The Lost Gold Shipment
A Special Project of the Mt. Zion Historical Society
26 Missing Pennsylvania Gold Ingots
By Sandra Gardner 1973 – Treasure Magazine
With today’s gold market the way it is, it would be a dream come true for the lucky person who was this treasure trove. The government reportedly, will give the find ten percent, and the finder will most likely pay tax on that.
Some believe that the shipment was stolen and the bars divided because at one time, half an ingot was found according to one of the many varying stories about it.
In 1863, Lee’s army invaded Pennsylvania. This movement ultimately led to the historical battle at Gettysburg’s in south-central Pennsylvania, near the Maryland border just off Route 15 in Adams County.
Early in June of 1864 two covered freight wagons, with four mules each, and a small ambulance wagon came from the west and headed north to avoid the Confederate infiltrators. They were bound for the Philadelphia Mint and were to go as far as Williamsport on an overland route. The party was made up of three drivers and eight men on horseback. In the two freight wagons were 26 bars of partly refined gold, painted black and weighing fifty pounds each. Today’s value at $900 an ounce, one of the twenty-six bars would we worth about $630,000.00 or a grand total of $16,380,000.00.
Lieutenant Castleton, born of a famous military family, was in command. His fighting career stopped by an acute case of malaria and a hip wound, and he was a bitter and frustrated man as a result.
Sergeant Mike O’Rourke, an undesirable, wanted by the police for many river port brawls involving murders, was chosen for his natural talent for leading and his and ability to be shrewd-talents that were lacking in Castleton.
Conners, the only other man identified, was mean, unfriendly and sullen. He had been wounded in combat and assigned to limited service.
Three days after coming upon a clearing on the old Clarion River Trail where they had camped, they again camped in a clearing near Ridgway. Arriving in town, Castleton and O’Rourke found the people of Ridgway very hostile and abusive. Castleton tried, unsuccessfully, to buy some Peruvian bark or quinine for his fever which was bothering him more and more.
In a tavern, the two men were accused of being drafter’s intent on recruiting men of Ridgway for duty. A brawl, probably instigated by the rough neck O’Rourke, ensured and the two felt fortunate to leave with their lives.
Early the next day the group carefully skirted the town and followed a road heading east, much the same as present-day Route 120. They arrived two days later at St. Mary’s. Here they came in possession of a map of the “Wild Cat Country,” made in 1842 by surveyors, that showed a possible road branching to the south about ten miles east of St. Mary’s and one mile west of the village of Truman (which may or may not have been in existence at that time.)
Today this road is little more than a jeep trail. It crosses two mountains with elevations of 2000 feet, with the west branch of Hicks Run in between, joins an unimproved dirt road just over the summit of the second mountain and here branches off into three directions. Each road, eventually, brings you to the Sinnemahoning River at different points. The road the soldiers were to have taken would have brought them to Hicks place on the same river.
The three-way branch-off was not shown on the soldiers’ map and after trying two wrong choices (to reach the Hicks place), they impatiently headed south through the timber. Detouring around swamps and rocky areas, they became hopelessly lost.
Since Castleton was growing much weaker from the fever, and the other men were quarrelsome and exhausted, they decided that two men should accompany Conners and start southeast toward Sinnemahoning, on foot to get help. Meanwhile Castleton and five other men were transferring the gold from the freight wagons to pack saddles made from the canvas wagon covers, so the mule team could start south as fast as Castleton’s condition would permit. At this point the group was on the ridge going north and south just west of the east branch of Hicks Run.
Castleton gave Conner a report of the trip and a Federal Army order so Conners could requisition supplies and men for help. Later Conners said that when he left. O’Rourke and Castleton were arguing over whether to bury part of the fold or to try to carry it all. No more was ever seen of the group.
Conners, arriving ten days later with a rescue party from the Lock Haven Post, found the abandoned wagons. It was apparent that the group had split up as there were several trails to the southwest. The rescue party searched for several days before returning to Lock Haven.
A court of Inquiry, held at Clearfield, Pennsylvania, charged Castleton and O’Rourke with treason and theft. The charges were dropped, pending further investigation, as Castleton’s family had much influence high in army circles.
In an attempt to keep the natives from searching for the fold, the Pinkerton Detective Agency convinced the War Department that the utmost secrecy was desirable. Several teams of Pinkertons posed as prospectors and lumbermen in the area, alert for any signs of sudden wealth, and asked discreet questions. The area they thoroughly searched was from the Driftwood Branch to Benezette Branch of the Sinnemahoning River as far west as St. Mary’s.
Two summers later, in 1865, Donavan and Dugan, detectives, found two and one-half bars of the gold buried under a pine stump about four miles south of where the wagons were abandoned. This indicated that the treasure had been stolen and divided.
These same detectives came to love this wild country and in 1871, eight years later when the search ended, they retired from the agency. They built a cabin north of Benezette, on Trout Run, and occasionally searched on their own for the treasure.
In 1866, a year after the fold bars were discovered, a pair of the mules was found by other Pinkerton men. The mules still carrying the army brand were in the possession of an old man in Chase Run. He said that he’d found them wandering in the woods. Then in 1876 the Elk-Cameron boundary was being resurveyed. The survey crew found the bones of from three to five human skeletons scattered around near a spring at the head of Bell’s Branch of Dents Run approximately seven miles from where the wagons had been abandoned. Nothing more is known of the gold or the men, but the government is still looking!
Anyone interested in searching for this long-lost treasure should equip himself with the Benezette fifteen-minute series topographical map, a good four-wheel-drive vehicle, a metal detector and perhaps a mule or two. A good snakebite kit should also be included because this area is heavily populated with rattlesnakes!