Here is one >>----->
Union gold legend lives on
Treasure hunters say Civil War bullion lies buried in Elk County
Sunday, April 06, 2008
By Michael A. Fuoco, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A 145-year-old secret, worth $20 million, lies buried somewhere in the Dents Run area of rugged Elk County.
Legends are like that -- you either buy into them or you don't. And as far as the Legend of the Lost Gold of Elk County is concerned, you can count Dennis Parada among the true believers.
Like generations in Elk County, the fortune hunter from Clearfield, Clearfield County, is certain that 26 50-pound gold bars mysteriously disappeared in Elk County in 1863 while being transported by Union soldiers to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.
And, Mr. Parada claims, his years-long search has paid off -- he's located the gold's burial site near the Cameron County border.
But there's a problem and a big one at that -- the site is in a state forest and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has prohibited Mr. Parada from doing any type of exploration there unless he puts up a bond, which he considers financially prohibitive.
Mr. Parada, 55, who admits to being obsessed with the lost gold -- "I think about it every day" -- said he won't ever give up his search, come roadblocking bureaucrats or naysaying historians who discount the veracity of the legend.
"I told DCNR I'm not going to quit until it's dug up. And if I die, my kid's going to be around and make sure it's dug up.
"There's something in there and I'm not giving up."
To understand why at least some people in Elk County don't consider Mr. Parada totally delusional -- even after his treasure hunting company, Finders Keepers, has invested $20,000 in the search thus far -- one must understand the lure of the legend.
It is replete with historical significance, mystery, deceit, treachery and, of course, a fortune in gold.
So the story goes ...
The Elk County legend begins 145 years ago and 175 miles to the southwest.
As highlighted in a 1983 issue of Lost Treasure magazine, the legend holds that a Union lieutenant by the name of Castleton was given orders in spring 1863 to proceed from Wheeling, W.Va., to Harrisburg with two wagons equipped with false bottoms and holding the gold bars that today would be worth $20 million.
Lt. Castleton was ordered to travel northeast to avoid encountering Gen. Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army, which was massing in Pennsylvania for what would become in July the battle of Gettysburg. When he believed the situation to be safe, Lt. Castleton was to turn the wagon train southeast toward Union headquarters in Harrisburg, and the load would be shipped to the Philadelphia mint from there.
With eight cavalrymen and a civilian guide by the name of Connors, none of whom knew of the gold, Lt. Castleton's expedition headed out. Soon, there was an omen of troubles ahead -- Lt. Castleton was taken ill with a debilitating fever and Mr. Connors assumed command.
It is believed the expedition stopped in Butler and then Clarion, where a still-ill Lt. Castleton reassumed his command. He determined they were far enough north to avoid contact with rebels, so he charted a course that would take the wagon train to Ridgway, Elk County, and then eastward to the Sinnemahoning River near Driftwood, Cameron County, where they'd construct a raft and float down to the Susquehanna River and then on to Harrisburg.
The expedition made Ridgway without problems and, after resting, headed off for St. Marys,11 miles to the east. During the trip, Lt. Castleton fell quite ill again and while delirious disclosed the presence of the gold in the wagons.
Mr. Connors reassumed command. The expedition made it to St. Marys and, after a night of rest, set out to cross the mountains toward Driftwood, 20 miles farther.
Lt. Castleton and the eight soldiers would never be seen again.
One version of the legend has the expedition separating due to Lt. Castleton's condition, with Mr. Connors and two other men proceeding on foot to the village of Sinnemahoning, Cameron County, to get help. Lt. Castleton and the rest of the men transferred the gold to pack saddles and headed south.
Mr. Connors and a rescue party from an Army post arrived 10 days later and found only abandoned wagons.
Another version has a hysterical Mr. Connors staggering into Lock Haven, Clinton County, about 40 miles east of Driftwood. Every member of the expedition, save him, had been killed by bushwhackers who stole the gold, he claimed.
