Many of you may not know that Illinois is loaded with forgotten loot and buried treasure, but millions of dollars in gold and silver are right under your feet – if you can find it. Luckily, the Legends and Lore of Illinois is there to bring you the story of some of Illinois’ most notorious lost treasures! Perhaps you have what it takes to solve these mysteries and strike it rich?
10. Mysterious Hurricane Creek
Cumberland County, IL
In 1920, two reddish-colored skeletons were unearthed in a gravel bank on a farm owned by a man named Jake Walters in rural Cumberland County. One was giant sized: twice as large as the other, adult skeleton. The lower jaw of the giant was well preserved, with ten teeth that were worn down, indicating that he or she died at an old age. The bones were buried four feet below the surface in a region of prehistoric trails and burial grounds at the extreme end of a ridge east of Hurricane Creek. The ridge was already well known for its tales of buried treasure. According to legend, a young Indian Chief, most likely of the Kickapoo, told the white settlers that an elder of the tribe had buried a treasure there, but he would not reveal its location because anyone who dug it up would be cursed and die. About the time the giant skeleton was found, a fortune teller in Charleston claimed to know where the treasure was buried, but “will not tell until the right person to claim it comes along.”
9. James Gregory Stash
Marion County, IL
Between 1880 and 1925, a man named James Gregory operated the only dry goods store south of Hickory Hill Church. Over the years, he became wealthy supplying local farmers with all their equipment, feed, and other supplies, but like many rural residents in the late 19th Century, James did not trust banks. He apparently did not trust his own wife either, because she had no knowledge of where he hid his money. Neighbors, however, sometimes observed that he would duck out to a pasture behind his home whenever he needed to stock up on additional inventory. In 1925, he suffered a stroke and died. His wife searched for her inheritance in vain, and there are believed to be several thousand dollars still hidden somewhere on his former property.
8. Colonel Clark’s Lost Silver
George Rogers Clark is a celebrated name in Illinois history. In 1778, as the Revolutionary War raged out east, Clark asked Patrick Henry (then Governor of Virginia) for permission to lead a secret expedition to capture British posts in the Illinois country, which included Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes. Patrick Henry commissioned Clark as a lieutenant colonel in the Virginia militia and authorized him to raise troops. Before his 175 man army left, the Virginia governor gave him several thousand pounds silver sterling to pay for the expedition. As Clark’s army was preparing to attack Fort Kaskaskia on July 4, they buried 1,200 pounds sterling west of present day Steeleville, near the Mississippi River, in case things went badly. He was victorious in battle, but unfortunately, the Mississippi flooded and obscured the location of the coins. This money has never been recovered.
7. The Sweetin Home
Greene County, IL
Otherwise known as “the old stone house,” the remnants of this manor were, at one time, part of a mansion built in 1848 by a stockman named Azariah Sweetin. During the Civil War, Azariah didn’t want to take any chances with banks, so he stuffed all his gold coins into jars and buried them around his property. Unfortunately, an equestrian accident in 1871 rendered him without any memory of where he had buried his money. After his death, his ranch was purchased by Cyrus Hartwell, who also lived there until he died. Treasure seekers soon tore the mansion apart, but no one has ever found Azariah’s gold. Storytellers say Azariah’s ghost—alongside snakes—now guards his lost loot.
6. The Farrington Brothers’ Gold
Outlaws became national folk heroes after the Civil War, when irregular guerrillas and veterans of the Confederate Cavalry used the skills they learned during the war to enrich themselves and their families at the expense of railroads and banks. Levi and Hilary Farrington were no exception. They fought with Quantrill’s Raiders during the war, and joined an outlaw gang after. In 1870, they robbed a train in Tennessee and made off with $20,000 in gold. During the escape, the two brothers were separated and Levi laid low at a farm near Farmington, Illinois, where he is rumored to have hidden the gold. He was captured by a deputy after a short time and lynched in Union City, Tennessee. The Farrington Brother’s loot was never found.
