How to Find Treasure Caches: Buried Gold, Silver & More
For some, cache hunting is the ultimate form of treasure hunting. For others it is the most boring. Your perspective of cache hunting may depend on what you want to get out of treasure hunting, as well as your psychological make-up and disposition. Let’s face it, cache hunting requires more research than most other forms of treasure hunting. If you are one of those who are repelled by the thought of spending long hours going over musty old documents, do not despair. There is still a chance to experience the thrill of discovering a long forgotten cache. This article is written for those who have a minimum amount of time to devote to the project, and to offer a few tips and shortcuts that should aid the part-time treasure hunter in becoming more successful.
WHAT IS A TREASURE CACHE? It could be just about anything of value someone has stored or hidden, usually with the intention of returning to reclaim it at a later date. Some caches were of little value at the time they were deposited, but are quite valuable now. An example could be a box of stamps, comic books, baseball cards, or other collectibles that have risen dramatically in value over the last few years. So, while you are searching for that pot of gold keep your eyes peeled for relics and collectibles. Sometimes those incidental finds will help finance your trip and allow you more time to hunt for the big one.
Size, number, or value alone does not identify a treasure as being a cache. I have found caches of coins ranging in number from several hundred to only one coin. On the other hand, I have dug as many as 16 quarters from one hole which wasn’t a cache. How could I justify calling the single coin a cache, and not the 16 quarters? It’s quite simple. The 16 quarters were obviously just part of a roll which had been accidentally lost and become covered with earth, as coins do, while the single coin (an Eisenhower dollar) had been taped to the bottom of a dresser drawer. Therefore it was evident that it had been purposely hidden, probably by someone who wished to save it for a keepsake. The coin had been forgotten and the old dresser was later dumped. Old furniture is an excellent place to search for caches. We will get more into places to hunt later.
I know some people who believe that you aren’t really a “cache hunter” unless you select a specific target, do research on it, and direct all your efforts toward finding that one target. I also know a person who thinks the only treasure worth pursuing is gold that has been buried by Spaniards. This kind of thinking is pure nonsense, of course. The treasure one seeks and the methods one uses should depend on that person’s interest and opportunity. After all, a cache is a cache, and gold is gold wherever you find it.
WHY ARE CACHES MADE, AND WHY SHOULD WE CARE? We need to think about that in order to determine the kinds of places a treasure might be concealed. A list of reasons why people have hidden valuables could well run into the hundreds, and would be of little use here. A treasure hunter’s most valuable asset is the ability to think for himself. Learn to channel your thoughts in ways that will provide clues to the whereabouts of hidden wealth. In short, learn to think like a treasure hunter.
Say we were looking for a farmer’s cache used to conceal his egg and milk money, from which he had made regular deposits and withdrawals. It would make little sense to search for it in a cave somewhere on the back side of the property, which had been dynamited shut. On the other hand, if we were searching for a weapons cache made by a fleeing army to prevent the enemy from capturing the guns, that might well be the first place to look.
This example is one of extremes, of course. It is offered here only to stimulate the thought process. For it is often somewhere between these extremes that the answer to WHY a cache was hidden may provide that subtle clue as to WHERE it was hidden.
WHERE TO SEARCH: Your likelihood of success is far greater if you concentrate your efforts close to home. There are probably as many caches located near where you live as in most other parts of the country. You are more familiar with local history and hunting conditions in your area than in other locations. More time can be spent on the actual search and less on the road. It requires much less expenditure for gas, motels, etc., to search for nearby treasures.
This is not to discourage anyone from going after that distant treasure they have dreamed about. In fact, I would encourage you to do so, at least once in a while. This gives a person something to look forward to, and an adventure to talk about later. It could well be the stimulus that keeps that treasure hunting fever alive. But these kinds of adventures should be looked upon as strictly that, an adventure. Don’t expect to get rich that way. Be prepared to spend more money than you find, and enjoy the vacation.
Exotic treasures in far away places are sometimes found. I have an ancient Roman coin, given to me by a treasure hunting friend. He found a cache of more than 50 pounds of these old Roman coins while metal detecting in Libya. These coins ranged in value from $5 to $160 each, so the total value of the cache was quite substantial. He was working in Libya for an oil company at the time and took advantage of the opportunity to pursue his treasure hunting activities. Most of us have neither the means nor opportunity to search for treasures on such distant shores. Therefore, we need to learn what treasures are more readily available and concentrate our efforts closer to home.
