10 Lost Treasures in America Waiting to be Found

10 Lost Treasures in America Waiting to be Found

Larry Holzwarth - May 12, 2018

The idea of finding a lost treasure has universal appeal. There are people who spend their whole lives and considerable sums of money searching for sunken treasure ships, lost mines, and hidden loot. Both American coasts abound with tales of buried pirate treasure. The coastal areas of Virginia and the Carolinas are said by some to contain treasure left behind by Blackbeard, Stede Bonnett and other pirates who once roamed the seas off the America’s preying on merchantmen and Spanish treasure ships. Both New York and New Jersey were once areas resorted to by Captain William Kidd, and long have tales been told of treasure he left there.

Mines which provided silver, copper, and gold to American Indians have been sought by white settlers since the country west of the Ohio River was first explored. Some claimed to have found them, but their locations since became lost. The Shawnee Indians of the Ohio Valley possessed silver in large amounts, but from whence it came has never been proven, and throughout Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia there are sites believed to be the source. Money hidden after it was acquired in crimes remains hidden in many cases, while the perpetrator sits in prison.

10 Lost Treasures in America Waiting to be Found
A map of Treasure Island from the original German edition of the novel about seeking pirate treasure. Wikimedia

Here are ten tales of lost treasure in the United States. Good hunting.

10 Lost Treasures in America Waiting to be Found
Part of the site of Old Chillicothe on the Little Miami River near Xenia, Ohio. Wikimedia

The Shawnee Silver Mines of Ohio

According to prisoners taken by the Shawnee Indians from the white settlements in Kentucky and Ohio, just a half day’s walk from their main village of Chillicothe was a site where the Shawnee mined silver. The prisoners were blindfolded, marched to the site, and burdened with heavy sacks which they were forced to carry back to the village. The difficulty in finding the site has been complicated by the fact that there was more than one village named Chillicothe, and the villages moved from time to time. There were villages of that name – actually Chalagawtha – on the Scioto River, the Little Miami River, the Great Miami River, and others. The prisoners who described carrying the silver mentioned that it came from a place not far from a stream.

Chillicothe on the Little Miami is sometimes referred to as Old Chillicothe to distinguish it from the others of that name and is the most prominently discussed region when considering the location of the mines because it was the largest of the villages. Its most prominent leader was Chief Blackfish, and it was to this village that Daniel Boone was taken when he was held prisoner by the Shawnee. Tecumseh is often said to have been born there, in reality, he was born in the village on the Scioto, though he did live on the Little Miami for a time. Today the area is an unincorporated village called Oldtown.

The prisoner’s description of the area makes it difficult to follow. They did not describe whether they walked upstream or down, and there are numerous creeks and branches of the Little Miami which could have been followed on their walk. The same can be said for each of the towns named Chillicothe, which also existed further north in Ohio, on both the Maumee and the St. Mary’s River. Departing from the site of each Indian village it is not difficult to encounter water in just about any direction. Reports from prisoners of the Shawnee in the early 1790s indicate that the Little Miami location was not the region of the mines, since it was destroyed by George Rogers Clark in 1780.

The most likely location based on the reports of the prisoners would be the village on the St. Mary’s River. At the time the village was located near a region which was known as the Great Black Swamp. The swamp stretched from western Lake Erie to just inside what is now the Indiana state line, although there were portions which were dry year-round, elevated above the flood plain. It was there that the bulk of the Chalagawtha division of the Shawnee settled after the destruction of their lower towns. It was from there that they traded with the British forts in Michigan, and heard Tecumseh’s calls for unity among the tribes and more.

Today the region of the Great Dismal Swamp is rich farmland. Both the states of Indiana and Ohio drained most of the swamp during the 1800s. By then the Shawnee were long gone, with yet another Chillicothe appearing near Fort Wayne, Indiana. So the source of their silver in Ohio has yet to be found. There are some who believe that the prisoners created the stories of the silver as a means of entertaining their listeners after being ransomed, but the Shawnee acquired their silver, which they worked into armbands, amulets, and other items from somewhere.

