Illinois received its name from the Kaskaskia Indian word, Illini, meaning “real man.”
The first European to explore the area was Joliet, in 1673. Soon afterward, French traders and missionaries came in search of gold, silver, furs, and converts.
Father Marquette founded the earliest mission at the Indian village of Kaskaskia in 1675. Between 1682 and 1750, the French built many forts, trading posts, and missions along the Wabash, Illinois, Kaskaskia, and Kankakee Rivers.
The French and English brought only place names and few people to Illinois. But after it was ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Americans began permanently settling the territory. Most pioneers came from the Tennessee, Cumberland, and Ohio Rivers and built their villages in southern Illinois along those waterways. Illinois was admitted to the Union in 1818.
For the treasure and relic hunter, the state offers hundreds of locations, any one of which can prove interesting and profitable.
Here is a cache that, as far as I can determine, has never been found. James Gregory operated a country store about a mile south of the Hickory Hill Church near Centralia, Illinois, for over forty years. His store was the only farming community member and carried all the necessary supplies. It was a cash-and-carry business.
Not trusting banks, Gregory kept all the money at home and was considered a rich man. Gregory kept plenty of money on his property to buy cattle, supplies, and tools.
According to his neighbors, Gregory always went to a certain pasture on the farm before leaving to conduct a business transaction or whenever more money was needed than he had in hand.
About 1925, Gregory suffered a stroke and died without regaining consciousness. His wife searched for the hidden money, but no trace ever appeared. It is believed that there are several thousand dollars still hidden somewhere on the farm.
Tales have circulated for years around Ware, Illinois, about the Cherokee Indians’ buried caches of gold and jewelry made near Dutch Creek. The Indians camped on that creek from January to March 1839 on their mass trek to Oklahoma.
Many of the Indians had brought gold and jewelry with them from North Carolina and Georgia when they were forced to leave and had managed to keep part of it despite all their difficulties.
Unable to cross the Mississippi River because of floating ice and harassed by unfriendly white settlers, the Indians suffered greatly during their forced migration from the lands of their fathers. Of the 13,000 Indians camped near Dutch Creek, 2000 died of exposure.
It is believed that several families buried the jewelry and money they had managed to hide and bring from North Carolina and Georgia at this campsite. The place is east of Ware on the south side of Illinois Route 146, near the Dutch Creek Bridge.
A lady doctor in Illinois in the early 1800s named Anna Bigsby and her hidden treasure in southern Illinois has almost certainly never been found.
Anna was born and reared in Philadelphia. After finishing medical school, she came to Illinois, where she married Isaac Hobbs, a farmer, and began to practice medicine (a most unusual profession for a woman in those days.) Her medical practice flourished, and she accumulated a sizeable fortune.
Dr. Anna’s first husband died of pneumonia, and she married a man named Eson Bigsby. Dr. Anna is believed to have hidden her money in or near a large cave in Hooven Hollow to keep her second husband from obtaining it. The cave was a favorite retreat of hers.
The cave, still known as Dr. Anna Bigsby’s Cave, is located on Rock Creek in Hooven Hollow, about six miles north of Cave-in-Rock, Illinois, just west of Route 1, in Hardin County.
In 1807, an aged Indian came to Bennington in southern Illinois and asked a local farmer to help locate a cache of three kegs of gold his ancestors had buried. This gold was located on a small stream called Sugar Creek, three or four miles east of Bennington, in 1907. The area had been an Indian campground until the whites drove the Indians away.
Before leaving the area, the Indians hurriedly buried their gold in kegs three or four feet deep in the ground. They marked the locations, hoping to return for the gold later. According to some crude drawings the Indian possessed, so many paces north of the bridge and so many paces east of Sugar Creek was a large oak tree that had been marked.
The Indian was certain he could find the treasure site again. Agreeing to help the Indian, the farmer went with him to the stream. When they reached the creek, the Indian stopped suddenly. He looked at his drawings with great concern. “This is the place we start,” he said, motioning toward a big oak in the distance. They paced off the steps to the tree many times and dug numerous holes but found no trace of the gold.
