September 30, 2020
1540 Spanish Armor in the Caballo Mountains

You are Your Best Source, With Care

Form the Expedition!

Facts, Information, Knowledge, Experience, and Truth are all important considerations when searching down history and legends. Even just getting accurate directions and an assessment of quality of a rockhounding site brings into play the same considerations. Issues around such topics are grow exponentially as we go back farther and farther into the past and delve into less and less well-documented topics and times.

It is a demonstrated psychological effect that those with the least actual knowledge are the most quick to point out how much they think they know, and are the most close-minded about alternatives. When considering complex topics, it is generally true that most authentic master practitioners in technical fields actually feel less confident as they progress in their experience and knowledge. Arrogance and absolute certainty remain abundant in second-tier thinkers throughout their burdensome lives, whether the topic be complex or straightforward, which is an impediment to true progress for all.

To segue from science back to treasure hunting, let’s look at a few definitions:

  • Facts: Points of data that can be verified by a trusted source.
  • Information: Formally, the degree of surprise which a fact imparts; see for example Shannon’s classic definition of information built around the concept of Entropy.
  • Knowledge: My definition here, but a meta-understanding and mental model of the real world based on an accumulation of facts and information.
  • Experience: An assessment of Truth based on personal interaction with the real world in light of one’s Knowledge; tantamount to the performance of an experiment and generation of new personal Facts, but NOT Truth.
  • Truth: Unknowable and totally Objective; beyond the reach of any mortal.

So, let’s say we want to verify the contemporary name of a point of geography relative to a treasure legend (or any history, really). Let’s take the supposedly well-known regional example of the bandit figure El Chato, who may have stashed a fortune in loot including many bars of silver in the Caballo Mountains of New Mexico. Where to start? One source of Facts and Information are written resources, both old and new. We could start with the article in a History magazine, old maps, or general historical accounts written close to the period of interest.

What if we are in a hurry? Why not listen to the advice of an Expert, one who claims to have already synthesized Facts and Information into Knowledge (a working model of Truth) as supported by their supposed Experience? Surely they must know what they are talking about, especially if they come across as confident. And what better way to show confidence than by shooting down the ideas of any others who don’t agree 100% with what they already think?

Well, you can see what I am getting at here, I hope. Such people might seem to have all of the answers, as they will clearly tell you over and over, but the problem here, aside from the general psychological principle of second-tier thinkers described earlier, is that such people generally have calcified Knowledge (models of Truth) warped and twisted through their own Experience, which often as not is far from as extensive as they might indicate or want to believe.

Here’s a concrete example. Some internet “Expert” does a search, and the oldest map they can find with the name Caballo Mountains in now Southern New Mexico dates to around 1806. With the logic of a simpleton, an assessment is made that since the map was made by an Anglo, the name must have originated then, because every cartographer just makes up all the names around them as they go, and decides to go ahead and use Spanish, too, just for kicks. Thus, no El Chato, right? A couple of older maps have labels near the same area, but lack the name Caballos, so the names shown must obviously be a substitute, right? Nevermind that the site of Las Penuelas, a place I passed near just last weekend, and El Perillo, first the name of the spring and then briefly the present-day Point of Rocks hills, have always been used as such and make sense in the deeper historical context – a context that clearly requires more than a little map name bingo. Also never mind that the older Spanish (and French, and German) maps of the region tend to omit almost all geographical names the older they get, retaining things like village and water-feature names (such as our examples Penuelas and Perillo).

Now, let’s introduce a new Fact: a map that even a kindeegartner could read and see, with a nice date of 1770 attached to it (you can find the original, which I do not have copyright to, and verify if you want). What do you think will happen to our potential Expert when presented with such new Information?

Map from 1770 with high information content (surprise) for someone who thinks an Anglo named the Caballo Mountains and who does not know the history of many other names and places on this map. If their Knowledge is too frozen by the self-importance of their Experience, a thousand such maps are useless to them, and you should steer very clear if seeking a useful resource.

Well, unfortunately, many an Expert will cling to their existing Knowledge, and reject anything that does not fit the model they have constructed for themselves by the Ouroboros-like process of putting so much value on their own Experience, while increasingly devaluing all other sources. The matter has been decided, once and for all, in their mind. Such a demented approach is sad, since in expending such efforts that way, one is actually moving further and further from the Truth, not closer.

Let’s look at another angle: verifying the persona of El Chato himself. Our Expert may point out that there was a well-documented bandit who operated deeper south into Mexico sometime in the nineteenth century. Case closed once again, right? A name was found that matches! Well, here again we expose second-tier thinking and the logic of a simpleton. With more study, one comes to understand that El Chato was a fairly common nickname, and there are a whole variety of El Chato bandits who operated in the region of what is now southern New Mexico across time. Furthermore, Nevarez and Narvaez are but two spellings of an ancient and widespread surname, not quite the equivalent of “Smith”, but far, far from unique. Who knows, the more modern El Chato may have taken on that persona just exactly because it fit a strong legendary (and perhaps historical) archetype consistent with his trade.

This whole problem with self-proclaimed, confident Experts is ego-driven, creating the feedback loop of self-important Experience back into their model of Truth (their Knowledge). To continue to feed this ego-driven process, they will resort to pathetic tactics, such as the bullying and “policing of Truth” mentioned earlier. I’ve unfortunately learned this firsthand, upon catching one contemporary and well-known book author in an act of unmistakable and blatant plagiarism. It is ironic and fitting that the stolen source material does seem authentic, with the original Spanish script writing partially reproduced in the front of the small book matching in detail anything seen in museums or fully historical resources; likely the many other “experiences” of the author are fabricated, exaggerated, or also gleaned. I’ve noticed a pattern of intentional slight re-tellings and factual differences in the author’s material that suggests intentional avoidance of the appearance of the same level of plagiarism as in the more obvious example. I can hear it now: “my source told me different” (whoever that was!)

So, I apologize for the dry article, but if you are interested in serious work in this area of trying to turn Legends into Facts (sort of like the historical version of cryptozoology), I think some of the principles here will be valuable to you. As you gather Facts and Information and synthesize them into your own model of Knowledge, you may want to carefully balance the weight you place on Experience. You may have “walked right past it last weekend”, but just because you did not find it, does not mean it is not there.

Good Luck!



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