Friday, June 3, 2022

Why Is The F.B.I Searching For The Legend Of The Dents Run Treasure?

In 1973, Treasure magazine published a story about civil war soldiers hiding a wagon full of gold in  North Central Pa.  In 1974, a folklorist rewrote the story for True Treasure Magazine .   It's a nice legend, or campfire tale, repeated locally from time to time.  

 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.

According to the story, first told in a 1973 article in Treasure magazine, the wagon was transporting 26 gold bars, weighing 50 pounds each, from Wheeling West Virginia, to Washington D.C. 

 Now if you have even a very basic grasp of geography, North Central Pa is a "bit" out of the way for that route - but the legend explains that the soldiers were hoping to avoid confederate troops by going north to Driftwood, on the Sinnemahoning River in Cameron County, and then they planned to built a raft and float down to the Susquehanna, float down the Susquehanna to Harrisburg, and then travel by land to Washington D.C. [Did you follow that?  I know it's difficult to follow, as this is probably the most absurd & implausible  route they could have taken.  ]

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. 
 In 2018.

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.

And then on March 13 2018, the FBI came to Dents run.  A lot of FBI.  Not just an agent to supervise a dig, not a couple of guys to oversee a DCNR dig... a lot of FBI agents were apparently available to stand around in the woods.

2018 FBI Photo of the area being searched.  

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 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

The F.B.I. said they found nothing.
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. 

 Here are some of the things that jumped out at me:

1. The first day of the dig, everyone was sent home.  But the crane operator was instructed to leave the keys in the machine, in case it needed to be moved.
2. The next day, the machine had been moved, and the dig resumed in a different spot.
3. Everyone was sent to their cars for 6 hours.  DCNR, state trooper, everyone except F.B.I., sent from the scene.
4. Originally the FBI said they had 17 videos. Now they say they have 4.
5. All the released FBI photos are in black and white.  And they look like they were taken by a bad convenience store security camera. [They appear, to me, to be photocopies of  printed photos]
6. There's a conversation about a green tent, and a state trooper, and armored trucks in the area..  I admittedly didn't pay too much attention, and I didn't see photos, but that might be worth searching for more information, if you are so inclined.

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 

Well that just adds to the weirdness, doesn't it?  Were they just mistaken when they said there were no records?  Can the government do anything, ever, without a pile of paperwork?  No, no they cannot.  And a court mandated that they must release their documents.

The  Freedom of Information Act only requires that an agency produce records, not answer questions from the person requesting them . And the information in these documents is...  well, random, at best. I did a quick scroll through the documents, and it looks like someone took the 1973 story  and googled each phrase or item they could, then stuck all of their google results into a file.  Here's a random metal detector, here's a photo of the canal, here are some civil war records for men with similar names that cannot possibly be the ones named in the story....  You know what it really looks like to me?  It looks like someone needed to create a file to turn over for a court order.  

You can read the files yourself, here:
Day one of the dig is in Part 3, Day 2 is in Part 4

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.  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]



by Frances X. Scully
A tremendous treasure is lost somewhere in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Elk-Cameron County. During the Civil War, a shipment of gold bars worth over $1,500,000 at present market prices disappeared somewhere in the mountainous area. It has never been found.
The gold, 26 bars weighing 50 pounds each, won’t be easy to track down. North-central Pennsylvania is still a rugged, untamed region that contains the largest elk herd east of the Rocky Mountains, If you hunt the treasure during the mating season, you could be kept awake nights by the bugling of the monstrous bull elks. During the day, watch for the crotalus horridus, better known as the banded timber rattlesnake. You could bump into one anywhere, just waiting for an unwary arm or leg.

At the start of the Civil War, northern Pennsylvania was as remote as northern Quebec, Canada, is today. Known as the Wildcat Region, this area led the entire world in lumber production. Immense rafts were floated down the narrow valleys to great sawmills. There were few roads and only a handful of pitifully small villages. Howling wolves were heard at night and panthers and bears were common. Rattlesnakes and copperheads were as thick as flies at a picnic.

This was no place for choir boys. During the Civil War, the Wildcat Region, was the birthplace of the famous Bucktail Regiment, those hardy men were the scourge of the Confederacy. Following the defeat of the Union Army at Chancellorsville, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee pointed his conquering gray legions toward Pennsylvania’s lush farmlands.. The North was in bedlam as Philadelphia and Harrisburg prepared feverishly to resist the invasion. Pennsylvania’s Governor Curtin felt the situation was so serious that he asked the Union commander, Gen. Meade, to send Gen. Couth to defend Harrisburg, the state capital.
Meanwhile, a young blue-coated lieutenant headed northward from Wheeling, West Virginia, with a wagon with a false bottom, a civilian guide and a guard of eight cavalrymen. The boyish officer was stunned when his orders revealed what his cargo was. He shook his head in disbelief, reading that he was to proceed as far north as necessary to avoid any possibility of bumping into Rebel patrols, then turn southward and head for Washington. He was by all means to avoid contact with the enemy.

His freight was pure gold, stored beneath the false bottom of the wagon, which was covered with hay.

