Lost Treasures In Wisconsin


Although it is rich in treasure and metal detector sites, the state of Wisconsin is often overlooked by most authors who write about the treasure-hunting hobby. The state’s more than 500 miles of lake shore and almost 4000 interior lakes, with thousands of visitors each year, make it especially enticing to those interested in beachcombing and scuba diving.


This location is in the Apostle Island group, just north of Wisconsin. This clue to the treasure is in the British Army Archives to substantiate the story. I quote: “The payroll is buried somewhere along the shoreline of an island in the Apostle group in Lake Superior, believed to be Hermit.”

A fact that is not commonly known is that until the First World War, the British Army carried a cash payroll for the men. In this manner, the soldiers were paid regularly, no matter where they were.

An officer always carried this payroll. Due to some of the soldiers’ character, while on a march, the officer always walked off alone from the campsite and buried the money until the soldiers were ready to move on the next day. The money was always well-concealed but was usually buried only a few inches deep.

On a cold wintry evening in the 1760s, a contingent of British soldiers landed on Hermit Island. Their officers told the men to walk and talk quietly and build no fires because there were hostile Indians on the island.

The soldiers ate a cold meal, stationed a guard, and the rest went to sleep. Early the next morning, the British troops were awakened by Indian war-whoops. Most soldiers were still in their blankets, where they were slaughtered. Only very few managed to escape.

The Indians threw the dead soldiers into the lake or fire, then divided the loot and equipment among themselves and left the island. The surviving men came out of hiding and found that the officer who had buried the payroll was dead, so only a brief search was done for the money. Afraid that the Indians might return, the survivors moved out quickly to the fort on the mainland.

The fort’s commander organized a party to search for the payroll. A week was spent looking, but no trace of the money was found. This is a good location to spend a vacation with a metal detector. The coins would be worth a small fortune today.


In April 1925, county authorities were summoned to the Gottlieb Mattrick farm near Beaver, Wisconsin. They found 22 men digging, guarded by a group of excited farmers armed with shotguns to protect the diggers.

Investigations revealed they were searching for a part of a little-known treasure. It was part of the $11,200 stolen the previous year by Martha Battaglan, daughter of the farm’s owner. She was believed to have buried a big share of the loot on the farm, only a part of which had been recovered.

Martha was arrested for the theft in October of 1924 in St. Paul, Minnesota. She was brought to trial in Marinette and pleaded guilty to theft. She was sentenced to five years in prison.

During her trial, Martha confessed to having stolen the money and said she had buried part of it on her father’s farm. The rest she hid at her home in St. Paul.

About $3,000 was recovered from the farm, and several thousand more was found at her St. Paul home. Still missing were several thousand dollars, and Martha would give no clue where it was. Many believe it was buried on the farm but never recovered.


For many years treasure hunters have searched for a large cache of $50,000 on a farm bordering Highway 51 miles south of Madison. This money was buried by an early settler, William (Bill) Tompkins, who brought the sizeable nest egg to the East. Tompkins made a comfortable living, farming, and fishing in the neighborhood of Portage. When he died, his family did a futile search for the hidden money, but after a while gave up in disgust and sold the farm.

Several years later, Tompkins’ daughter found a crudely drawn map among the older man’s belongings. Was this a key to his buried wealth? Perhaps, but when the daughter asked the new farm owner’s permission to search, she was rudely refused. Even when she offered to share the wealth, the answer was still no. Instead, the farmer figured he could find the secret cache and keep all of it for himself.

The man searched everywhere with poor luck. He only found coins in tin cans while digging post holes. The remainder of Tompkins’ trove is still safely hidden.


It is recorded that different Prohibition gangsters cached several million dollars during the 1920s and 1930s throughout Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, but that was never retrieved. Almost everywhere these men went, they hid money for various reasons.

Rival gangs, local police, and the United States government were always after them. They had to have ready cash but could not always carry it on their person because of the present threat of arrest, search, or robbery. So, everywhere these men lived or stopped for any length is a potential site for hidden money.

