The area around Durango in LaPlata County is associated with several good treasure stories. One of them concerns a gold mine full of skeletons that has been lost and found at least three times. In 1905 an old prospector looking for a grub stake showed up in Durango with a sack full of gold ore that was almost too pure to be believed. He claimed to have gotten it from an old pre-existing mine he discovered while prospecting in the area around Bear Creek. In addition to the ready-filled sacks of near-pure gold ore, this particular mine had another readily identifiable distinguishing characteristic: just inside the entrance three human skeletons sat waiting to greet new arrivals. The prospector found nothing to indicate who they were or how and when they might have died — and needless to say, they answered no questions. The old prospector sold his sack of gold ore and obtained his desired supplies, then he headed back to the mountains and was never seen again.
In 1918 Pedro Martinez wandered into town with an identical sack of gold ore and a similar story. Unfortunately, right behind Pedro came the deadly influenza outbreak that decimated the entire country. Pedro Martinez was among the many who died, and the mysterious gold mine was lost once more.
Finally, in 1938, an ancient sheepherder descended with a bag full of gold ore and a confused story of cursed skeletons. However, he was unable to lead a party of anxious searchers back to the site. Three times found and three times lost, the location of the Skeleton Mine remains a mystery.
The second lost mine story centers on the Newton Cafe in Durango. During the Depression, a very earnest young man who claimed to know something of rocks and minerals approached the owner with an offer to share any precious metals he might find in the nearby mountains for a grub stake. Newton, perhaps remembering how Horace Tabor became a multi-millionaire, agreed. A few weeks later the young man returned with a sack full of brilliantly colored rocks which caused quite a stir until a grizzled old prospector pronounced them fool’s gold. Crushed by his failure, the young man drifted out of town and was never seen again. Newton kept the rock on a shelf in his cafe as a conversation piece. Not long after, a mining engineer stopped in to eat dinner and pronounced the samples high grade gold ore. They assayed out at more than $5,000 a ton in the middle of the Depression.
When this story was first written about in 1969, Newton was still alive and still half-owner in a lost gold mine.