WHAT TYPE OF CACHE HUNTING SHOULD YOU CHOOSE? Several things need to be looked at when choosing the kind of caches to search for. One’s personal interest and disposition should be taken into consideration first. The kind of treasure available in your area, and the amount of time and money you can devote to a given protect is also important. Basically, there are two categories of cache hunting. The methods used to pursue each type vary considerably. The first is searching for a specific target that is known, or suspected, to exist. The second is to search places that have the highest probability of holding a cache, although you have no record of one having been hidden on that particular site. Going after a specific target usually requires by far the most research.
When hunting a specific target you first need to verify that the cache actually existed. Then make sure that the possibility of it already having been found is very small. You will also need to know if it is located in an area to which you can gain access. After these basic questions have been answered, the hard part begins. Now you have to gather enough information to locate the spot where it is hidden. So, choose your target carefully. Unless you have some good inside information, it might be best to concentrate your efforts elsewhere.
Some of the most difficult caches to find are those made by outlaws. There are numerous documented cases of outlaw loot being hastily cached and never recovered, but usually only the vaguest idea of where it was buried is known. When the general area is known, it is often in the most rugged terrain imaginable. If you have a good lead on outlaw loot in your area, however, it can be a very exciting project to work on.
The best known outlaws who operated in my area were Belle Starr and the gangs who used the Starr cabin for a hideout. I have spent more time researching and hunting for caches hidden by Belle Starr and her cohorts than any other group of outlaws. So far I only have a few relics to show for my efforts. (I did find a few old bust type half dollars that some thought were from a cache made by Belle Starr, but I never believed they were.) Fortunately there are easier caches to find.
Outlaws did sometimes hide part of their loot in obvious places (obvious to a treasure hunter) near their hideouts. If you know of an outlaw hangout, it isn’t a bad place to spend some time with a metal detector. I have a piece of gold jewelry given to me by an old treasure hunting friend who is now deceased. It was from a cache he found many years ago under the doorstep in front of Belle Starr’s cabin in Younger’s Bend. Outlaw caches in such obvious places were made, but they are also the ones which have already been found in many cases.
SELECTING YOUR TARGET: There are plenty of treasures within easy driving distance of anyone. Getting leads shouldn’t present a problem. Open any treasure magazine and you will find it filled with tales of treasures lost. Don’t expect to find enough information in a treasure story upon which to conduct a search, however. If you choose to go after a cache featured in a treasure story it should be considered only as a lead, or starting point. Almost certainly much more research will need to be done before an actual hunt can be successfully conducted.
Better leads are often found in publications other than treasure books and magazines. Books on local history and old newspaper-files are good sources. A note of caution about newspapers, they are notorious for errors and inaccuracies. Newspaper reporters are under constant pressure to meet a deadline, as well as come up with something sensational. Therefore they have little time or inclination to check for accuracy. If you use newspaper accounts as a research tool try to get corroborating evidence from other sources as well. This is a good policy regardless of the source of your information.
One of the best ways to acquire information is through conversation with older people. Many senior citizens are walking history books. Most are willing, even eager, to share their experiences. Leads obtained from personal contacts usually haven’t been publicized. Therefore, the chances of the cache still being there are much better. So learn to talk to people. The satisfaction gained in such communication is often a treasure in its own right.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE: What equipment does a person need to become a cache hunter? One can be a successful cache hunter without any specialized equipment at all. Many of the old time treasure hunters did just that. They took the tools nature had given them and honed them to a fine edge. The most important of these were their powers of observation and deductive reasoning. They kept their eyes and ears open for any leads, then followed up on them like a good detective. They learned to see things most others overlook, things like a loose rock or brick in a wall, a board that wasn’t securely nailed, or an unusual mark on a stone. They learned to go into terrain that was unfamiliar to them and decipher the telltale signs left there by past activities, things like a few rocks where a chimney once stood, a small ridge where a fence row once ran, or a sunken spot where a storm cellar had caved in. We call this “reading the land”. For those who sharpen their powers of observation, the history of the land can be read almost like an open book.
There are many tools on the market today that can make the job easier. The most obvious, and probably most essential, is the metal detector. Although most new detectors are designed for coinshooting, they can usually double as a cache hunter. I use the Tesoro Toltec 100, and find that it has the depth capability to detect about any type of cache I commonly search for.