Two such locations are these little-known sites that could pay off for an interested treasure hunter. Al Capone owned a 370-acre complex at Couderay, Wisconsin, which he visited until his death in 1947. This was virtually a fort with a watchtower, stone walls, and an escape tunnel, all staffed by machine-gun-armed guards. When it is remembered that the Capone gang used this hideout at various times for over six years, the possibility of hidden caches being on the estate is tremendous.

Another little-known location where Capone operated a still and bootleg operation during the 1920s was a farm just west of Milwaukee. Local research could very well pay off on these two sites.


For silver to be in Wisconsin is thought by geologists to be impossible. Still, there is a legend that Chief Namakagon of the Chippewa Indian tribe knew the location of a silver vein or deposit from which he obtained all the ore he needed. No claim was ever filed, and only Namakagon took any silver from the location.

When a young man, Chief Namakagon, lived at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. He later moved to northern Wisconsin and settled on an island in Namakagon Lake. It was at this time that he discovered his source of silver.

Whenever the old chief needed food or clothing, he would disappear from his island home and reappear with a load of pure silver. It was then his custom to walk to Ashland, a major trading post on the shore of Lake Superior, to barter the silver for his needs. Chief Namakagon always managed to evade observers on these trips to his mine. He died at the age of 107, and the secret of his source of silver died with him.

Silver had been found in large quantities in the Lake Superior region. One of the richest silver producers in the 1870s was the Silver Islet Mine, located on a barren island off the Sibley Peninsula in Ontario, about 200 miles northeast of Namakagon Lake.

Much closer to the old chief’s home is the Penokee Range in northern Wisconsin, an extension of Michigan’s rich copper-bearing highlands and Minnesota’s noted open-pit iron mines. Silver is frequently found with copper.

An aerial survey of Wisconsin in 1964 turned up unexpected magnetic fields in four areas of the state that are normally considered rich in minerals. The survey indicated mineral concentrations in the Butternut area of Ashland County.

Butternut lies in the southern part of the county, about 30 miles southeast of Namakagon Lake. Is the source of Chief Namakagon’s rich silver ore in this region? So far, all searches for this lost deposit have been unsuccessful.


The story of Paul Seifert’s Cave, in which he claimed to have found remains of extinct animals, large human bones, ancient tools, weapons, and other artifacts in 1891, has been a topic of local talk around Gotham and Muscoda for over 90 years.

But what is not generally known is the discovery of huge human bones in other areas of Wisconsin, which lend credence to Paul Seifert’s claim that he had found a large cavern with the remains of a giant race, which predated the American Indian.

Seifert’s cave, supposedly on a high bluff on the Wisconsin River between Gotham and Muscoda, first came to public attention because of a letter printed in a Viennese paper by S. Lon Wolfgang. In the letter, he described how his friend, Paul Seifert, had sent him relics of great antiquity from the United States.

Among the articles were spear and arrow points of copper, quartzite, flint, and obsidian, all of giant size, along with numerous ceremonial objects. Seifert offered that if his friend visited him, he would disclose the secret of where they were found.

The German did so and, upon his arrival in Gotham, Wisconsin was met at the train by Seifert. When the matter of the cave was brought up, Seifert led his friend to it. This was accomplished by climbing to the top of Bogus Bluff hill.

After the climb, the two men proceeded some distance back from the face of the hill and then lowered themselves by rope into a crevice indicated by Seifert. They then found themselves on a narrow ledge, which led back into a cave, the floor covered with sand, indicating the possibility of an ancient river bed.

Numerous passages led off from the cave, and upon entering one of them, Von Wolfgang was amazed to see many human bones and skulls. Many battle axes, spears, arrow points, and pottery fragments were intermingled with them, all huge.

Seifert then indicated that although the cave was known to the local Indians, it was not one of their burial grounds and had been there for as long as they could recall.

Upon his return to Europe, Von Wolfgang printed another letter in the Vienna Courier relating his experiences. He described the cave as the final resting place of a lost race.