10 Lost Treasures in America Waiting to be Found
Daniel Boone leading settlers into Kentucky, several years after John Swift claimed to have mined silver there. Wikimedia

The Shawnee Silver Mines of Kentucky

According to a journal left by one John Swift, a British sailor in Alexandria, Virginia, a party of men including himself and a former captive of the Shawnee in Kentucky named George Mundy crossed “…Big Sandy Creek near its headwaters, and continuing west for a considerable distance we located three of the mines. We located the other mines by traveling southwest along a great ridge until we came to a large river thence north to a very large and rocky creek. Thence to the mines.” Until 1769 Swift and his partners mined silver, encountering enough difficulties with the Shawnee that several loads of it had to be buried nearby.

In September 1769 Swift and Mundy buried “between 22 and 30 thousand English crowns” and marked the site by carving their names as well as those of the rest of their party on “…a large beech tree.” An English crown of the time was one ounce of silver. Swift returned to England where he soon found himself incarcerated for airing his views in support of the rebellious natives of Boston and Williamsburg, according to one version of the story. He remained in prison through the Revolution, and when he returned to America he was nearly blind. He was unable to relocate the mines, though he left behind his journal and a map drawn from memory.

One problem with relying on the journal of John Swift is that there is more than one, and they are all different. Another appeared in the name of Jonathan Swift. While some parts of the story, such as burying large amounts of silver in different locations are similar, others are completely different, with no mention of George Mundy. According to the journal, the silver was struck into coins, both English and Spanish, and returned to the Appalachian hills in kegs, where they were buried or hidden in caves. Swift’s profession as a sailor made the movement of the silver and subsequent coins easier.

Although the tale, and others, have generated derision among skeptics, coins dated prior to 1769 keep turning up in the region, and Swift’s mines have been searched for in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and even in Pennsylvania. In the late 1980s several coins, all dating prior to 1760 were found in a cavern in eastern Kentucky. A carving of a cornstalk appeared on the cave wall. In Swift’s account, Mundy had originally been taken to the cave while a prisoner of Chief Cornstalk of the Shawnee, to be used to carry the mined silver.

There were also reports of furnaces, for the smelting of silver, being discovered during a survey of the region in the 1850s. The survey described the furnaces as “ancient” though there was little other description. Other hunters for Swift’s mine have discovered boulders in the area with the initials JS carved into them, with other cryptic signs, apparently hundreds of years old. Interestingly, Jonathan Swift was convicted in Alexandria in the late 1700s for counterfeiting English currency, producing coins which contained more and purer silver than genuine. Where he got the silver is anybody’s guess.

10 Lost Treasures in America Waiting to be Found
Captain Kidd welcomes guests aboard while in New York harbor. Library of Congress

Kidd’s Treasure

In recent years there has been an ongoing expedition to recover the treasure and other artifacts from the wreck of the Adventure Galley near Madagascar. Adventure Galley was the ship used by William Kidd when he decided to quit hunting pirates and become one himself. Before he did (if he did, some believe that he was never a pirate at all) William Kidd was a well-connected gentleman in the colony of New York. He lived in a well-appointed home on Pearl Street. He was one of the gentlemen of New York who worked to raise the funds to build Trinity Church. As a privateer, he was involved in several actions against the French.

His success as a privateer led him to be appointed to command an expedition against the pirates who were regularly raiding the ships of London’s merchants, as well as any French vessels. Whether Kidd himself acted as a pirate on the subsequent voyage or was forced to allow his crew – under threat to his life – to practice piracy remains a subject of debate. What is known is that several vessels were seized and destroyed after being plundered by Kidd’s crew. One vessel, an East Indiamen named the Quedagh Merchant, was kept by Kidd and renamed Adventure Prize. It was in this vessel that Kidd attempted to return to New York, the Adventure Galley no longer being seaworthy.

Much of the plunder was in the hold of the Adventure Prize when Kidd learned that he was being sought as a pirate, and with only 13 of his crew remaining loyal to him, the rest remaining in the area of Madagascar in other ships, he went instead to the Caribbean. There he purchased a small sloop, fenced as much of the plunder as he could, and then set sail for New York. He stopped at Gardiner’s Island to bury some of the money he received for the goods he had sold. He then sailed all the way around Long Island, stopping on the island at several locations, as well as going ashore on Block Island and in Connecticut.

