The Lost Treasure of Dents Run: The Debate

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Bucktail Vista, Driftwood

Note: This is the second part of the series about the Lost Treasure of Dents Run. The first part can be found here: Dents Run: The Legend

The vehicle bounced over rocks and ruts as I made my way slowly up the mountainside. Although the road was wide enough for two vehicles to easily pass, I hugged the center of the dirt road and hoped nobody was coming down – the steep drop off on the passenger’s side was not very appealing to me.

I was headed toward one of my favorite vistas. I arrived at the sign and proceeded up another hill to the lot at the top. The parking lot at the top of Mason Hill was empty, but it was not a surprise – ever since I first stumbled upon the Bucktail Vista a few years back, I had only encountered one other vehicle here.

I stepped out of the vehicle and stretched as I took in the view from the top of the mountain. Far below the Sinnemahoning River cuts through the landscape creating the mountains that roll on and on until they blend with the distant sky. The view was breath taking.

Taking in the region from a much higher elevation, gives a much different perspective of the region. Shadows still lingered in the hollows that appeared as large thumbprints in the side of the mountain. Maybe somewhere in those shadows the truth of the lost treasure of Dents Run lies.

The treasure has divided people like no other legend within the borders of Pennsylvania. People have argued and debated the legend, with each bringing their evidence to the table to defend their side of the argument. I admit at one time, I was taken in by the legend and I too wanted to seek out and discover the fortune in gold. However, the story which first captivated me years ago is now an amusing piece of my past as I watch and read how people continue to scour the woods of Elk and Cameron Counties for a treasure that does not exist.

Yes, you read that last line correctly – in my opinion, the treasure that the FBI was accused of going in at night, digging up and stealing away with does not exist. Now I’ve read countless message boards and articles about the treasure and I find it strange that people are so committed in their belief that this treasure exists that they are willing to spend a small fortune on the continual search for it.

So why don’t I believe it exists? Allow me to present my evidence.

1). The most obvious answer is – I’m almost as old as the legend of the Lost Treasure of Dent’s Run. This piece of evidence is the biggest problem with the legend of the lost treasure. The oldest record of this tale is from a 1973 issue of Treasure Magazine. The article, written by a Sandra Gardner – who may or may not have actually existed – was the first telling of the tale that I can find. Since then it has appeared in numerous guide books and regional histories and with each retelling, the story gets more details added. The story fails to appear in Beers’ History of the Counties of McKean, Elk, Cameron and Potter, Pennsylvania (1890) and while this history is definitely missing some pieces, if the event had happened, I cannot imagine it would have been omitted from the history. In fact, the first time the story appears as an “official” part of Cameron County’s history is in the History of Cameron County, Pennsylvania (1991).

Note: I have found mention of the legend being as old as 1965, but the story that is recorded in that message board is the same as Gardner’s version. The article posted there had nothing with it to state where they obtained the story from, so at this point I’m still going with the oldest version being from 1973.

2) The characters mentioned do not exist. I’ve contacted so many U.S. Civil War historians to seek out Lieutenant Castleton and Sergeant Mike O’Rouke that most of them have me on a block list. There’s no solid proof anywhere that the two men existed. One version of the story states the unit assigned to transport the treasure was from either Indiana or Illinois, but again no state records there show the two men being a part of any regiment.

As far as Conners, the citizen guide who supposedly led the group through the mountains of central Pennsylvania, he remains a mystery. Recently I read that there was a man named Conners who was killed near Benezette, but – as far as I can tell – that Conners had nothing to do with the Civil War or the lost gold.

Note: In a recent conversation with a friend, we were discussing the lost treasure and he made an interesting suggestion about the name Castleton. In the Benezette Valley is the community of Castle Garden and maybe the writer used the community name to give Lieutenant Castleton his name. “Castle Garden to Castle Town to Castleton.” He also suggested Conners might have been a corruption of Connelly, an outlaw shot in the Benezette Valley in 1820. I can’t say this is correct, but it is an interesting theory that might hold some truth in it.