The area in and around Gotham has a multitude of caves, with the area in question being one of the only well-protected ones from both the weather and enemy attack in the immediate vicinity.

Because he was ridiculed by the local people when he told of his find, Seifert blasted the entrance shut, and all attempts to locate the cave since then have been unsuccessful. If this cavern holds the remains of a hitherto-unknown race of people, it could be one of the most important finds of the century and well worth further investigation.

The following three incidents lend credence to Paul Seifert’s story. In September 1905, two skeletons with thigh bones six inches longer than those of a six-foot man were found in a gravel bed near the town of Forest. These two persons would have been well over seven feet tall.

A short time later, several huge skeletons were found while excavating work was being done on the street in La Crosse.

During the summer of 1881, a story circulated in Pepin County that several large bones, believed to be human, had been found along the Chippewa River near Durand. The skeletal remains were examined by a doctor who claimed they were from an extinct animal.

Other opinions were that the bones belonged to several early French trappers; another was that they belonged to a giant race of Indians. While this controversy and examination of the bones led to their becoming lost, the people still lived. They would have been from seven to nine feet in height.


In 1942 the State Historical Society of Iowa published this bulletin which dealt with a gang of river pirates that operated on the upper Mississippi River from 1856 through 1858. In the language of the times, I will quote the parts of this publication that are of interest to treasure hunters.

“In the spring of 1858, no date given, the McGregor North Iowa Times announced the rescue of a large amount of merchandise and the breaking up of a system of thievery that ranged from Prairie de Chien, Wisconsin, to La Crosse, on the Mississippi River.

For over two years, the river pirates had used an old warehouse above the ferry at Prairie de Chien as a rendezvous. When enough spoils were collected, gang members would take a boatload downriver for sale to unsuspecting customers. The first lead authorities obtained on the gang was from a carpenter who had repaired a boat for the pirates and wasn’t paid for his labor.

“Searching the river’s banks, two constables, accompanied by several citizens, discovered a camp on Big Island. Here they found George Sciville and another man who were members of the outlaw gang. These two men informed the officers of the whereabouts of Dr. Bell, the pirates’ leader. Bell had a boat tied up in one of the island inlets, loaded with several hundred dollars worth of goods ready to be taken downriver.

“The next day, when the boat with Bell aboard was found, he refused to surrender, and several gunshots were exchanged, one of which hit Bell. Retreating the posse returned to McGregor, where a group of over fifty armed men was assembled for an assault on Bell’s vessel. When they arrived at the scene, Dr. Bell was gone.

“A search of Big Island revealed two more boats loaded with plunder. One of the three was towed to Clayton City, and the other two were taken to McGregor, Iowa. The booty consisted of liquor, stoves, dry goods, drugs, and articles of every conceivable nature and was worth not less than $4,000 to $5,000, showing the industry of the thieves. The gang was scattered to parts unknown.

“Dr. Bell has not been caught, although the regions of Wisconsin and Iowa were thoroughly searched. However, a man matching Bell’s description visited a doctor in Wyalusing for the express purpose of having a lead ball removed from his head. He was never seen again.”

Since all this information was written in the newspapers of the time, the hideouts of the river pirates on Big Island, near the old ferry, and around La Crosse, could be profitable areas to search. It is almost certain that this gang made caches in these or other places.

The bulletin’s account closes with, “It is hoped that the action taken by officers had resulted in breaking one of the most formidable bands of robbers ever organized in the West.”


This story of buried Indian money and jewelry was told to a student of Wisconsin folklore by a full-blood Potawatomi Indian, aged 97, in 1952. According to the story, in 1834, an Indian family named Sahpenias lived on the Milwaukee River northwest of Milwaukee.

The government made its last payment to this family for land in 1834. Since there was no place to spend the money in their isolated camp and they had already planned to shortly move to Canada, where they would have no use for the money, the family decided to bury it until such time they would need it and then return to recover the money.

A hole was dug and lined with bark. The family’s money and some personal jewelry were wrapped in buckskin and placed in the hole, Which was carefully concealed. The family moved to Canada a short time later and then to Michigan.

