UTAH (ABC4) – Stories of buried treasures have filled our cultural lexicon from the start. From El Dorado, the legendary city of gold, to the Templar treasure, through the treasure of the Blackbeard pirates, these riches have inspired stories handed down from generation to generation, then transformed into fodder for books, TV shows and movies.
Today, a new buried treasure – one rumored to be in Utah – caught public attention. Mystery at Blind Frog Ranch, a Discovery Channel series set to debut its second season Friday, chronicles Duane Ollinger – and his son Chad – search for Aztec gold in Utah’s Uinta Basin.
But what is the probability that there really is wealth buried deep in the soil of Utah?
Hard to say, according to local experts.
Richard Paine, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Utah, says there are certainly large amounts of Aztec gold.
“The Aztecs, when the Spaniards came, had a lot of gold,” Paine explains. “One of the main motivators for the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs was that they were simply captivated by the amount of gold.”
They were so enthralled, Paine says, that they were led to believe many stories of hidden treasures told by various peoples of Mesoamerica – which encompassed central and southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and northern Costa Rica. . Paine isn’t quite sure how true these stories are, however.
“My personal suspicion is that most of these stories were about local people trying to get the Spaniards elsewhere,” he says. “But the idea that there was gold to be captured and hidden is certainly possible.”
And according to Gregory Smoak, director of the American West Center at the University of Utah, Mesoamericans may not have been the only people who contributed to fictional legends. He cites the myth of the Seven Cities of Cibola, which were rumored to be golden towns that fascinated the Spanish conquistadors in the hope of following in the footsteps of Cortés and Pizarro.
“[The Seven Cities of Cibola] is sort of a fundamental story of the American Southwest, ”says Smoak. “I think it shows that kind of thirst, that idea of wealth that drives people to the American Southwest.”
A similar quest for wealth could lead modern treasure hunters – like the Ollinger, Smoak speculates.
In his oral history of similar legends, Smoak also refers to tales of riches from the Lost Dutchman Mine, a forgotten gold mine believed to be hidden in the Southwestern United States, and Skinwalker Ranch, another ranch in the Uinta basin which inspired a chain of history. series focusing not on wealth, but rather on paranormal activity.
And paranormal activity is definitely a factor at Blind Frog Ranch, too.
“I’m a pilot, so I know what the different planes are. I know the sound of the jets and the color, ”says Chad Ollinger. “You see every night, without exaggerating, something cross the sky, come close, flash, super bright lights, like a flash camera, then do it a few times, then just walk away or do those little jagged lines,”
So maybe there are UFOs, but as for the gold, experts aren’t sure it’s in Utah.
“In the 16th century, and really during the Spanish American War, the Spaniards controlled much of what is today the American Southwest,” Paine explains. “Utah was part of Mexico, New Mexico and California and so while Spanish colonization did not really enter Utah, it spread over larger areas.”
But where Smoak and Paine are skeptical, Ollinger remains convinced. He says that while the show is very entertaining and full of cinematic twists, the treasure hunt is not manufactured for production value.
“It’s a real project,” says Ollinger. “We 100% believe that there is gold in the ground here, and that is what we are looking to find.”
So maybe there is gold in Utah, and maybe it’s buried at Blind Frog Ranch. Or maybe it’s somewhere else. And if the Ollingers can’t find him, maybe another lucky Utahn will find him.