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Lost Treasures of Pennsylvania, USA

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Daniel Boone, a legendary American frontiersman, was once quoted as saying, 'I ain't never been lost, but I may have been confused once or twice'. With all respect to Mr Boone - who was born in Pennsylvania, incidentally - it's incredibly easy to get lost and confused in the forests and mountains of Pennsylvania.

In the course of the state's 300-plus year recorded history, many people have gotten lost and confused. And they've lost plenty of things while stumbling around in the Pennsylvania woodlands - including a surprising amount of gold and silver.

Frenchmen's Gold

Late in the 1690s, a group of French Canadians, led by Louis Frontenac, departed New Orleans and headed towards Montreal. They sailed up the Mississippi River to the Ohio River turn-off. They then went up the Ohio to the location of present-day Pittsburgh and took the left fork up the Allegheny River. On their rafts were kegs filled with gold coins destined for the Royal Governor of Canada's treasury.

Upon reaching present-day Potter County, Pennsylvania, they started overland, but the heavy kegs of coins made the going slow. Fearing an English or Indian attack, they decided to bury the treasure just north of the location of present-day Coudersport.

They marked their cache of gold with a cross chipped onto a rock. Seneca Indians are said to have seen the cross on the rock, but left it alone because they feared the site had special mystical significance. In time, the marker wore off the stone and the Indians were unable to remember where it was located.

The Frenchmen never returned for their gold and to this day it has never been found.

The Counterfeiter's Gold

Then there's the story of Cyrus Cole who, in the early 1900s, lived by himself in a shack near the swamps outside Eldred in McKean County, Pennsylvania. Cole was something of a bum, surviving by picking berries and trapping muskrats yet, strangely, he was never short of cash.

The United States Secret Service had agents investigating an influx of counterfeit silver half dollars and gold coins in the area, but could never get any leads. Then in 1912, they got an anonymous tip that Cole was the mastermind behind the counterfeiting ring. Armed with a search warrant, the agents searched Cole's shack and found some evidence, but not enough for a conviction.

They searched the swamp for evidence of the minting equipment, but came up empty-handed. Legend has it that Cole buried his counterfeit coins and his real gold and silver profits somewhere on the high ground near Eldred. None of it has ever been recovered.

Civil War Gold

In 1863, during the American Civil War1, a Union Army lieutenant was ordered to escort a wagon that had been fitted with a false base. This disguised compartment contained 26 gold bars each weighing 50 pounds. The wagon was to travel from Wheeling, West Virginia, north through Pennsylvania and then south to Washington, DC - the idea behind this route was to avoid any possible encounter with Confederate forces.

In the early stages of the journey, the lieutenant was sick with fever. During a fit of delirium, he blurted out the fact that the wagon contained a fortune in gold. After his fever broke, the expedition left St Marys, Pennsylvania, heading for Driftwood where they were to build a raft and float down the Susquehanna River to Harrisburg. They never made it, vanishing somewhere in the forests of Cameron and Elk counties.

Two months later, the party's civilian guide stumbled into Lock Haven - 50 miles east of St Marys, the last known location of the convoy. Army investigators interrogated the guide for days and heard that bandits ambushed the group, killing all the soldiers and taking the gold. The Army did not believe this story.

Pinkerton2 detectives were hired to search the area, but all they found were some dead mules in the area of Dent's Run near present-day Route 55 in Elk County. In the early 1870s, human skeletons which were believed to be those of the soldiers were found in the same area.

The guide was drafted into the army and assigned to a fort in the west. A heavy drinker, when he was drunk he would claim to know where the gold was hidden. But when he sobered up, he disavowed all knowledge of the treasure's location.

Local rumour has it that during the past 50 years the modern US Army has sent several teams into the area around Dent's Run searching for the gold. Despite these alleged ongoing searches, the gold has never been recovered.

Confederate Silver

During the American Civil War, Confederate raiders captured a Union convoy heading from West Virginia to the Philadelphia Mint. The convoy's treasure - some 15 tons of silver bars - was stolen and hidden inside a cave north of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. The rebels sealed the mouth of the cave and never returned for the booty. Some say it's still out there waiting to be discovered.

Blackbeard's Silver

In 1680, a Spanish treasure ship sank off the Bahamas. A hundred and thirty years later a British captain named 'Blackbeard'3 found the treasure and recovered several tons of silver.

