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U.S. History/Spanish exploration in Ozarks


QUESTION: It seems many, many cave tours in Ozarks Missouri and Arkansas claim that, at one time or another, Spanish explorers visited their cave. Now we know a) they were looking for riches and the Fountain of Youth, b) they enslaved the natives to mine for said riches, c) that they would have very quickly realized that there is, in fact, very little to no gold or silver in the Ozark hills. Several tours I have taken further indicate that the Spaniards ultimately buried their accumulated riches in caves. Archeological evidence seems to point to this, since artifacts confirm the presence of the Spaniards, the enslavement of the natives, and failed attempts to find gold or silver. So... The hole in my logic is this: If they were really burying their riches in caves a) WHY would they feel the need to do such a thing, and in such a spread out fashion, all over the Ozarks b) WHERE did all this gold and silver come from, and how did they plan to get it home (where was the ship docked, with them so far inland?)

ANSWER: Hi Kimberly,

While there is evidence of Spanish mines and smelting in this region during the 1600's, I share your skepticism that they buried caches of precious metals.  If small amounts were found, they likely would have been carried out by those people producing them.  It is possible they ended up producing larger amounts that they could not carry, and that they would have hidden those amounts to come back for them later.  But I have not seen any evidence that mining operations produced any large amounts of precious metals in the Ozarks.  These stories of "buried treasure" are usually made up or greatly exaggerated for the amusement of tourists.

It is not surprising that Spanish explorers would look for gold and silver in this area since they had been successful in finding great quantities in South and Central America.  It certainly was worth a look.  But when such mining ventures turned up little or no precious metals, it is likely that they closed up shop and left, without trying to hide much of anything, since they never produced much of anything.

I hope this helps!
- Mike

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: How far inland (which other central states) did the Spanish venture and mine with success? Where would they have landed? Florida? Louisiana? I imagine moving heavy loads thru the Ozark hills would have been a difficult task. Perhaps so many legends spring from hidden loads of metal that became too cumbersome to move, and were hidden for safekeeping? There are just so many independent accounts of similar cases throughout the region.  
Are you familiar at all with the Yocum Silver Dollar? We know the Yocum family of Stone Co Mo cast their own silver dollars in the early 1800s... But the question remains... Where did they get the silver? Some say a lost mine, which I find unlikely. Others say a lost cache of Spanish silver, the location traded for with the Delaware.

There are no complete records of everywhere the Spanish traveled.  There were settlements all along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.  They traveled up waterways such as the Mississippi River as well.  Many of them quite likely make exploratory journeys inland from there.  It is conceivable that one or more of these explorers set up successful mines and smelting operations and produced so much gold or silver that they could not carry all of it out.  But all that really is conjecture.  There just hasn't been much of any physical evidence to support it.

As far as the Yocum dollar, I have read about it, which could possibly have come from a mine or a cache, although there is not actual proof that the Yocum dollars ever existed either.  None of them has ever been produced for public view.  But even if there were Yocum dollars, there is no reason to believe they were not capable of mining the silver themselves, as opposed to finding a cache of already mined silver.

- Mike

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Michael Troy


I can answer just about any question on early American History. My specialties are the American Revolution through the Civil War/Reconstruction. I also have greater expertise in matters relating to military, political or legal history.


I have lectured at George Washington University regarding the Civil War, as well as several elementary school Civil War demonstrations. I was also a member of a Civil War reenactment group for about 10 years.


J.D. University of Michigan B.A. George Washington University

Awards and Honors
Truman Scholar

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