And then in 2018, The FBI took a team into the woods and dug holes, looking for the treasure. A treasure of which there is no record, and no reputable historian believes ever existed. The story of the treasure has been thoroughly disproved, in many ways. So what was the FBI doing? That may actually be a more interesting story than the original tall tale. But it also may be a story we never hear.
Admittedly, I'm going into this as full on skeptic who never believed there was gold hidden at Dents Run. There are a lot of reasons I never paid much attention to the tale - but foremost is the fact that Henry Shoemaker did not write about it. Now I know some of you don't believe a word Shoemaker wrote, and I tend to be a lot more forgiving - I believe the man was both a historian AND a folklorist, but that sometimes its hard to tell which of his stories was which.
However, for those of you who are even more critical of Shoemakers work, its obvious this tale didn't exist in his day. He couldn't have not written about it. Weigh the wagons, measure the routes, search the civil war rosters... I don't need to bother with any of that, partially because it was all already done by others, but mostly because I don't believe there's any possibility this tale existed and Shoemaker missed it. It would be like me missing a waterfall in my backyard. We tend to find what we are looking for, and stories like the Dents Run Treasure is exactly what Shoemaker was always looking for.
And for those of you who may not know, Shoemaker is not the only one who didn't write about it. Not a word was mentioned about this, that anyone can find, before 1973. Let this sink in- I am older than the only known origin of this tale.
I found dozens of newspaper stories about lost treasure, lost gold, found gold, found treasure - and none of them mention the civil war wagon lost in Cameron County. They mention a lot of other local tales about gold. There are so very many tales of lost gold that it's amazing we aren't all tripping over it when we hike.
So why am I writing about this? Because the recent F.B.I investigation, and more recent release of their files, is just so very odd. Maybe, like the tale itself, it's all made up and embellished.. and truthfully, I don't have enough interest to really delve into all the facts and details, to sort out what is fact and what is fiction.. But it's really, really weird. And I enjoy weird stories. So I'll tell you what I have found, and those of you who are much more interested than I can then do your own research and tell me what you all think.
A Skeptics Overview
Of The Dents Run Treasure Story
According to the tale, first published 110 years after the events took place, in the rugged sparsely populated area where Elk and Cameron Counties meet in North Central Pennsylvania, a false bottomed wagon full of gold bars was lost in the woods. Or maybe not "lost", possibly the soldiers said it was lost, and split the gold up amongst themselves. "Early" (1970's is as "early" as this story gets) versions of this tale allude to the Army investigation, making it seem the Army believed the soldiers absconded with the loot. [the full articles, first known tellings, of this tale, can be found at the bottom of this post.]
But that detail doesn't work for treasure hunters, and is lost in some of the more recent retellings. If the men split it up, then it's probably not all buried in one pile in the woods. And that would ruin the treasure hunt.
But then, to be clear, its pretty unlikely this gold ever existed at all, and therefor is probably not buried in a pile in the woods. There's no record of it going missing. There's no record of the men named. And all the locations named in they story didn't exist by those names at that time.
The lieutenant, a man by the name of Castleton [No records of this person have ever been found. And civil war historians are pretty thorough - they are generally a dedicated and slightly obsessive bunch] , and his party traveled through Pittsburgh, Clarion, and Ridgway, eventually arriving at Saint Mary's in Elk County. [With a several thousand pound wagon. Through rugged forest lands. Sure. That seems likely. Did they have a wheelwright with them? Because I'm pretty sure they would have broken some wheels along that route. ] They left Saint Mary's for Driftwood one Saturday night in June, and the expedition was never seen again.