His superiors cautioned the young officer that Pennsylvania was infested with another type of copperhead besides those that crawled along ground—the underground organization of Southern sympathizers. His was an important mission and he must never relinquish his vigilance. The army was certain they had selected the right man for the task along with a fine squad of riders and a superb civilian guide. Time was to prove the army wrong.
So the expedition headed northward. It is believed they stopped first at the town of Butler, then a thriving lumbering community north of Pittsburgh. Almost from the start, the young lieutenant was seized with one fever after another and had to ride in the wagon. While the officer was ill, the civilian guide took command.

The caravan continued northward through Clarion Valley, where eastern bison had grazed 75 years before.

When the expedition reached the town of Clarion, the pale and wan officer resumed command. Feeling they were far enough north to avoid contact with Rebel cavalry, he decided to head northwestward to Ridgway, then eastward to the Sinnemahoning River near the town of Driftwood. There, they could easily construct a raft and float down to the Susquehanna River, then on to Harrisburg, putting them much nearer Washington.
So far the journey had been uneventful, though the young soldiers were puzzled by being so far away from the scene of action. They wondered what was in the wagon. Oh, well—the army was known for doing strange things. How about the ‘Mud March’ last winter, when 70,000 troops were stuck in the mud? How the Southern newspapers had howled over that.
On a Saturday night in late June, the expedition pulled into Ridgway in Elk County. The little band of soldiers were as welcome as tax collectors and the populace swarmed all over the troopers. Several times the lieutenant had to order the jeering crowd to disperse. The puzzled officer asked the civilian guide if Ridgway hadn’t produced the Elk County Rifles, one of the best companies in the Bucktail Regiment. When informed that indeed it had, the young officer was stunned by the hostility of the crowd.

That night the caravan headed off through the darkness toward the little Dutch community of St. Marys, 11 miles to the east. During the night the lieutenant had another severe seizure. In his delirium he cried outa complete disclosure of the gold and the purpose of their mission. The escorting soldiers were stunned.

Meanwhile Connors, the civilian guide, once more assumed command. After an evening in St. Marys, where the patrol was reportedly treated like conquering heroes, Connors announced that the expedition would head over the mountains toward Driftwood and the headwaters of the Susquehanna. They were just 20 miles from their goal, but it would be rugged going.

The group left St. Marys—and that was the last anyone ever saw of the ill-fated expedition. In August, a wild-eyed hysterical Connors staggered into the village of Lock Haven about 40 miles east of Driftwood. He told a pitiful story of the death of every member of the expedition and the loss of the entire cargo. 

The kind citizens were overwhelmed with sympathy for the hollow cheeked Irishman. The Wildcat Region was no place to be lost in, they agreed. Rattlesnakes, copperheads, mosquitoes, wolves, panthers—all were hazards, and besides, they were guarding a wagon filled with gold. Who could have ordered such a crazy move, wondered the people of Lock Haven.

While the local residents believed Connors, the army did not. They put him through a relentless series of questionings. First Connors told of the officer dying and being buried, and then he told of a terrific fight. After that, he always claimed that he lost his memory.
The army brass turned the case over to the Pinkertons. For a time the forest wilderness swarmed with agents, who hired on as lumberjacks, teamsters: or whatever else was available. They searched the area of almost a year, but with no success.

During the summer some dead mules were found—perhaps the ones that pulled the wagon. From somewhere, an aged recluse had managed to get hold of horse trappings marked with the U.S. Army insignia, but he wasn’t telling anything to anyone. Two or three years later, several human skeletons, believed to be those of the guards detail, were found in the Dent’s Run area of Elk County not far from Driftwood.

Connors was inducted into the army and transferred to a western outpost. He was never permitted to be discharged. When drunk he would blabber that he knew the whole story about the gold and offer to lead some one to it. But when sober he couldn’t even find Elk County on the map.

There are stories that the government reopened the case within the last 30 years and sent agents to the area, but very little information on this was disclosed. In fact, very little information exists on the puzzling expedition itself.

Until about 25 years ago, articles about the gold appeared occasionally. A short time ago, a St. Marys man came to me with some pieces of cherrywood taken from a big square bedpost. The bed was found in a home in Caledonia, a small town about 13 miles southeast of St. Marys. Many believed the treasure was lost near Caledonia. The finder thinks the message written on the pieces wood and then nailed to the top of the bed had something to do with the treasure.

The message is written in the type of penmanship used in the 1860’s, and it mentions the year 1863. It also mentions a two-hour battle near a "big rock," and the mysterious writes says that "they see me."

There has always been a theory that the little band was ambushed and massacred by Copperheads or a Gang of robbers. Many feel that Connors may have planned arch an ambush. Perhaps the mysterious message about a battle is factual.

Meanwhile, $1,500,000 in gold remains lost somewhere in the mountains. Hundreds have looked for it and found nothing. But it is believed to be still there.

  3. Associated Press Article by Michael Rubinkam
  7. 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.

See what the Pennsylvania Rambler has to say about the FBI files, here:

The Confessionals Podcast, with the Parada's, on the Dents Run Treasure

Scully's story ran in this 1974 edition of True Treasure.  Scully wrote folklore, much like Henry Shoemaker, and it's widely believed he stole this story from the Gardner piece the year before.


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