This is an excerpt from Ron Quinn's adventure book on Searching for Arizona's Buried Treasures," now available on Amazon.com.
This rugged desert mountain range is located some thirty-odd miles south of Tucson, Arizona.
There are an abundance of stories about buried treasures and lost mines hidden within these mysterious sun baked hills, but there are also many tales of ghostly encounters, from unexplained lights, bizarre sounds and apparitions of Spanish soldiers and Jesuit priests.
Just south of Sardina Mountain, a lofty peak that dominates the northern boundaries of these unfriendly hills, one can find a large pile of stones near the summit of a hill, marking an ancient grave.
The story surrounding this burial site is almost unknown today to the few residents that now reside in the area. We heard it was customary among the early Spanish settlers to cast a stone onto a burial site that wasn’t located in a graveyard as you would pass. This site was near a well-traveled path, and over the years the pile grew to a substantial size.
My brother Chuck and I were doing some prospecting and treasure hunting in 1957 on the eastern slopes of these mountains at the time. One afternoon while visiting friends in Tubac, then a small community located just off the old Tucson-Nogales Highway, we met an elderly Mexican gentleman by the name of Frank Salcido.
He spotted our new metal detector in our jeep and told us about a rugged area just west of Tubac, near the foothills of the towering Tumacacoris, where a treasure might be buried.
About ten years earlier, Frank was working in this remote area, mending fences with several other ranch hands. They camped there one night so as to get an early start on their chores the following morning. The sun had just settled behind the western ridges as they finished their evening meal. A few moments later, they heard the sound of a horse approaching at full gallop and looked up. What they saw made their blood turn cold.
Coming down a hillside north of camp was a horse and rider, but the person sitting atop the mount was minus half his face. The rider was dressed in military clothing, the type worn during the Spanish occupation of this territory. The ghostly apparition came within twenty yards of them, then disappeared behind some large boulders.
They heard the horse come to a halt and a few moments later, heard a sound like somebody was pouring a large amount of coins onto the ground. Frank and another member of the work party crept cautiously around the boulders, but the specter had vanished. Frank also mentioned while the horse was approaching them, its hoofs were not touching the earth, and looked as though it was galloping about a foot above the ground. According to him, not much sleep was had that night.
The following evening they all returned to the site where the strange apparition had appeared the night before. They hid below the edge of a nearby dry wash and waited. Sure enough, at approximately the same time, just as the sun began to fade, the ghostly rider appeared again. Down the slope it came and disappeared once again behind the boulders. A few seconds later they heard the sound of falling coins.
Frank asked us if we’d like to visit the area, being we had a detector, and search near the boulders as the sound of coins might be indicating a treasure was buried below. Of course we agreed, and said we would pick him up the following afternoon around five o’clock.
After bouncing overland in our jeep for perhaps twenty minutes, scaring rabbits and other desert dwellers, we arrived at the site. Chuck and I both searched the area around the boulders then checked further out but nothing was discovered. We talked it over and decided to remain the night and see if this specter would make an appearance for us.
It was late spring and the nights were quite comfortable, and we did have some camping gear with us, along with food and water. One “never” ventures into the desert without carrying these provisions. The desert can be an awesome place, and it waits patiently for somebody to enter its domain, make a mistake, and be added to its list of casualties.
As it became darker, Frank began to joke and act nonchalant about the whole thing, but we could see he was beginning to act a little nervous. I had my doubts we’d see anything, but I was still somewhat apprehensive. The time the apparition should appear, came and went, but still no rider.
Frank had seen it during early fall, and this was late spring, so perhaps it didn’t make an appearance this time of the year. To this day I often wonder how I would have reacted if that horseman would have come riding into view.
Skirmish with Hostiles
The next morning Frank showed us the grave mentioned earlier. He said there had been a small battle fought there with the Indians, and a soldier was buried beneath the stones. This grave was about four hundred feet north of the site where the apparition appeared.
Frank insisted the specter was that of the fallen soldier, killed during the skirmish with the hostiles. He said all this took place sometime during the 1820s. It was also rumored that the soldiers were carrying gold and a military payroll consisting of “coins” to the presidio, located at Tubac.
Chuck took a picture of me standing beside the large pile of stones, before we hiked back to our jeep parked below. Later we also took a picture of the hillside the apparition appeared on.
A rumor sprung into existence years earlier, that some prospector or miner once rode past the grave, and cast a large piece of native silver onto it. This was evident, as a large amount of stones have been removed from the center. No doubt by a party searching for this rich piece of silver ore. This can be seen in the photo taken.
Whether the ghostly specter ever appeared again, we’ll never know. Perhaps we were there at the wrong time, as Frank saw it during early fall. If this mysterious apparition does ride the lonely hills during the fading hours of the day, it might be around the anniversary of the soldier’s death. Frank wasn’t sure of the date they first spotted the specter, but he was almost sure it was during early October.
If one could camp at the site during this time, there’s a good chance the rider might be seen. The way Frank related the story, one could tell he was very sincere, and believed what he had witnessed. Of course, others were present during these two brief encounters, so they must have seen something.
Note: Another version of this story appeared as “Tumacacori’s Ghost Rider” in Southern Arizona Trails, Vol. 3, No. 142, June 27, 1989, Pages 22, 26.