The Old west was a time of great change. With settlers from the east and natives from the west coming to terms with the new way of things, and with the advent of industrialization, so much happened. So many monstrously significant events took place during this short period of history. Great scraps of land were conquered by some and lost by others. Great fortunes were built by gold prospectors, notorious outlaws, and industrial kingpins. But perhaps the greatest change was simply down to the number of people who settled the wild west, taming and making it less wild. Today’s article isn’t really about those changes. It’s about old west mysteries! That is, the great mysteries from this era. From lost gold mines to monsters of native American folklore, here are ten great old west legends.
10: The Doc Noss Treasure
One of the most interesting yet least well known old west mysteries concerns a man called Doc Noss. A self taught foot doctor, he traveled around in search of adventure, befriending cowboys and gunslingers. One day he and his wife were exploring a remote mountain range in New Mexico. There they discovered a mysterious cave. Venturing into the cave and through several hundred feet of tunnel, he discovered a treasure trove. Before him lay colonial era artifacts, historical documents, and 16 thousand gold bars. Days later they returned to excavate that great treasure. But Noss was not a wise man. When he attempted to widen the tunnel using dynamite, it collapsed, permanently sealing the cave.
Doc Noss would spend the rest of his life raising money to fund new efforts to retrieve the treasure. Investors poured millions into the effort, enriching Noss in the process. But his life of befriending shifty figures came back to bite him, as he was murdered by one of his own investors. In the decades that followed, the story became legendary, and treasure hunters have continued to search for his gold. None of them have found even a single gold bar. But countless people still believe in the treasure.
9: The Disappearance of Jean Baptiste
There was once a Frenchman living in what at the time was called Utah territory. By all accounts he was an upstanding member of the community, working as the local grave digger. But when it was found out he had been grave robbing, people were outraged. Angry mobs wanted to lynch him on the street. So to keep him safe until his trial, police decided to exile him to a small island on the great salt lake. For six weeks he was to live alone on that island, entirely isolated from the outside world.
But when authorities returned to the island he was no where to be found. Immediate speculation was that he somehow escaped the island, either by a home made boat or by swimming to shore. But as time went on these theories seemed less plausible. Not only was it a long way to shore no sign of the man was ever seen again. And so the man’s fate has been a mystery ever since.
8: The Headless Horseman of Texas
1800s Texas was an especially violent place. American outlaws, Mexican bandits, and Comanche raiders made it’s frontiers dangerous for all. One Mexican bandit was especially notorious for stealing horses during sandstorms. But according to legend that bandit one day accidentally left a trail, allowing a group of Texas rangers to follow after him. As a warning to other bandits they cut off his head, tied his headless corpse to a horse, and left it to wander off into the desert. His killers headed home, believing they would never again need worry about him.
But it was not long before strange rumors began to emerge. Across the state, stories told of a headless horseman terrorizing settlers. Holding his own severed head, it’s eyes glew brightly as he galloped towards his victims, murdering anyone slower than his horse. Not even bullets could slow him down, nor seem to damage him at all. And ever since, legends of this headless horseman have endured.
7: The Man Hanged Three Times
Bill Longley was known as the man hanged three times. One of the most violent gunfighters of the old west, he spent his time roaming post civil war Texas, killing anyone who got in his way. He claimed to have killed 32 people, which is more than most people have. According to legend he was captured by a lynch mob who decided to hang him. As he was left hanging by a rope, the mob rode off on horseback, shooting into the air. But then a stray bullet cut the rope, saving his life. Years later he was apprehended in Louisiana and sentenced to death.
Again he escaped death, the hangman accidentally using the wrong length of rope. But this time his executioners realized their mistake and simply hanged him again. Bill Longley was dead. However, one day his father came forward, claiming his death had been faked. It was said he escaped from prison days before, leaving guards to panic and kill someone else in his place. He did have a history of breaking our of jail. Could he really have escaped justice? It remains one of the great old west mysteries.
6: The Head of Pancho Villa
Among the figures who shaped this era of history was Pancho Villa, a Mexican revolutionary known for bravery and charisma. One of the Mexican Revolution’s great leaders, he had enemies on either side of the border. And in 1923 he was assassinated. Three years later cemetery workers discovered a bizarre theft. The grave of Pancho Villa has been desecrated, his body decapitated, and his head stolen. There was no immediate suspect, only rumor. While many people hated Villa, no one seemed directly linked to the crime.. Investigators hit an instant dead end, and still today the fate of Pancho Villa’s head is unknown. Some said it was stolen by a renegade art dealer and sold into a private collection in France.