The old Indian soon left and was never heard from again. But those buried kegs of Indian gold are almost certainly still there.
There is a story of treasure connected with a large stone house known as the Hartwell Ranch in Walkerville Township, Green County, Illinois, which was deserted for years.
The original owner of the house was named Azariah Sweetin. At one time, he was considered the richest man in the county. Sweetin was extensively engaged in cattle raising, and he accumulated a small fortune during the Civil War by selling beef to the United States Government.
Mistrusting banks, he kept all his money hidden on the farm. Soon after the Civil War, he fell from a horse and was severely injured. Sweetin recovered, but his memory was gone, and he could never tell his family where he had buried his money. Several searches were done, but no report of the money finding was ever filed.
The farm was sold on August 16, 1895, for $125,000. Today, it is grown over with weeds. Very few people know of the fortune in gold coins believed to be hidden in or near this old home.
In 1846, when the Mormons left Nauvoo, Illinois, on their trek to Utah, they are believed to have buried a large quantity of gold beneath one of their buildings.
The people of Nauvoo fiercely resented the Mormons and their religion. They accused the Mormons of counterfeiting and drove them out of their homes. The Elders of the Church probably buried their treasury under one of their buildings in the hope of returning later to retrieve it. However, public opinion against the Mormons made it unwise for any of them to return. Research in the old city records and a town plat could reveal something of this treasure.
“It was about the time of the Civil War,” the story goes that this incident resulted in the loss of a full cargo and a safe containing an undetermined amount of gold and silver coins in a steamboat wreck.
The custom of the day was that when a farmer of livestock boarded a steamer for the return trip home, the major part of the money he had received from this sale of farm produce or cattle was put into the ship’s safe in the captain’s custody until he reached his home landing.
The captain of this particular steamer, John Belt, insisted on doing what he started and was on watch when the explosion occurred. Belt had taken a cargo downriver and was returning with several passengers and a load of supplies and tools for the upriver farmers and cattlemen.
At the time of the explosion, he had made several attempts to put his boat into the Coon Creek, landing against a strong offshore wind blowing. However, the steamer lacked the power to get into the creek mouth. She was one of the old wood burners with no safety valves.
Finally, Captain Belt ordered her valves tied down to give her engine more power, and again she headed for the creek mouth.
Her boilers blew up at the creek entrance, wrecking the boat, which sank with the cargo and the ship’s safe. Luckily, no one was killed or drowned, but the cargo and safety could not be retrieved.
Captain Belt escaped the Coon Creek explosion, but he was later killed in another steamboat accident on the Missouri River, along with several Mormon emigrants who were on their way to Utah.
A few years after the Coon Creek explosion, a man named William Galore came into the county seeking information on the vessel’s sinking. He hired a first-class diver to help him locate the safe. They worked for several days, but due to the crude methods of salvage at the time, they were not successful.
The water in Coon Creek was about fifty feet deep during the steamboat era.
Today the creek bed is dry, and one can walk where the steamboat went down. The weight of the safe would not have let it drift very far. Chances are good that the safe is still there, at the mouth of Coon Creek. This would be a perfect spot to use a deep-seeking metal detector.
I quote this verbatim (in the flowery language of the times) from The Far West, written by Edmund Flagg in 1906. It should be of interest to persons living in Randolph County, Illinois.
