I just checked and yesterday gold was priced at $1,389 per ounce. Gold is measured in Troy weight meaning a pound of gold is 12 ounces, so a pound of gold is worth $16,668. A fifty pound ingot is thus worth $833,400. So, by those figures, there is $21,668,400 buried somewhere in my home county—Elk County—in Pennsylvania. According to the government, if anyone finds it they must turn it over but they will give a 10% finder's fee. So if you have nothing much to do, aren't afraid of copperheads, timber rattlers, bears, wild cats, and other beasts, and know your way around the mountainous terrain of Elk County, you just might earn yourself $2,166,840. Of course it all might be a fairy tale and your efforts may be in vain. What am I talking about?
The legend says that in 1863 or 1864 (depends on which account you read) a wagon pulled by mules, and with 8 soldiers under the command of a Lieutenant Castleton, plus a civilian guide named Connor, left West Virginia, headed for Philadelphia. Concealed in the wagon's false bottom were 26 gold ingots, each weighing 50 pounds, all painted black. Supposedly Lt. Castleton was the only one who knew what was in the wagon. At this time the north-central part of Pennsylvania was known as the Wildcat Region. It was dense, rugged, filled with wildlife including elk and panthers, and seemed as remote as the Yukon to the average person. The Confederate Army had made its way into Pennsylvania and the famous Battle of Gettysburg was fought in the south-central part of the state. General Meade was ordered to be prepared for invasions into Harrisburg or Philadelphia (depends on which version you read.) Lt. Castleton's orders were to stay well north of that and avoid detection by keeping deep in the wilderness—in Elk County, home of the Elk County Rifles, the famous sharp-shooters of the Bucktail Regiment.
The legend says that the group made it to St. Marys, Pennsylvania—my home town—where they obtained a map that had been drawn some years earlier of the Wildcat Region and then set off into the wilderness headed for the Sinnemahoning River. That was the last anyone saw of them.
The problem was that Lt. Castleton had suffered from malaria for some time and, unable to get the needed medication, he grew weaker and weaker. In his delirium he babbled about the gold and the soldiers accompanying him figured out what they were transporting. Somewhere in the vicinity of Dent's Run they became terrifically befuddled, heading off in one direction, then another, and finally realizing they were lost. They made the decision to load the gold into canvas bags strapped onto the mules, abandon the wagon, and proceed on foot. The civilian guide went ahead, hoping to get help and eventually stumbled into the town of Lock Haven, 40 miles away from his intended destination of Driftwood. A party was dispatched into the wilderness to rescue the men but they were never found.
Over the years there were rumors of strange occurrences—a pair of Army mules were discovered on a farm near Emporium. The farmer claimed he had found them wandering around in his fields. After the Civil War Pinkerton detectives were dispatched to the area where they spent years trying to discover what had become of the gold. Two of the Pinkertons moved to Emporium, PA after they retired and spent the rest of their lives hunting for the gold. There is a report that half an ingot was found but no one seems to know where it is.
Of course there are those that say this is all poppycock. The world if full of stories about lost treasure from the Spanish Armada to Jean Lafitte's ill-gotten gains. In Maine there is the mystery of Oak Island. The Great Lakes regions are rife with stories about lost treasures. People seem to cherish stories of the possibility of discovering a treasure trove of unimaginable proportions.
When I was young and still lived in St. Marys, I heard the story and every now and then a bunch of guys would decide to go off and search for the gold—one of my brothers among them. They would load their jeeps with camping gear, rent metal detectors, get out their topographic maps and snake-bite kits, and head off for an adventure. After a week or so they would return, stinky, hung-over, and full of wild tales about finding what “looked like” the remains of a wagon buried in the hillside or with chunks of broken whiskey bottles and pieces of wood they were sure were the stocks of Union Army rifles. Then they'd forget all about it until the next time.
What got me thinking about this? I'm working on another Marienstadt story. Wish me luck.
Thanks for reading.