by B. Traven


More than any of Traven’s novels, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is reminiscent of Jack London at his best. The story tells of three American adventurers who hunt for gold in the rugged Sierra Madre of Mexico. Since so many have seen the John Huston film starring Humphrey Bogart there is no need to recount the plot here. It is enough to say that this is one of Traven’s finest novels, which exemplifies both his consummae skill as a story-teller and his deep sympathy and understanding of his fellow man.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was first published in the United States in 1935 and his been out of print in hard cover for many years.

B. Traven, who was born in Chicago over seventy years ago, lives in Mexico City. He has been married for ten years to Rosa Elena Lujan, who acts as his agent, business manager, and translator. In spite of the long-lasting popularity of the film version of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Traven remained almost unknown in his native land until the publication last year of The Night Visitor and Other Stories, which was widely and favorably reviewed. Traven prefers to keep his private life to himself and to speak to his readers only through his work. “My life belongs to me, my work to the public.”

The treasure which you think not worth taking

trouble and pains to find, this one alone is

the real treasure you are longing for all your life.

The glittering treasure you are hunting for day

and night lies buried on the other side

of that hill yonder.

Chapter 1

The bench on which Dobbs was sitting was not so good. One of the slats was broken; the one next to it was bent so that to have to sit on it was a sort of punishment. If Dobbs deserved punishment, or if this punishment was being inflicted upon him unjustly, as most punishments are, such a thought did not enter his head at this moment. He would have noticed that he was sitting uncomfortably only if somebody had asked him if he was comfortable. Nobody, of course, bothered to question him.

Dobbs was too much occupied with other thoughts to take any account of how he was sitting. Just then he was looking for a solution to that age-old problem which makes so many people forget all other thoughts and things. He worked his mind to answer the question: How can I get some money right now?

If you already have some money, then it is easier to make more, because you can invest the little you have in some sort of business that looks promising. Without a cent to call yours, it is difficult to make any money at all.

Dobbs had nothing. In fact, he had less than nothing, for even his clothes were neither good nor complete. Good clothes may sometimes be considered a modest fund to begin some enterprise with.

Anyone who is willing to work and is serious about it will certainly find a job. Only you must not go to the man who tells you this, for he has no job to offer and doesn’t know anyone who knows of a vacancy. This is exactly the reason why he gives you such generous advice, out of brotherly love, and to demonstrate how little he knows the world.

Dobbs would have carried heavy stones in a wheelbarrow ten hours a day if someone had offered him the job, but even had the job been open, he would have been the last to land it, because there already would be hundreds waiting and the natives of the country come first and a foreigner afterwards, if ever.

He shot a look at the bootblack on the plaza to see how his business was going. This bootblack owned a high iron stand with one seat. It looked rather swell, though there was no customer sitting on the comfortable seat. Competition was strong in this business, too. A dozen or more youngsters who couldn’t afford to own stands were running like weasels about the plaza looking for customers. Whenever they caught one whose shoes were not pcrfectly polished, they were after him until, to get rid of them, he gave in and had his shoes polished once more. Usually two of these agile boys went about the job, each taking one of the customer’s shoes and then dividing the pay. These boys carried small boxes with them, and a little bench, hardly bigger than a hand, to sit on while they worked. Such an outfit, Dobbs calculated, might cost three pesos. So, compared with Dobbs, they were capitalists, they had money invested. Anyway, seeing them chasing customers the way they did was proof enough that living was not so easy.

Even if Dobbs had had three pesos to buy the outfit, bootblacking was out, for he could not be a bootblack here among the natives. No white has ever tried to run around here shouting: “Shine, mister?” He would rather die. A white may sit on a bench on the plaza in rags, three-fourths starved; he may beg and humiliate himself before another white; he may even commit burglary or other crimes; for that the other whites will not loathe him; he will still be considered one of them. But should he happen to shine shoes in the street, or beg from a native anything but water, or carry around iced lemonade in buckets for sale by the glass, then he would sink below the lowest native and would die from starvation. No white would ever again give him a job, and the natives would consider him the most undesirable competitor. Native boys would kick his buckets and spill the lemonade, and should he find a pair of shoes to shine, all the native bootblacks would surround him and pester him with practical jokes and filthy language, so that the customer would leave before his shine was finished.

A man dressed in white strolled up to the bootblack’s stand and sat down. The bootblack got busy on the tan shoes before him.

Dobbs rose from his bench, walked slowly over to the stand, and said a few words to the man in white, who, hardly looking up, put his hand in his pocket, brought out a peso, and handed it to Dobbs.

For a moment Dobbs stood bewildered, not trusting his eyes. Then he walked back to his bench. He had not counted on anything, or at least not on more than ten centavos. He caressed the peso in his pocket. What should he do with this treasure? One dinner and one supper? Or two dinners? Or ten packages of cigarettes Artistas? Or five cups of coffee, each with a roll, or what they called here “pan frances”?

After some heavy thinking he left the bench and walked down a few blocks to the Hotel Oso Negro, the Black Bear Hotel.


The Hotel Oso Negro would not have been much of a hotel back home. Even here, in the republic, where good hotels are rare, it would not be classed among the decent ones. Just a kind of a cheap lodging-house, it was.

The boom was at its peak, so good hotels were expensive. As the boom had come a thousand times quicker than good hotels could be built, there were few worthy of the name, and the owners of these could ask anywhere from ten to fifty dollars for a shabby room with a simple cot, a squeaking chair, and a shattered table as the entire furnishings. All a guest could hope for was that the cot would be well covered by a tight mosquito-netting and that the hotel could offer cold showers any time of the day or night.

On the ground floor of the Hotel Oso Negro at the left there was a store, run by an Arab, which carried shoes, boots, shirts, soap, perfumes, ladies’ underwear, and all kinds of musical instruments. To the right there was another which had for sale deck-chairs, elaborate brass beds, mattresses, cameras, guns, rifles, ammunition, books on finding and drilling for oil, tennis-rackets, watches, American papers and magazines, automobile parts, and flashlights. The owner of this store was a Mexican who spoke English fairly well and who advertised this fact all over the window.

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