3) The route taken. This is one of the biggest problems I have with this legend. It makes absolutely no sense and the more I have looked into this route, the less sense it makes. They leave Wheeling, go to Pittsburgh, drive north along the Clarion River before arriving at Emporium. Then they go overland to St. Marys to Driftwood, where they planned on floating it down stream. First, if you’re in Wheeling, put it on a train, go to Pittsburgh and then to Altoona, to Harrisburg. A lot faster. Second, if the Bucktail Regiment could not float rafts down the West Branch, then why a couple years later would the U.S. Army think they could float a couple million dollars worth of gold down it?

The argument to this point is usually “The Battle of Gettysburg was going on at that time.” The fabled group left Wheeling in June. That’s a whole month before Gettysburg. The nearest major battle would have been the Second Battle of Winchester in early June, but even so, there would have been enough time to put the treasure on a train and send it to Washington, D.C. by rail.

4) The “Henry Shoemaker Theory.” No, I’m not accusing him of making this story up, although he would have if he would have thought about it. To be honest, I never thought I’d use Henry Shoemaker and his writings to defend my beliefs. The “Henry Shoemaker Theory” is the treasure probably does not exist, because he did not write about it. Although many of the stories that Shoemaker wrote were from his own imagination, or moved folktales from other parts of the world and set them in the wilderness of Pennsylvania, he did take a number of regional stories and retell them. Shoemaker seemed fascinated about lost treasures and focused a lot on another treasure in the region, the silver bars hidden north of here near the small community of Gardeau. I cannot help but believe, if the Lost Treasure of Dents Run existed, Shoemaker would have written about it because he had set a number of his stories within the Sinnemahoning Region. Note: more about the lost treasure of Gardeau can be found here: Blackbeard’s Treasure.

Two other questions arise in regards to the Legend of the Lost Treasure that I feel need to be addressed.

1) Were human bones found? The point most treasure hunters make is that human remains were found, along with other Civil War relics, proving there was a massacre. I have not found any reliable source pre-1973 to prove that human remains were found while either surveying the county line or while widening any of the roads. However, with there being numerous family cemeteries in the region, it is possible a forgotten cemetery was discovered and is the source of the story of human remains being found.

2) Where did it happen if it did happen? The lost treasure was supposedly buried along Dents Run or nearby Hicks Run. However, that has not prevented newer versions of the story – which are claimed to be the “correct” version – from changing to location. The treasure has been reported to have been buried near Caledonia, under a “concrete slab at the top of Winslow Hill” and in Driftwood itself. I personally love the Driftwood version because it states the reason the Bucktail Monument was moved from the center of Route 555 was because the state recovered the lost gold buried beneath the monument.

If I’m correct in my belief the Lost Treasure of Dents Run does not exist, then the question must be asked: “Where did the story originate? My personal belief is the legend is a corruption of Shoemaker’s story about Blackbeard’s Silver Bars. Both have a lost treasure being transported overland by wagon and are set in the Sinnemahoning Valley. Mix into the story some elements of truth – the Bucktail Regiment came out of this region and a short distance south was the fight between army deserters and U.S. troops. Add into this mixture of history the similar stories of lost Union or Confederate gold and silver existing in other parts of the state and in the mountains of Appalachia and there is a story that becomes a part of regional lore that has just enough “fact” in it to make people believe it is true.

Note: Strangely, most of the stories about lost Civil War treasure first appear in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I’m not sure why these stories all seemingly appear roughly at the same time and – in my mind – there has to be a connection to why these stories suddenly became a part of American culture, but I have not been able to make any type of relevant connection to their origins.

As I packed up the camera, I could not help but wonder what secrets these mountains hide. Maybe somewhere in the shadows cast upon the land, they retain the secrets that may unlock the truth of the Lost Treasure of Dents Run.

If you’re really interested in searching for the lost gold, you can begin searching for it in my garden there’s probably more gold there than in Dents Run, but who knows – I may one day be proven wrong.

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