“In 1720, when it was resolved by the Crown of France to erect Fort Chartres at this point upon the Mississippi, in continuation of her line of posts uniting Québec with New Orleans, and for the defense of her colonies, a military engineer of the school of the celebrated Sebastian, Vauhan was sent over to project and accomplish the design. To his own discretion, within prescribed limits, was confided the whole undertaking. Far and wide throughout the province resounded the note of preparation. The peaceful villager was summoned from his pipe and plough; the din of steel and stone broke in upon the solitudes; and at length, at the enormous expenditure of nine million livres, arose Fort Chartres. The fortress was completed, and the ‘silver lilies’ floated over the walls; but the engineer had far exceeded the limits prescribed in erecting a work of such massive and needless strength, and a missive royal summoned him to St. Cloud. The miserable man, aware that little was to be hoped for from the clemency of the warlike Louis XV, poisoned himself upon arriving in his native land, to escape the indignation of his sovereign. Previous, however, to his departure from France, immense sums of gold for defraying the expenses of the fortress had been forwarded to him to New Orleans and sent up the river, but owing to his subsequent arrest, were never distributed to the laborers. Tradition avereth these vast treasures to have been buried beneath the foundations of the fort.”
A treasure almost certainly unfound and little-known is in Ford County, Illinois.
In 1915, a farmer named Daniel Morrical owned a farm in Mono Township of Ford County. Morrical had a reputation as a miser and distrusted bank. After becoming too old and feeble to run the farm, he rented it to a man named Joe Hoye, but he continued to live in the farmhouse.
As Hoye was loading grain one day, he found a small sack filled with money. He took it to Morrical, who admitted that he had hidden the money in the grain, thinking no one would find it. He told Hoye that he would hide the money somewhere else.
A few weeks later, while Hoye was working, he noticed that he had not seen Morrical for some time. Checking the house and finding locked doors, Hoye secured the sheriff and a doctor. Morrical’s body was found inside the farmhouse. He had been dead for over a week.
The coroner’s report showed Morrical had been strangled after a terrible beating. The killer, or killers, was never caught. Neither Hoye nor Morrical’s neighbors ever showed any sudden wealth, so the authorities assumed no money was ever found.
The treasure did exist because Hoye saw it, but no one has ever learned where Morrical hid it the second time. Here is where a search of the farm could pay off. The money isn’t likely to be far from the farmhouse because of Morrical’s age and strength since he was in his late seventies when he was killed.
In his book Banditti of the Prairies, Edward Bonney tells of outlaw gangs in Illinois. Bonney was a detective who infiltrated several different bands and helped to have them broken up. One such group was known as the Birch gang. They operated in Illinois and spread out to Indiana and Missouri before most of them were hanged or shot.
The leader, John Birch (known as “Old Coon”), migrated from North Carolina to Illinois in 1832 and obtained forty acres in Clark County. His two sons, Timothy and Robert, were very young, but Birch started them into a life of crime at an early age. It wasn’t until 1845 that three gang members committed a robbery that caused authorities to bring in outside help.
Colonel Davenport was a well-respected and wealthy landowner in the community of Rock Island. The three outlaws attacked Davenport in his home and tortured him to learn the location of his money. Thinking they had killed him, the robbers left, but Davenport lived long enough to give descriptions of Robert Birch and two other gang members.
The local authorities called in Edward Bonney. Bonney visited the Birch farm and pretended to be an outlaw on the run. By telling a good story and with a few names of other known criminals, Bonney managed to gain “Old Coon’s” confidence and joined his gang.
In a few months, he gathered enough evidence against the gang to get most of them hung and caused the rest to leave the area. In his memoirs, Bonney tells of individual caches being made by gang members in a field near the Devil’s Creek hideout of Grant Redden, close to Montrose, Illinois.
This money was in glass jars, sealed with beeswax. Money was also hidden around the Birch cabin, about nine miles southwest of Marshall, Illinois. No record of any of these caches’ being found can be discovered.
Illinois seems to have had more than its share of counterfeiters that operated at different times. This listing of the known and little-known ones begins in about 1790.
