Monday, April 27, 2015

Review: Western Treasure Tales by Choral Pepper

I’ve been researching lost and buried treasures as I plot the next book in my treasure hunting romantic adventure series. The first book in the Southwest Treasure Hunters series is The Mad Monk’s Treasure. The Dead Man’s Treasure is book 2. Each novel stands alone and is complete, with no cliffhangers. This series mixes action and adventure with "closed door" romance. The stories explore the Southwest, especially New Mexico.

Western Treasure Tales
Choral Pepper
Publisher: Univ Pr of Colorado, 1998
Pages: 130
ISBN-13: 978-0870814891
Paperback: under $10 used

The Jameson books I've reviewed have generally had dozens of treasures listed, told in the voice of an outside storyteller. Choral Pepper’s book is more personal. She describes only eight adventures, but she goes into them at length. In most, she recounts some personal experience seeking the treasure.

The eight stories cover seven states: Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, and New Mexico (twice). One tale shares the curious tale of the three men named Pegleg Smith who each found black gold – not oil, but gold with a small amount of copper which oxidizes to turn the nuggets black.

Another story covers the search for an Aztec treasure, known as Montezuma's Treasure. Was the Aztec homeland really in Utah, perhaps on an island in the Great Salt Lake? Historians make a case for that. However, it is less certain that Aztecs carried their treasure back north in order to protect it from Spanish invaders. Still, an entire town joined in the hunt. (Spoiler: They failed to find the treasure.)

The author's imagination adds to the stories. When hunting Montezuma's Treasure, she writes, "I sat on the edge of the rock-strewn ravine below the cave and imagined an endless file of Aztec tamenes clothed in loincloths, stooped under fifty-pound loads of gold in leather bags supported against their backs as they plodded through the valley below. Marsh grass then would have curled against the gentle wind and the guttural commands of Aztec cacique guards, their jeweled and feathered helmets glittering in sunlight, would have echoed up to where I sat."

She also assumes thoughts and feelings for some of the historical subjects, as in, "Tossing restlessly on his palette, Lebreau thanked the good Lord he had secreted most of the gold…. In his mind's eye he reviewed once again his map…." Pierre Lebreau did write about his frustrating and devastating travels – he was the only one of his large French contingent to survive and the treasure remains hidden in Colorado. However, it's likely Pepper took some artistic liberty in recounting the history.

Sometimes Pepper’s more recent personal tales are as fascinating as the old legends. She joined Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the popular Perry Mason mysteries, on a treasure hunt in the Oregon desert. Who wouldn't want to be in on that camping trip?

This is an entertaining book, both for the historical legends and the insight into a mid-20th century treasure hunter. It even includes a translation of Spanish directions to a great treasure possibly hidden in Tumacacori, Arizona, should the reader wish to brave "one of the roughest, most cut-up regions in North America."

Photos from Choral Pepper’s adventures, some with Erle Stanley Gardner

This online issue of Desert Magazine, from when Pepper was the editor, contains the story of her adventure in Baja California on a blimp along with Gardner. And here's another of Pepper’s Baja stories with Gardner. The text is very faint and hard to read online, but I was able to select, copy, and paste it into a text box for easier reading.

Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. In Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. Whispers in the Dark features archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. What We Found is a mystery with strong romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. In The Dead Man’s Treasure, estranged relatives compete to reach a buried treasure by following a series of complex clues. Read excerpts at or visit her Amazon page

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