Once in New York Kidd was arrested, held for over a year, and then sent to England for trial for both piracy and murder. He was convicted and an attempt to negotiate by revealing the cache of money hidden on Gardiner’s Island backfired when it was instead used as evidence against him. The amount of money was small compared to what Kidd had obtained in the Caribbean. None of the rest of the treasure was found, having failed once, Kidd kept his mouth shut regarding the rest of his treasure. He was hanged in London, the rope broke, and he was forced to re-ascend the gallows to be hanged a second time.

Ever since areas of Connecticut, Oak Island, Gardiner’s Island and the rest of Long Island’s Suffolk County, and other locales in and around Long Island and Block Island Sound have been searched for the rest of Kidd’s treasure. The Adventure Prize was found in relatively shallow waters near the Dominican Republic in 2007. It yielded some artifacts including cannon, but no treasure. Wherever he left the money he obtained in the Caribbean on his way back to New York it is likely that it remains there still. How much money is there is subject to debate, as is the fact or fiction of William Kidd’s legendary career as a pirate.

10 Lost Treasures in America Waiting to be Found
Blackbeard claimed to have hidden his treasure at a spot known only to him and the devil. Wikimedia

Blackbeard’s treasure

Blackbeard was a terror of the Caribbean and the Carolina and Virginia coasts in the early eighteenth century. A master of public image before it was a profession, Blackbeard – whose real name was Edward Teach or Thatch – grew his beard long and decorated it with burning slow fuses, giving himself a sulfuric aroma and image when confronting a victim. He once shot a man in the knee as they sat drinking together, explaining that he had to do such things from time to time to remind his men who he was. Of his treasure, which was considered based on his pillaging, he once said, “…nobody but himself and the devil knew where it was, and the longest liver should take all.”

Blackbeard’s career as a pirate was relatively short but notoriously violent for both his victims and his crews. By 1717 he sailed as part of a fleet of pirate ships seizing vessels from all nations at will, and eluding the vessels dispatched to capture him. In 1718 he blockaded the harbor at Charles Towne in South Carolina, taking any vessels attempting to enter or leave the harbor, ransacking them all. He then threatened to kill the prisoners from these ships, unless the city provided him with needed medical and other supplies. When his demands were met he released the prisoners and blithely sailed off.

When Governor Eden of North Carolina announced a pardon for all pirates who surrendered prior to September 5 1718 he availed himself of the opportunity, first running some of his ships aground and then marooning about two dozen other crew members. By these acts, he greatly reduced the number of men with whom he would have to share the plunder they had attained. He accepted the pardon and stayed for a time in Bath, North Carolina, after mooring his ship near Ocracoke Inlet, one of his favorite anchorages. During this time he disposed of some of his treasure, where and when remaining unknown.

Bored with life ashore, he soon returned to piracy, operating in the Caribbean and near the mouth of Delaware Bay. He also ventured into the Chesapeake Bay. The Governor of Virginia, which was a Crown Colony, was unimpressed with the pardon from North Carolina, a proprietary colony, and ordered the fitting out of an expedition which tracked down and killed the pirate in Ocracoke Inlet in November 1718. They returned with Blackbeard’s head displayed from the bowsprit of one of their two ships, but no treasure. Some of the loot taken from the pirate’s most recent actions was recovered, mostly cotton, sugar, and indigo. There were no hard species.

Blackbeard’s treasure, which he claimed to have hidden, has been rumored to be in the mudbanks near Sullivan’s Island near Charleston, buried in or near Bath in North Carolina, on Oak Island in Nova Scotia, off Delaware Bay, on Tangier Island in the Chesapeake, and in numerous other locations along the east coast of the United States and the Caribbean. To many scholars, the idea of buried treasure is ludicrous, despite Blackbeard’s clear intent of increasing his share by reducing his crew and his statement that only “the devil” knew where his loot was hidden. That would certainly lead one to infer that it is hidden somewhere.

