There's no story more captivating than a hunt for hidden treasure. Just think about how many books, films and TV shows are concerned with the business of adventurers seeking some all-important treasure which will make them rich beyond their wildest dreams. For those of us stuck in the nine-till-five rat race, the idea of suddenly taking off in search of some expensive buried trinket is especially appealing, particularly when finding it means that we'll never have to work again.
But unfortunately, the reality in most cases is that there is no hidden treasure for us to find, and even if there is then it tends to be, you know, pretty well hidden. Which stands to reason. However, over in Elk County in Pennsylvania, it's a different story. There, a local legend could soon be proven true and a vast pile of gold might just be on the cusp of finally being discovered.
For many years, historians and archaeologists have scoured the countryside surrounding the unincorporated community of Benezette, in the northwest of the state, trying to find an alleged Union shipment of gold that may have been lost during the American Civil War near Dents Run in June of 1863. According to historical accounts, the gold bars represented federal assets that Union troops wanted to move from Wheeling, West Virginia, northeast through Pennsylvania, to pay their soldiers. The wagon train caravan travelled via Ridgway and through St. Mary’s. This was the last time the gold was seen. Union forces later stumbled upon the dead bodies of seven of the wagon's 10 guards, as well as the train cars. But the gold had vanished into thin air.
According to some historians, the 19th-century wagon train was laden with around 52 bars of gold, each weighing approximately 50lbs each. This hoard would be worth approximately $54 million today when adjusted for inflation. That means that if you're lucky enough to stumble upon the loot then you'll be set for the rest of your life. However, the search for the gold has been met with failure, although that hasn't stopped treasure hunters from seeking out the stash. Now, the legend of the Dents Run gold has a new twist. Reportedly, a cabal of FBI agents and numerous state officials have descended upon the Benezette township and have been seen excavating a dig site off Route 555.
The bureau's representatives have not been open about what their intentions are, but the geographic location of the dig, as well as the scale of the excavation, has led many people to speculate that the FBI might have picked up a new lead in tracking down the 154-year-old fortune. FBI spokesperson Nora Scheland claims that the agents were conducting a court-authorised law enforcement activity and there is no threat to the public.
Local historian James Burke, a member of the Mount Zion Historical Society who has been searching for the gold for many years, stated in a CNN interview that: "Every once in a while there's a new piece of the puzzle ... And then you think, 'Well, maybe there is something to this thing' ... I was a little bit shocked when I heard ]of the search] ... there have been numerous people over the past 20 or 30 years travelling up and down the mountains looking for the gold ... There had to be some credible evidence to convince them that there might have been gold there ... The fact that they got a court order to go in there and do a dig - that might have been based on some evidence that they had."
Three men survived to tell the tale of the fateful wagon train journey through war-torn America: men named O’Rourke, Conners and Castleton, who walked out before the wagon train was seized. All three fought again in the Civil War, but Conners alone survived. After the end of the conflict, a drunk Conners would reportedly brag to other barflies that he knew the location of buried gold in the hills of Pennsylvania, but died building roads in California before he could ever claim the supposed treasure.
In the late 19th century, the Pinkerton Detective Agency allegedly surveyed the area to try and recover the missing fortune and apparently found three gold bars. Many of the detectives who left the agency later returned to the area and searched fruitlessly for the vast riches. Today, the search is largely in the hands of Finders Keepers, a local detectorist community who claim to have found their own dig site in 2012 - but were denied a permit to excavate federally-owned land.
Dennis Parada, a member of Finders Keepers, was elated when he recovered what he thought were Civil War artefacts near Dents Run, including "a bullet shell, knives, animal traps, zinc mason jar lid, tin cans, bones (human or animal), a whiskey bottle, campfire pit, and a lot more." However, later an archaeological examination proved them to be camp debris from the 1880s at the earliest.
Despite this setback, Parada and his fellow treasure-hunters remain undeterred. "I’m not going to quit until it’s dug up,” Parada told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "And if I die, my kid’s going to be around and make sure it’s dug up. There’s something in there and I’m not giving up." It's easy to scoff, but who knows? Maybe one day the treasure will be found after all and the person who finds it will become exceedingly rich indeed.