Aztec treasure.

Remarkably, the speculation of a curse around Kanab has grown. This occurred due to several individuals meeting untimely and surprising deaths while seeking out the treasure. So, is the Montezuma treasure in Kanab, Utah? Freddy Crystal believed it was, and many locals do too. However, the curse of the lost treasure could keep it from being found.

These tales have inspired many individuals over the centuries to quest for Montezuma's hidden wealth. For instance, during the late 1840s, following the discovery of immense gold in lost mines in California, speculators began searching high and low in locations throughout Arizona and New Mexico for the legendary Aztec treasure. In the 1910s, efforts to locate Montezuma's Treasure further north around the town of Kanab in Southern Utah reached a fever pitch, but again with no success of any kind.

Television Shows on Montezumas Treasure

Authentic treasure hunters Dan Dillman, Raymond Dillman, Gina Dillman, and Derrick Dillman are featured in the Lost Gold of the Aztecs television show. Featured on the History Channel, this show is about the hunt for Montezuma's treasure and Aztec gold and silver. Discovering a gold piece of Aztec gold is the ultimate quest for any treasure hunter. Ornate designs and precious stones, turquoise, and gems are believed to have been included in some of the pieces.

The Legend of the Aztec Treasure - Fact or Fiction?

So is there any truth to the legend of Montezuma's Treasure or the basis for the legend in the first place? The reality is that despite the sustained interest in and efforts to locate the Aztec emperor's wealth there is virtually zero evidence to suggest it ever existed. For instance, there is no documentary evidence from the time of the conquest to support the supposition that a vast treasure was removed by the Aztecs to northern Mexico or the southern United States and buried there at the time of the conquest. For instance, there is zero mention of the removal of any vast treasure from Tenochtitlan by Montezuma or the Aztecs in the primary account of the conquest of the Aztec Empire, written by the Spanish solider, Bernal Diaz del Castillo, who was himself a witness to all of these events. In none of the histories of the conquest, including The True History of the Conquest of New Spain by Castillo, does it say that Montezuma was ever held for ransom or that anyone was told to hide their loot from the Spanish? There is a belief that Montezuma was imprisoned by Spanish conquistadors. A gold ransom was allegedly demanded his release by the conquistadors.

Has Aztec treasure been found?

Moreover, the gold bar, which was found in Mexico City in 1981 and which dates to the time of the conquest, is now believed to have actually been plunder taken by the Spanish, rather than anything that was hidden by the Aztecs. Rather the entire story of Montezuma's Treasure seems to have become enmeshed in the Spanish conquistadors' own belief that they would find immense wealth in Tenochtitlan in the early 1520s. Moreover, there is a cross-pollination of myths here, Montezuma's Treasure perhaps becoming associated with the myth of El Dorado, the fabled city of gold, which Europeans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries believed they might locate somewhere out in the wilds of northern Mexico and the deserts of the southern United States. But in reality, there is no basis at all for the myth of Montezuma's Treasure.

© 2021 Detector Electronics Corp. - Revised September 2022