are taken from James M. Deem's How to Hunt Buried Treasure
Although treasure stories may lead to
the same conclusion--that gold or silver is buried somewhere--they may have
different versions, and a treasure seeker can become quite perplexed.
the case with a treasure associated with the death of General George Armstrong
For many Americans living in 1876,
the western part of the United States held the promise of great riches. Gold had
been discovered in California, and in the early 1870s many were certain that
huge amounts of the ore would be found in Montana and the Black Hills of South
Dakota. Some small gold claims had already been filed there, but few struck it
What the miners didn't know is that a
lost shipment of gold was - and may still be - buried near the Little Bighorn
battle site. When Custer and his men died on June 25, 1876, a steamboat named
the Far West was making its way up the Bighorn River. Under the command
of Captain Grant Marsh, the Far West had orders to follow the Bighorn
River to the mouth of the Little Bighorn. Captain Marsh was then to guide the
boat fifteen to twenty miles upstream and rendezvous with General Alfred H.
Terry and resupply his troops. As the boat sailed to its destination, word
reached Captain Marsh that Custer and his men had been massacred and that
wounded soldiers would be brought to the Far West and taken to Fort
Lincoln, near Bismarck, North Dakota.
The story of the Far West becomes
confusing at this point. Some researchers agree that gold was on board the
supply boat, but they disagree on how it got there. What's more, they agree that
the gold was buried onshore, but they disagree on its precise location. In fact,
two stories have been told to account for the appearance - and disappearance -
of the Far West gold.
Treasure Tale 1:
Gold bars from Williston
According to an account by writer
Emile Schurmacher, Captain Marsh had taken the boat to Williston, North Dakota,
where it had collected a shipment of gold bars worth $375,000 and then left for
its rendezvous with General Terry. The gold was to be delivered to Bismarck on
the return trip.
After fifty-two wounded men were
brought on board to make the 740-mile trip to Bismarck, Marsh realized that he
would need all the room he had on board for firewood to fuel the steamer's
engine. The gold would have to be buried ashore temporarily; he could return
later to collect it.
Schurmacher says that Marsh twice
attempted to retrieve the gold. Once, two months after it was hidden, he docked
the boat in the same location. He could identify the site because tree stumps
indicated where the crew had cut firewood to make the return journey to
Bismarck. Unfortunately, heavy rains had caused a mud slide to wash over the
burial site. Despite considerable digging, he and his men were unable to find
even one bar of gold.
Tale 2: Gold nuggets from Bozeman
The other account, by writer Roy Norvill, is more dramatic. In it, Captain Marsh encountered three men on the
evening of June 26, the day after Custer's death. Marsh had not yet learned of
the massacre, but he knew that many Sioux were in the area. The men shouted to
Marsh from the riverbank. They were Gil Longworth, a wagon driver, and Tom
Dickson and Mark Jergens, his guards. They were carrying a shipment of gold
nuggets from Bozeman, Montana, to Bismarck. Longworth was worried that he would
be attacked by the Sioux and would never deliver the gold shipment, so he begged
Marsh to take it on board the Far West.
After it was transferred to the ship, Longworth, Dickson, and Jergens headed back to Bozeman on land, a route they
considered safer. But Captain Marsh had second thoughts about keeping the gold
on board. As he watched the smoke from many Sioux campsites that night, he
concluded that it would be safer to hide the gold ashore and return for it
later. This was accomplished the same night.
In the next few days, the wounded
soldiers were brought to the steamer and Marsh learned the fate of the three men
from Bozeman: All three were killed by the Sioux. Dickson and Jergens died at
Pryor's Creek; Longworth's body was found a few days later at a spot known as
Clark's Fork. Apparently, he had escaped the Sioux but had been mortally wounded
in the process.
Norvill writes that although Marsh
never forgot about the gold, he made no attempt to recover it. He was afraid
that a return trip would be too risky. In 1879, however, he visited Bozeman to
find the freight company that had hired Longworth. Unfortunately, the company
had long since closed.
Two stories - and two versions of how
the gold came to be on board the Far West and where it was buried.
Is either story true? Did Marsh load
a shipment of gold bars in Williston, or did he accept a frightened driver's
load of gold nuggets from Bozeman? Did he bury it on the Bighorn River, as
Schurmacher claims, one-half mile from the Yellowstone River? Or did he bury it,
as Norvill says, fifteen to twenty miles up the Bighorn River from the mouth
of the Little Bighorn? Could there be two gold treasures? Or did one or both
writers concoct intriguing stories?
Two things can be said for certain.
First, Captain Grant Marsh and the Far West were real. Second, both
helped in the evacuation of wounded soldiers and sailed the Bighorn and Little
Bighorn rivers at the time of Custer's death.
Beyond that, however, nothing is
clear. Although many people believe that a cache of gold is buried along the
Bighorn River, a treasure tracker interested in this case should do a lot of
library research before making a trip to the Bighorn River.
"Custer's Nacy: The Tragic Journey of the Sternwheeler Far
West." True West, October 1986: 14-21.
Schurmacher, Emile C. Lost
Treasures and How to Find Them! New York: Paperback Library, 1968.
ŠJames M. Deem.
Originally published in How
to Hunt Buried Treasure (Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
1992). All rights