Maybe it’s gold outside

There’s this story of lost gold.

I’ve been hearing about it for years. It involves both Cameron County and Clinton County, the Civil War, and buried treasure. It’s an interesting story, and people have gone out repeatedly looking for the gold.

The only problem is, it may not be true.

Here’s the legend: In the summer of 1863, a cart of gold was shipped by the Union Army during the Civil War. Under the command of Lieutenant James Castleton, it traveled through Pennsylvania, and the men had a hard time. Rough trails, mud, snakes, and illness all played a part, and the men fell one by one.

The last survivor was a private named Connors. Leaving the gold hidden up in Cameron County, he walked on foot until he got to Lock Haven, where he was treated for his injuries and sickness. He stayed in Lock Haven until the army sent men for him, claiming when he was drinking to know exactly where the gold was. The army shipped him to a remote outpost where they could keep an eye on him, and the gold never did turn up.

I used to have a theory that it was up around Altar Rock, here in Clinton County. Many people have floated the idea that it’s actually near Dent’s Run, in Cameron County. But more and more, I’m coming around to the thought that we’re all wrong — I suspect it never existed.

I stumbled on this story again while I was researching the Calder bricks from Cameron County — Remember that one? I wrote about it not long ago. While I was looking into it, I picked up “History of Cameron County.” There was nothing in the book on the bricks, but there was a long, detailed essay on the Civil War gold.

It contained a lot of information, some of which I hadn’t heard before. Now, one of the big issues with this legend is that there’s not much corroborating evidence from the time it happened. The oldest mention of the gold is from a magazine in the mid-1900s, not generally a reliable indicator. In the book, it contained details about exactly what day Connors arrived in Lock Haven, and the previously unknown (to me) incident of him later being joined here by two men from his unit who had also survived.

According to the book, Connors made it into Lock Haven on the last day of June, 1863. So I found the Clinton Democrat from the year, and read through it. The Clinton Democrat loved reporting on Civil War news. It’s packed; the Clinton Democrat couldn’t wait to report on the Civil War. A soldier arriving into town from a traveling unit would have been major news.

Except it wasn’t. I went through all of June and July, and there was no mention of Connors, the gold, or the two other men who allegedly showed up. There were all kinds of stories on Civil War units moving around the state, on local men who were traveling to Harrisburg to join up, but nothing on this exciting lost gold story.

Which strongly suggests that it didn’t really happen. The newspaper would have reported on Connors’s arrival, particularly since he evidently insisted on getting drunk and raving about the location of a lost treasure. The story also mentions a military outpost in Lock Haven during the Civil War, and to the best of my knowledge, there wasn’t one of those, either.

There are all kinds of buried treasure stories locally — John Reaville’s hidden money, a cave of silver in Clinton County, the lost boxes of gold from Chadbert Joincaire. I think I’m going to look for one of those, instead… It’s more likely I’ll actually find something. The lost Civil War gold is probably just an entertaining story.


Lou Bernard is a Lock Haven resident with a keen interest in the history of this area. He is adult services coordinator at Ross Library and may be reached at loulhpa@gmail.com or 570-660-4463.


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