Lost and Possibly Found: The Civil War Gold of Elk County
By Lou Bernard
It’s like something out of Indiana Jones, or perhaps a National Treasure movie that never made it into theaters.
Lost gold from the Civil War, with explorers hunting for it. It sounds like fiction….And yet, it’s happening, right here in the Pennsylvania Wilds.
As of mid-March, agents from the FBI and a treasure recovery service called Finders Keepers were at Dents Run in Elk County, looking into both the location and the legality of a shipment of lost gold that has recently been found.
The story goes back as far as 1863.
As with most legends, there are a couple of different versions. The most common one, however, begins with Abraham Lincoln ordering a shipment of government gold to be taken by covered wagon from West Virginia through Pennsylvania, heading east.
It never made it.
Under the command of Army Lieutenant James Castleton, the gold bars were painted to disguise them. They were placed into a false bottom built into the covered wagon.
They set off, sticking to a northern route to avoid trouble with Robert E. Lee and his men, who were very active to the south at that time. Some older sources have described the route as “headed for Round Island, now called Lock Haven.” This is not accurate, and the writers seem to be confusing Round Island with Great Island. Great Island is a large island, once inhabited by the Native Americans, on Lock Haven’s eastern border. Round Island is much further to the northwest, in East Keating Township, Clinton County, and makes more sense as a stop along the route.
The expedition had been ordered to avoid enemy soldiers and southern sympathizers, which they did fairly successfully. They were also ordered to avoid floods, wild animals, and disease, which proved more difficult for them.
The group encountered problems almost instantly as they traveled through Saint Marys and Emporium, heading east. Animals and disease took their toll on the health and morale of the expedition, and the men began to fall. The final entry in Castleton’s logbook was a chilling,”The rattlesnakes and copperheads are thicker than flies at a farmer’s picnic.”
At some point after that, the expedition disappeared, wagon, gold, and all.
There was one survivor: A middle-aged soldier named Connors. He later made it to Lock Haven, sick and dehydrated. He was nursed back to health, and stayed in Lock Haven until the Army officials showed up.
The burning question was “Where is the gold?” and it was a question that nobody ever got a satisfactory answer to.
The Army held an investigation, and search parties were sent out, but nothing ever turned up. Connors would claim to know where the gold was when he was drunk, but once he sobered up, would insist he knew nothing about it. The Army sent him west later, to a remote outpost, keeping him on a short leash.
Since then, the gold has been an enduring mystery in Pennsylvania.
And it has been a mystery that Finders Keepers, a treasure recovery company, has been eager to solve.
Dennis and Kem Parada, owners of Finders Keepers, have been working on the project for years. In 2012, they had figured out the location, but federal law prevented them from digging for the gold. The laws regarding buried treasure can be somewhat convoluted, and in spite of the company name, there is never a guarantee that the finder gets to keep it.
As of March 14, the FBI and PA Department of Conservation & Natural Resources were on the scene in Elk County, along with Finders Keepers and several news organizations.
And no matter what turns up regarding this modern-day hunt for Civil War gold, it’s worth it to get out into the Pennsylvania Wilds and just explore, because this is just one of the fascinating legends this region has to offer.
The story made national news this week, even being featured on CNN. PA Wilds Contributor and Courier Express Reporter Katie Weidenboerner shares the latest in this mystery in her article, “FBI comes up empty-handed in Elk Co. gold search”.
Lou Bernard is a freelance writer, historian, explorer, outdoor enthusiast, and paranormal investigator. Lou is a staff member at the Annie Halenbake Ross Library, and volunteers at the Piper Aviation Museum. He is a member of the Lock Haven Paranormal Seekers, and investigates old legends and stories from the past. He lives in Clinton County.