The Jesuits in America circa 1600 were bringing not only the gospel to the natives, but also enriching the church. This practice was so common that in 1592 the Spanish Government passed a law that made it illegal for priests to own mines. They reiterated the law in 1621. The Jesuits kept mining. In 1703, Spain issued a royal decree to reprove those who were consistently breaking this law. Because of this, and the fact that the Government took 20% of any ore mined, the Jesuit mines were and many still are, secret.
In 1603 the mines that became known as Tayopa were discovered. How or who discovered them is unknown. The mines were located somewhere in Sonora, Mexico near the headwaters of the Yaqui River.
What is known was that were approximately 17 mines all very rich in silver. The real de minas (group of mines) became known as Tayopa and the village that supported the mining was Guadalupe de Tayopa. The best guess is that the village Guadalupe de Tayopa was established about 1632. The mines were worked and a great deal of wealth accumulated. In 1646, the Right Reverend Father Guardian Fray, Francisco Villegas Garsina y Orosco, did an inventory of the treasure kept at the church. There was substantial silver, gold and other valuables.
The Apache uprising of 1646 seemed to have caused the temporary desertion of Tayopa. Church records have been discovered in nearby parishes that show baptismal records and marriages performed at the church in Guadalupe de Tayopa up to 1700 and some records seem to indicate that the village was occupied as late as the mid 1700s.
It appears that in the mid 1700s the village was evacuated. There are two probable causes. The area was in Apache country. The Apache uprisings could have very well destroyed the village. Also, in 1767 the Jesuits were expelled from Mexico.
Guadalupe de Tayopa was important enough to have it’s own full time priest in residence. This means that the village would have had it’s own church built. The churches of that time and place were made of stone. This means that even today, there should be some visible evidence of the church.
Of those that have searched for the treasure and mines, we have some conflicting information and speculation.
In 1842, Captain James Hobbs was riding with James Kirker and a party of bounty hunters that included seventy Shawnee braves. They were after a group of Apaches that had attacked near Vera Cruz and killed many Mexicans. They chased the band of Apaches up to the headwaters of the Yaqui River. After attacking the Indian village, they found the ruins of a mining town, presumed to be Tayopa. Hobbs wrote the following beside a lake some six to eight miles across:
In wonderfully rich country we found some ancient ruins, the cement walls and foundation stones of a church and a lignum vitae cross, which seemed as sound as it had ever been. We also found remains of a smelting furnace… and some drops of silver and copper. From the appearance of the ruins, it seemed as if there had been a considerable town there. The lake was the headwater of the river Yaqui… Beside the remains of the furnaces, we saw old mine shafts that had been worked, apparently long before.
Casimero Streeter was a white Apache, a renegade white man who lived and rode with the Apache. In 1845, Streeter claims that while riding with a raiding party south east of Canaea they came near some ruins in a canyon. The other braves told him that was Tayopa and he was to stay away from the area. He said he could make out a ruined church bell tower. The spot was low in a canyon near a fork in the Yaqui River.
Britton Davies was an officer in the United States Army. He was leading troops pursuing Apaches in 1885. When he came to Nacori, he found that every family had lost members to the Apache. The locals told him of the Tayopa mines. An old man told him that the mines were east Nacori. He said that his ancestors had worked the mines. The old man told him that the Apache had attacked the town, killed everyone in it, burned the buildings and blew up the mine entrance. That for 100 years, the apache had controlled the lands around Tayopa and no one has been able to go back into the area. The old man said that no one alive knows the exact locations of the mines. He also said that at one time, on quiet night, you could hear the dogs and church bells of Tayopa in Nacori.
In 1927, Carl Sauer of the University of California found church records in Arizpe, Sonora that came from Tayopa. He also found records at Bacadeguachi. He speculates that Tayopa is somewhere between Nacori Chico and Guaynopa.
Henry O. Flipper was the first black graduate of West point and an ardent searcher of Tayopa. In 1909, he was living in Ocampo. He wrote that many Jesuits came into the area to reestablish parishes. He noted that one town had four priests. About the same time a mining company came into the area and sent about 30 individuals into a remote Yaqui valley. The miners claimed to have found Tayopa and formed a company called Cinco de Mayo. The revolution of 1910 squashed both the Jesuits and miners efforts. In 1911, while Flipper was in Spain, he came across directions to Tayopa. Flipper was never able to follow up on these directions. He was sent to Venezuela and never returned. The directions are as follows:
On the 7th day of March stand on the summit of Cerrro de la Campana, near the Villa de la Concepcion, and look at the sun as it sets. It will be setting directly over Tayopa. Travel eight days from Cerro de la Campana toward the sunset of March 7th and you will come to Tayopa.