History is chock-full of stories about abundant treasures left behind by pirates, rascals, and thieves. While not all of these tales turn out to be true, the ones that are legitimate indicate that there are billions of dollars worth of treasure scattered throughout North America. And it's just waiting to be discovered.
From the gold bullion at the bottom of Lake Michigan to the ciphertexts that hold the location of $43 million in Virginia, these long-lost treasures are still up for grabs. Will they ever be found?
There's $140 Million Sitting At The Bottom Of Lake Michigan
More than $140 million in Confederate gold bullion is sitting at the bottom of Lake Michigan, some historians believe. In 1865, Union soldiers stole millions of dollars in gold bullion from Confederate President Jefferson Davis after he was captured and imprisoned.
The stolen bullion was put in a boxcar and smuggled north to Michigan and loaded onto a ferry. Historians believe inclement weather forced the crew to offload cargo, unknowingly including the boxcar of bullion. Today, the treasure has yet to be found despite an ongoing search.
Somewhere Along Little Bighorn River, $375,000 Waits To Be Found
A lost treasure worth around $375,000 is buried somewhere along Little Bighorn River in Montana thanks to the Great Sioux War of 1876. In June of that year, Lt. Colonel George A. Custer and a team of 263 soldiers battled thousands of Cheyenne and Lakota warriors. The odds weren't in their favor and the scene quickly turned into a bloodbath.
Captain Grant Marsh had been on his way to the battle in his steamboat to provide supplies, but instead, ended up having to shuttle soldiers to safety. Fearing that the excess weight would sink his steamboat, Marsh ditched the $375,000 worth of gold he had on board, planning to return to his loot later. Today, researchers agree that the gold was indeed aboard the ship, but its whereabouts are largely disputed.
The Dead Outlaws' Loot Was Never Found
In May 1881, a stagecoach traveling near Flagstaff, Arizona was ambushed while carrying more than $3 million (in today's currency) in silver and gold bars and coins. The loot, which was owned by Wells Fargo, was being transported to San Francisco in unmarked mail sacks to thwart criminals. The tactic proved unsuccessful, however, after a group of thieves was tipped off by a bank insider.
Police eventually tracked the group to a remote cabin and, after an intense standoff, the criminals were all shot dead. The silver and gold? Missing. To this day, all searches have ended up fruitless and the money has never been found.
Somewhere Along The Cahuenga Pass In Los Angeles Lies A Cursed Treasure
In the 1860s, four agents working for Benito Juarez attempted to travel from Mexico to San Francisco. With them, they brought $3.2 million in diamonds, pearls, and gold, which they planned to exchange for weapons.
Along the way, one of the agents died. The remaining men feared the treasure would be confiscated by authorities, so they buried him and fled. But the agents didn't realize that a fugitive shepherd had been tailing them and stole their valuables the first chance he got. The agents discovered their treasure was missing, pointed their fingers at each other, and the fight turned deadly. The fugitive reburied the treasure for safekeeping but passed away shortly after. Some claim that the "cursed" treasure will only be found after six men have died. With the death count at five, we won't be going after this loot anytime soon.
Multiple People Have Died Looking For The Fenn Treasure
Forrest Fenn said he "just wanted to give people some hope" when he hid a treasure worth more than $1 million in 2010. After the art dealer was diagnosed with cancer, he came up with the idea to hide a chest full of treasure for anyone to find. The treasure chest is reportedly filled with rare coins, gemstones, jewelry, and gold nuggets along with his autobiography Thrill of the Chase.
Fenn made a full recovery but still hid the treasure chest years later. He presented nine clues within a poem along with a treasure map in his autobiography. Hundreds of thousands have searched for the treasure, and sadly, several people have died during their attempt. Legend has it that seven people have to die before one treasure, in particular, could be found.
The Beale Papers Hold Clues To A $43 Million Treasure
If you like cracking codes, consider planning your next vacation to Bedford County, Virginia. In 1885, a pamphlet titled The Beale Papers was released detailing two treasures that were buried decades earlier. The treasures, which contain jewels, silver, and gold, are worth an estimated $43 million.
