Written in 1930, Coronado's Children was one of J. Frank Dobie's first books, and the one that helped gain him national prominence as a folklorist. In it, he recounts the tales and legends of those hardy souls who searched for buried treasure in the Southwest following in the footsteps of that earlier gold seeker, the Spaniard Coronado.
"These people," Dobie writes in his introduction, "no matter what language they speak, are truly Coronado's inheritors.... l have called them Coronado's children. They follow Spanish trails, buffalo trails, cow trails, they dig where there are no trails; but oftener than they dig or prospect they just sit and tell stories of lost mines, of buried bullion by the jack load... "
This is the tale-spinning Dobie at his best, dealing with subjects as irresistible as ghost stories and haunted houses.
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It is a persistent belief among treasure seekers, despite the fact that they do not live up to it, that treasure appears only when unsought, and always in the most unexpected form. Late one evening some twenty years ago a man in a rickety wagon, hitched to a pair of "crow-bait" horses, drove up to a farmhouse in the hill country. He called, "Hello," got out, and stepped into the yard. A widow and her grown son lived on the place, and both of them were at home.
"I'm out buying relics," the stranger said. "Have you got anything to sell?"
"No, I guess not," laughed the widow, "leastwise nothing that you'd carry off."
"Well, just any kind of relic," went on the stranger. "Maybe an old picture, an old gun of some kind, locked deerhorns, queer rocks, Indian spear points. I buy anything."
"But we don't have a thing," repeated the widow. "You can see for yourseIf that this ain't much like a museum, even if the plows is all wore out and the stove so caved in that I have to bake bread in the yard."
"What's this?" interrupted the stranger, as he walked over and kicked a leaden ball that he had been eyeing most of the time.
"Oh, that's just an old lead ball that one of the boys plowed up in the field years ago," mildly explained the woman. "You can see how the plow grazed it. The boys used to roll it about as a plaything. It's a wonder it wasn't lost long ago."
"Now, that's what I call a relic," exclaimed the stranger. "What'll you take for it?"
"It's not worth anything, I know," slowly answered the woman, "but I'd rather not part with it. It was such a plaything for the boys."
"I'll give you twenty-five dollars," popped out the stranger.
Such a price almost overwhelmed the widow, and she accepted it immediately. The stranger paid down the twenty-five dollars, and then walked towards the wood pile.
"Loan me your axe," he said.
The young man got the axe. Selecting a clean, hard spot of ground, the stranger put the ball between two logs so that it could not roll. "I've been looking for this particular relic a good while," he explained.
Then he cut the ball in two. It was full of gold nuggets. If the plow had gone a little deeper, it would have cut into them.
The stranger was not stingy or mean. Gathering up the spilled nuggets before the speechless widow and son, he mounded them into two equal piles.
"By rights," he said, "at least half is yours. Take it." And a few days later that half was disposed of for exactly $7000.
"This is just one of four lead balls," went on the stranger. "I've been looking for them for fifteen years. According to my directions, the stuff in them come from one of the San Saba mines and the Spaniards planted them. The four balls formed the corners of an exact square four hundred yards to the side. Just by accident the other day while I was up in the Santa Anna Mountains I heard of this old relic in your yard, and I come a hundred miles as fast as my old plugs could travel."
A prolonged attempt was made to find the other three balls. But the exact spot in which the one ball was plowed up had long since been forgotten. So not one of the four corners could be established. The only definite clue was that the ball had been turned up along one of several washes that seamed the field. If any of the other balls is ever exposed, it will probably be by some plowhand as ignorant of its history as were the widow and her sons.