About ten years after burying the money and jewelry, the family returned to the area to dig it up. They found several cabins built by white men on the site. Knowing that if they retrieved their cache, it would be taken from them, the Indians left it and never returned.

It was the granddaughter of the Potawatomi Indian who reported the story, who had told it to him. She had been a small girl when the cache was made in 1834. The location was on the east bank of the Milwaukee River, near the mouth of a stream, in the second bend near where Grafton is today.


Back in 1835, fishermen and trappers from the island of St. Helena in the Straits of Mackinac moved into the area of Rock Island to stay. James McNeil was one of those early settlers. An elderly bachelor of considerable financial means, he bought the entire south shore of the island.

Like the hermit of the Apostles, McNeil was close-mouthed about his personal affairs. But he had a weakness: he loved to drink and became rather expansive under the influence of whiskey. He would brag to anyone within shouting distance that these good old yellow boys would support him comfortably in his retirement. Yellow Boys was his term for his cache of gold coins.

Everyone on the island knew that.

But McNeil’s garrulousness while drinking did him in. One morning he was found wounded and unconscious beside his chicken coop. He came to just long enough to scream, “Boone, Boone!” John Boone, the justice of the peace, came as quickly as he could, but by the time he reached Rock Island, McNeil had died.

Only one thing was certain; for a long time afterward, people dug in the older man’s potato patch, around the house, and in his chicken coop, looking for the gold coins McNeil had hidden. So far as is known, nothing was found. Rock Island is located at the tip of the Door Peninsula and is now a state park, so permission to search must be obtained.


During the Blackhawk War, a band of Indians raided several white settlements and trading posts in Dane County, Wisconsin. Hotly pursued by soldiers and irate white settlers, they were cornered at Table Mound, and all died in a sharp, decisive battle.

The Indians are believed to have hidden the coinage and weapons somewhere on or near Table Mound, perhaps in some secret cave or tunnel known only to them.

Table Mound stands about halfway between the towns of Black Earth and Cross Plains in Dane County. It is situated north of the highway and is one of the highest mounds in southern Wisconsin.


For those who wish to search for diamonds, they have been found in the following areas in Wisconsin: Plum Creek in Pierce County, Oregon in Dane County, Louisville in Washington County, Saukville in Ozaukee County, Eagle in Waukesha County, and Burlington in Racine County.

The Department of Interior, Washington, D. C. will send information on diamonds and other gems on request.


Years ago, near Platteville, in southern Wisconsin, Justin Gunand, an elderly Frenchman, resided on an 80-acre farm. In his younger years, he had been a lead miner and a farmer. Between farming and mining, with hard work and frugal living, he had amassed a sizeable fortune, mostly in gold coin.

Friends had repeatedly urged Gunand to deposit his fortune in a bank as a precaution. Clinging to his belief that security meant keeping your hard-earned money on your soil, Gunand ignored these pleas. He took an earthen crock, filled it with his fortune in gold coins, and buried it on that part of his property known as East Mound.

Gunand’s wife was said to be the only other person who knew where the crock was buried, and because she was as close-mouthed as her husband, the location was never revealed to anyone else.

It was a very short time after Justin Gunand’s death that his wife followed him to the grave. The general feeling among friends and neighbors was that Mrs. Gunand had neither the time nor the need to dig up the crock of gold. The Gunands had no children to inherit the estate, and there had been no pressing need for extra funds after her husband’s death.

To reach the old Gunand property, go East of Platteville for about two and a half miles on U. S. Highway 151, then turn south at the first crossroads. Follow this township road for one mile. The land on the road’s east side is the Gunand tract’s northern boundary. As far as is known, no one has yet unearthed the money crock.


There is a good chance that many thousands of dollars in coins and old greenbacks are buried in or near Elkhorn, Wisconsin.

It was Tuesday evening, November 8, 1865, when Charles and Eugene Hamilton carefully made their way through the streets of Elkhorn toward the Exchange Bank of Rockwell and Company. Their objective was a total withdrawal of all the bank’s assets.