But the most prominent rumor blamed a group of American students. At Yale university is a notorious secret society called skull and bones. Also known as The Brotherhood of Death, they have been accused of acquiring many stolen skulls. They especially are said to be in possession of the skill of Geronimo, the great Apache chief. So many old west mysteries are said to be connected in some way to the society. According to legend they paid 25 thousand dollars for the skull of Pancho Villa to be stolen for them. Perhaps they still have it today.
5: Seven Cities of Gold
From the early days of Spanish conquest in the new world, rumor spread among explorers of a series of great lost cities. Tales of the seven cities of gold made it back to Europe, and dozens of expeditions organized to find it. But no matter how thoroughly they searched South and Central America, no golden city was found. Centuries later, when the old west experienced a gold rush, rumor again circulated of these lost cities. But this time they were said to be in California, Colorado, or Arizona. Once more, crazy white people went all over in search of the cities of gold.
Legend told they were surrounded by miles of desert in every direction. And on the journey towards them you would see countless corpses of long dead explorers. Follow in the footsteps of those dead explorers and keep going, and perhaps you will discover great wealth in these lost cities. That was believed by many at the time. Like so many old west mysteries we can’t say for certain if the seven cities of gold exist.
4: El Dorado Canyon Ghost Dogs
In remote Nevada stands El Dorado canyon, a place long known to be rich in gold and silver. For over a hundred years the mines here extracted precious metal, making many fortunes. As Nevada’s most successful mining area all kinds of people were drawn here, including criminals. Murder and shoot outs were a regular occurrence. So for protection, many dogs were kept at camps here. But people of the old west were cold hearted. And when it came time to leave the canyon, many dogs were simply tied down and left to die.
El Dorado canyon has been abandoned for decades. But it’s said if you go there late at night you can still hear the ghostly howling of those long dead dogs. As the howling gets closer you will hear the sound of chains being dragged along the ground. And if you do not then run, you will be torn to pieces. Such is the legend of the El Dorado canyon ghost dog.
3: The Gold of Henry Plummer
Henry Plummer was a legendary law man of the wild west. Though sheriff of a town, he led a double life, being part of a gang of outlaws. Using his position of sheriff, he would carefully pick his victims, choosing only to rob stage coaches full of gold from the local mines. For several years he and his gang of outlaws preyed on travelling wagons. It was an open secret that he led the gang. But he was sheriff – and he wasn’t exactly going to arrest himself. Eventually a group of locals came together as vigilantes, capturing and executing Plummer.
But after his death none of the gold he had stolen was recovered. No matter how hard they tried no one could find it. It was said he amassed a fortune of 200 thousand dollars worth, and buried it somewhere near the town of Bannack. One of the most gripping old west mysteries, we still don’t know if the gold even exists. If it does, it’s exact location was lost along with Henry Plummer’s life.
Just like every other part of the world, Native American folklore tells of many mythical creatures. Perhaps the most interesting are Thunderbirds, a giant winged creature of great strength. But European settlers never took this belief seriously… not until 1890. In that year a local newspaper in Tombstone Arizona published a story about it. According to that story a Thunderbird was seen flying near the town and shot down by locals. It was larger than any bird they had seen before. Initially there was no photographic evidence – only the news story itself. But before long all kinds of strange images began to circulate, appearing to show the dead beast. This was not the last reported case of Thunderbird encounter. Many other communities of the old west claimed to witness one.
1: The Lost Mine
Many unsolved old west mysteries tell of strange hidden mines, but this is my favorite of them all. In 1857 two men were crossing the Sierra Nevada mountain range. According to legend they were doing so as part of a larger group but somehow got separated. Now alone they stumbled upon a large deposit of strange looking rock. On approaching the rock they discovered it was really gold – enough to make them vastly wealthy. By the time they made it back to society one of them was dead and the other seriously ill. As he lay on his death bed, the last man told his doctor all about the gold mine they discovered.
He revealed it’s approximate location before suddenly dying. Though brought by tragedy, this revelation excited the doctor, who immediately set out to find the gold. But strangely he was unable to find it. Years went by, yet still he found no gold. Word got out and soon people were searching all over the mountain range. More than a century and a half later the location of that alleged mine remains unknown. And so that brings us to the end of our list of old west mysteries. Be sure to watch out video on this very topic, and subscribe for more.