John Duff, the well-known counterfeiter of the 1790s and early 1800s, operated in several places in what is now Hardin County, Illinois. I quote this from Outlaws of Cave-in-Rock, by Otto A. Rotbert:
“Duff secured metal from the veins of lead ore on the Saline River, and, as it contained a little silver, he separated the silver from the lead as best he could and made counterfeit coins. Duff apparently lived the latter part of his life in or near Cave-in-Rock. He evidently operated a counterfeiter’s den in several places. According to tradition, there were at least three places known as ‘Duff’s Fort;’ one was at Cave-in-Rock, another at Caseyville, Kentucky (near the mouth of the Tradewater River, fourteen miles above the Cave), and a third in Illinois, at Island Ripple on the Saline River (thirteen miles above its mouth and about twenty-eight miles, via river to the Cave.) Like all outlaws of his own and other times, Duff was obliged to shift his headquarters. It is probable that some of the localities in which he lived no longer have any traditions regarding his activities there.”
Sturdevant ran a counterfeiting gang during the early 1800s in Rosiclare. He sold the bogus money to “passers” for $16.00 in legal tender to the hundred.
A rival gang called the Regulators raided Sturdevant’s small, stockade-like home, and a fight started in which most of Sturdevant’s men were killed, but he escaped. The Regulators searched the house but failed to find any money, legal or illegal.
Sturdevant never came back to the area. It is believed that somewhere near where the water plant stands today, in Rosiclare, the counterfeiting tools, and Sturdevant’s cache are still buried.
In Gallatin County, at Shawneetown, during the 1830s, several men were counterfeiting bank notes on banks in the area. It could be profitable to check the court records for the location of where these men lived because several of them were caught before they had disposed of their equipment and bogus money.
Not much on this one, but it is known that Allen Pinkerton’s (who helped form the Secret Service Division of the Union Army) first case as a detective in the 1850s was the breaking up of a gang of counterfeiters who had a hideout on an island in the Fox River in Kane County. The gang members were all caught, but no bogus money was found.
An elaborate scheme to steal the body of President Abraham Lincoln to use as a ransom for the release of two gang leaders who the police had captured was attempted in 1875. These two men had a gang of counterfeiters that operated in DeWitt County, Illinois, for years. Authorities found the counterfeiting tools but not the legal tender the gang had received for the bogus money or the ore used to make the counterfeit coins.
In the 1850s, a gang of counterfeiters had their headquarters on the Old Abbott farm near Unionville in Whiteside County. Benjamin Boyd did the engraving and making of the bogus money. A Dr. Briggs of Centralia, with others, passed the fake bills all over southern Illinois.
Government agents finally caught Boyd in Fulton. Briggs was arrested in Centralia. Both drew long prison terms. While moving the farmhouse across the road a few years later, several packets of bogus money and engraved plates were found in the original basement. No report of any legal tender’s being found was ever made.
About three miles from Opuawka, in Henderson County, is a place known as Bogus Hollow. It was here that a gang of counterfeiters operated in the late 1800s. After the coins were minted, they would be sent to “passers” up and down the Mississippi River. Their downfall came when one of the passers gave a local store owner some of the bogus coins.
The merchant contacted the authorities, and a raid was made on the gang’s hideout. Money molds, a few coins, and a smelter were found, but nothing large of any value. The gang members all received long jail terms. Those who were finally released were afraid to return. This would be a good location to check out.
To reach the cave in the limestone bluffs near the John Russell home in Greene County, one has to climb the cliff and then slide down into the entrance. In 1790, four French trappers took refuge in that cave from pursuing Indians.
They lived there for several months, and when they left, they went in separate directions, hoping to locate a trading post and safety. Before leaving, they put all their money into an iron box and placed it in one of the chambers. One man went to Kaskaskia, where he died from exposure. Another reached Fort St. Vincent. The third was killed by Indians.
About 1810, the one who had reached Fort St. Vincent returned to the cave. After telling the story of the hidden money to a pioneer family he was staying with, he entered the cave and was never seen again. Numerous stories have been told of this “money cave,” but nobody seems to have braved the cave to bring out the Frenchmen’s gold.
James Ford operated a ferry about three miles upstream from Cave-in-Rock. He also had a tavern about ten miles south in Kentucky. His friend, William Potts, operated a tavern about ten miles north and west of Cave-in-Rock, on the Illinois side of the river. The distance between these taverns was about one day’s travel.