The treasure was the result of Thomas J. Beale, who discovered an abundantly rich mine in New Mexico in the early 1800s. He and a team of men spent 18 months mining and transported the valuables back east. Beale created the papers which contained three ciphertexts regarding the location of the treasure. It wasn't until after he died that a friend found the papers, solved one ciphertext, and then shared the remaining clues with the public. Since then, numerous attempts have been made to decode the ciphertexts, but all efforts have failed.
Oak Island Money Pit
Legend has it that there is a treasure on Oak Island in Nova Scotia. What kind of treasure? Everything from millions in cash to Marie Antoinette's jewels to the Holy Grail has been rumored to be buried on the island.
Stories of the Oak Island Money Pit date back to the 18th century when settlers claimed a pirate stashed his booty in a sinkhole. The first excavation was carried out in 1799 which led to the discovery of a mysterious stone with symbols etched into it. The crew began digging deeper but water filled the hole and the dig was called off. Since then, six men have lost their lives attempting to find the treasure in the money pit.
The San Saba Treasure
In 1836, a group of rugged frontiersmen led by Colonel Jim Bowie traveled across southern Texas to the Alamo while carrying a fortune known as the San Saba Treasure.
Containing millions in silver and gold, The San Saba Treasure was intended to fund the Texas revolution for independence from Mexico. But before this could happen, Bowie and his men perished as they fought against 6,000 Mexican troops in The Battle of the Alamo. Throughout the years, teams of archeologists and researchers have excavated the area in search of the fortune, but have never been successful. Still, many believe the San Saba Treasure is out there waiting.
As Much As $55 Million In Gold Might Be Buried Outside of Philly
Legend has it that a wagon from the Union Army supposedly lost a large cache of gold bars on a trip from West Virginia to Pennsylvania in 1863. Now, the FBI is overseeing a dig where the loot is thought to be buried.
A group called Finders Keepers has been looking for the fortune but tells reporters they can't give too much information. While there are various accounts of just how much gold the wagon was carrying, most believe it was either 26 or 52 gold bars. That would amount to $27 million or $55 million (we'd be happy with either!).
A Confederate Ranger's $6 Million Treasure Is Waiting To Be Found
In the woods of Fairfax County, Virginia, some believe a treasure worth as much as $6 million awaits. In the spring of 1963, Confederate ranger John S. Mosby (above) launched a night raid on the Fairfax County Courthouse. During the raid, Mosby and his men captured more than 40 soldiers and then ransacked the place.
Mosby and his men took a sack filled to the brim with silver, gold, jewels, and other family heirlooms thought to be worth $350,000. But on their way home, the Confederate ranger was so fearful he would be caught and lose his bounty that he ordered his men to bury it in the woods nearby. When some of the men went back to retrieve the treasure a few months later, they were captured and murdered by Union soldiers. Today, the valuables remain buried.
Leon Trabuco's Gold Is Buried In New Mexico
Buried deep in the desert of New Mexico, there's said to be 16 tons of gold worth around $750 million. A millionaire Mexican attorney named Leon Trabuco, along with his associates, buried the fortune in 1933 as the U.S. was in the midst of the Great Depression. They thought the price of gold would skyrocket, and brought and hid tons of the precious metal into America in preparation.
Unfortunately for them, a law was passed that outlawed private ownership of gold in the country. Unable to sell their stash, they left it buried instead. The gold is said to be near the Ute and Navajo Indian Reservations.
Forrest Fenn's Treasure Chest Was Located!
Cross this one off your list! The New Mexican art dealer Forrest Fenn announced in June 2020 that a brave soul had located the treasure he'd hidden in the Rocky Mountains a decade earlier. The lucky treasure hunter, from the East Coast, did not want to be named, but a photograph confirmed to Fenn that they did indeed have the loot.
Hundreds of thousands of people had searched for the bronze chest, and several people died in the process. A few people believed the buried treasure to be a hoax and pursued lawsuits against Fenn. As to the discovery, Fen said, that it contained hundreds of gold nuggets and rare gold coins and many valuable prehistoric artifacts from around the world.
The Shawnee Silver Mines Of Appalachia
In Appalachian history, the tale of multiple lost silver mines stands out among the rest and is of great interest to treasure hunters. The legend comes from a 1760 journal kept by a Virginia man named John Swift. In the diary, Swift claimed that a man named George Munday led him to a cave filled with silver ore. Munday learned about the cave and others like it when he was allegedly held captive by the Shawnee and forced to mine the silver.
