Pete's May 1998 Article.


"There's Gold in Them There Hills" By Pete Bennett

Recently I had a conversation with Jim Burke of “Burke Brothers True Value Hardware” of St. Marys, Pa and somehow during our conversation, we got on the subject of the lost gold shipment that was supposed to have been lost in the Dents Run area of Elk and Cameron Counties, back in the Civil War days. He said he knew of people who have spent quite a bit of money researching the subject and wondered if I, being a metal detecting enthusiast, had ever tried to find it. Also several months ago I had an email from a fellow from New Jersey who had visited my home page and requested information on the subject. So , I got to thinking about what I did know about it. I dug through my files and found an old Williamsport Grit article from the 1960’s entitled “Lost Gold in Pennsylvania” and after reading it came to a realization that the context of this story I have, is about all that’s ever really been uncovered about this lost shipment. Why didn’t I look for it while I lived just 20 miles from where it is thought to be lost. Well, it’s too late now, I live in Butler and furthermore I think my odds are better, knowing what I know (from the Grit article), I think I’ll just stick to the Pennsylvania Lotto. Probably better odds there anyway. It was then I thought of putting together this article to re-tell the story. Then, we would all be even or at least we’d all know all there is to know about it. So, once again, here goes.....

It was in June 1863, that a unit of US Army Cavalry troops left Pittsburgh, heading northeast on a secret mission. In command of eight man unit was a young Lieutenant named Castleton and a civilian guide named Connors.

The group had departed days earlier from Wheeling, West Virginia, with orders to proceed into Pennsylvania before opening their sealed orders. The orders revealed that a hay-filled wagon in the party had a false bottom containing 26 gold bars, each weighing 50 pounds and probably worth million in today's gold market. Their destination was Washington, D.C. Because Confederate forces had already penetrated Pennsylvania, the lieutenant was ordered to take a northern, circular route through the state going north as far as the headwaters of the Sinnemahoning Creek then south along it’s path to Keating where it intersects the Susquehanna River, then following that river to Harrisburg and eventually overland to Washington. Under no circumstances was the lieutenant to inform the rest of the men of the gold concealed in the wagon's false bottom. Even before they left Wheeling, the Confederate forces had gained one of their greatest victories of the War at the Battle of Chancellorville, Virginia in May of 1863. Because of this victory, the Confederates pushed northward into the Shenandoah Valley and southern Pennsylvania, their General Robert E. Lee concentrating his army at Gettysburg, where Union General George Meade blocked his progress in what became the biggest and bloodiest battle in the history of the United States. The party headed northward through the Clarion Valley and swung northeast bound for Ridgway, in Elk County. By now the troops began to speculate about what was so important concerning the hay-filled wagon. The officer told them it was none of their concern, just to keep guarding the wagon.

Upon arrival in Ridgway, the soldiers were met by angry villagers who closed in on them, threatening their precious cargo. Several times the lieutenant ordered the jeering crowd to disperse. The young officer was stunned by the hostility of the crowd which seemed determined to find out what an Army Calvary unit was doing this far north, away from the fighting. Deeming it too risky to camp there for the night, Castleton commanded his tired troops to saddle up. In the dark of night and the party rode eastward. Its destination was the small German community of St. Marys, just 10 miles away.

During the eastward march the lieutenant feel ill with a high fever. In his delirium he divulged the secret of the gold concealed in the false bottom of the wagon and the purpose of the mission. Connors the guide, assumed command, as he was the only one who was familiar with this wild and wooded region. After spending a day with the friendly residents of St.Marys, the party headed for Driftwood to get to the Sinnemahoning Creek where they had now decided to build rafts to float the treasure downstream to Harrisburg and eventually to Washington.

Unfortunately, this plan never materialized, for the treasure wagon and its military guard mysteriously vanished after departing from St. Marys. It never even reached Driftwood!

Later, in August of 1863, the residents of Lock Haven, about 80 miles southeast of St. Marys, were astonished when Connors staggered into town. The guide was wild-eyed and hysterical, babbling a tragic story of how a band of robbers had ambushed his party, slaying them all before the soldiers had an opportunity to return their fire. Connors mysteriously was the lone survivor and was hazy about what happened to the treasure laden wagon. he believed the attackers might have been Confederate sympathizers or perhaps a band of highwaymen.

While local residents accepted his story, the army didn’t. Later, he was relentlessly questioned by army officers as well as by Pinkerton detectives. Although Connors adhered to his original account of the ambush, he was eyed with a great deal of suspicion. In fact, to keep surveillance of his movements, it was rumored that he was forcibly inducted into the army and sent to a lonely western outpost. Connors' army buddies sometimes mentioned that when the former guide was drunk, he would occasionally mumble about the burial of the lieutenant, who had died from fever after departing from St. Marys. He claimed to know of the treasure's concealment. When sober, however, Connors refused to talk about the treasure.

Sometime after the disappearance of the troops, several dead mules were discovered in the Dents Run area. It was assumed these had belonged to the treasure party. Later, scraps of harnesses bearing U.S. Army markings, were also found. It wasn't until about three years following the ambush that several skeletons were discovered in the Dent's Run region, near Driftwood. It was believed these were the remains of the soldiers. In the 1940’s the U.S. Government reopened the case and sent agents to the Elk-Cameron County area to conduct a search, but NOTHING WAS EVER FOUND!

An interesting event occurred in the 1950’s, when a man, discovered an old bed in Caledonia, about 13 miles southeast of St. Marys. Markings were found on the back of the bed's headboard bearing the date 1863. It also mentioned a two-hour battle near a "big rock," and the mysterious writer stated "they see me." Could these markings have been a description of the last fatal moments of the party when the gold was divided up?

Is the lost treasure still in the Dent's Run area? It is unlikely that we will ever know. No gold bars have ever been turned in to the US government. There is no doubt that they would have had U.S. government markings and would have been identified if turned in. No record exists that this ever occurred.

I’ve heard that there have been people searching the Dents Run area constantly for many years, but to no avail. Records may exist to help reveal more about the journey but not much, except hearsay, exists to reveal where the gold is buried. That’s all till next time. Happy Hunting!


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