According to tradition, these two men had an infallible system of robbing people. If a prosperous traveler crossed Ford’s Ferry going north along Ford’s Ferry Road, Potts would have him robbed. Ford would relieve him of his cash and valuables if the traveler went south. It is believed there are numerous caches of loot and money buried at the taverns and ferry landings.
The district around Cave-in-Rock is probably one of the best treasure-hunting locations in Illinois or the United States because it is confined to a few acres. Indians camped there for hundreds of years before the white man came.
Cave-in-Rock is about halfway between the river bank and the top of the cliff. It commands a long view up and down the Ohio River. From 1790 to 1820, river pirates operated for several miles along the river, within sight of the cave where they made their headquarters.
The pirates had two favorite methods of stopping their prey. A boat with two or three of them would row out to the passing vessel and get aboard, claiming a wife or child was ill. Then, with a surprise attack, they killed the crew or forced them to pull to shore where their confederates were hiding.
The other trick was to wait until nightfall, row small craft with several men in each, close to the unsuspecting boat, and throw burning torches on board. The pirates would leap aboard during the confusion and kill or capture the crew.
If a flatboat were tied up anywhere near the cave for the night, spies would get a gang together and attack the crew and passengers at dawn. There seems to be no record of any crews’ escaping once the boat had been attacked.
The Harpe Brothers, robbers and killers, stayed in Cave-in-Rock for some time, and while there, they killed 40 to 60 people, including several children.
Horse thieves frequently visited the vicinity, sometimes swimming horses across the Ohio River to Kentucky or from Kentucky to Illinois. Counterfeiters also are known to have hidden in the cave.
Cave-in-Rock was a rendezvous for all types of river thugs.
Historians and river captains have estimated that over $1,000,000 worth of pirated loot and money changed hands between 1790 and 1820. It would be impossible to guess how many boats were sunk, how many bodies were dropped into sinkholes and caves, or how many people were thrown into the river.
There are stories of fights in the cave, week-long gambling sessions, and drinking sprees in which someone was killed or robbed. Dozens of caches of money and loot were scattered along the river. Almost every foot of land up the cliff from the river bank for a mile or more, or anywhere along the bluffs, is a potential treasure location.
Coins, old guns, Indian relics, tools, and bullets have been found, but no large caches have been reported. Cave-in-Rock offers almost any type of prize for the treasure hunter. However, be sure to obtain permission, as part of the land is a State Park, while the rest is privately owned.
Several caches of money are supposed to be buried on a farm near Richmond in McHenry County. The farm was one of the hiding places used by Harvey Bailey, self-styled king of the hold-up men. In 1931, Bailey and his gang robbed the Lincoln National Bank in Lincoln, Nebraska, of $1,000,000, none of which was recovered.
Bailey also would often work alone. Single-handedly, he robbed several banks before being caught and given a life sentence in the penitentiary. He died there without recovering what he had buried on the farm near Richmond. As far as is known, none of his money has ever been recovered.
Almost all of the covered bridges in Ogle County have a legend of robbery and a cache or two connected with them. The darkness of the bridges gave bandits cover. In one instance, a trained bear was used to frighten a traveler’s horse.
The traveler was usually thrown from the horse, and the bandit robbed him while he was down. If the traveler was not thrown, his struggle with his mount still gave the bandit the advantage and made it possible to rob his victim. Robbers often threw their loot under the bridge or buried it there so as not to be caught with the evidence of their crime.
In 1723, the Frenchman M. Philippe Renault found silver on a stream known today as Silver Creek in St. Clair County. J. H. Schlarman’s book, From Quebec to New Orleans, published in 1929, quotes Renault’s report, made in 1723:
“In examining a coal mine we found a mine of silver and of copper of which the said silver Renault had made proof. The savages have made an infinite number of holes from which they drew lead in this neighborhood where there is such an abundance of similar mines.”
