When the FBI believed in 2018 it had found the location of a lost stash of gold dating to the US Civil War, it applied for a federal warrant instead of telling the Pennsylvania state government, because it feared the state would seize the gold for itself, court documents obtained by the Associated Press have revealed.
The news agency reported on Friday that it had obtained the document in conjunction with the Philadelphia Inquirer after a federal judge unsealed the case for them. The dossier revealed a bizarre rivalry between federal and state governments and even some potential opportunists trying to purloin the bullion for themselves.
“I have probable cause to believe that a significant cache of gold is secreted in the underground cave,” Jacob Archer, a member of the FBI art crime team in Philadelphia, wrote in the affidavit.
According to the story relayed in the document, a huge amount of gold was hijacked by Confederate sympathizers in 1863 while on its way to the US Mint in Philadelphia. Mint records from the era haven’t survived, so there’s no verification any gold shipment ever went missing, but if it did exist it would be worth millions of dollars today.
However, as he goes on to explain, Archer felt he had to circumvent the more typical ways of going about getting permission to look for the gold because it was on state land, the Inquirer notes.
“I am concerned that, even if DCNR gave initial consent for the FBI to excavate the cache of gold secreted at the Dent’s Run Site, that consent could be revoked before the FBI recovered the United States property, with the result of DCNR unlawfully claiming that that cache of gold is abandoned property and, thus, belongs to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Archer wrote, referring to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Based on reports by some treasure hunters on the trail of the gold, the FBI hired a contractor to examine a likely site in Elk County with some powerful equipment and found evidence of a massive buried object up to nine tons. If it were gold bullion, that would be roughly 667 gold bars.
It wasn’t just the state government in Harrisburg that was after the gold, either: in 2013, a government staffer had learned of the gold site from some treasure hunters and offered to get them a digging permit in exchange for a cut of the treasure, according to Archer. No trace of that story could be found, either, though.
However, the weird story doesn’t end there: according to the treasure hunters, the FBI lied to the US attorney’s office in Philadelphia when it said the dig site turned up empty. They believe the FBI did find the gold and secretly whisked it away in a convoy of armored cars by cover of night, as locals reported seeing and hearing.
Dennis Parada, co-founder of Finders Keepers, told the AP that the FBI’s claim is “insulting all the credible people who did this kind of work. It was a slap in the face, really, to think all these people could make that kind of mistake.”
“They had 50 agents there…We have witnesses that they were there all night with armored cars. So, what are we supposed to believe?” journalist William Cluck, who was consulted by the FBI about Civil War history during their investigation, told Harrisburg’s Patriot-News daily in January. “We are convinced that they found gold.”
However, other experts are less credulous.
“There was a tremendous amount of gold that went missing during the Civil War,” William Rawlings, a historian who has researched similar rumors about lost Confederate gold, silver, and other riches and rarities, told CNN in 2018, amid the digging project in Elk County.
“Most of these turn out to be nothing,” he said, adding: “It’s human nature. We all want to believe that some fantasy is true. And people love a mystery.”