Well, most of the expedition was never seen again. According to the legend, the expeditions civilian guide wandered into Lock Haven, 40 miles south of Driftood, that August. Alone and hysterical, he claimed that all other members had died in the snake-infested wilderness, and the cargo was lost. [Nearly two months later, he had traveled 40 miles into Lock Haven. Interesting. He didn't run into any logging camps, travelers, or other villages or encampments between St Mary's and Lock Haven? ]
Some believed him, but the Army was suspicious. The guide was questioned and kept under surveillance for years, and Pinkerton detectives were brought into the area, but the gold was never found. [I love the Pinkerton Detectives mention. Every story is made more interesting by Pinkerton Detectives. It's a shame no record can be found of them actually investigating. They must have decided this was too top secret for their normal record keeping methods. You know, much more top secret than when they were undercover investigating the Molly Maguires, or the Black Hand Groups. For those two investigations, they were able to keep records. ]
According to McKean County historian, the Army did reopen the Dents Run Treasure investigation in 1941. The theory is that the men split up the treasure and ran off with it. [Heresay - Maybe true, maybe not. I don't know.]
So that's the amusing legend that I think would be fun to share around a campfire. But why all the fuss over the story now, in 2022? Because the FBI got involved. And then they were sued to release their documents on their search. And that part of the story, some of which definitely really happened, is actually more implausible than the original legend.
Get out your tinfoil hats folks. I have no idea what the truth is in all of this, but it's definitely odd.
The FBI Dug For The Gold.
One hundred and 50 years after civil war, and more than 40 years after the tale was written for Treasure Magazine, two treasure hunters began searching for it. Denis and Kem Parada are co-owners of the Finders Keepers treasure hunting outfit.
In 2018, after years of searching, their metal detector went off, in the area of Dents Run. That area is DCNR ground. You can't dig on that land without permission, and an expensive bond.
So the Parada's went to the F.B.I. Not the DCNR. There are some plausible reasons for that, so that may not be too odd. Again - I'm not going to track down all the details.
The FBI sent in their own researchers. Now that's interesting. Do they follow up on all folklore, 100 years later? Because this seems an odd use of their resources.
"Within weeks, the FBI hired geophysical consulting firm Enviroscan to survey the hilltop site. Enviroscan’s gravimeter also indicated a large metallic mass with the density of gold, according to Warren Getler, who worked closely with the Paradas and the FBI."6
According to google, Tungsten is the only other metal with a similar density to gold.
Since the Elk County site is on state owned land, the FBI had to secure a federal court order to gain access. The federal affidavit is sealed. What it contains, and why it was sealed, is unknown. And that's why this is really, really weird.
The FBI doesn't just go getting a court order to dig in rural Pennsylvania woods for no reason, does it? Maybe they do. Maybe I haven't been paying attention.
"The FBI has long refused to confirm why exactly it went digging, saying only in written statements over the years that agents were there for a court-authorized excavation of “what evidence suggested may have been a cultural heritage site.” " 2
Wait. Lets head over to the FBI.gov website and see what is says the FBI does.
"The FBI is an intelligence-driven and threat-focused national security organization with both intelligence and law enforcement responsibilities"
Uh huh, that's pretty much what I was taught... and what is their mission?
"The mission of the FBI is to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States."
Admittedly, I didn't search too hard - but I didn't see "explore possible cultural heritage sites" anywhere on the page. So if there's a scan that reveals there might be a pile of gold hidden on a mountain, can they just assume it was part of a crime and then go dig it up? Maybe. That's actually possible, I think. I don't know. It feels like there must be more to this.
If you believe the Parada's, and I'm not saying I don't believe them, just that I don't know first hand - some of the agents were heavily armed.
"What followed was a rollercoaster of alleged deception, half-truths, and shadowy excavations in the dead of night. According to TIME, the Paradas now believe there is a government conspiracy to keep the recovered gold for itself." 5
But the Parada's don't believe that is true. They have a facebook page dedicated to all of this, and if you want to follow all of what they have to say, that's a great place to start.
The Parada's sued the justice department, to have the records released, under the Freedom Of Information Act. Although I'm astounded by the amount of money being spent to find gold no historian believes ever existed, this lawsuit seems like the most logical part of the search, to me, so far. Because something here is simply not quite right.
"The FBI initially claimed it had no files about the investigation at all. Then, after the Justice Department ordered a more thorough review, the FBI claimed its records were exempt from public disclosure. Finally, in the wake of the treasure hunters’ appeal, the FBI said it had located records it could potentially turn over — but that it would take years to do so. That prompted the treasure hunters’ Freedom of Information Act suit seeking to compel production." - 3
Something had to have been presented to the court to receive an order to dig on state land. But I don't think it was any of the documents in the released files. Those are the records I'd be most interested in, personally.