In the same book, Schlarman quotes Ressaudiere, another Frenchman of the period, “In some places the mineral is only one foot below the surface, and pieces of lead weighing from 20 to 30 ounces may be found. I worked it and found silver.
Two leagues west of these lead mines, there is a great mountain with silver mines. Their wealth cannot be estimated, as we have not opened them.”
It is believed that these mines could have been worked by the Spaniards years before and were abandoned by them during the war between France and Spain from 1719 to 1723. The French probably learned of these mines through the Indians.
When France ceded the Northwest Territory to England in 1763, the French or Indians concealed the mines.
Rock Island, Illinois, has a treasure story centered on the “Turkey Hollow” Road. A stagecoach stop was once located on the road to the Highland Springs golf course. This stop had a general store, a blacksmith shop, and some mill.
The owner of the blacksmith shop was reported to have stashed away a large sum of money. Several highwaymen tried to force the location out of the “smithy,” but they killed him, messing up their chances of finding the loot. To this day, no one has reported finding it.
John M. Hoffman was a famous writer of dime novel thrillers, and for 15 years, he lived quietly but luxuriously in a rambling old Chicago suburban mansion. When he died in 1928 at 82, it was recalled that he had, for many years, earned big money, carried as much as $5000 in cash on his person, and never trusted banks.
He had also inherited a fortune in jewels from his wife, who had died before him.
After Hoffman’s death, a perfunctory search of the house was made, but only $35 was turned up. After this, Hoffman’s brother, Dr. Elmer Hoffman of Sharon, Wisconsin, petitioned the probate court for permission to conduct a real search of the premises. If anything was found, it was never publicly revealed.
Starved Rock is located on the Illinois River, about halfway between La Salle and Ottawa, in Ottawa County. Nearby is another landmark of pioneer days called Buffalo Rock. Both sites are now state parks.
A treasured story concerning the area goes back to the days of the French and Indian Wars, when Tonty (sometimes spelled Tonti), a Frenchman, was dismissed by his employer, the governor of Canada.
Possessing a large amount of gold, Tonty took it and fled south to prevent it from falling into the hands of the British. The gold was secretly buried near Starved Rock.
Many years later, on his deathbed, Tonty revealed the hiding place of his gold to the priest who tended him. Hoping to recover the gold, the priest kept the secret, but he drowned shortly afterward when his canoe upset. Nevertheless, the story of the buried gold had circulated, and many fruitless searches were done for it.
Over the years, the tale of Tonty’s gold has almost been forgotten. If the gold existed, it remains in its original cache.
A likely story of Chicago mobster treasure is that of Sam Samoota Amatuna. When the leadership of the powerful Genna-operated Unione Sicilione syndicate was left vacant by the death of Angelo Genna, Sam Amatuna stepped in and started stashing away cash against the day when he knew the Capone mob would muscle in and take over.
Just in case he could not come to terms with Capone, Amatuna planned a quick getaway by car and cached two bundles of cash on separate escape routes out of Chicago.
According to Amatuna’s chauffeur, the mobster buried $20,000 along U. S. 12, just north of Pell Lake, Wisconsin, and $50,000 off U. S. 66, south of Braidwood, Illinois.
On November 13, 1925, Amatuna was gunned down as he sat in a barber’s chair. Other members of his mob were soon rubbed out, and it is believed that Sam Amatuna’s escape money had never been found.
As long as we are roaming about Illinois, let’s take a look at the site of old Fort Kaskaskia, about 18 miles southeast of Fort Chartres. Colonel George Rogers Clark captured this fortress on July 4, 1778. However, an offshoot of the attack was the loss of 1200 pounds sterling in English coins which Clark carried to pay his troops.
On the day before the attack, Clark’s troops were secretly camped near present-day Steelville.
Figuring that it would be wise to safeguard his funds before tangling with the fort’s garrison, Colonel Clark buried the money near the campsite.
Sometime later, when he returned to recover the money, he found that a flash flood had swept away the markers at the treasure site. As far as is known, the money has never been found.
