Daniel Boone, a famous 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*, 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 history, a lot of people have gotten lost and confused. And they've lost a lot of things while stumbling around in the Pennsylvania woodlands - including a surprising amount of gold and silver.
Late in the 1690s a group of French Canadians led by Louis Frontenac left New Orleans for Montreal. They sailed up the Mississippi River to the Ohio River and 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 for the royal governor of Canada.
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 it has never been found.
The Counterfeiter's Gold
Then there's the story of Cyrus Cole who lived by himself in a shack in the swamps outside Eldred in McKean County, Pennsylvania in the early 1900s. Cole was something of a bum, 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. 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 was ever recovered.
Civil War Gold
In 1863, during the American Civil War, a Union Army lieutenant was ordered to escort a wagon with a false bottom containing 26 gold bars weighing 50 pounds each. 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.
Throughout the journey, the lieutenant was sick with fever and 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, Pennsyivania, 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. Needless to say, the Army did not believe this story.
Pinkerton detectives were hired to search the area, but all that 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. He became an alcoholic and when he was drinking, 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 the modern US Army has sent several teams into the area around Dent's Run searching for the gold in the past 50 years. But the gold has never been recovered.
Confederate raiders captured a Union convoy heading from West Virginia to the Philadelphia Mint during the American Civil War. The convoy's treasure - some 15 tons of silver bars were 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 wating to be discovered.
In 1680 a Spanish treasure ship sank off the Bahamas. One hundred and thirty years later a British captain named 'Blackbeard'* found the treasure and recovered several tons of silver.
Blackbeard sailed into Baltimore harbour 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 1812 had begun and fearing that the silver would fall into American hands, Blackbeard 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. But apparently, he got lost and wound up in the village of Hazel Hurst and collapsed.
He died of 'exhaustion' a short time later, but not before confessing that he had buried the loot northeast 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 were 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 he saw veins of silver running everywhere in the walls and ceiling and 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 a trader who sold the Indians liquor 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 airplane 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 robbed a $12,000 payroll in 1888. He was said to have buried it in a tin box somewhere on Laurel Run Mountain outside the town of Wilkes-Bare and the money is still supposed to be there today.
- In 1775, a gang of Torries hid $100,000 in gold coins in the Wernersville area. The loot was never recovered.