If you ever wanted proof that it takes much more brains to keep money than it does to earn or steal it, then just consider the phenomenon of the “buried treasure.” This seemingly idiotic means of hiding vast amounts of gold, jewels, and cash was once incredibly popular. Unfortunately for the men and women who felt secure burying their fortune in the middle of nowhere, buried treasure isn’t the easiest thing to find once it’s been planted in the ground. Perhaps that’s why there are still several high profile fortunes that have been lost to time thanks to either forgetfulness, greed, or just plain, old bad luck. Here, for your consideration, are several real buried treasures that are still up for grabs to this day.
1. The Treasure at Little Big Horn
In the days and months leading up to the Battle at Little Big Horn, the threat of a Sioux attack was very real. The legend goes that a steamboat captain named Grant Marsh accrued a small fortune in gold bars (worth roughly $375,000) by extorting locals’ fears. Then, when Custer and his men got destroyed at Little Big Horn, Marsh’s ship was drafted to carry the wounded to civilization. In order to keep his steamboat from sinking under the combined weight of the wooded men and his gold, March buried his fortune at Little Big Horn and reportedly never recovered it.
2. Thomas Beale’s Bedford County Fortune
Around 1816, Thomas Beale and a group of miners with whom he was traveling stumbled upon almost $2 million in gold and silver (that’s about $63 million in today’s money). In order to ensure that the cash made it to the right people (namely the miners or their next of kin), Beale created three ciphers that — when decoded — would reveal the location, contents, and proper owners of the treasure. Beale entrusted these three ciphers to an innkeeper who was supposed to wait a decade to receive the key. But the key never arrived, none of Beale’s men came to claim the loot, and the inkeeper was never able to crack the cipher that would reveal the location of the treasure.
3. The Irish Canyon Treasure
Legend has it that somewhere in the vast reaches of Irish Canyon in Colorado, Butch Cassidy and his band of outlaws, the Wild Bunch, supposedly buried $20,000 in cash, the take from their daring series of robberies. Unfortunately, after the stash was buried, Cassidy and his gang got a little preoccupied being chased by law enforcement from two countries.
4. Mosby’s Lost Pine Tree Treasure
During the Civil War, Confederate Commander John Mosby and his men — a group known as Mosby’s Raiders — terrorized the Union line with their blitzkrieg-style raids. After one such raid, Mosby and his boys discovered a burlap sack containing about $350,000 in cash and prizes. Unfortunately, while attempting to smuggle the treasure back home, Mosby and his men ran into a mass of Union soldiers. Mosby ordered the treasure buried between two pine trees and then moved on. When he sent seven of his men back to reclaim it, they were caught and hung. No one recovered the sack since.
5. Dillinger’s Desperate Cache
Near the end of his outlaw career, when his coffers were overflowing with ill-gotten gains, John Dillinger and his gang (along with fellow icon Babyface Nelson) were hiding out in a Wisconsin hotel called the Little Bohemia Lodge. When the FBI got wind of Dillinger’s hideout, they stormed the place (killing several civilians in the process). In the confusion of the attack, Dillinger supposedly had the time to run a few hundred yards north of the lodge and bury $200,000 in a suitcase. Two months later, Dillinger was shot and killed. The money has yet to be recovered.
6. Forrest Fenn’s Hidden Treasure
In 1980, former Air Force pilot Forrest Finn was diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer. To that point, the pilot had spent his entire life traveling the world in search of interesting and valuable artifacts. When he was diagnosed, Fenn decided that the best way to use his fortune (which was estimated at around $1-3 million in 1980), was to bury it and leaves a series of cryptic clues for the person intelligent enough to find out where it was buried.
7. Cortes’ Lost Treasure
The Spanish did one heck of a lot of pillaging between the 1400s and the late 1700s. They also lost a lot of pilfered profit. In 1520, for example, Herman Cortes and his team of conquistadors were occupying the kingdom of the Aztecs. By holding their king, Moctezuma II, hostage, Cortes was able to extort piles and piles of gold from the indigenous people. When Moctezuma died, the Aztec people revolted and Cortes was forced to abandon the treasure. When he and his men regrouped and returned, they found the gold missing. Popular legend has it that the Aztec people threw the gold into Lake Texoco, where it was buried first by silt and then by the foundations of Mexico City.
8. The Fortune in Lake Toplitz
Toward the end of the Second World War, as the Nazis were beginning to realize the end was near, they began to run away with or simply destroy the mountains of treasure they’d accrued during their reign of terror. While a lot of this fortune has been recovered, one particularly large cache supposedly lies at the bottom of Austria’s Lake Toplitz. Current construction makes it difficult to fully explore the lake, but several experts believe that the lake holds a fortune in missing Nazi loot.
9. The Great Depression Gamble
In the midst of the Great Depression, millionaire Leon Trabuco and four partners invested millions of dollars in Mexican gold. Their thinking was that the Depression would force the government to devalue the American dollar — which they did — a financial move that would cause the price of gold to soar — which it did. Unfortunately for Trabuco and cohorts, the US government outlawed the private ownership of gold shortly thereafter, which meant that Trabuco and his pals were unable to dig up their hidden stash of Mexican gold. Sadly, all five men died before the law was rescinded, so they ended up taking the location of their buried gold to their individual graves.
10. The Spanish Fleet’s Sunken Plunder
In the early 1700s, the Spanish were making beaucoup bucks in the New World. In fact, by 1715, the Spanish had filled up 11 ships with a fortune in gold, silver, pearls, jewels, and the like. Experts say it was worth about $2 billion by today’s standards. Unfortunately, the Spanish fleet was uniformly massacred during hurricane season and the entire fortune was lost to the bottom of the ocean. While a portion of the treasure has been discovered by treasure hunters, the vast majority remains uncovered.