Blackbeard sailed into Baltimore harbour intending to transfer the silver to a British warship for transport to London. Fearing that the ship would be followed and attacked on the high seas, Blackbeard sent the silver overland by wagon to Canada where it would be loaded into a convoy of strong ships.

By the time Blackbeard reached Renovo, Pennsylvania, the War of 18124 had begun and Blackbeard, fearing that the silver would fall into USA hands, buried the treasure in the mountains outside Emporium in McKean County near present-day Route 155. Blackbeard never returned for the silver and rumour has it that it is still there today.

Robber Lewis' Lost Booty

David 'Robber' Lewis made a reputation for himself in the early 1800s, robbing the rich and giving to the poor. He was captured in 1820 and on his deathbed, he confessed to all his crimes and told his jailers of three caches of gold he had hidden in Pennsylvania:

  • One, containing $10,000 in gold, is said to have been hidden in a small cave along the Juniata River near Lewistown, Pennsylvania. Lewis returned for the cache and couldn't find it because the river had flooded and washed away his trail markers.

  • A second cache is purported to be buried along the Conodoguinett Creek near the caves he used as a hide-out.

  • The third, reportedly containing $20,000, is buried in the hills outside of Bellefonte. During his last imprisonment, Lewis is said to have taunted his jailers by telling them that he could see the cache from the jail.

None of these caches have ever been recovered.

Cash at Kinzua

In the 1890s, a man robbed a bank in Emporium, Pennsylvania, making off with $40,000 in cash. Apparently, he got lost and wound up in the village of Hazel Hurst where he collapsed. Not having a good day, our man died of 'exhaustion' a short time later, but not before confessing that he had buried the loot north-east of Kushequa within sight of the Kinzua railroad bridge. The money has never been recovered.

The Belsano Train Robbery

On 11 October, 1924, a train carrying a safe containing a payroll of $33,000 was robbed just outside the Cambria County, Pennsylvania town of Belsano. During the course of the robbery, one of the men who was guarding the safe was shot and killed.

Police in several neighbouring states joined the manhunt for Michelo Bassi and Anthony Pezzi and the murderous duo were apprehended two weeks after the robbery in Terre Haute, Indiana. Each had a gun and $3,000 in cash. The men were convicted of first degree murder and in February 1925, they were executed in the state's electric chair.

The safe and some of the money was never recovered. Legend has it that it may be buried or hidden near the site of the robbery.

The Lost Cave of Silver

Somewhere in the Allegheny National Forest to the west of the town of Tionesta, Pennsylvania is a cave reputed to be full of silver.

During the late 1700s, a white settler named Hill got lost and sought shelter in a cave for the night. Inside the cave he saw veins of silver running everywhere through the walls and ceiling. In the floor was a great pit filled with pure silver. When he managed to find his way home, he was unable to find his way back to the cave.

Hill's story was backed up by an early entrepreneur who traded liquor with the indigenous Indians in exchange for furs and silver. When he asked them where they got all their silver, legend has it that they blindfolded him and took him to a cave matching the one described in Hill's story.

Pure silver was found in Indian burial grounds near Irvine, Warren County - approximately 15 miles upstream from Tionesta. However, the Cave of Silver has never been found.

Other Lost Treasures

  • An aeroplane carrying a quarter-million dollars in cash crashed near Mount Carmel in 1948. The money was thrown out of the plane just prior to the crash and was never found.

  • Bandit Michael Rizzalo stole a $12,000 payroll in 1888. He was said to have buried it in a tin box somewhere on Laurel Run Mountain, just outside the town of Wilkes-Bare. The money is supposed to still be there today.

  • In 1775, a gang of Tories5 hid $100,000 in gold coins in the Wernersville area. The loot was never recovered.

A Handy Tip

When visiting Pennsylvania, don't forget to pack your metal detector.

1War between the (mainly) North and South states; 1861 - 1865.2The first detective agency in the USA, it was named after its founder, Scots-born Allan Pinkerton.3Who was not related to the famous pirate of the same name.4Between Great Britain and USA, fought chiefly along the Canadian border.5An American who, during the period of the American Revolution, favoured the British side. Also called Loyalist.

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