For larger caches that are likely to be buried four feet deep or more, a double-box detector, or proton magnatometer, might be needed. A good two-box detector should be able to detect large metal objects up to 20 feet deep. At least one brand advertises a wide-scan inductive search in which two operators, walking 30 feet apart, can cover a large area in a short time. This could be especially useful in searching open areas where very little metallic trash is located.
A strong magnet and a probe are also handy tools to have. A steel probing rod four to six feet long can locate caches that a detector may not be able to find, for example, along-side a large metal object that cannot be moved, such as steel buildings, etc. A probe can also locate caches that aren’t metal, things like caches of antique bottles. These are just the standard treasure hunting tools most commonly used. There are many specialized items that are a must under specific conditions.
Whatever tools you choose for an individual project, learn to be extremely proficient in their use. Know exactly what your detector and other instruments will do, and will not do. If you are searching for a cache that is likely to be buried four feet deep and your detector will only detect an object three feet, then you may as well leave your shovel at the house. You probably won’t need it. Don’t depend on advertisement claims. Test that equipment yourself.
HUNTING ALONE OR WITH A PARTNER: Whether you choose to hunt alone or with others should depend on several factors. It is safer to have a dependable friend along, especially if you are searching in an isolated area. If you prefer to spend your time in the field rather than in a library, it might be a good idea to team up with a partner who has academic inclinations. Then let him or her do the research. On larger projects it could be advantageous to form a team with several areas of expertise.
The number should be kept to a minimum for several reasons. First, and most obvious, it is better to split a pot two ways than a dozen or more. Decisions are more easily made by a small group and there is less likelihood of friction or trouble within the group.
Also, secrecy is more easily maintained when fewer people know what is going on. Often the success or failure of a project depends on the participants being able to keep their minds open and their mouths shut.
WHERE ARE CACHES MOST OFTEN HIDDEN? If you choose to search “high probability” areas rather than going after a specific target, then you need to know where caches were most often made. It is my belief that far more caches are hidden above ground than are buried in the ground. No one knows the exact ratio, but a hundred to one would probably be a conservative estimate. Most of these were made inside the owner’s house. It is also true that most of these were retrieved by those who made the cache. It is only those still hidden (usually after the owner has long since departed this life) that are
of concern to us as treasure hunters. I mention these things here only to jolt you out of the stereotyped way of thinking which causes most people to believe that the ONLY treasure is BURIED treasure.
Permission should always be obtained before cache hunting on private property. That is doubly true when searching houses and other structures that are still standing. Old houses are such lucrative sites, however, that the effort is worthwhile.
Outbuildings such as barns, chicken houses, garages, storage buildings, etc., are also prime places for hidden wealth., more often above ground, but sometimes buried beneath the floor, especially if the floor is dirt. Storm and fruit cellars are good spots as well. Most caches are made in places that are handy, out of sight, and where those making the cache have a valid reason for being there.
If you live in or near a large town or city there are condemned houses being torn down most of the time. If you can strike a deal with a local salvage company which specializes in the demolition of old houses, you have the problem of where to search SOLVED. I know of more than one treasure hunter who works on a percentage basis with salvors. They search the house for hidden relics and caches before the wrecking crew starts to work, and do quite well at it.
One of my treasure hunting buddies likes to attend estate sales. Whenever possible he will buy the entire contents of a house or building. He has found many unexpected “little treasures” while going through the furniture and other things he has purchased. Recently he was going through a room full of old books he had bought and uncovered a nice cache of silver dollars.
When you buy the entire contents of a room or building at an auction, whatever turns up in it is rightfully yours. But it still isn’t a good idea to broadcast the news of a significant find, for lawsuits can always be filed, and it may cost you more to prove ownership than the cache is worth. The only people to profit from situations such as these are the lawyers. Because of the mess our legal system is presently in no one knows what is legal, or illegal, until the question has been run through every court in the land. As the saying goes, “laws are made by lawyers for lawyers”.
Another word of caution might be appropriate here. Don’t get caught with a large amount of cash in your possession, especially while out on the highway. Under the current “seizure laws,” as part of the “war on drugs,” you are more likely to be robbed by the highway patrol than by a common criminal. It doesn’t matter if this money is from a cache you have found, or property you have just sold. Law enforcement officers now have the discretionary powers to confiscate your money any time any place. This situation is just too tempting for many of them.
