The Emperor of Mexico
and Denton, Texas
by John A. Kimmey, Jr.
Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph (1832-1867) was crowned Emperor of Mexico on 10 June 1864. How this younger brother of Francis Joseph I of Austria came to be in Mexico and his lost fortune linked by legend to Denton, Texas is a story of political circumstance, schemes, lies and human greed.
While the United States was busy with its Civil War and the Monroe Doctrine was merely paper, a group of conservative Mexicans and the French Emperor Napoleon III contrived to put Maximilian on the Mexican throne. The Mexican government of Benito Juarez was far too liberal for some Mexicans and Napoleon III wanted to collect a debt from Mexico and further his imperialist dreams in the Americas of a Latin league of Mediterranean countries and their former colonies. The debt Mexico owed the French was $15 million on which Juarez had suspended payment. To further this scheme Maximilian was lied to and believed the Mexican people had voted him their king. and he agreed to move to Mexico as elected emperor. Backed by support from the French army, Maximilian and his wife Marie-Charlotte-Amelie-Augustine-Victoire-Clementine-Leopoldine (know as Carlota to her friends), daughter of Leopold I, King of the Belgians, set sail for Mexico in 1864. Maximilian seems to have thought of the Mexicans as simple peasants and felt called upon to rule with a paternal benevolence. The conservatives, landed gentry and the Roman Catholic Church, were disappointed in Maximilian as he refused to undo the sweeping land reforms made by the Juarez government. Maximilian's liberal plans were doomed to failure.
The American Civil War ended in 1865 and the United States demanded the withdrawal of the French from Mexico whose presence was seen as a violation of the Monroe Doctrine. Carlota went to Europe to enlist the help of Napoleon III and Pope Pius IX only to be rebuffed by them. She then suffered a complete mental and emotional collapse and never returned to Mexico. She spent the rest of her life in seclusion in Laeken, Belgium where she died in 1927. The French finally withdrew from Mexico in 1867 and Juarez and his Mexican army moved back into Mexico City. Maximilian refused to abdicate and fled, with a few supporters, to Queretaro where he finally capitulated on 15 May 1867. In spite of the protests by many of the crowned heads of Europe he was executed outside Queretaro on 19 June 1867.
Months before Maximilian was executed he sent what was left of his personal fortune in Spanish, Australian and American gold coin, gold and silver plate and some bullion back to Austria. The fortune never made it out of Texas, or so the story goes. The gold and silver were loaded onto wagons and the drivers instructed to go to San Antonio, Texas and then on to Galveston, Texas. The gold and silver were then to be sent to Austria where Carlota was waiting for the shipment.
This was 1867 - Reconstruction in Texas and times were bad and lawlessness was the rule of the day in many parts of the State. The Rio Grande was the dividing line between two kinds of men who felt themselves, because of circumstances, to be outlaws: ex- Confederates who could not or would not live in Reconstruction Texas; and, those fleeing Mexico because of sympathy with Maximilian whose power was fast coming to an end. It so happened that in this year a group of ex-Confederates heading into Mexico and some of Maximilian's supporters heading into Texas chanced upon each other. The ex-Confederates were hoping to make their fortune in Mexico; the Maximilianos were hoping to get to Austria with his gold and silver. Their immediate objective, however, was to get to San Antonio and they did not know the road conditions and solicited the aid of the Americans. Both of these groups were on the Chihuahua Trail when they ran into each other and when the political conditions in Mexico were explained to the Americans they agreed to help the Mexicans get to San Antonio with their cargo of "flour."
The travelling group was made up of fifteen people including one woman who was the daughter of the leader of the Maximilianos. It was not very long before the Americans noticed cautious the Mexicans were about their cargo of flour, staying by it all day and sleeping in each wagon at night. Quite naturally the curiosity of the Americans was aroused. Upon closer inspection, the flour turned out to be gold and silver. All this happened as they were approaching the Pecos River. Finally, the dirty deed was done at Castle Gap, fifteen miles east of Horsehead Crossing. All the Maximilianos, including the woman, were killed and the bodies and most of the wagons burned. So much gold and silver could not be carried by the remaining Americans so they agreed to bury most of it, make a map and return later for the loot. Having done this, they rode east with as much of the gold as they felt they would need for the trip.
The leader of the pack, Bill Murdock in some accounts, became so ill that he had to be left behind when the group reached Fort Concho. It was his good luck because his compatriots, who went on ahead, were attacked by Indians and killed. When Murdock was well enough to travel he set out for San Antonio. On the way he discovered the mutilated bodies of his friends. He now was the only person who knew the location of Maximilian's gold. He decided to go to Missouri and enlist the help of the James boys, then come back to Texas and divide up the fortune. On his way to Missouri it was his ill fortune to fall in with a group of men who turned out to be horse thieves.
A sheriff's posse from Denton captured the group and took all of them, including Murdock, to the Denton County jail. While in jail, Murdock's old malady resurfaced and a Dr. Black was called in to minister to him. Dr. Black felt that Murdock had little time to live and sent for a lawyer named O'Connor to try to secure Murdock's release. Murdock did not make it out of jail and in his last moments he told Black and O'Connor his story and gave them his map. He then died. Black and O'Connor eventually went to Castle Gap but time and the weather had so altered the landscape they could not read the landmarks on the map. To this day no one has been able to discover the whereabouts of Maximilian's gold, although many have tried.
NOTE: Most of the above information was gleaned from J. Frank Dobie's Coronado's Children. A search through the census records for Denton County for 1860 and 1870 turned up no Dr. Black nor and O'Connors.