Boot of Cortez

Boot of Cortez gold nugget, largest in the Western Hemisphere

p4A ItemID D9840162

Boot of Cortez Gold Nugget

(courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries)

The austere and forbidding Sonora Desert of the United States and Mexico regularly experiences some of the most extreme weather in the Western Hemisphere. Daytime temperatures often exceed 125 degrees in the shade even as blast-furnace winds swiftly strip life-sustaining water from the few men and animals tough enough and wily enough to make a living in this land of stark, unforgiving beauty. Yet life not only goes on here; it sometimes succeeds in ways that cannot be foreseen even in our wildest dreams.

Myths and tales of lost treasure seem to spring into being from out of nowhere. Virtually every remote village has its legends of lost mines and treasure: the Oro de Moctezuma, Tayopa, El Naranjal. Every story is different yet all are the same: A rich deposit of gold or silver is found, and then lost through calamity, treachery or political upheaval. The saga of the “Boot of Cortez” is very much in keeping with all of these tales of discovery and loss, with one exception, the tale is true. The proof is before you.

The story begins in 1989 in the area around Caborca, near the Gran Desierto de Altar in the Mexican state of Sonora. The nearest surface water is the Sea of Cortez; some 60 miles to the west. Arizona is 70 miles to the north. Ranching is the chief occupation, but there are a number of mines in the area along with placer gold deposits in some of the canyons. It is within these dry canyons that a local Mexican man began his quest to find hidden treasure in the form of placer nuggets. Some finds of nuggets had been made in the past, and fired with optimistic enthusiasm; our gold-seeker grew determined to find his share. At this point, our latter-day prospector did something very much at odds with tradition: visiting a Radio Shack store he purchased a metal detector. Practicing on buried coins
and other metal objects, he learned how to operate it, and then he set out for an area that was reported to have produced nuggets.

Once there, he started to walk; slowly and carefully across the desert, all the while following a grid pattern that would ensure that no areas would be unchecked. Hundreds of boring hours slowly ebbed away with an occasional ‘beep’ from his ear-phones to signal a potential find. Most were due to scrap iron or old lead bullets. Then one day; the ‘beep’ sounded a little different. Digging down; he caught that first gleam from his own personal El Dorado. Hardly believing his eyes he kept digging, the gleaming surface kept going and going. By the time he had completely uncovered this incredible nugget, it was obvious that it was huge. Just hauling it back to his home was a chore since it weighed over twelve kilograms. There; a gentle washing removed the last traces of dust left on the surface from its subterranean resting place. Now the enormity of his find engulfed him: What to do with this massive nugget, shaped like the boot of a conquistador of old? Who could help him with advice regarding the ways of selling such a thing? Ah, but of course, the Patron. He would know. And he did.

Since that fateful day in the Desierto, the “Boot of Cortez” has passed through a number of hands and has been marveled at by hundreds of thousands of museum-goers. It was one of the star exhibits at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show in 2004, the theme of which was simply: “Gold”. Based on its enthusiastic response by the public, the owner of the “Boot” was solicited to place it on loan for the traveling “Gold” exhibition assembled by the Houston Museum of Natural Science where it was exhibited in 2005, along with other notable specimens from: the Smithsonian, Harvard and other major collections. The exhibition then moved to the American Museum of Natural History in 2006 where it opened to rave reviews by collectors and casual visitors alike. After almost a year in New York City, the exhibition recently closed in August 2007.


About This Site

Internet Antique Gazette is brought to you by Prices4Antiques.