The Civil War had ended officially in April. However, Northern victory celebrations were still to be found, like the one in Elkhorn, and the Hamiltons had been waiting for a noisy occasion.

It is unknown how long Charles and Eugene Hamilton were in the bank, but not a shot was fired. It is known that they were $200,000 richer when they walked out. With the celebration still going full tilt, the Hamiltons left the bank and Elkhorn unnoticed as when they came.

How the sheriff acquired, the information that put him on the Hamiltons trail is unknown. Perhaps an informer, tempted by the increasing reward, gave him a clue, or it is feasible to believe that they may have left a clue behind as they made their hasty retreat from Elkhorn. Whatever the reason, the following October, Sheriff Stone of Elkhorn arrested Charles and Eugene Hamilton in El Paso. Five months later, the Hamiltons were back in Elkhorn in jail.

What happened to the $200,000? Efforts by many have not turned up any clues at this time. What happened to the Hamiltons? Again, records furnish no details. However, what seems to be a distinct possibility is that there is a good chance that some, if not all, of the loot, is still buried in or near the town of Elkhorn.


Murderers seldom kill strangers, law enforcement officials report. Jealousy, greed, and anger with friends or relatives seem to cause most acts of violence.

Perhaps all three emotions were involved over a century ago in the little town of Lodi in south-central Wisconsin. In mid-November of 1853, word raced through the community that Townsil Underhill had been murdered in a violent quarrel over money. Today, nobody remembers whether the money had been inherited, stolen, embezzled, or earned.

What is known is that two persons close to Underhill were arrested for the crime. They were Alfred Underhill, a brother, and Fountain Carpenter, a half-brother. If the passion which triggered the killing was greed, it is reasonable to believe that a large sum was involved.

Careful research into local records might indicate where the money was hidden, for, despite their implied avarice, the two surviving brothers never got the money that caused the murder. As far as it is known, it is still hidden in the vicinity of Lodi.


In the latter part of the nineteenth century, James Beckey and his wife lived near Eau Claire, Wisconsin. In 1883, his wife suddenly left him. Beckey became sad and finally moved to the north woods. About 25 miles from Glidden in Ashland County, he built a hut and lived the solitary life of a hermit.

He was a very wealthy man and had taken with him about $50,000 in government bonds that he proceeded to hide either in his hut or somewhere in the woods of his property.

In 1893, Beckey was found dead in his hut. Searchers from Glidden combed the premises and burgeoned only 15 cents. To this day, the cache of government bonds has not been located.

A search of the old tax rolls at the county courthouse in Ashland would pinpoint the exact location of Beckey’s property.


Have you ever heard of the unrecovered cache at Bogus Bluff on the Wisconsin River between Muscoda and Cotham? The lower part of the fluff is covered by brush and small trees. In the rocky perpendicular above, near the top, there is, or was, a small opening into a cave. In the 1870s, a gang of counterfeiters carried on illegal operations here.

The low, narrow tunnel of the cave leads into a larger inner chamber where one can stand upright. It is here that the treasure was alleged to have been hidden. Perhaps it is a stack of counterfeit coins. But even these would be worth something as collector’s items.


An iron-bound chest of coins and other valuables is reputed to be hidden in a river bluff cave in Dewey State Park. In the 1820s, a keelboat was making its way down the Wisconsin River from Fort Winnebago. Its destination was Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien. Learning that a hostile group of Indians had prepared an ambush just ahead, the keelboat crew reportedly took the treasure chest ashore. It secreted it on the cave floor for safekeeping.

Fortunately, the boat escaped the attack. The crew returned to the hiding place a few months later to retrieve the chest. What a shock they had!

Since their initial visit, a large landslide had occurred, effectively burying the entrance to the treasure cave under tons of rock and mud. Digging through it would have taken much more than their few picks and shovels. Later attempts to retrieve the treasure were made, but to date, they have all failed.


On the night of October 29, 1929, the steamship Wisconsin left Chicago to cross choppy Lake Michigan. Gale warnings had been posted, but the storm wasn’t due for hours yet.

