El Rio de Las Animas Perdidas en Purgatoir (The River of Lost Souls in Purgatory) was first explored in the illegal Humana and Bonilla expedition of 1539. At that time, the band was led by a Portuguese don, seconded by a Spaniard. The group, including priests, soldiers, and miners, set forth on a quest that led them into Colorado.
The Spaniard could not stand to have a Portuguese leading the party, and after becoming increasingly jealous and angry, he killed the Portuguese and took over the leadership.
The priests refused to go further with the band being led by an “evil leader” and returned to Mexico. The rest of the group continued to what is now Colorado but were attacked and killed by Apache Indians.
More than a year later, Francisco Vazquez de Coronado would explore the area in search of Gran Quivira, the seven cities of gold. However, his search would prove nothing more than a frustrating one when he returned empty-handed.
More than one hundred years later, in the 1700s, the Spaniards were transporting twelve chests of Spanish gold coins from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to St. Augustine, Florida. The money was to be utilized for payroll and garrison expenses. For some reason, the regiment, led by a man by the name of Carrasco Rodriguez, traveled through Colorado rather than taking a more direct southerly route. Somewhere around where Trinidad is today, the regiment was caught in the winter weather and forced to stay until the spring. When spring arrived, Rodriguez once again led his caravan in the wrong direction, and nothing was heard of them again.
Some say that the Spaniards buried the chests of gold somewhere along the banks of the Purgatory River. However, the more prevalent theory is that the Spaniards were attacked by Indians, who took their weapons, tools, clothing, and animals. Having no use for the gold, they probably threw it into a cave or a ravine. This theory is supported by a later finding of a suit of Spanish armor found along the banks of the Purgatory River, as well as a skeleton and ancient firearm found in a cave east of the Willow-Vogel Canyon junction in 1924.
Further tales describe the recovery of a few gold nuggets and Spanish gold coins found along trails through Purgatory Canyon. Another story has been told of a small iron-bound chest containing a few thick gold coins, found in a cave in Purgatory Canyon sometime around 1924. Also found at the site was an old piece of a harness with well-carved, ornate silver trimmings.
The man who was said to have found these things drove a knife into a tree outside the cave, confident that he was close to recovering the twelve chests of gold coins. However, while leaving the cave area, he fell and badly broke his leg, laying there for two days and nights. In his highly weakened condition, a couple of people came upon him, and he shared his tale with them. Unfortunately, the man succumbed to exposure.