5. Burrows Cave
Richland County, IL
In the early 1980s a man named Russell Burrows claimed to stumble upon a hidden cave somewhere near Olney. Even more incredible were the artifacts he said were hidden there. He found human remains, metal weapons, and an ancient language carved into gold tablets. Stranger still, the language was Middle Eastern and European in origin, and not from any known American Indian culture. According to Burrows, “The artifacts include ax heads of marble and other stone material, an ax head of what appears to be bronze, a short sword of what appears to be bronze, and other artifacts which might be considered personal weapons.” The find excited archeologists who believed that ancient cultures had interacted across continents. Unfortunately, Burrows refused to reveal the location of the cave to mainstream scientists, and the artifacts that allegedly came from the site were all shown to be frauds. After decades of debate, the Burrows Cave is now widely believed to have been an elaborate hoax.
4. Lost Stash of Henri de Tonti
Between 1685 and 1702, Henri de Tonti was the most powerful man in central Illinois. He was a character of legend, even though most people do not remember him today. He lost his right hand at the Battle of the Messina Revolt during the Third Anglo-Dutch War and replaced it with a hook. He accompanied René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in his exploration of the Illinois country, and La Salle left him to hold Fort Saint Louis when he returned to France. During his time in the Illinois River Valley, he is rumored to have accumulated over $100,000 in gold, which he buried around Starved Rock. He told a priest about the gold just before he died, but it has never been found despite search attempts in the 1750s by the French and the Potawatomie.
3. “King of the Hold Up Men”
Harvey John Bailey (1887–1979) was one of the 1920′s most successful bank robbers. He worked in a gang or alone, and his career spanned 13 years and several states. In 1931, his gang robbed the Lincoln National Bank in Lincoln, Nebraska and made off with roughly $1 million in cash. After the robbery, he is said to have hidden the loot on a farm near Richmond, Illinois, where he had been staying. He robbed his last bank in Kingfisher, Oklahoma and was sentenced to life in prison on October 7, 1933. He served time until his release in 1964. He died seven years later, but without recovering his stash. To this day, no one knows what happened to the $1 million.
2. Payroll Payload
Many years ago, in the early 1800s, there was an old army way station in southern Piatt County near Arthur. It was well known in the area that several companies of regular army soldiers were coming there to receive their monthly pay, which meant that a total of around $286,000 in $20 gold coins was at the station. A gang of bandits planned to rob the station before the soldiers arrived. The station master learned of their plans, however, and with the help of several guards, he buried the gold coins. When the bandits arrived, they killed the station master and his guards and burnt the station to the ground. However, they never found the $286,000 in gold, which is presumably still buried somewhere nearby.
Hardin County, IL
Cave-in-Rock, located on the Ohio River, is one of the most notorious treasure-hunting destinations in Illinois. From the 1790s to the 1870s the area around Cave-in-Rock was plagued by river pirates, horse thieves, counterfeiters, and highwaymen. Over $1 million worth of stolen loot, gold, cash, and counterfeit bills changed hands there between 1790 and 1830 alone. In 1800, the Mason gang was rumored to have hidden a large stash of gold at Cave-in-Rock, but Samuel Mason was beheaded after he was caught on the Spanish side of the Mississippi River with $7,000 and 20 human scalps. Aside from Mason’s horde, there are supposed to be dozens of stashes of gold and silver all along the cliff face.
Check out these places and more in Michael Kleen’s Haunting Illinois: A Tourist’s Guide to the Weird and Wild Places of the Prairie State! Haunting Illinois contains 200 mystery sites and 85 individual illustrations. In this book, Michael not only examines the sites, but also the hobbyists and professionals who have devoted their lives to exploring the strange and unusual in our great state. Divided among eight distinct regions and listed by county, each location features a description, directions, and sources drawn from a diverse variety of books and articles. Haunting Illinois challenges you to get off the couch and start exploring our wonderful State of Illinois. Go here to order!
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