PENNSYLVANIAS LOST GOLD INGOTS
by Frances X. Scully
A tremendous treasure is lost somewhere in the heart of Pennsylvanias Elk-Cameron County. During the Civil War, a shipment of gold bars worth over $1,500,000 at present market prices disappeared somewhere in the mountainous area. It has never been found.
The gold, 26 bars weighing 50 pounds each, wont be easy to track down. North-central Pennsylvania is still a rugged, untamed region that contains the largest elk herd east of the Rocky Mountains, If you hunt the treasure during the mating season, you could be kept awake nights by the bugling of the monstrous bull elks. During the day, watch for the crotalus horridus, better known as the banded timber rattlesnake. You could bump into one anywhere, just waiting for an unwary arm or leg.
At the start of the Civil War, northern Pennsylvania was as remote as northern Quebec, Canada, is today. Known as the Wildcat Region, this area led the entire world in lumber production. Immense rafts were floated down the narrow valleys to great sawmills. There were few roads and only a handful of pitifully small villages. Howling wolves were heard at night and panthers and bears were common. Rattlesnakes and copperheads were as thick as flies at a picnic.
This was no place for choir boys. During the Civil War, the Wildcat Region, was the birthplace of the famous Bucktail Regiment, those hardy men were the scourge of the Confederacy. Following the defeat of the Union Army at Chancellorsville, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee pointed his conquering gray legions toward Pennsylvanias lush farmlands.. The North was in bedlam as Philadelphia and Harrisburg prepared feverishly to resist the invasion. Pennsylvanias Governor Curtin felt the situation was so serious that he asked the Union commander, Gen. Meade, to send Gen. Couth to defend Harrisburg, the state capital.
Meanwhile, a young blue-coated lieutenant headed northward from Wheeling, West Virginia, with a wagon with a false bottom, a civilian guide and a guard of eight cavalrymen. The boyish officer was stunned when his orders revealed what his cargo was. He shook his head in disbelief, reading that he was to proceed as far north as necessary to avoid any possibility of bumping into Rebel patrols, then turn southward and head for Washington. He was by all means to avoid contact with the enemy.
His freight was pure gold, stored beneath the false bottom of the wagon, which was covered with hay.
His superiors cautioned the young officer that Pennsylvania was infested with another type of copperhead besides those that crawled along groundthe underground organization of Southern sympathizers. His was an important mission and he must never relinquish his vigilance. The army was certain they had selected the right man for the task along with a fine squad of riders and a superb civilian guide. Time was to prove the army wrong.
So the expedition headed northward. It is believed they stopped first at the town of Butler, then a thriving lumbering community north of Pittsburgh. Almost from the start, the young lieutenant was seized with one fever after another and had to ride in the wagon. While the officer was ill, the civilian guide took command.
The caravan continued northward through Clarion Valley, where eastern bison had grazed 75 years before.
When the expedition reached the town of Clarion, the pale and wan officer resumed command. Feeling they were far enough north to avoid contact with Rebel cavalry, he decided to head northwestward to Ridgway, then eastward to the Sinnemahoning River near the town of Driftwood. There, they could easily construct a raft and float down to the Susquehanna River, then on to Harrisburg, putting them much nearer Washington.
So far the journey had been uneventful, though the young soldiers were puzzled by being so far away from the scene of action. They wondered what was in the wagon. Oh, wellthe army was known for doing strange things. How about the Mud March last winter, when 70,000 troops were stuck in the mud? How the Southern newspapers had howled over that.
On a Saturday night in late June, the expedition pulled into Ridgway in Elk County. The little band of soldiers were as welcome as tax collectors and the populace swarmed all over the troopers. Several times the lieutenant had to order the jeering crowd to disperse. The puzzled officer asked the civilian guide if Ridgway hadnt produced the Elk County Rifles, one of the best companies in the Bucktail Regiment. When informed that indeed it had, the young officer was stunned by the hostility of the crowd.
That night the caravan headed off through the darkness toward the little Dutch community of St. Marys, 11 miles to the east. During the night the lieutenant had another severe seizure. In his delirium he cried outa complete disclosure of the gold and the purpose of their mission. The escorting soldiers were stunned.
Meanwhile Connors, the civilian guide, once more assumed command. After an evening in St. Marys, where the patrol was reportedly treated like conquering heroes, Connors announced that the expedition would head over the mountains toward Driftwood and the headwaters of the Susquehanna. They were just 20 miles from their goal, but it would be rugged going.
The group left St. Marysand that was the last anyone ever saw of the ill-fated expedition. In August, a wild-eyed hysterical Connors staggered into the village of Lock Haven about 40 miles east of Driftwood. He told a pitiful story of the death of every member of the expedition and the loss of the entire cargo.
The kind citizens were overwhelmed with sympathy for the hollowcheeked Irishman. The Wildcat Region was no place to be lost in, they agreed. Rattlesnakes, copperheads, mosquitoes, wolves, panthersall were hazards, and besides, they were guarding a wagon filled with gold. Who could have ordered such a crazy move, wondered the people of Lock Haven.
While the local residents believed Connors, the army did not. They put him through a relentless series of questionings. First Connors told of the officer dying and being buried, and then he told of a terrific fight. After that, he;always claimed that he lost his memory.
The army brass turned the case over to the Pinkertons. For a time the forest wilderness swarmed with agents, who hired on as lumberjacks, teamsters: or whatever else was available. They searched the area of almost a year, but with no success.
During the summer some dead mules were foundperhaps the ones that pulled the wagon. From somewhere, an aged recluse had managed to get hold of horse trappings marked with the U.S. Army insignia, but he wasnt telling anything to anyone. Two or three years later, several human skeletons, believed to be those of the guards detail, were found in the Dents Run area of Elk County not far from Driftwood.
Connors was inducted into the army and transferred to a western outpost. He was never permitted to be discharged. When drunk he would blabber that he knew the whole story about the gold and offer to lead some one to it. But when sober he couldnt even find Elk County on the map.
There are stories that the government reopened the case within the last 30 years and sent agents to the area, but very little information on this was disclosed. In fact, very little information exists on the puzzling expedition itself.
Until about 25 years ago, articles about the gold appeared occasionally. A short time ago, a St. Marys man came to me with some pieces of cherrywood taken from a big square bedpost. The bed was found in a home in Caledonia, a small town about 13 miles southeast of St. Marys. Many believed the treasure was lost near Caledonia. The finder thinks the message written on the pieces wood and then nailed to the top of the bed had something to do with the treasure.
The message is written in the type of penmanship used in the 1860s, and it mentions the year 1863. It also mentions a two-hour battle near a "big rock," and the mysterious writes says that "they see me."
There has always been a theory that the little band was ambushed and massacred by Copperheads or a Gang of robbers. Many feel that Connors may have planned arch an ambush. Perhaps the mysterious message about a battle is factual.
Meanwhile, $1,500,000 in gold remains lost somewhere in the mountains. Hundreds have looked for it and found nothing. But it is believed to be still there.
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