Cerro del Gato (aka Cat Mountain) hovers over the desert on Tucson’s far west side. It is said that this southernmost peak of the Tucson Mountains holds surprising ghostly secrets and conceals a hidden treasure.
The treasure, they say, is the buried bounty of a bandit, who was called El Tejano (aka The Texan). El Tejano was an outlaw who robbed stagecoaches in the late 1800’s. He hid from the authorities in the Tucson Mountains, and some say he also favored the Picacho Peak area in his frequent games of hide and seek. It is rumored that El Tejano hid an enormous cache of gold coins in a cave in Cerro del Gato, before paying the highest price for his crimes. He was sought, and then he was found. He was shot to death.
After his death, the rumors of his hidden coins spread far and wide. No one knows for sure how much truth there is to this legend that dates back to well over a century ago. It could be nothing more than a version of the telephone game, where the initial truth has become distorted into the story I’m telling you today. In that game, as you know, errors tend accumulate in the retellings, so the statement made by the last player differs significantly from the one uttered by the first. After El Tejano’s death, the game shifted to “finders keepers”…but, with a catch. If you find the treasure, you will find yourself standing face to face with the outlaw. El Tejano will let you keep the treasure on one condition. The creepy caveat to his challenge is said to be: “Todo o nada” (“All or nothing”)
The treasure has been found, numerous times, according to local legend. The treasure is just too vast to carry out of the cave in one trip. Those who say they found it, have experienced some sort of paranormal form of amnesia. The terror caused by El Tejano seems to leave the treasure seekers scared out of their minds. So scared, in fact, that they just can’t recall exactly how they happened to come upon the treasure. So, the treasure still sits, undisturbed, in the haunted cave that is guarded by a ghost.
My grandmother told me the story of El Tejano when I was young. She added that her own uncle had an encounter with El Tejano. My great uncle wasn’t out seeking treasure that day, though. Instead, he was on a journey to Tucson from Mexico to get supplies and visit with relatives. He wasn’t alone on that day. There were witnesses to what happened next.
The group noticed a man on a horse. This sight is not unusual for the area, even today, to see someone riding a horse near Bopp and Kinney Road. The unusual thing about it is that the horse and its rider appeared to glow. The party ventured closer to get a better look. They noticed that the horse’s hooves made no sound as it galloped. They soon realized that the horse left no imprint on the desert sand. As the horse and its rider moved further away, toward Cerro del Gato, they knew that it could only be El Tejano. They had heard about him before. They knew that the best thing they could do was to just let El Tejano make his journey, completely undisturbed. Since then, others have also claimed to see the ghostly horseman riding through the area, on his way to his post to guard his treasure. This is how I’ve heard the story, at least. History and legend has bound Cerro del Gato and El Tejano together. They will remain associated with each other, for centuries to come, through the retelling of this local folklore.
Treasure seekers beware, according to the local folklore. Do not disturb El Tejano’s treasure – unless you know for sure you can take it all – or you will be left with absolutely nothing.
Todo o nada.
Maybe the next time you drive by, perhaps on the way to Old Tucson Studios for the annual Nightfall event, you might see El Tejano on his horse – galloping in the distance to guard the treasure hidden inside Cerro del Gato.
For more information about NightFall at Old Tucson Studios (held every night during the month of October), visit the NightFall website, or call them at 520-883-0100. Old Tucson Studios is located at 201 S. Kinney Road, Tucson, Arizona, 85735.