The Lost Mission of Santa Isabel
Some of the best discoveries are those you stumble onto quite by accident. Such was the story of the lost mission of Santa Isabel and the eerie legend that lives on in the American Southwest. It is a region rife with mysteries, ghosts, witches, lost gold mines, and all manner of things that can give you a chill even in the heat of the desert. The legend has been passed down for generations and is a common tale around campfires. Many stories are told of people who have mysteriously died while searching for the mission and the treasure purported to be hidden within its adobe walls. While the legend has placed the mission in many locations from California to Arizona to New Mexico, its favorite location seems to be in the Sonora desert, and it is always hidden deep in a mountain canyon.
Many missions were built in New Spain by the Jesuits in the 16th century. Around 1687, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino lived in the region known as Pimería Alta (present-day Sonora Desert), founding over twenty missions. But in the mid-eighteenth century, the king of Spain became worried about the power the Jesuits wielded in New Spain, and he sent out an order to expel them from the country. They would be replaced by Franciscan priests, considered to be more manageable.
The Jesuits had accumulated incredible amounts of treasure: golden candlesticks, vessels, altars, jewels, and bags of gold and silver coins. They were afraid they’d have to hand it over to the king, so some of Jesuits along the western coast of Mexico, gathered fifty loyal Yaqui Indians to help them remove the treasure from dozens of churches and move it inland to its destination–the remote mission of Santa Isabel. They believed it would be a temporary hiding place and that they would eventually be able to return to reclaim it. When the task was completed, they played on the superstitious nature of the Indians by placing a curse on the treasure to keep them quiet and keep them from taking it for themselves. It is said that El Maldeción de Isabel–Isabel’s curse–still strikes terror in the hearts of the Yaqui Indians.
Desire’s Treasure grew from this 8-page story I found in a book whose name and author is as lost to me as the mission of Santa Isabel has been lost to time. The hero and heroine of Treasure played off each other so well that the book practically wrote itself. As far as the legend goes, there are indeed some who have stumbled onto the lost mission, but they have never lived long enough to pocket her treasure, or to tell the tale twice.