'My Family and I are Searching For Lost Treasure'

As a young child, I remember listening to my grandfather and uncles talking around the dinner table about the legends of lost treasures of the Aztecs and I realized even then that life was truly full of mystery and adventure waiting to be discovered.

By the time I was born in California in 1972, my family had already been in the business of treasure hunting for several decades. My grandfather Raymond Dillman and my two uncles John and Paul Dillman started their journey as a family hobby. They would regularly go panning for gold on the weekends to many different locations like Grass Valley in California, the Sacramento River, and the American River. Eventually they picked up a metal detector to expand their search, getting further away from the riverbeds in the hopes of finding lost gold.

As fate would have it, one day in 1965 when they were helping a neighbor clean out her basement, they discovered a 1964 Life magazine that had an article in it about the "Peralta Stones." These stone tablets had been discovered in 1949 and some believed they were maps that led to the fabled Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine; gold said to be hidden somewhere in Arizona in the 1900s by a man called Jacob Waltz.

This article electrified my grandfather and uncles' interests and they began researching these stone tablets. My grandfather strongly believed he was being called to crack the code of these ancient stones and for the next 18 years he spent time each day researching, meditating, vision questing and dreaming about deciphering them.

Stone maps and ancient treasure

After years of research my grandfather dismissed the theory that the Peralta Stones lead to the Lost Dutchman's treasure and instead believed they lead to Montezuma's Treasure. Legends of this possible treasure suggest that in the 1500s, riches from the empire of Aztec Emperor Montezuma II were either discarded by Spanish invaders as they were driven out by Aztecs, or hidden somewhere in Mexico or the American Southwest by the Aztecs. My family believes this treasure would likely be made up of tons of gold and silver, jewels, emeralds, ruby's, turquoise and other precious stones, golden ancient religious artifacts and relics, and ancient records.

It was my grandfather's belief that the Peralta Stones were actually created by two ancient Spanish explorers, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and Estevenico, survivors of a 1527 Spanish expedition to the Americas.

My grandfather's research into Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and Estevenico is extensive. He studied the personal diary of Álvar Núñez, which describes Núñez's nine-year adventures lost in the Americas and gives some details about the indigenous tribes, the animals, plant life and the treasures they witnessed while in captivity during their first two years in the Americas. It was my grandfather's theory that the two lost explorers witnessed and learned much about the lost Aztec treasures from the indigenous tribes, but they were not allowed to write about it in the diary because knowledge of any hidden treasure would have been meant for the Spanish king only. So, my grandfather's theory was that de Vaca and Estevenico created the Peralta Stones as a guide to lead them back to the treasure locations that were revealed to them to be in what is now southwest America. Unfortunately, they never made it back to the Americas.

The 1982 Utah Discovery

I went out on my first expedition with my grandfather and uncles when I was about 7 years old in 1979. And, I had just turned 10 in 1982 when my grandfather believed he had cracked the code of the Peralta Stones and that they had revealed the location of the treasure to be in the American southwest, so he led an expedition with my two uncles John and Paul into the four corners area of the American southwest, to a small town in Kanab, Utah.

Using only images of the stone maps as his guide, he unearthed Aztec ancient ruins and artifacts including arrow heads, weapons, pottery, bowls, fishing nets, lama hair, tools and even a large sacrificial altar of the kind the Aztecs would have used. Another amazing discovery was another stone tablet; one that looked similar to the Peralta Stones.

Unfortunately, the ranch owner in Kanab broke the agreement made with my grandfather and kept all of the artifacts, but we have all the photos from the dig and of the discoveries made. My grandfather was heartbroken but he spent the next several years researching and trying to decode the pictographs and petroglyphs on the stone tablet.

My grandfather sadly passed away in 1992 and provided my uncles with all his research, documents, and audio tapes to all of the locations he wanted us to investigate. I have been on close to 100 separate expeditions with family members over the past 43 years and after my grandfather's death, my uncles and I made many trips a year to southern Utah investigating and searching for the specific items we were told to find by my grandfather. In 2007, my uncle John passed away and he gave all of my grandfather's research to my uncle Paul. There is still so much research and data that my grandfather left for us to investigate. Currently, we have a deal in place with a new land owner on a property that my grandfather pinpointed as needing to be searched, and we are excited about what we may find.

Treasure hunting can be a dangerous business. Throughout the years we've had all kinds of crazy things happen. We have experienced strange orbs of light appearing above us and appear to form geometric shapes and an object in the sky once appeared to follow us in the desert night. Divers who have worked with us have said they have experienced unexplained issues, including the air being turned off, feeling strangled and hearing eerie screams over the communication systems. My uncle Paul would always talk about what he called,"The Curse of Montezuma's Treasure". He believed that if anyone in the group searching for the treasure was greedy or their hearts were not pure, they could die.

The Dillman Family Searching For Treasure
Dan Dillman (center) with Dillman family members. The Dillmans believe that there is lost Aztec treasure to be found in Utah. Courtesy of Carlos Jaramill/The HISTORY Channel

It was my grandfather and uncles' dying wish that we, the surviving team members, continue the search for the treasure so that is what each one of us has done. We keep searching, we keep going and we never quit. My grandfather's motto was: a Dillman never quits!

A personal connection to the treasure hunt

It's an honor to carry on the search that my grandfather and uncles started over 56 years ago. I made a promise to my uncle Paul on his deathbed on July 23, 2019 that I would continue the search. I feel it's my destiny to fulfil my grandfather's and uncle's dream.

I feel strongly connected to finding this quest to find treasure, not only because I am a descendant of Aztec and Maya peoples, but also because I was born with 12 fingers, which is called being "polydactyly." My grandfather said that my ancestors who were born with 12 fingers were the spiritual leaders of the family. He told me as a child that being born with 12 fingers, six on each hand was a gift from God, and that if I followed the Great Spirit, I would one day lead our family in the quest to find treasure.

My grandfather and two uncles have left me all the information I need to finish what they started over 56 years ago, and the research and planning does happen all year round, but I like to say that I am a man of seasons; a season of treasure hunting, a season for producing concerts and events in California and Utah and a season for making music and a season for other ventures. I complete four seasons in a yearly cycle and then I begin again.

The Dillman Family Are Treasure Hunters
Dan Dillman is continuing the hunt for treasure that his grandfather and uncles began in the 1960s. Dan Dillman

I know my grandfather and uncles believed—every time we went out into the field treasure hunting—that we were very close to the biggest discovery of our lives. When we would return from an expedition without the treasure, but with what we believed were new clues, signs and symbols, we always thought the next expedition was going to be the big one, that we would find Montezuma's Treasure and rewrite history. My family always found interesting items and historical artifacts, admittedly it hasn't been millions in gold, silver, jewels, and artifacts, but with each expedition, we have been living our dream, creating memories and we feel we are getting closer to our goal.

If we find Montezuma's Treasure, I imagine I would be excited beyond words, but I know I will be humble and grateful at the same time, because the treasure wouldn't be just for my family, this treasure is meant for all. I believe it is meant to be a tool to help heal and unite the world.

Dan Dillman is a third generation treasure hunter, amateur archaeologist and owner operator of the Historic BAL Theatre in California and Historic RedStone Theater in Utah. He is also featured in The HISTORY Channel's newest non-fiction series "Lost Gold of the Aztecs" which airs Tuesdays at 10/9c.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.