We’ll bet you have never heard of the lost hoard of John Shaw, the so-called Black Prince of Politics in Calhoun County, Illinois. In addition to raising cattle, speculating land, and rigging county elections, he operated a country store in Hardin.
Because of flagrant irregularities of a political nature, the Black Prince was suddenly forced to flee from the area to avoid arrest and possible imprisonment. Shaw left so abruptly that he did not have time to dig up the several buried caches of money secreted near his store. He never dared to return to Hardin, so it is presumed the caches are still there.
This was reported in Coin World on June 21, 1978. I quote:
“A major mining operation is expected to get underway in the Chicago area soon (1978), as investigators from the Cook County Sheriff’s office begin to dig for some 40,000 pounds of industrial silver with a market value of about $2,400,000. The cache represents loot acquired in a series of hijackings master-minded by William (Willie Potatoes) Daddano, who headed a gang known in the underworld as ‘Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves.’ Daddano buried the loot the mob acquired in one of a dozen or more rural Illinois locations until he could fence it successfully, an informant has told the Sheriff’s detectives. The hijackings took place about 10 years ago (1968), and Daddano succeeded in fending about $1,000,000 worth of the white metal in New York before he was sentenced to a federal prison term in 1969. The bulk of the loot was buried, however, and only Daddano knew the exact location. The prisoner took this secret to his grave, when he died in Marion, Illinois, federal prison of congestive heart failure in 1975.”
As far as records show, this silver has never been located.
This story stems from the fact that Dr. G. W. Baldwin and Bradshaw Warren, while on a fishing trip four miles southwest of Centralia in 1937, found a cache of $50 in century-old silver coins. In digging for worms, they uncovered a stone on which were carved the letters “WIRD,” and under this were coins dating from 1803 to 1842.
The fishermen believed this was only a portion of a larger cache and that the inscription meant “west one yard and dig.” Further digging failed to uncover anything, and whether or not there is additional treasure is pure speculation. Worth checking into, though.
About 20 miles below Shawneetown, on the Illinois side of the Ohio River, two stone jars filled with gold coins have been missing for over a century. They were hidden there by Frederick L. Sellers, and no one has seen them since his death.
There was once a small village at this site called Sellers Landing. It was named for Frederick L. Sellers, who established a wood yard there in 1831. He sold cordwood to steamboats plying the Ohio River.
Sellers built a paper mill in 1840 and operated it until 1851. By then, all suitable timber for making paper had been cut. With the mill gone, the village passed into oblivion, too. All that marks the site of Sellers Landing today are a few iron pipes sticking out of the ground.
It was a known fact that “Old Sellers,” as he came to be called, accumulated a tidy fortune from his operation of the paper mill. But when it came to handling his money, he trusted no one. There was a thriving new bank 20 miles upriver in Shawneetown. But when a friend or relative would suggest that Sellers put his money in this bank, he would say, shortly, “Got a bank of my own.”
Sellers would retrieve his gold from wherever he hid it twice a year, bringing it to the house. By the light of the fireplace, the children would use ashes to clean the gold coins. A descendant of Sellers said that her great-great-grandmother remembered helping clean two one-gallon stone jars of gold coins many times.
She (the great-great-grandmother) said that her father would always ride a horse and go late at night to get the gold. She believed that he rode the horse so he could stand up in the saddle to reach the gold, hidden in a hole in the 160-foot-high sandstone bluff that partly encircles the village.
Wherever it was hidden, it must still be there, for Old Sellers suffered a stroke and could not speak a word from that day until his death. Before he passed away, he pointed several times toward the bluff and tried desperately to tell his wife and children something.
The family thought he was trying to tell them where the gold was hidden, but he could not make them understand him. He died, and the secret died with him.
Many people have searched for gold, but no one has ever found it. Someday, perhaps, some lucky person will clean two stone jars of gold coins again.
The side-wheel steamer Seabird went down on April 9, 1886, about seven miles off Waukegan, Illinois, in Lake Michigan. At the time of its sinking, the Seabird’s owners declined to reveal the nature of her cargo, but it was reported in the press that she carried a valuable cargo of money and jewels. As far as is known, no salvage has ever been made.