The Army didn't buy it and relentlessly interrogated Mr. Connors. Oftentimes, he would claim he couldn't remember what happened. He was permanently inducted into the Army and subsequently died in a Western outpost.
In both versions, the Army sent Pinkerton detectives to find the gold. Posing as prospectors and lumbermen, they searched but never found the gold bars.
A legend was born.
The search for treasure
Fast-forward to 1975.
Mr. Parada and his co-workers at a Phillipsburg, Centre County, furniture store would wile away their lunch hours and their weekends as amateur fortune hunters using metal detectors. One day, a stranger, Mike Malley, of Somerset, walked into the store, spotted the metal detectors and told the tale of the lost gold.
Mr. Parada adds to the mystery by declining to discuss why Mr. Malley was in the area, why he would draw him a map of where to find the gold and how he knew where it was.
"I'm saving the good parts for the movie," he said.
The next weekend, Mr. Parada and his friends discovered some of the landmarks Mr. Malley had indicated on his map. But they just could not locate the key landmark: the fire pit where the Union soldiers made their campfire.
Years passed and in 2004 Mr. Parada was urged by his friend and fortune-hunting partner, Scott Farrell, to pick up the search again. They tracked down Mr. Malley and he, along with Mr. Parada's son, Kem, formed their company and sought the Elk County missing gold.
In November 2004, the group claims, they found the fire pit at a site where, according to the Lost Treasure magazine story, county surveyors found human skeletons in 1876.
Knowing that the land was a state forest, Mr. Parada called DCNR to report his "find" but was told to stop any exploration. The group returned in the spring and through surface digging, which is permitted, found artifacts such as a whiskey bottle, knives, animal traps, tin cans and a bullet. Thinking this would bolster his case for excavation, Mr. Parada turned over the artifacts to DCNR which sent them to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
The commission's analysis, reported in a June 8, 2005, letter from Ted Borawski, of the Bureau of Forestry, to DCNR, was that the artifacts were newer than Civil War era, probably were debris from a campsite and had no cultural or historical significance.
Mr. Borawski wrote there was "no credible evidence ... to support any conclusions that a lost Federal gold bullion shipment from the Civil War was ever located on state forest lands in the vicinity of Dents Run, Pa., or the location Mr. Parada insists is the resting place of the lost gold cache."
Undeterred, Mr. Parada said use of an $8,000 metal detector indicated there is gold 8 feet below the surface.
"There's no doubt in my mind it's down there," Mr. Parada said. He speculates that Mr. Connors killed the soldiers, possibly with poison in their coffee, and hid the gold in hopes of coming back to get it later.
Mr. Parada contends the state is blocking his exploration because it wants to unearth the gold itself. But DCNR press secretary Chris Novak denies that allegation, noting that DCNR officials don't even believe the legend.
"While it's certainly the stuff of local legend, we've been unable to pry any proof of lost gold in Elk County, let alone where Mr. Parada said it is located," she said.
Likewise, Allen C. Guelzo, a professor in the Civil War Era Studies Program at Gettysburg College, said he had never heard of such a gold shipment and doubts it ever occurred.
"There's no documentation, description, letter, official report, no paper trail," the historian noted. Indeed, he said, Union Army records have no listing for a Lt. Castleton.
But Mr. Guelzo isn't surprised that such a tall tale would take hold. "Everybody wants a piece of the Civil War," he said. "Legends tend to be formulated around wishful thinking. You don't want to be a citizen of an area where nothing ever happened."
But Helen Hughes, of the Elk County Historical Society, said she believes the legend of lost gold. Still, she noted that country residents scoff when someone claims, as folks periodically do, that he knows the location of the treasure.
"What happened to the gold is a mystery," she said. "People in the county are not out with shovels looking for it. Nobody's ever going to find it."
Michael A. Fuoco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
First published on April 6, 2008 at 12:00 am
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