The Jesuits priests, in addition to saving souls, set about enriching the church. Through their travels in the new world, they took advantage of mineral finds by getting locals to work the mines and send the gold and silver back to Spain.
Somewhere around 1635 the good fathers established the Plazuela Monastery in Bolivia. The Monastery was located at the junction of the Inquisivi and Ayopayo Rivers. This area was very rich in gold and silver and the monastery severed as a central holding place. Massive amounts of treasure were collected here and then sent back to Spain.
King Charles III was concerned about the growing wealth and power that the Jesuits controlled. There were rumors that the Priests were planning to establish an independent colony in South America. So he ordered all the Jesuits expelled from the new world in 1767.
The Spanish set up blockades in the mountain passes to prevent the Jesuits from exporting their gold. The priests in Plazuela knew it was only a matter of time before the Spanish came in after them. Over the next few years, they assembled all the mined ores and church artifacts at the monastery. They enlisted the help of 500 local Indians and set about hiding the treasure.
There are rumors of two mass graves in the area. One is said to hold the remains of 300 of these Indians that died of yellow fever, the other is said to hold the remains of the other 200 Indians without reference as to their cause of death. In any case, no Indians survived that were involved in the hiding of the Plazuela treasure.
In 1778 the Spanish came to Plazuela. They found the monastery deserted and without the expected wealth waiting for them. They rounded up some of the local Indians and through use of various means, including torture, attempted to extract the treasure location from them. The soldiers left the area with nothing.
In 1910, Corina San Roman approached Cecil H. Prodgers with a proposition. Mr. Prodgers was a well-known mining engineer. Ms. San Ramon’s grandfather was the Prefect of Callao in 1778 and his brother was one of the last Jesuits to leave Plazuela. Father Gregorio San Ramon left his brother the following description of the treasure location:
There is a hill on the left bank of the Rio Sacambaya opposite the Monastery of Plazuela. It is steep and covered with dense forest. The top flat and with long grass growing. In the middle of the long grass there is a large stone shaped like an egg, so big that it took five hundred Indians to place it there. If you dig underneath this stone for five cordas you will find the roof of a large cave which it took five hundred Indians two and a half years to hollow out.
The roof is twenty-four cordas long and there are two compartments and a long narrow passage leading from the room on the east side to the main entrance two hundred cordas away. On reaching the door you must exercise great care in the opening. The door is a large iron one and inside to the right, near the wall, you will find an image of the Madonna, made of pure gold, three feet high, the eyes of which are two large diamonds; this image was placed there for the good of mankind.
If you proceed further along the passage you will find in the first room 37 heaps of gold, and many gold and silver ornaments and precious stones. On entering the second room you will find in the right hand corner a large box clamped with iron bars; inside this box are 90,000 duros reales in silver money and 30 bags of gold. Distributed in the hollows on either side of the tunnel and in the two rooms are, altogether, 160 heaps of gold, of which the value has been estimated at 60 million duros reales.
Great care must be taken on entering these rooms, as enough poison to kill a regiment of the King has been laid about. The walls of the two rooms have been strengthened by large blocks of granite; from the roof downwards the distance is five cordas more. The top of the roof is portioned off in three distinct esplanades and the whole has been covered for a depth of five cordas with earth and stone.
When you come to a place twenty feet high, with a wall so wide that two men can easily ride abreast, cross the river and you will find the monastery, church and other buildings.
Ms. San Roman’s proposition was to share the treasure with Mr. Prodgers if he could find it. Prodgers accepted. She provided him with the information above and with the assistance of an old Indian named Jose Maria Ampuera. Senor Ampuera was the grandson of one of those who hid the treasure and was paid by the San Romans to watch over the site many years earlier.
Prodgers found Ampuera in 1905 living in the town of Cuti. The old man was over 100 years old. Ampuera told of how President Melgarejo had searched Negro Muerto for the treasure, but that was on the wrong side of the River Sacambaya. The actual location was on a hill called Caballo Cunco.
Prodgers found the egg shaped rock where Ampuera told him it would be. He dymamited the stone and began digging at that spot. He found a manmade roof of bricks and slate slabs. He wrote that while digging:
..at 12 feet, yellow alter slab with flowers nicely engraved on it, there was no longer any doubt in my mind…
The digging was difficult and the locals were afraid that what they were doing was an affront to God. On one occasion, after sinking some bamboo into the dig, noxious fumes were emitted. By the end of 1907, Prodgers was nowhere near the depth he needed. He returned to England to gather a work force a little more skeptical. He was never able to return.
It appears that Prodgers discussed his find with a Cornishish miner named Tredennick. Tredennick searched the area from 1921 to 1927. He dug numerous tunnels into the area. At one time he dymamited a tunnel that set of an internal upheaval that lasted for an hour and a half.
In 1920, Prodgers made a deal with Dr. Edgar Sanders. Prodgers gave Sanders all the details on the condition that his original deal with Corina San Ramon would be honored. Sanders set out with a small group in 1925. At 900 he found another stone. This was 618 feet by 128 feet and a perfect rectangle. The stone is now referred to as the Square Heap Stone. Sanders believed the treasure was under this stone, that the stone was the roof of the treasure room. Near there, he found a tunnel.
Sanders and his group relied mostly on the locals for the digging required. He started clearing the tunnel. As they progressed, they came across a silver crucifix attached to a board. Four feet later they encountered a wall made of stones. In the wall was a hole and in the hole was a wooden box. The digging stopped as all gathered around. Sanders removed the box and in crumbled in his hands. He was left holding a piece of parchment. With the locals and his group from England around him in the tunnel, finally at the wall to what they believed to be the treasure room, he read aloud from the parchment:
You who reach this place withdraw. This spot is dedicated to God Almighty and the one who dares to enter, a dolorous death awaits him in this world and eternal condemnation in the world he goes to. The riches that belong to God Our Master are not for humans. Withdraw and you will live in peace and the blessing of the Master will make your life sweet and you will die rich with the goods of this world. Obey the command of God Almighty our Master in life and in death. In the name of God the Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The Indians refused to continue. All left the tunnel and Sanders was unable to continue on his own. The rainy season was now upon them and all hope of continuing was lost. Sanders returned to England and was able to enlist a investors. He put a new group together that not only included 22 others, but included compressors, generators, pumps and tractors. They left Liverpool on June 15, 1928. They cleared out the tunnels and removed the stones only to find the tunnel ended there.
They went back to the Heap Stone and started looking for other tunnel entrances that would lead them into the room below. The local Indians said that their ancestors told of three iron doors that into the room. All the digging and prodding done by the group led them to stone. Sanders worked the area until he was broke. He wrote that he was beyond heartbroken. He believed the treasure was right below him, but could not find a way to reach it.