Aboard Wisconsin were 72 passengers and crew and a hold filled with machine tools and paper products. Packed in a tin box in the purser’s safe was a private consignment of negotiable securities worth $25,000. Next was a Treasury Department chest carrying 500 newly minted 1927-D silver dollars bound for a bank in Milwaukee. Today, these coins would be worth over $50,000 to collectors.

After only a few minutes, the winds began to grow in velocity. The 50-mile-per-hour gales soon sent huge swells crashing across the deck.

The captain turned the ship about when an explosion shook the vessel, throwing passengers against the bulkheads. The steamer’s heavy rocking motion had spilled flammable liquid against a hot boiler housing in the engine room. The liquid ignited immediately. Despite the ship’s violent tossing, the crew struggled bravely to control the raging fire.

They finally brought the fire under control, but in so doing, flooded the engine room. Riding low in the water with her engines shut down, Wisconsin could not withstand the continued battering of wind and waves. He began to break up, and the captain flashed a Mayday over the radio and passed the order to abandon ship.

Sixty people managed to escape the ravaged steamer and were saved in a dangerous night rescue by ships answering the distress call. The captain and eleven crewmen drowned.

The steamship quickly vanished beneath the waters of Lake Michigan a few miles due East of Kenosha, Wisconsin. Her fortune in securities and silver dollars has never been recovered.


Until he died in May 1950, no one knew that R. C. Bennett had been putting part of his large fortune into the ground because he distrusted banks and paper money. Following directions left in a note when he died, his wife went to the fruit closet in the basement of their farm home near Eagle River and dug up 60 tin boxes buried in the floor. They contained $40,000 in nickels, dimes, and quarters, all neatly wrapped in paper.

Bennett had been a shrewd businessman, and friends estimated his worth to have been in the millions. It is suspected that his main hoard or other small ones similar to the one found are still hidden and have never been recovered.


Sometime in the late 1700s, a man appeared at the American Fur Company at La Pointe. He remained around the post for a few days and made several purchases, after which he disappeared. Very little was thought of it until some time later, he was reported to have settled on Hermit’s Island, where he was clearing an area for a garden and was busily engaged in the construction of a cabin.

As the years passed, it became his custom to come to La Pointe for supplies twice a year. For these purchases, he paid in Mexican gold and silver. As expected, rumors began to circulate about his reputed wealth. Although he gave the impression of being an educated man, any attempt at friendly overtures was repulsed, and questions went unanswered.

Because of this, he entertained few visitors on his island, and the few who did stop were mainly Indians. One day it was reported to the authorities at La Pointe that he had been found dead. Investigation revealed that he had been cruelly murdered.

When the cabin was checked out, there were books in French and English, as well as the simple things that a man living alone would have. In an old clock, which his assassins had overlooked, was a canvas bag containing 44 Mexican silver dollars, plus a few gold pieces. A thorough search revealed nothing more. It is believed that he had several caches scattered around his cabin and garden.


Another profitable wreck for its finders was the passenger steamer Niagara, which sank four miles from Port Washington, Wisconsin, on September 24, 1856. This vessel’s cargo is of no value, mainly bagged wheat, which has long since rotted away.

However, recoveries to be made from the passenger cabins will compensate for the spoiled cargo. Pat Delaney of Chicago, Illinois, several years ago located this vessel. So far, Pat has recovered the safe and many other valuable items, but there are still more to be found.


A very lucrative find for some divers will be the remains of the passenger propeller VERNON, which went to the bottom three miles off Two Rivers, Wisconsin, on October 29, 1887. When a sudden gale hit, the ship was on its way from Glen Haven, Michigan, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Forty-one passengers and crew members went down with the ship.

The cargo was mixed, and records show it was valued at $60,000. Roughly, there was $15,000 in the ship’s safe. The VERNON was one of the most elegantly furnished vessels afloat on the Great Lakes at the time, which added to her value. The metal furnishings alone will put money in the pockets of her finder. This is a wreck that is well worth hunting for.