People have been searching for the mines ever since, although their precise locations are hotly debated. The mountains of eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia are thought to be the most likely candidates, and it's been said that a few people have found silver items, including ingots, from the area.
Several Sites Along North Carolina's Coast Might Contain Blackbeard's Treasure
Edward "Blackbeard" Teach, better known as Blackbeard, was one of the most feared pirates of them all. Throughout the early 18th century he terrorized seamen from the Caribbean to the Eastern U.S. Three hundred years after his death, Blackbeard's hidden $12.5 million fortune is still sought by treasure hunters.
He often docked in North Carolina, where many people believe his treasure remains buried. Some of the possible sites include aboard the wreck of Queen Anne's Revenge near Beaufort Inlet, off the coast of Ocracoke Island, and near his home on Plum Point.
Treasure Hunters Have Been Looking For The Lost Dutchman's Mine Since 1892
The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine is probably the most famous lost mine in America. Believed to be located in the aptly-named Superstition Mountains, near Apache Junction, Arizona, the legend of the mine and all the gold it contains has drawn treasure hunters since at least 1892. Many have died trying to reach it.
The mine is said to be named after a German immigrant named Jacob Waltz, who discovered it in the 19th century and kept its location a secret. The Superstition Mountain Museum houses Peralta Stones, which are engraved with cryptic clues about the precise location. Pictured here is a group excursion to find the mine, taken in 1938.
Stolen Paintings From The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum In Boston
Treasure hunters who are also art lovers will be intrigued by this story. In 1990, paintings with a total value of $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It was the most valuable art crime in U.S. history and continues to perplex investigators despite some promising tips over the years.
Among the paintings were works by masters such as Johannes Vermeer, Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, and Rembrandt van Rijn. The museum is offering a $10 million reward for information leading to the recovery of the stolen art.
Did Butch Cassidy Leave A Fortune In Colorado?
Many stories about real treasure relate to people who lived their lives outside of the law, and this one is no exception. Butch Cassidy, with his famous gang the Wild Bunch, was one of the most notorious outlaws of the Wild West.
Before Butch and his friend The Sundance Kid fled the U.S. to hide out in South America, they supposedly buried $20,000 in Irish Canyon, Colorado. That amount certainly doesn't come near some of the others on our list, but it'd still be a welcome payday. Pictured is the Wild Bunch, with Cassidy seated on the far right.
The Wreck Of The San Miguel Lies Off The Coast Of Florida
As Spain headed into the War of Succession in the early 18th century, King Philip V ordered Spanish authorities in the New World to amass a stockpile of valuables such as gold and gemstones. In 1715, a vast treasure had been accumulated and a fleet set out to transport it from Cuba to Spain. Unfortunately, poor planning meant that they set sail during hurricane season. Eleven of the fleet's 12 ships were destroyed and more than 1,000 people died.
One ship, the San Miguel, is believed to have separated from the rest. It sank off the coast of Amelia Island, Florida, and has not been recovered. The San Miguel is thought to contain a staggering $2 billion worth of treasure.
Captain Kidd's Long Island Treasure
William Kidd, better known as Captain Kidd, was one of the most famous pirates to sail the seas. Stories of his many conquests and the treasures he left behind are legendary. While some of his booty, including an enormous bar of silver off the coast of Madagascar, has been located, many people believe there are still troves of it on Long Island, New York.
After Kidd's death, some of his treasure was discovered on Gardiner's Island off Long Island. But there are supposedly other places nearby where he hid his gold, silver, and precious stones. The Setauket, Oyster Bay, and the "Money Ponds" near Montauk Lighthouse are all thought to hide more of the Captain's great wealth.
There's Supposedly A Suitcase Full Of Gangster Money Near A Lodge In Wisconsin
Little Bohemia Lodge in Mercer, Wisconsin was the site of a botched FBI raid against the John Dillinger Gang. The infamous gangster managed to escape through the back door of the lodge carrying a suitcase full of unmarked bills worth $200,000. Legend has it that he buried the suitcase just a few yards north of the lodge and that it's still there today.
Even if visitors don't find treasure during their trip to Mercer, they'll be richly rewarded with a meal and a history lesson. The Lodge is still operating as a restaurant and has a display of Dillinger artifacts and memorabilia.