10 Lost Treasures in America Waiting to be Found
Jimmy Burke never distributed the nearly 6 million dollars take from the Lufthansa robbery in 1978. Getty

The Lufthansa Heist Loot

On the eleventh of December 1978, the Lufthansa terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport on Long Island was robbed of an estimated $5 million in cash and about $875,000 in jewelry by thieves working for the Lucchese crime family of New York. The robbery was a central part of the film Goodfellas, which more or less depicted its aftermath accurately. It has been the topic of books, films, and documentaries ever since. Its chief planner, Jimmy Burke, began a campaign to kill most of the other persons involved in the robbery, in order to keep as much of the loot as possible, after paying the necessary “tribute” to the mob bosses who okayed the theft.

Although there have been claims made by various former mafia members who turned into government informants about what happened to the money and jewels, none have been verified and the money has never been found. Jimmy Burke never disclosed its location, or locations, during his lifetime, or if he did the person or persons never repeated it to anyone in law enforcement. In the days immediately after the crime wiretaps led investigators to suspect that the money, or at least part of it, was buried on properties frequented by Burke’s crew, but they were unable to get enough evidence to obtain a search warrant.

Jimmy Burke, after ordering the killings of virtually anyone capable of connecting him to the Lufthansa robbery, was imprisoned for his involvement in the Boston College points shaving scandal. While in prison he was convicted for an earlier murder. He died in prison of lung cancer. He never revealed where the money was hidden, and the jewels, which could have in many cases been identified by their rightful owners, have never surfaced. The only portion of the money known to have been distributed was the tribute. In a 2015 trial, one of the surviving participants in the robbery was heard on tape complaining that nobody involved ever saw any of the money.

In 2014 a former mob member and then informant claimed that some of the money was placed by Burke in a safety deposit box, with the keys put in the hands of Burke’s two daughters. Burke’s son-in-law, Anthony Indelicato. According to the tale the mob used one daughter to finance a planned animated movie, which was never made, and once the box had been opened it was easy to routinely remove chunks of cash, most of which was lost in gambling casinos. Law enforcement personnel familiar with the case and the alleged participants considered the story to be completely false.

So it’s still out there somewhere, cash and jewels totaling almost $6 million dollars and possibly more now, given the price of gold and silver today in comparison to 1978. Whoever knows where it is, if anyone does know that most of the criminals involved are dead, isn’t talking. Although most of the bills would now be treated with suspicion due to changes in the appearance of American currency, they remain legal tender. Somewhere probably around New York or New Jersey is a pile of stolen, but entirely untraceable cash exceeding $4 million dollars, since some of it was a tribute, and some undoubtedly spent by Jimmy Burke.

10 Lost Treasures in America Waiting to be Found
The Spanish Treasure Fleets included galleons such as this for protection against pirates and enemies. National Gallery of Art

San Miguel de Archangel

There were numerous Spanish treasure ships christened San Miguel, and more than one of them sunk between the New World and Spain, but one, in particular, is enticing. San Miguel de Archangel – Saint Michael the Archangel – was part of the 1715 Spanish Treasure fleet which departed Havana just in time to encounter a hurricane off the Florida coast and be completely destroyed. The fleet was carrying gold, silver, emeralds, pearls, and other precious gems looted from the Aztecs by the Spaniards, intended to reinforce the coffers of the Spanish Empire. Instead, 300 years later, portions of the lost fortune still wash ashore on Florida’s treasure coast.

Much of the Treasure Fleet has been discovered and salvaged, near Sebastian Inlet where the hurricane sent the ships to the bottom three centuries ago. The Spanish fleet was made up of several types of vessels, including the heavy galleons, all of which were lost and have been discovered, and a lesser number of carracks. A carrack was a lighter vessel, easier to handle in varying winds and rough seas, and also faster under sail than the galleons. Carracks were favored for carrying cargo, including the treasures of the Aztecs, with the galleons deemed more suitable for the defense of the fleet (though they too carried treasure). San Miguel de Archangel was a carrack.

Because of the records kept by the Spanish at Havana the size and composition of the treasure fleet is known today. Ships came to Havana from Vera Cruz, Cartagena, and Porto Bello, loaded with the wealth pillaged from Mexico. A French merchantman, Le Griffon, joined to avail itself of the protection of the Spanish galleons against the pirates who roamed the Caribbean, hoping to steal the treasures that the Spanish had stolen from what they called New Spain. A total of eleven Spanish ships congregated in Havana’s harbor, in addition to the French vessel. The threat of pirates led the Spanish to deliberately delay their departure until the edge of the storm season, believing that they could skirt the coast of Florida and shelter near Saint Augustine.

