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Adams County Pa. Related Historical Articles

The "Treasure" of Mont Alto

Elwood W. Christ

Although teased by flea market tales of purchasing a priceless object for pennies, reality dictates that these moments are rare. Perhaps our Don Quixote-like inclination to quest for instant riches was shaped in adolescence by romantic tales such as Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Treasure Island.

Prologue …

During the summer of 1863, the bulk of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's army marched up the Cumberland Valley and through South Mountain passes to Gettysburg. Like a plague of locust, foraging expeditions scoured the countryside looking for food and water to feed an army. The cool spring waters of the Mont Alto region just across the county line would be tempting. Although Lee's soldiers were not to make war on the civilian population, they did destroy Thaddeus Stevens' Caledonia Furnace and several other commercial properties that might directly aid the Union army.

Generally, most Southern soldiers behaved themselves, but some did not. During the retreat, one Confederate stole a silver tea service from the Charles P. Krauth family who lived on the Gettysburg seminary campus. Union troopers later captured the thief and eventually the service was returned. (It is now part of the historical society's collections.)

Sixty-five years later, as the first cool evenings promised the approach of autumn, the people of the South Mountain area, enduring the sluggish economy of the Great Depression, curiously watched a "stranger." On September 2, 1931, this stranger, "who arrived in an automobile bearing District of Columbia tags began to pace off distances and marking trees" near the "Pearl of the Park spring in the Mont Alto State Park". According to the September 5 Compiler, the stranger's actions "revived the legends of hidden gold." Allegedly, "Confederate troops advancing through the Cumberland Valley plundered and sacked towns on their route … The story tells that some Confederate soldiers [during the retreat] were so hard pressed that they buried loot in the wild wooded hills which now form the Mont Alto state forest."

The stranger's actions resulted in "a number of persons…digging promiscuously so that…there are many small holes in the state forest." As the reader may have already guessed, "none of the treasure seekers [were] rewarded."

The following week's Compiler explained two coincidences that had sparked the fire of gold fever. "The end of the search came when the state forest research institute at Mont Alto announced that the original holes…were dug by members of the institute hunting samples of soil." A resident, Oscar Bumbaugh, had driven onto one of the grave-sized holes with his horse-drawn wagon, which promptly sunk into the freshly- dug earth. He called the Mont Alto police, whose chief expected to find a body buried there. None was. However, the occupants of the DC-licensed car remained a mystery. The stranger had been replaced by a "man and a woman who were seen in the woods examining trees and grounds, with the aid of what appeared to be maps."

Foresters retrieving soil samples were not very mysterious or a romantic story, but a couple burying a DC murder victim or seeking buried treasure were; and their presence "prompted long hours of hard labor by Mont Alto people" in vein attempts to hit it big.

Read other articles on the civil war

Read More articles by Elwood Christ

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