A man from Mounds, Oklahoma went on a fishing trip last fall. He took several thousand dollars along, with which he planned to buy supplies for his business. He was stopped for speeding and his car was searched. The money was confiscated, although no charges of any kind were made against him. Even though he was able to prove that the money had been legally earned through his business, he still hasn’t been able to get his money back.
Both the man who was victimized and the police were interviewed on television. The chief of police promised that the man would eventually get his money back when all the legal paperwork had been taken care of. But several months have passed and he still hasn’t seen his money. As a result his business has suffered, bills have had to go unpaid, and much time and effort has been wasted. You can imagine the frustration a person would go through under these circumstances.
I am sure these “seizure laws” will be changed eventually, but only after people wake up to what is going on and protest loudly enough. In the meantime, how many people will have to suffer such a blow to their finances as well as their dignity? If you do find that cache you have been searching for, keep it out of sight until you get it to a safe place.
Another method of cache hunting is to start a part-time cleanup business. I know of a few people who clean out old garages and other buildings for the general public. Some charge a small fee, plus whatever they haul out of the building. Some charge nothing except what is in the building they are cleaning out. Many people don’t know and don’t care what is in a building. They just want the JUNK cleaned out so they can store THEIR TREASURES in it. Many times this junk turns out to be valuable antiques or collectors items. Occasionally a long forgotten cache is hidden among this old junk as well. This type of treasure hunting requires a lot of time and work. To make it pay off consistently one needs to be a good flea market dealer and become knowledgeable about antiques and collectibles.
Old buildings that appear empty may still hold a well hidden cache. Often permission to search abandoned buildings can be obtained simply by asking the owner. Sometimes an agreement to share whatever is found has to be made. Two favorite hiding places used by old-timers was under the fireplace hearthstone and carved out compartments inside log walls. Under door-steps and along foundations should be given special attention, whether the house is still standing or not. The ground where outbuildings once stood should be hunted thoroughly with a good metal detector.
I believe that “posthole banks” have probably been over stressed in most writings, but they were sometimes used. Old wire on fences that are still standing, as well as wire underground where fences once stood, often present problems for a metal detector. Also lots of metallic junk was thrown into fence rows, especially around yards. Unless you are pursuing a specific lead, old fence rows usually aren’t worth the time and effort required to check them out properly.
A SURE-FIRE WAY TO CACHE HUNTING SUCCESS: I promised to give you a few tips and shortcuts that should help you become a more successful cache hunter. I believe I have already done that, but I have saved the best tip for last. In almost 40 years of active hunting I have found treasure in most every kind of place and circumstance. But for the amount of time and effort spent, there is one type of site where I have consistently found the greatest number of caches. It is one of the most obvious yet most overlooked sites. I am talking about burned house sites.
Searching burned house sites isn’t as glamorous as some types of treasure hunting. It certainly doesn’t hold the adventure one feels in going after Spanish gold or outlaw loot. But if you aren’t afraid of a little hard work and dirty hands, success is almost guaranteed.
It is surprising, even amazing, how little effort is usually made to recover valuables in the remains of many house fires. I have found everything from silver dollars and old Barber coins from houses that burned almost a century ago, to caches of gold jewelry from buildings destroyed by recent fires. Some don’t want to make the effort required to recover valuables, or simply don’t know how to go about it. Some seem to think that when a house burns everything is destroyed.
In order to search house sites that have recently burned one needs to make an agreement with the owner. This can usually be worked out on a percentage basis of what is recovered. One of my treasure hunting buddies made a deal to salvage the copper from a house that had burned more than a year before. While going through the ashes he started turning up silver coins. He concentrated his efforts in that area and dug out a large coin collection, including one gold coin. He returned the cache to the owner of the site and was given a share of the find. Although the house had burned more than a year earlier, no effort had been made to recover the coins, or anything else for that matter. The owner apparently believed his coin collection had been moved to another location before the house burned.
WHAT TO DO WHEN A LARGE CACHE IS FOUND: That’s pretty much up to you. But you should have a plan well thought out before the cache is found. In the excitement of making a big find anyone can do some pretty foolish things if they don’t have a plan to follow. Many caches have been lost, or tied up in the courts for years, when the finder became too anxious to spread the good news. If you do decide to tell or write about a find it isn’t a good idea to reveal too many details. Perhaps the best advice of all was given to us by the old treasure hunter, Frank Fish, when he said, “Pay your taxes, and keep your mouth shut.”