There’s something specifically on my heart since the public unveiling last week of the “Saddle Ridge Hoard“:
A middle-aged couple in Northern California about a year ago February…stumbled upon and unearthed during a simple walk with their dog on their property eight metal canisters. All were in state of major decay, yet what the decomposing cans were holding were one of the few items that would be impervious to such ravages of time and nature—gold! In total, 1,427 gold coins with a face value of $27,980 were in those cans.
My jaw dropped open for a considerable length of time when I first read the stories. And I actually start salivating when I look at the pictures. One double eagle minted in San Francisco (pictured below) could bring $1,000,000.00 at auction! This hoard could be the most valuable ever recorded in history due to the rarity and condition of these gold coins.
I have done my share of prospecting and caught gold fever in years past. I had read everything I could about the Sunken treasure of the Atocha when it was found in 1985, as well as the SS Republic found in 2003. In 2005 I fulfilled a bucket list goal of seeing King Tut’s funerary mask in the Cairo Museum. For many years my favorite movie was Raiders of the Lost Ark, but over time its sequel Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has meant more to me on many levels as a Christian and a man fascinated with treasure.
In the opening minutes of the Last Crusade, a young Indiana Jones says regarding the discovery of the Cross of Coronado: “That is an important artifact and it belongs in a museum!”
According to the film, this gold cross, discovered in a Utah cave system, was given to Coronado by Hernán Cortés in 1521. It is unclear if any such item ever existed. But I believe the script writer’s choice of Coronado for this artifact is significant. A cooking blogger writes:
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado y Luján was an interesting man. He was a man driven by the search for the three Gs – Glory, God and Gold – in the 16th century. He was a conquistador who was ruthless in his belief of and the search of the Seven Cities of Gold, more commonly known as Cibola. There was another Francisco – Francisco de Orellana – who lived at the same time as Coronado, who also chased another mythical city of gold, the El Dorado. In fact these two people form the backbone of modern monomyth of the treasure hunter. Any modern media that portrays the conquistadors looking for the long lost City of Gold were more often than not based on the two Franciscos.
So that artifact would have represented all three G’s—”Glory, God, and Gold.” I live near the city of San Francisco, which is pretty much the world headquarters for the Gold Rush. But this “city of gold” wasn’t named after Francisco Vasquez de Coronado as you might expect. No, ironically ground zero for the greatest gathering of greed in history was named for a man who at age 28 took a vow of poverty and changed the world.
On February 24, 1209, St. Francis of Assisi (San Francisco de Asís) heard a sermon that changed his life forever. The sermon was about Matthew 10:9, in which Jesus tells his disciples that they should go forth and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was upon them; that they should take no money with them, nor even a walking stick or shoes for the road. Francis was inspired to devote himself to a life of poverty. Clad in a rough garment, barefoot, and, after the Gospel precept, without staff or scrip, he began to preach repentance. That same year, Clare of Assisi (Santa Clara de Asís) heard Francis preach and became deeply touched by his message. San Francisco established the Order of the Franciscans in 1210, and Santa Clara founded her own order for women in 1211.
I recently went on a vacation trip with my family and visited all 21 Spanish missions of California. The missions were built by men who were inspired to join the Franciscan order, and nearly all of the restored mission churches had statues inside honoring San Francisco and Santa Clara. Seeing this emphasis within those ancient houses of worship, I think it is important to remember that the Franciscans came to Alta California in the 1760’s, over 200 years after Coronado reached the Grand Canyon in 1540 and when Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo first explored the western coastline of Alta California in 1542–43. Those barefoot friars understood the conquest of Mexico generations before, and knew they could do better. The clash of cultures was inevitable, and they could facilitate a more peaceful transition than through the violent gold fever of their forefathers.
Jesus commissions us Christians to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing the natives (called neophytes), and promises that He will be with us. The Franciscans obeyed; not only converting the Native Californians but investing in their lives—teaching them civilized trades, ranching and agriculture. The Spanish crown did finance the California missions with the promise of creating a civilization of loyal, taxpaying Christians. Their king was motivated by three C’s similar to Coronado’s Glory, God, and Gold: Civilization, Conversion, and Commerce; but in truth it was a mutually beneficial endeavor—storing up both treasures on earth and treasures in heaven.