The fleet survived about a week after leaving Havana, over one thousand sailors died in the storms. The Spanish knew where most of the ships went down and managed to salvage at least half of the treasure which went down in the ships, using native divers and slaves. In the late twentieth century, modern salvagers have recovered more of the treasure, and from time to time portions of the wealth of New Spain still wash ashore along Florida’s Treasure Coast, including gold chains, chalices, and occasionally ingots of gold and silver. All of the ships of the treasure fleet have been identified, their whereabouts known, but one.

The carrack San Miguel de Archangel is believed to have run before the storm, reaching latitudes further north than the rest of the fleet, before it too was lost to the sea. How much further north is impossible to guess, but it likely remained near shore, as the winds of the hurricane would have prevented it from reaching out to the open sea. Quite possibly the richest ship of the entire treasure fleet of 1715 is resting on the bottom off the coast of Florida, waiting to be discovered and relieved of its gold and silver plate, and the emeralds, diamonds, and pearls it carried when it departed Havana three centuries ago.

10 Lost Treasures in America Waiting to be Found
Fenn’s treasure awaits in the Rocky Mountains for whomever can correctly interpret the clues. Wikimedia

The Forrest Fenn Treasure

Forrest Fenn flew over 300 air combat missions in Vietnam, establishing his credentials as an adrenaline junkie, which he expanded upon in two books, Thrill of the Chase and Too Far to Walk. After his military service Fenn learned the business of art dealing. Eventually he and his wife operated the Fenn Galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Fenn bought and sold art produced by locals as well as copies of great works by famous artists. Fenn was stricken with cancer in the late 1980s and while battling the disease he came up with the idea of hiding a treasure and providing its seekers with cryptic clues to its location.

The treasure which is said to be worth more than $1 million dollars (Fenn claimed he would recover it himself if it surpasses $10 million through inflation) includes gold and gems and is contained in a chest which Fenn secreted in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe. At the time Fenn placed the chest he was approximately 80 years old, and he claimed that hiding the treasure required two trips to and from his car, which he completed in an afternoon. Clues and hints to the location of the treasure are in his two books and contained in a poem, which according to Fenn is all that is required to locate the treasure, once properly deciphered.

According to Fenn, several people who have searched for the treasure have come to within 500 feet of it, a few within 200 feet, but as yet it has not been found. From previous searches, it has been established that the treasure is at an elevation above 5,000 feet, but beneath 10,200 feet and that it is wet, though not contained in a building nor a mine. There have been at least four reported deaths of individuals searching for the treasure, despite it being reported to be in a not dangerous location, not particularly arduous to reach, and likely only about 45 minutes away from a road (where Fenn left his car when he hid the treasure).

Within a nine stanza poem, there are said to be nine distinct clues which lead the seeker to the treasure once interpreted correctly. Fenn has said that people who have correctly solved the second clue are those who have found themselves within two hundred feet of the treasure, though unaware of the proximity of wealth. Additional hints and clues are in his two books but the poem is all that is necessary to discover the treasure. What those clues are in the poem itself are cryptic, though it contains no cipher or code, According to Fenn the first clue is the most important, failing to solve it renders all of the other clues worthless.

The first clue reveals the starting point, all of the other clues narrow the search within a relatively small area, according to Fenn, and within the distance of ten to twelve feet, the chest should be visible. So there you have it. A fortune worth $1 million when it was hidden in 2010 is waiting to be picked up somewhere in the Rocky Mountains just a few miles from Santa Fe, New Mexico. The poem, maps, comments from other searchers, and other guides to finding the treasure are online and easy to find. Evidently, though, the treasure is not.

