We all love mysteries. Especially mysteries that might be solved. And even more, we really like mysteries right here in our own back yard. Since it is a secret, we Owls have to keep the origin of this story to ourselves. Maybe you might know how to solve this riddle?
Few mysteries present themselves so close to home. ‘History’, that is to say old rumors, tells us that a giant cache of gold was buried within walking distance of our little town. We live in Athens, Alabama. We are situated in a flat, cotton friendly region which once hosted the Cherokee and Choctaw Indians. They reserved this land for hunting, as the native American tribes had their large settlements elsewhere, closer to the nearby mighty Tennessee and Elk Rivers. The major east-west access through our town was originally a country road leading to the Nick Davis Plantation some ten miles away. If a rider continued on, he’d be in Huntsville, Alabama.
What concerns us is the northward route, which passes out of town heading toward Ardmore. Or was it another, heading generally north toward Nashville? During the Civil War, this region was hotly contested. A major railroad went from Nashville, Tennessee, through Athens to cross the Tennessee River about 14 miles south of here.
The whole of this region was captured by the Northern forces early in the Civil War. They held it until General John Bell Hood marched his Confederate army through in 1864. He was marching off north to battle the Yankees near Nashville.
Like all armies, the Rebels found they’d not been paid in some time. A small group of Confederates, driving two wagons north toward Nashville, carried two immense boxes (some say iron boxes) filled with gold to pay them. En route, and here distance accounts are all the same, some four miles north of Athens, a forward scout galloped back pell-mell to warn the wagoneers that the Yankees were ahead, and coming their way!
Now this route they were on could be a couple modern day roads. In those days this trail was the only land road all the way north to the soldiers in Columbia, Tennessee.
The legend goes on to say that the drivers left the road when, some say, a wagon bogged down at the river crossing. Whether in the wagon or manhandling the boxes, the Confederates hauled the gold boxes ‘about a mile’ away down the creek-bed, and buried the boxes in marsh land.
The river would have been Piney Creek, maybe. Piney Creek is a true year round waterway some four miles north of Athens on the old Columbia route north. Even today, there are boundless swamp lands all around the creek bottom. Swamps, of course, equal snakes.
Yet is it within reason that since this is the reasonably flat creek bottom the wagons drove down to hide; why they might even have buried, or sunk, a treasure there. I doubt this however, which is not to say the treasure wasn’t disposed of. If the treasure existed.
Of course, more likely to a neutral observer, they might have tossed the boxes down the well at the stage stop they passed only about a mile or so back down the road. The stage stop is of course no longer there, and the well is covered over with modern concrete. No one mentioned the well in the accounts. A well would have made for a quick disposal of the immense boxes, and rendered burial unnecessary, particularly in a panicked state of danger.
Common sense suggests this treasure might not actually be there. Infantrymen know you never walk down a riverbed when you want to get somewhere fast. The twists, rocks, and wildlife, not to mention water, preclude facile movement. If you are driving a wagon, you’d never dream of going down a swampy creek bed.
As mentioned, according to some versions of the treasure rumors, it is suggested the wagon was bogged down in the creek, and the treasure buried. Then what happened? Literally hundreds of buried treasure stories end like this. No one knows what happened to the men, to the wagon, or the Yankees, not to mention the loot! We should also include the fact that no one knows what happened to any treasure, which was never reported lost.
Indeed, such a payment was never known to exist, or to have been lost. And yet, and yet we know the value, $100,000 in gold and silver in the value of those days.
Tempting details, which arise from nowhere, and which cannot be checked, are also clues that it might not be there. Of course, then again, it might be there, and well, my Owl’s nest is not that far away.
If only I had opposable thumbs. And a shovel. And a map!