Chicago was just a village in 1868 when Felix and Elsie Conway lived in the 1200 block of State Street. Because of an argument that neither would forgive or forget, they had not spoken to each other for nearly ten years. They communicated when necessary by writing notes.
By the time he was 60 years old, Felix Conway had accumulated considerable wealth as a prosperous cattle buyer and shipper. However, his doctor advised him that he had stomach cancer and would soon die. Taking stock of his worldly goods, Felix discovered that he had $250,000 in cash. Not wishing to leave the money to his wife, he sought a way to keep her from inheriting his wealth after his death.
About this time, his need to move his outhouse gave him the answer to his problem. He dug a new hole for the outhouse and dug the trench three feet deeper than necessary. In the following days, he converted his fortune into gold coins. One night he scattered his coins along the bottom of the trench and, the next day, covered them with solid concrete.
Frightened by a turn for the worse, Felix confided in his doctor and told him about the buried money. The doctor promised to wait until Mrs. Conway had tied before retrieving the gold coins for himself.
Eighteen years later, Mrs. Conway was still up and about, but the good doctor was in bad health. He related the story to his only son, advising him to wait until Mrs. Conway’s death and buy the property.
Finally, at 92, Mrs. Conway died and was buried at the Catholic Cemetery between Chicago and Evanston, Illinois.
The old house was torn down later to make room for progress, but so far as it is known, the doctor’s son never retrieved the cache, and the gold is still there.
Here are some ghost towns in Illinois that might be worth looking for.
Adams County – Each town had a post office at one time, but they are now closed: Antonius, Cliola, Elm Grove, and Peyton.
Alexander County – Three towns that at one time appeared on maps in this county but are shown no longer are Clank, Diswood, and Shasta.
Bond County – Ayers, Beaver Creek, Pleasant Prairie, and Stubblefield all had post offices at one time but today are either ghost towns or near ghost towns.
Brown County – The towns of Benville, Daisy, and Union Ridge have all but disappeared and are near ghost towns.
Bureau County – Dingley, Storage, and Thurston are today near ghost towns. At one time, they all had post offices.
Calhoun County – Abel’s Landing and Beech at one time appeared on the county maps, but today are no longer shown. Bracks, Cliffdale, and Hastings, are three more ghost towns or near ghost towns.
Carroll County – Rock Creek had a post office from 1848 to 1883. Information as to its location can be obtained at Mt. Carroll.
Cass County – The small village of Little Indian once had a post office, but today has a population of only two and no longer appears on a map.
Clark County – Anderson, Parker, Sacton, and Clark Center are all near ghost towns.
Clinton County – Carlisle, Frogtown, and Queen’s Lake all at one time had post offices, but they have now been closed down.
De Kalb County – These towns at one time had post offices but have had them closed for many years: Dustin, Elba Station, North Kingston, and Pierceville.
Edgar County – Embarrass, Flemington, Hughes, Payne, and Ravan are all near ghost or ghost towns today.
Effingham County – The ghost town of Ewington was the county seat of Effingham County for 25 years. About 1855, the ILLINOIS county offices were moved to Effingham, and the people of Ewington drifted away. All that is left is the cemetery and a private building that was once the courthouse.
Franklin County – Bessie, Crittenden, Portland, Rend, and Taylor Hill are now ghost or near ghost towns.
Gallatin County – The following towns no longer have post offices: Rowelsville, Inman, New Market, Saline Mines, and South Hampton.
Greene County – Haypress was seven miles north of Eldred in 1879. There were two general stores, a blacksmith shop, a school, a church, and several homes. All that remains today of the village are a few foundation stones of the church.
This is just a partial listing of the different towns in Illinois that at one time either had post offices now closed because the town has all but disappeared, or the town once appeared on maps and has been removed because of small size.
Further checking old records will enable you to find others throughout the state.