The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

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This article is about the novel. For the film version, see The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (film).
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
1st edition
Author B. Traven
Original title Der Schatz der Sierra Madre
Country Germany
Language German
Genre Adventure novel
Publisher Buchergilde Gutenberg
Publication date
Published in English
Pages 213

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a 1927 adventure novel by the mysterious German-English bilingual author B. Traven, in which two destitute Americans of the 1920s join with an old-timer, in Mexico, to prospect for gold. John Huston adapted the book as a 1948 film of the same name.

Historical setting[edit]

By the 1920s the violence of the Mexican Revolution had largely subsided, although scattered gangs of bandits continued to terrorize the countryside. The newly established post-revolution government relied on the effective but ruthless Federal Police, commonly known as the Federales, to patrol remote areas and dispose of the bandits.

Foreigners, like the three American prospectors who are the focus of the story, were at very real risk of being killed by the bandits. The bandits, after being captured by army units, were given little more than a "last cigarette" and had to dig their own graves first. This is the context of the story.


Three down-and-out Americans meet by chance in the Mexican city of Tampico and discuss how to overcome their financial distress. They then set out to discover gold in the remote Sierra Madre mountains.

Once in the desert, Howard, an experienced old-timer, quickly proves to be the toughest and most knowledgeable; he is the one who discovers the gold they are seeking. A mine is dug, and much gold is extracted, but one of the men (Dobbs) soon becomes greedy and begins to lose both his trust and his mind, lusting to possess the entire treasure. One day, another prospector named Lacaud follows one of the men (Curtin) from a nearby village back to the men's camp. Although the men do not initially trust Lacaud, they decide to allow him to stay and camp with them.

The bandits then reappear, pretending, very crudely, to be Federales. After a gunfight, a troop of real Federales arrives and drives the bandits away. The prospectors soon decide to leave the mine and head to Durango to sell the gold that they have mined. Lacaud decides to stay behind, because he believes there is more gold in the mountain. On the way, Howard is called to assist some local villagers help a sick boy, and Dobbs and Curtin have a final confrontation. Dobbs shoots Curtin, leaving him lying shot and bleeding. Dobbs continues on alone but is soon confronted and killed by the leader of the bandits and two of his remaining henchmen who, apparently, had been wandering the desert without weapons or horses after having somehow escaping the Federales. The bandits, thinking the gold dust is just worthless sand used to make the bundles of skins they were hidden in seem heavier, scatter the paydirt; they are later captured and executed by the Federales. Curtin (who has survived Dobbs' attack) meets up with Howard. When they hear the story they can do nothing but laugh at their misfortunes.


Dobbs is often used as a foil for Howard's philosophical comments on the value of gold and one's responsibilities to one's companions.[citation needed]




  • Episode 3 in the first season of the 1955 TV series, Cheyenne, gives a writing credit (novel) to B. Traven, and contains the same basic plot as the novel, with the main character, Cheyenne, standing in the role of the old prospector, Howard, of the original story.[1]

Cultural references[edit]

"Gold Hat" (portrayed by Alfonso Bedoya)'s line to Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) - "I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!" - is a well-known and widely quoted (and often misquoted) line from the book and 1948 film.[2] (See Stinking badges.)