'Robber' Lewis

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Born on March 4, 1790 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, David 'Robber' Lewis is a popular folk hero in Cumberland County. Known as the 'Robbin Hood of Pennsylvania' Lewis' exploits are still talked about 180-plus years after his death, and some of his hidden loot is still sought by treasure hunters across the state.

After deserting from the US Army at the start of the War of 1812, Lewis made a fortune counterfeiting bank notes and acting as a highwayman in New York and the New England states. The law caught up with him and imprisoned him in Troy, New York, but he escaped from jail and returned to Pennsylvania's Cumberland County.

It was in Cumberland County that he earned his reputation as 'Pennsylvania's Robbin Hood'. There are man folk tales of Lewis robbing wealthy landowners, tax collectors and merchants and helping poor farmers. Though instead of Sherrwood Forest, Lewis preferred to hide-out in caves along streams and rivers. People exploring some of the caves along the Conodoguinett Creek near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, have found gold coins reputed to be part of Lewis' ill-gotten earnings.

One classic Robbin Hood-style tale involves Lewis providing a poor farming family a counterfeit $20 to pay the tax collector. As the tax collector left the farm, he robbed the man, getting back his own money and splitting the profit with the family. Many poor families in the area would warn him of the authorities efforts to bring him to justice and secretly helped to cover his tracks. Lewis is even said to have referred to himself as an 'equalizer'.

His last big heist was a $13,000 robbery of a stagecoach near Bellefonte. During a gun battle, Lewis was wounded and captured a short time later by a posse and locked up in Bellefonte Jail. He died of gangrene rather than have his arm amputated in a last-ditch effort to save his life.

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.

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