Judge Conner: At the Intersection of Law and Lore

Poly High School is located on Conner Avenue.
But who was Conner?
Glad you asked.

Truman Holman Conner was born in Indiana in 1849 and moved to Texas as a youth with his parents.
He attended Marvin College in Waxahachie in 1873-1874 and graduated from the law department of Trinity University in Tehuacana in 1876. He began practicing law in Eastland.

In 1887 he was appointed by Governor Sul Ross to be judge of the Forty-Second District Court.

In 1898 Conner ran for the office of chief justice of the Texas Court of Civil Appeals of the Second Supreme Judicial District. He apparently ran without opposition, with opponents receiving only fifty-seven write-in votes. The Texas Court of Civil Appeals had five (now fourteen) districts. The second district, with one chief justice and two associate justices, was based in Fort Worth.
So, Conner moved to Fort Worth, taking a house at 1500 Lipscomb Street in Fairmount, and began the only job he would hold the rest of his life.

Conner was an incorporator of I. Z. T. Morris’s Texas Children’s Home and Aid Society and a trustee of Polytechnic College. He also was member of the Masonic, Knights of Pythias, and Knights Templar lodges.

After moving to Fort Worth, Conner began to deal in real estate, buying land east of town in the Polytechnic community. About 1911 he platted his Conner additions—including Conner Avenue—and began to sell lots. He also built a home for himself on Conner Avenue. Note that his son George also lived on Conner Avenue. George was an attorney.
And see Elsie Street? Named for Judge Conner’s daughter (1900-1962).
When Judge Conner retired on July 4, 1933 at age eighty-four he had served continuously as a judge for forty-six years—the second-longest tenure of any judge in American history to that point.

Court adjourned.

Now that we have His Honor retired, let’s back up and look at the other passion of Truman Holman Conner. When this man with the facts-first, buttoned-down brain was not poring over law books and writs of mandamus, he was poring over maps and other documents related to . . . buried treasure.
Yes, Judge Conner was one of Coronado’s children. The late Texas historian J. Frank Dobie called treasure-seekers such as Conner “Coronado’s children” after Spanish conquistador Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, who searched the Southwest and Great Plains—in vain—for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold and Quivira.
Dobie wrote: “These people, no matter what language they speak, are truly Coronado’s inheritors. . . . I have called them Coronado’s children. They follow Spanish trails, buffalo trails, cow trails, they dig where there are no trails; but oftener than they dig or prospect they just sit and tell stories of lost mines, of buried bullion by the jack load . . .”
Judge Conner searched for “buried bullion by the jack load” in two places: Eastland County and the Pecos River country of southwest Texas.

In 1931, when Conner was eighty-two, the Star-Telegram interviewed him about his quest:

“When Justice Conner was living in Eastland County he met an aged man who had talked to one of a party of Spaniards on their way to Mexico from Oklahoma. With them there was a king’s ransom in coin. The party became sick, and they buried the money. Justice Conner and Judge [probably Eastland County Judge R. M.] Black searched the country, checking it by a map they had obtained. They found a flat rock with an arrow carved in it and other markings. On trees and in fields for several miles they found signs which corresponded to two of the designs on the rock, but they could never find the third emblem. They asked an old Mexican woman what the third emblem meant, and she replied in a hushed voice, ‘Buried treasure.’
“Justice Conner is convinced that where he finds the third corresponding mark, there will be the gold. There is an eager tone in his voice as he talks about it, and his eyes glint with the enthusiasm of the true treasure seeker as he draws a chart of the rock. He knows where the stone is and will start out from there, if he goes back.”
Conner also told the Star-Telegram about his quest in southwest Texas:
“Here is the way my search for the Castle Gap treasure started: Judge Black had a brother who had talked to a dying prisoner in the jail at Sherman and from whom he had obtained a map. This dying man was one of a group of six or eight who started to Mexico just after the Civil War. Near the Pecos [River] they fell in with a wagon train commanded by a distinguished Spanish gentleman and including a beautiful woman, whom the soldiers of fortune took to be his daughter. The [wagon train] party was supposed to be on its way to Galveston to ship for Spain. The power of the Emperor Maximilian had collapsed in Mexico, and the Americans thought that the old Spanish gentleman had been treasurer and was fleeing with gold. They came to this conclusion after noticing that one of the wagons was heavily loaded.”