A ship worth searching for is the steel steamer Lakeland, which sank during the noon hour on December 3, 1924. Her cargo, valued at $30,000, included automobiles and auto freight. In August 1925, divers were down on LAKELAND for the insurance company but recovered very little. Helmet divers had to do this work as the vessel lies in 210 feet of water off Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal.


The steel steamer SENATOR lies in the water near Port Washington, Wisconsin. It sank on October 31, 1929, when it hit another ship. Before the crash, the ship had been out of Milwaukee for only two hours. It was carrying 241 Nash cars. The SENATOR sank ten minutes after being struck by the steamer MARQUETTE.


In the 1880s, lumbermen decimated the virgin pine forests of northern Wisconsin. Economy and growth depended upon lumber, and the promise of a profitable harvest was the only thing that kept men in the snow-filled north woods for months on end.

But David Lowry’s taint had a different reason. Tainter was a misogynist who didn’t like women and an atheist who didn’t like other men very much. He found the peace and privacy he was looking for in the wild Blue Hills of Rusk County. When he committed suicide on November 15, 1917, he may have left close to $30,000 in gold pieces, a sum easily worth $120,000 at today’s prices.

Unlike many hermits who seemingly materialize from nowhere and disappear in an equally mysterious manner, Tainter can be pegged to an actual family at a definite point in time. Records show that he was born on October 14, 1843, at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. He was the tenth of thirteen children, fathered by Ezekiel Tainter.

When he returned home from the Civil War, he learned that his fiancée had married another, and some say that his bitterness and disappointment over this loss triggered his hatred of women and his desire to live apart from the world.

In 1886, at the age of 43, he settled on 160 acres skirting the west shore of Bucks Lake in the township of Wilson in the northwestern corner of Rusk County. By fishing, hunting, and trapping, Tainter became practically self-sufficient. He kept cows and trained his dogs to round them up and bring them in at night.

Tainter had sworn not to mingle with the world; he never left his forest home. He arranged to have provisions delivered to him at regular intervals, and the men who took in the supplies said that Tainter always paid in gold for everything he brought.

At least once a year, the hermit sent out a bale of furs, wolves, coyotes, and foxes, together with a package of scalps, to claim the bounties paid by the state. He trusted his neighbor, F. D. Stout, to handle this business for him and to keep him supplied with rifle shells.

Stout and others have said that Tainted easily made over $1000 a year from his furs. They also said that this amount was much more than he needed to buy his year’s food, mostly staples like sugar, flour, and salt, because he had a garden and cows.

Stout’s son, Allison, has reported that whenever Tainter needed to pay for something, he’d disappear for several minutes and then return with the necessary gold pieces. Allison and his father felt that Tainter was too expert a woodsman to hide anything where it could easily be found.

In the end, it was Jim Zalabak and his son Joe, who found Tainter dead in bed, his big toe caught in the trigger of his rifle and the gun’s muzzle propped under his jaw. His pet dog, also shot, lay dead at the cabin door.

By the provisions of his will, Tainter left the following estate: Truth Seeker of New York received $143.36 less $2.22 in inheritance tax. Mary R. Coger of Sea Side, Oregon, received $396.99 less inheritance tax of $14.85. A niece, Hattie P. Whately of West Newton, Massachusetts, was willed $288.72 less inheritance tax of $1.16, and in a striking gesture befitting his character, Tainter left his gun, known as Little Death, to a J. W. Carow. They will list the value of the gun at $10.00.

Of Tainter’s immediate family, only one brother survived, and Tainter left him not a cent of the $830.07 estate.

Of course, most tantalizing is speculating on the location of the rest of Tainter’s estate, the gold he earned from thirty years of trapping and had craftily concealed. By leaving a will and a negligible sum of money for authorities to find upon his death, he had conformed to society’s demands.

But he probably died happy, knowing that the bulk of his treasure was safely buried. As far as is known, no part of the coin cache has ever been unearthed. Rusk County owns Tainter’s tract.