And if they didn't find anything at all, why didn't they just release clear records showing nothing was found? They did include this photo:
That does indeed appear to be a photo of them finding nothing. So... maybe a little explanation on what made them dig there in the first place? That might be helpful. A quick statement telling us that the density showed something was there, and when they dug, that density was explained by... well, whatever could explain it.
It seems to me that something was found. But if it was gold, why the secrecy? If it was civil war gold, the federal government would have no need to hide it, they own it. Yes, there might be some dispute with the state... and speaking of that, where are all the local politicians? Shouldn't they be grabbing some publicity from all of this?
One of the original reports (I can't find my source, you'll have to find out if this is true for yourself) said there were 1,000 photos of this dig. Why would you take 1,000 photos of finding nothing?
So here's my random theory - and please don't take this any more seriously than the 1973 Dents Run story. Take this with a grain of salt - I truly know nothing. I do believe there was something in the woods. I don't think it was gold. I don't think it was bodies. I think, if anything, it, maybe, just might have something to do with those nuclear tests ran in the Quehanna Wilds in the early 1950s. https://susquehannavalley.blogspot.com/2020/08/the-abandoned-nuclear-jet-bunkers-in.html Or something like that. If you really want to go down that rabbit hole, remember that tungsten, according to my quick google search, is the only other metal with the same density as gold.
I may not believe in the Dents Run Treasure, but I also doubt the FBI went digging in the woods for no reason at all.
For a decent video overview of all of the original tale and the weird recent FBI search, I recommend this one:
Misc. Facts & Notes :
- 26 Bars of gold at 50lbs each = 1,300 lbs
- A Draft horse can pull, on average, depending on the horse, 8,000 lbs.
- A Union Civil War wagon could carry a maximum of 3,000 pounds on a well kept road.
- I'm not doing the research, nor the math, for you - but according to other researchers, if you add up the weight of the hay bales, false bottom, the gold, the drivers and ill man who was being carried on the wagon.. its way over what an average wagon could carry at that time. ESPECIALLY over rugged Pennsylvania paths that we can't really even call "roads" in this area of the state, at that time.
- Trains existed during the civil war. By 1860, 30,000 miles (49,000 km) of railroad tracks had been laid. (I'm just saying.. there were options.)
- In 1926 $200,000 worth of buried gold was found in Alabama. This was not hidden by troops however, but by Boaz Whitfield, one of Alabama's richest pre-war citizens.
- In 1931, the Public Opinion [Chambersburg Newspaper] mentioned treasure hunters had been digging up the woods in Mount Alto Park, looking for gold buried by Lee's Army when it retreated from Gettysburg. As the article states "Fancy that bankrupt army carrying gold!"
- Lost Civil War Gold is not mentioned in Beers 1890 History of McKean, Elk, Cameron & Potter Counties
- Two names are mentioned in the story -Lieutenant Castleton and Sergeant Mike O’Rouke. There's no record of them anywhere. That wouldn't necessarily mean too much, except this is the civil war we're talking about, and there are a LOT of seriously dedicated civil war historians. No records at all, of any kind, is... suspicious. It's almost like the names were made up.
- First known mention of the Dents Run Legend is a 1973 article by Sandra Gardner, written for Treasure Magazine.
- Francis Scully then wrote about the Dents Run Treasure in what some historians describe as a "rip off of the Gardner article"
- The places mentioned in the story are named as Dents Run, Benezette, and Hicks Run. But In 1863, Dents Run would have been known as “Two Mouth Run,” Benezette as “Winslow,” and Hicks Run as “Three Mouth Run,” according to maps from that time [According to historian H. Charles Beil]
PENNSYLVANIA’S LOST GOLD INGOTS
- Associated Press Article by Michael Rubinkam
- There are some comic style images in this post, from facebook. I wish I could track down the original source for those, but so far I've had no luck. Someone said they are from a newspaper, but I don't think so - the size is wrong in the scans. It looks more like a magazine, or comic book.