Gold was discovered in California, and among those early 49ers who headed west in 1849 were two 23-year-old men from Boston. Just who they were is unknown, but according to legend they panned for gold in the foot hills of the High Sierras for nearly five years. Gradually, their patience was rewarded and by 1855 they had accumulated a fortune in gold nuggets. But, continued talk of home and memories of loved ones brought on homesickness. Figuring they had enough gold to last a lifetime, they packed it up and headed back home.
Buying a wagon, team and supplies, the two young prospectors joined a caravan of freighters for both protection and companionship, and slowly began the long 2,000 mile journey back to Boston. From California to Julesburg, in what is today northeastern Colorado, the journey was uneventful except for a few scares from hostile Indians and delays caused by large herds of buffalo crossing the trail. By the time the wagon train pulled into Julesburg, the prospectors were more anxious than ever to reach home. They didn't like the gambling and drinking in Julesburg, but what worried them the most were two gun-toting ruffians who suspected the young men were carrying gold in their wagon.
So, our boys decided to go it alone the next 500 miles to the Missouri River, and slipped quietly out of town during the night. A few days later on a Saturday evening they reached the tiny settlement of Richman on the west bank of the Nemaha River. Richman was located about an hour's drive west of today's St. Joseph near Seneca, Kan. Richman no longer exists as a settlement, but in 1855 it was an active trading center with only about a dozen shacks, mostly gambling halls and saloons.
The wagon passed on through town, forded the Nemaha, and set up camp on the east bank. They chose a site directly across from a large cottonwood and as soon as it got dark, they dug a hole and buried their gold in a powder can. They did not want to leave the treasure unguarded in the wagon while they went into town to replenish their supplies.
Once the gold was covered with dirt and branches they waded back across the Nemaha and walked the short distance to the only supply store in town. They made their purchases and were about to leave when two men walked out of the back room where a gambling hall and saloon was located. They were those same two ruffians who caused the young prospectors to flee Julesburg. Suddenly, fists flew and a gun shot rang out and one of the young men from Boston fell dead.
What happened next is unclear, but the lights in the store went out as the surviving prospector fled back across the river. He quickly hitched up his team and high-tailed it, leaving behind the buried gold. By noon two days later, he reached St. Joe where he could have gotten some help to go back and retrieve his gold. But, for some unknown reason he didn't, maybe he was just too afraid for his life.
Back safely in Boston, the years passed by quickly. He got married and then answered the call to duty when the Civil War broke out. Before leaving, he drew a map for his wife as to the location of the buried gold back on the Nemaha. Sadly, he was killed during war, so the gold is still buried. Today, the big cottonwood is gone, the river channel has changed, and the landscape has been under cultivation for years. Many people have searched for the gold down through the years, but according to legend, no one has ever found it.
Reference: “True Tales of Old Time Kansas” by David Dary.
• A free re-enactment of the activities of the Union Army and civilians of old Fort Scott in 1864 will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the restored Fort Scott Historic Site, in Fort Scott, Kan.
To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 816-252-9909.