Fifty years ago, the Horigan brothers, Steve and Cornelius, farmed about 1200 acres near the village of Mt. Zion in Crawford County. Their unmarried sister, Ellen, kept the house for them and their father. The elderly parents had homesteaded the land, and according to newspaper accounts, they had amassed considerable wealth through frugal living and careful management. They refused to spend cash on anything. Not trusting banks, they kept their money well hidden on the farm.

Neighbors said that when the taxes were due each year, one of the Jorigan brothers would carry a newspaper-rolled bundle of money to the tax office and tell the clerk to take out the amount due. Taxes might run a hundred dollars, and Horigan might carry as much as $10,000.

Tuesday, November 11, 1930, was a special day at the Horigan farm. Ellen’s brother-in-law, Patrick Gorman, and his son Paul, from Huron, South Dakota, were guests at the farm, and Ellen had planned a big chicken dinner in their honor.

Shortly past noon, while the family was gathered at the dinner table, a car drove into the yard. Two men and a woman came to the door. The brothers invited the strangers to sit and share the meal, but they declined. The woman asked for a drink of water, and one of the men asked if they could hunt squirrels up on the ridge.

Steve and Cornelius agreed to that and even pointed out a likely spot for good hunting.

In the next instant, the strangers drew revolvers and demanded money. Six-foot Paul, seated at the end of the table, reached for a nearby gun, but he was too late. He was shot through the heart and died instantly. His father, seated next to him, leaped up to protect his son and was shot three times in the chest. He staggered into an adjoining room and fell across a bed, where he died within minutes.

The nimble Cornelius seized a chair and felled one robber with a blow over the head. While the robber was down, he shot Cornelius three times. By then, Steve had seized a revolver and shot one of the bandits in the abdomen at close range, receiving a nasty wound in the arm in return.

Suddenly the robbers, fearing reinforcements and recognizing the need to administer to their wounded compatriot, fled to their car. As tires screamed on the gravel, Steve peppered them with his revolver.
Neighbors were telephoned to come quickly, and they found the two Horigan men bleeding profusely, with the two Gormans dead and Ellen in an incoherent daze.

When local law enforcement officials questioned the neighbors, they said they had heard the shots but were not alarmed.

According to the Boscobel Dial newspaper, on November 12, 1930, the Horigan brothers were rushed to Brookside-Parker Hospital in Boscobel for care. A farmer named Byron Moran, whose father was the first to arrive at the Horigan farm after the shooting reported the following to one writer.

Moran said the Horigan brothers were taken to the Boscobel Hotel, bringing a basket of money with them. When the hotel management objected to having so much money on the premises, the brothers put $25,000 in the Boscobel Bank across the street from the hotel and sent $40,000 to the branch bank at Blue River. The latter bank, not wishing to have that much cash on hand, sent the Horigans’ deposit to another bank.

In the days immediately following the murders, hundreds of people drove to the Horigan farm to see the house of horror. Many remembered that the family had twice before been obliged to defend with their lives the wealth they had worked to accumulate. Still, no lives had been lost on the previous two occasions, and no serious injuries were sustained.

Today, those who knew the Horigan family, and young people who know the story of that fatal day only secondhand, still speculate on the location of the Horigan gold, which was not brought with them when they came to the Boscobel hotel immediately after the shooting.

Is it sealed up in the walls of the dilapidated farmhouse that still stands? In the remains of the root cellar? The barn? Up in the cave at the top of the ridge where old man Horigan stayed during the hold-up? Was he secreting money there? If Bryon Moran’s father was correct in remembering that the Horigan’s had taken $65,000 to Boscobel, did they later withdraw that sum from the banks in which it had been deposited?

Distrusting banks probably did withdraw it. But did they rebury the money on the farm or under a large tree in Boaz, as some believe? The questions are as baffling today as they were nearly half a century ago, and the answers are just as elusive.

Jason Smith

I am a Marine who now works as a Web Developer. I have five US States left to visit. I like whiskey, wine, and coffee, soaking in hot springs or in my hot tub.

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