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Mike Watson: Treasure Trove. A post Civil War story from Marrowbone, KY

Adair Historian reached into his files to post this fascinating story from 1879 from neighboring Cumberland County, sending it with the note that it "needed to see the light of day," which it is, today, for history buffs who should find the rarely mentioned, today, story from "Marrow-bone," as compelling as Mr. Watson and the editors of CM did. - EW

By Mike Watson

A old story from the County of Cumberland with treasure, Civil War guerrillas, and other fascinating bits of history.

Treasure Trove - A Reminiscence of Guerrilla Warfare - Sixty-five Thousand Dollars in Gold and Silver Unearthed--Marrow-Bone, Cumberland County, Ky., March 8 [1879] --During the last week a sensation of considerable interest came to the surface, which I deem worthy of note for the Enquirer. It was nothing more or less than the discovery and recovery of a vast amount of gold, silver and precious stones which have been buried since the beginning of the war in a small cave on the farm of Robert O. Willis, one mile south of this town. The treasure consists of about $65,000 in gold and silver coin, and about $10,000 (present value) of jewelry, such as diamond rings, pins, ear rings, etc.

It appears that Mr. Willis placed all these valuables in an old sugar kettle, which he buried in the extreme end of the cave, covering it over with boards and loose rock from the side of the cave. His wife alone he informed in regard to the precise spot where the treasure had been secreted. Of course it would have been very imprudent to have imparted such an important secret to any other person or persons.

A few weeks after secreting all this treasure, Mr. Willis mysteriously disappeared. It is supposed he was killed by guerrillas on the Cumberland River, wither he had gone with several head of cattle to ship to Nashville. He was never heard of afterward, and his wife mourned for him until the day of her death, which occurred last Saturday, March 1. Although she was well aware that there was a vast fortune buried in that cave, yet she did not impart her secret to any person, and, having a good income from the farm, and no particular need of any of the money, so she thought she would let it remain there, as it was fully as safe as it could be elsewhere. Grief over the loss of her husband, and having poor health combined, rendered her somewhat careless and indifferent. She lived all alone with an old negro man and his wife as her servants and companions. They were old slaves--belonged to her father--had nursed her in her infancy, and she was perfectly contented. She had no children or near relatives, and a few days before Death claimed her as his own she imparted the secret of the hidden treasure to these old servants, also to Rev. John D. Hogan, her pastor, and Messrs. Owsley and Gore, her attorneys, summoned to execute her last will and testament.

The treasure was found according to directions, all safe and sound and in first class condition, and it was opened in her presence. She bequeathed her jewelry and $40,000 to her old servants, also the old homestead, a rich farm of some two hundred acres. The remainder she ordered to be invested in securities for her husband's benefit, should he turn up alive in twenty years. If not, that it be donated to Catholic charitable institutions that may be greatly in need of it at that time, in Louisville, Ky., the interest to be given from now on yearly to the orphan asylums there. This vast treasure was taken to Glasgow, Ky., yesterday, and shipped from there to Louisville, where it will be deposited for the present with the Safe Deposit company. The old colored servants who are thus abundantly rewarded for their devotion expressed the wish that their portion of the treasure be invested for them, as they did not wish to keep it in the house, fearing they would be murdered for it.

The cave wherein the treasure was laid undisturbed for so many years has been visited the last few days by many curious persons, and our citizens have been greatly excited over an event of such extraordinary interest.

I forgot to add that Mrs. Willis bequeathed $1,000 to her home paper, the Glascow (sic), Ky., Times, which, she asserts in her will, was a source of great comfort to her in her sorrow, bringing weekly news from her old home in Barren County, Kentucky, and thus for once in the history of the times, a newspaper is kindly remembered in "a last will and testament."

This story was printed in the Daily Globe, St. Paul, MN, on 16 March 1879, copied from the Cincinnati Enquirer.
As with any old news item, often copied and recopied from paper to paper, with errors compounded, take this story with the proverbial 'grain of salt' as the names and places might have been mis-copied, or errors in type setting may have occurred. I say this because a check of the 1860 Cumberland County census did not reveal a Robert Willis; there were slave owners with the name of Willis, but none had older male and female slaves, and all the families had children, which the above couple appear not have have had. The 1870 Cumberland census did not reveal a possible Mrs. Willis. --MW


This story was posted on 2013-05-16 06:14:23
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