10 Lost Treasures in America Waiting to be Found
The Declaration of Independence was used to encode the cipher describing the treasure. The others have yet to be solved. National Archives

The Thomas Beale Ciphers

Somewhere in Virginia’s Bedford County is a cache of riches which have been estimated to be worth more than $40 million dollars in today’s currency. Remaining hidden since the 1820s, the riches are described in a ciphered document which was decoded in the late 1870s. Two other ciphered documents are said to describe the location of the treasure and the heirs of the man who buried it in the 1820s. There have been those who describe the entire story as an elaborate hoax perpetrated in the 1880s, but others insist that the treasure exists and deciphering the first of the three documents will lead to its discovery.

According to the story, several Virginia adventurers journeyed to the Spanish provinces of the west and discovered gold and other valuables in a mine in what is now the state of Colorado. After eighteen months of work they sent the gold and silver back to Virginia in the hands of Thomas J. Beale, who hid the fortune somewhere in Bedford County near Montvale, an area dotted with caverns and underground springs. Beale encrypted the location in one document, a description of the treasure in a second, and the list of the owners and their heirs in the third. He left the documents in a locked box with the key with a Lynchburg innkeeper named Robert Moriss.

When Beale never returned Morriss, as instructed, opened the box and discovered the ciphers. Unable to solve them he gave the box to a friend who more than twenty years later was able to decode the second of the three documents, describing the treasure and from whence it came, but not the location where Beale had hidden the wealth. After failing to decipher the documents another friend published them and the story of the deciphered document, under the title The Beale Papers in 1885. This deciphered copy describes the wealth in terms of weight.

In the description of the fortune, it is established to consist of 2,921 pounds of gold and 5,100 pounds of silver, along with jewels which are not described in detail. The treasure was secured in “iron pots with iron covers” and buried in a vault six feet below the surface. Beale described the vault as being lined with stones, with a stone floor, with the iron pots were resting on the floor. The remainder of the document, which was deciphered using the text of the Declaration of Independence as the key, tells of the contents of the other two documents, including, “…the exact locality of the vault, so that no difficulty will be had in finding it.”

Since then the ciphered documents have been analyzed by cryptographers using supercomputers and other deciphering techniques, but to no avail. Neither the list of owners nor the cipher describing the location has been cracked. This has fed speculation that the entire story was a hoax generated to sell pamphlets in the 1880s, but there remains widespread interest in the Bedford Gold Vault. Skeptics argue that certain words used in other documents included with the ciphers were not in common use in English at the time they were allegedly written, they overlook that those same words were in use in the Spanish territories where the Virginians had mined the gold.

10 Lost Treasures in America Waiting to be Found
Fairfax Court House in a photograph taken in June 1863. Library of Congress

Mosby’s Treasure

John Singleton Mosby was a Virginia-born lawyer who studied the law while he was imprisoned for shooting a man in the neck, albeit in an act of self-defense. During the Civil War, he was ordered to form and command a raiding group of cavalry which was officially the 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry but was unofficially and to posterity known as Mosby’s Rangers. The Rangers were irregulars in the sense that they did not encamp with the army but lived outside of the military camps and forts, among the civilians, and except when mustered for a raid they had no military duties. The Rangers roamed northern and central Virginia conducting hit and run raids.

In March 1863, the Rangers swung around the Union lines near Washington and attacked an encampment of Union troops at Fairfax Court House. Mosby and his men captured Union General Edwin Stoughton during this raid, as well as two other officers and about 30 enlisted men. The general was an important enough prisoner that Mosby decided to escort him to Culpeper Virginia. As he went through Stoughton’s belongings he found a bag containing gold, silver, artifacts, and jewelry which had been looted by the Union troops from homes in the area. Mosby took the bag with him.

As the Confederates were preparing to march towards Culpeper reports reached Mosby of a Union cavalry patrol searching for him in the area. Believing he would have to fight, Mosby sent Stoughton ahead under guard and told his men to bury the bag between two large pines which he marked with his knife. He then deployed his troops west towards Manassas and eluded the Union patrol. Mosby later sent a squad of men back to Fairfax Court House to retrieve the bag. The men were caught by another Union patrol and as irregulars, they were hanged.

During the rest of 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia was engaged in Virginia and Pennsylvania, and Mosby was unable to return to the area around Fairfax Courthouse, which after the failure of the Gettysburg campaign remained firmly under Union control. After the war, Mosby became a Republican and eventually a loyal supporter of President Grant. He served as consul to Hong Kong beginning in 1878. Mosby never returned to Fairfax Court House to retrieve the treasure he had buried there though he lived much of his life following the Civil War in Washington DC, only a few miles away.