Suffice to say, I have come to respect those Franciscan Friars, who made a vow of poverty and actively sought heavenly treasures. As for seeking earthly riches? Finding is a wonderful dream, but the reality is that such a fantastic prize as the Saddle Ridge Hoard might be more trouble than it’s worth. Montezuma’s desperate tributes of Aztec gold to Cortés only whet his appetite for bloodshed. To find a treasure of priceless value and historic significance, and not get killed over it, is only possible through God’s mercy.
A wise old prospector hinted at this old truth when he said: Yeah, I know what gold does to men’s souls. That’s a line from Treasure of the Sierra Madre, another one of my favorite movies because it stabs at the very heart of greed:
Aw, as long as there’s no find, the noble brotherhood will last, but when the piles of gold begin to grow, that’s when the trouble starts.
I would recommend watching that movie if you have considered being a treasure hunter. It is a tale for and about the hearts of men. In the beginning we identify with the hopes and dreams of Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Curtin (Tim Holt), who were cheated out of promised wages and down on their luck. They meet the old prospector Howard (Walter Huston) in the Mexican oil-town of Tampico. Despite Howard’s warnings (I never met a rich prospector), they set out to strike it rich by searching for gold in the remote Sierra Madre mountains.
They ride a train into the hinterlands, surviving a bandit attack en route. In the desert, Howard proves to be the toughest and most knowledgeable; he is the one to discover the gold they seek. A mine is dug, and much gold is extracted. Greed soon sets in, and Dobbs begins to lose both his trust and his sanity, lusting to possess the entire treasure. Dobbs is also unreasonably afraid that he will be killed by his partners.
A fourth American named James Cody (Bruce Bennett) appears, which sets up a moral debate about what to do with the new stranger. The men decide to kill Cody, but just as the three confront him with pistols and prepare to kill him, the bandits reappear, crudely pretending to be Federales. This results in a now-famous exchange between Dobbs and the bandits:
- Gold Hat: “We are Federales… you know, the mounted police.”
Dobbs: “If you’re the police, where are your badges?”
Gold Hat: “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!”
After a gunfight with the bandits, in which Cody is killed, a real troop of Federales appears and chases away the bandits.
Howard is called away to assist some local villagers in saving a little boy. The next day he is asked, without the option of declining, to go back to the village to be honored. However, he leaves his goods with Dobbs and Curtin. Dobbs, whose paranoia continues, and Curtin constantly argue, until one night when Curtin falls asleep, Dobbs holds him at gunpoint, takes him behind the camp, shoots him, grabs all three shares of the gold, and leaves him for dead. However, the wounded Curtin survives and manages to crawl away during the night.
Dobbs is later ambushed and killed by some of the bandits. In their ignorance, the bandits believe Dobbs’ bags of unrefined gold are merely filled with sand, and scatter the paydirt to the winds. They are later captured and executed by the Federales. Curtin later meets up with Howard and when they hear the story they can do nothing but laugh at their misfortune when they learn that the gold is gone:
Oh laugh, Curtin, old boy. It’s a great joke played on us by the Lord, or fate, or nature, whatever you prefer. But whoever or whatever played it certainly had a sense of humor! Ha! The gold has gone back to where we found it!… This is worth ten months of suffering and labor, this joke is!
King Solomon was the richest man in the world, and he had this to say:
The Folly of Riches
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity. When good things increase, those who consume them increase. So what is the advantage to their owners except to look on? The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much; but the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep.
There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt. When those riches were lost through a bad investment and he had fathered a son, then there was nothing to support him. As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand. This also is a grievous evil—exactly as a man is born, thus will he die. So what is the advantage to him who toils for the wind? Throughout his life he also eats in darkness with great vexation, sickness and anger.
Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward. Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God. For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart.
Certainly God is stirring my spirit about this topic. I believe that, for the most part, my toil and labor on this earth has been blessed with the gladness of my heart. I pass right by the casinos and lottery tickets without a whit of interest. Perhaps I would feel differently if I were to be gambling for gold coins instead of paper receipts? I don’t know. But I do know that I sleep at night without the need for a gun in the nightstand, because I have no hoard to guard; just the worthless detritus of a disposable society …and an alarm clock on the nightstand to wake me up on workdays.
Wisdom, Solomon said, is to be prized more than gold. In Proverbs 8:19 Solomon declares concerning Wisdom: “My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold, and my yield better than choicest silver.” Jesus says “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” I think, perhaps, that if I seek wisdom, the allure of spending my time finding piles of gold will pale in comparison to the treasure found in sharing the love of Jesus with those who are perishing. San Francisco de Asís would say that it’s just as tangible.