Maximilian was an Austrian archduke installed as emperor of Mexico in 1864 by France’s Napoleon III. Maximilian was deposed and executed in 1867. (Photo from Wikipedia.)

Conner continued in his Star-Telegram interview: “At any rate the Spaniards asked the services of the Americans as guides and protectors to the coast, and the [American] men volunteered. A short distance from the Pecos they [the Americans] murdered all of the train and buried the gold to make it safe from marauding Indians until some time later when they could come back and remove it. A few days later, on the way to San Antonio, the Americans engaged in a battle with a group of soldiers, and all [the Americans] were killed except the one who later made his way to northern Texas near Sherman. There he was thrown in jail on suspicion of horse theft, and it was there that he met Judge Black’s brother. We got the story from him and the map and supplies and set out. We gave up the search when our supplies ran out.”

This Mexican twenty-peso gold coin bearing the profile of Maximilian was minted in 1866—one year before he was deposed. (Photos from Wikipedia.)

Judge Conner continued in 1931: “I would love very much to take up the trail again. Those events of more than thirty years ago are as clear as if they happened yesterday. I can see Judge Black and myself loading up the wagon and setting out. We found what we thought was the burned remnants of the wagon train near Castle Gap that had carried the money, but that was as close as we got to the treasure.
“Two years ago [at age eighty] I was back in that country and talked to several persons who have heard the legend. Some think the treasure is buried in the hills along Live Oak Creek near Sheffield.”
Alas, Judge Conner never did “take up the trail again” to the Pecos country to search for Maximilian’s treasure at either Castle Gap or Live Oak Creek.

He died October 26, 1933 at age eighty-four.

He is buried in Eastland County, where he began both his legal career and his search for buried treasure.

Since Judge Conner’s time, people have searched for Maximilian’s buried treasure using picks and shovels, bulldozers, witching tools, and metal detectors while jackrabbits and javelinas have looked on in bemusement.
If anyone has found the treasure, they ain’t talkin’.
If you, like Truman Holman Conner, have a hankerin’ to be one of Coronado’s children, here are the two places in southwest Texas that Conner thought most likely to yield Maximilian’s “buried bullion by the jack load.” (By the way, the value of Maximilian’s “lost treasure” has been estimated as high as $200 million in today’s dollars.)

Castle Gap

Castle Gap is in Upton County (population 3,300 spread over 1,241 square miles). Upton County still looks much as it did when the Butterfield Overland Mail and the Goodnight-Loving Trail—and Judge Conner—passed through it in the nineteenth century.
Castle Gap is 350 miles southwest of Fort Worth. The nearest town of any size is forty-five miles away by road: Odessa (120,000 people, four Dairy Queens).
Between two smaller towns (Crane and McCamey) rise two “mountains” (Castle and King). Castle Gap is the passage between the two. (Map from Wikipedia.)
Texas State Historical Association says of Castle Gap: “Treasure hunters still frequent the gap in search of any of eight treasures supposedly lost in the vicinity. They include gold said to have been cached by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in 1540, the Catholic Cross Cache of 1780, a horseshoe keg full of gold lost by a returning California Forty-niner, a Butterfield stage treasure hidden in 1860, gold cached by Old Bill Castle and Little Bill Castle in the 1860s, $40,000 stashed by outlaws who preyed on passing wagoners, gold and rifles from a United States Army wagon train of the late 1860s, and the treasure of Mexican emperor Maximilian, stashed in 1867.”

This marker reads: “. . . legend holds that a treasure-laden aide of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, fleeing the country when the regime collapsed, buried gold and jewels in the area.”

Live Oak Creek

Live Oak Creek (or “Live Oak Draw”) is a tributary of the Pecos River in Crockett County. The creek is fifty miles southeast of Castle Gap and seven miles east of Sheffield (population 400). (Map from Wikipedia.)
If you do find Maximilian’s treasure out there at Castle Gap or at Live Oak Creek, the nearest place to celebrate is a Dairy Queen in Odessa.
With $200 million you can buy a lot of Blizzards.

Fort Worth’s Street Gang

 

This entry was posted in Life in the Past Lane. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.