So the treasure remains where he left it, somewhere in the vicinity of the Fairfax Court House in today’s Washington suburb of Fairfax, Virginia. It is usually estimated to be in the range of $350,000 in value in today’s currency, though its value as heirlooms may exceed that, depending upon which families they were originally taken from. The Fairfax Court House of 1863 still stands, part of the larger overall Fairfax Courthouse.

10 Lost Treasures in America Waiting to be Found
A California gold nugget weighing just under ten pounds. Wikimedia

Henry Gordier’s Cache of Gold

Henry Gordier was a Frenchman who joined the rush of prospectors to the California gold fields in the 1850s. Gordier was one of the lucky ones who staked a claim and managed to extract a sizable fortune in gold. The Frenchman had no intention of remaining in the mines all of his life and in 1857 he purchased a large plot of land in Honey Lake Valley, intent on becoming a rancher. A herd of cattle was soon purchased to graze on his land and he built a ranch house, barns, and the necessities of a working ranch.

Gordier was highly regarded by most of his neighbors with the exception of three living in a nearby cabin situated on Lassen creek. Two of these men were suspected of various nefarious activities and a fourth soon joined them, claiming an interest in acquiring some of Gordier’s herd. This man, William Thorrington, visited the area in the spring of 1858. A known gambler and card sharp, Thorrington did not approach Gordier about buying his cattle, instead, the two men who had originally occupied the cabin, Asa Snow and John Mullen, approached him about a possible purchase.

Gordier declined to sell any of his stock, and in March, Asa Snow moved into Gordier’s home, informing the other neighbors in the area that Henry had returned to France. Later that spring the citizens of the area grew suspicious of the activities of Snow, Mullen, and a third man hiding out with them, Bill Edwards. When Gordier’s body was found stuffed in a bag and sunk into the Susan River, Snow was arrested and hanged after a quick trial. Eventually, the accomplices, including Thorrington, were tracked down and hanged, except for Mullen, who vanished.

Locals were aware of the source of Gordier’s wealth, and that he had brought a large amount of gold with him in the form of nuggets. It wasn’t long after the events of 1858 that those neighbors were exploring the late Frenchman’s property looking for the gold. For many years nothing was found, or at any rate, nobody claimed to have found any gold, until 1877, when several nuggets of varying size turned up near where Gordier’s long-vanished cabin had once stood.

Nothing else has turned up since, though Gordier was known to have about $40,000 worth of gold with him on the property (a little over $1.1 million today). Other than the few nuggets which turned up in the dust in 1877, none of his fortune has been claimed to have been found. It is likely still buried on the property today, though knowledge of the exact location seems to have died with Gordier. It is one of many buried caches of considerable wealth in the west, waiting patiently to create a fortune for some lucky explorer.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Silver Mines of Ohio”, by Professor R.S. King, Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, digitized April 18, 2012, online

“Through the Cumberland on Horseback”, by James Lane Allen, Harper’s Magazine, Vol. 73, 1886

“The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd”, by Richard Zacks, 2003

“Blackbeard: America’s Most Notorious Pirate”, by Angus Konstam, 2007

“Lufthansa heist: ‘We never got our right money’ accused mobster says on tape”, by Yon Pomrenze, The Guardian, October 23, 2015

“Many claim they’ve solved Forrest Fenn riddle, but treasure hunt continues”, by Bruce Krasnow, Santa Fe New American, May 16, 2015

“The Beale Treasure Ciphers”, by The Guardian, 1999

“The rough and tough exploits of Confederate raider John Mosby”, by Linda Wheeler, The Washington Post, September 9, 2012

“There’s A Shipwreck Ruin From 1715 With 3,000,000 Silver Coins Near The Treasure Coast Of Florida”, by Marisa Roman, Only In Your State, December 28, 2021

“He buried a treasure in the mountains, and someone found it. Or did they?”, by Rachel Mabe in Santa Fe, The Guardian, Wed 16 Sep 2020