The Lost Treasure of General Custer?

Update: On Saturday, December 6, 2014, I will be teaming up with forensic geologist Scott Wolter in the world premiere of Custer’s Blood Treasure, the latest episode of H2’s #1 hit original series, America Unearthed. You can read more about it here.

On June 25, 1876, General George Custer led the U.S. Army’s Seventh Cavalry Regiment against a large Indian army. He and his forces were wiped out in what became known as Custer’s Last Stand. In the process, he left behind a valuable treasure which remains lost to this day.

The Lost Treasure of General Custer?

The 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie guaranteed possession of the Black Hills, a region stretching from North Dakota to Montana, to the Lakota Indians. In 1874, General Custer was sent on a scouting mission to the area. He returned a month later, reporting gold “from the grassroots down.” This touched off a gold rush. Initially, the U.S. Army tried to honor the treaty by evicting the many prospectors. But eventually, it gave up.

In 1876, the Lakota joined forces with the Cheyenne and Sioux. Led by Gall, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse, they revolted. General Custer, along with 650 men, was dispatched to end the uprising. When he arrived at Little Bighorn River, he distributed four months of back pay to his men, some $25,000 in gold coins and paper currency.

On June 25, 1876, Custer led his men into battle against the combined Indian army. They were severely outnumbered and Custer’s poor leadership led to an eventual slaughter. Here’s where the story gets a bit odd. Supposedly, the Indians stripped the dead and stole their gold coins and paper money. They placed it in a saddle bag and buried it in a secret location. A Cheyenne chieftain named Two Moons later told the story to a white Indian trader named W.P. Moncure. Two Moons also drew him a map to the lost treasure.

The Lost Treasure Gets Lost Again

In 1936, Moncure reburied the body of Two Moons in a stone and mortar mausoleum. Twenty years later, a reporter named Kathryn Wright investigated the mausoleum. She discovered a hidden vault under a bronze plaque. She persuaded the Cheyenne to open it for her.

“Inside the vault were remembrances of Two Moons. These included a portrait of Two Moons, stone tools, arrowheads, sacred Indian relics, and a rifle belonging to one of the troopers of the Seventh Cavalry. There was also a large manila envelope.” ~ Dick Mullins, The Daily Inter Lake, July 1, 1957

A message about the lost treasure was typed on the envelope. Part of it read, “Hiding place and location of money and trinkets taken from dead soldiers on Custer Battlefield.” The last part of the envelope said it was to be opened on June 25, 1986. This would be 110 years after Custer’s Last Stand and 50 years after the reburial.

In 1957, Kathryn Wright published her story in Montana magazine and received permission to open the envelope. However, someone had already beaten her to it, breaking open the vault and stealing the sealed envelope and other artifacts. The lost treasure of General Custer has never been found. It’s possible it was dug up years ago by whoever stole the envelope. But its also possible no one ever found it. For all we know, Custer’s lost treasure is still out there somewhere, waiting to be dug up.

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Wild West Coverage

The Meteor that Changed the World

On December 14, 1807, astonished witnesses watched a giant fireball blaze across the sky. Three sonic booms erupted. Then rocks fell from the air. How did the Weston Meteorite change the world?

What was the Weston Meteorite?

It might be hard to imagine but meteorite science was practically non-existent in the 1800s. Sure, people had seen meteors for centuries. But they were poorly understood and hardly ever connected to odd stories of falling rocks. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1800s that scientists began to realize these falling rocks were quite different from the ones normally found on the ground.

Within a few days of December 14, Benjamin Silliman and James L. Kingsley traveled to Weston, Connecticut to investigate the phenomenon. They interviewed witnesses and gathered and analyzed specimens. It wasn’t easy. They only managed to find 15% of the meteorite rocks. Many others disappeared into the hands of residents who proceeded to crack them open.

“Strongly impressed with the idea that these stones contained gold and silver, they subjected them to all the tortures of ancient alchemy, and the goldsmith’s crucible, the forge, and the blacksmith’s anvil, were employed in vain to elicit riches which existed only in the imagination.” ~ Benjamin Silliman and James L. Kingsley, Account of a Meteor

After Silliman and Kingsley published their account, the story caught fire. It was reprinted in multiple journals. Their words were read before the American Philosophical Society, the Philosophical Society of London, and the Academy of Sciences in Paris. Still, not everyone was a believer.

“I would more easily believe that (a) Yankee professor would lie than that stones would fall from heaven.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

However, Silliman continued to think meteorite rocks had a cosmic origin. He taught this to his students, paving the way for meteorite science in the United States. One of his students, Denison Olmstead, went on to study the famous Leonid meteor storm of November 1833. That storm, witnessed by people all over the eastern United States, was a turning point for meteorite science. But the foundation had been laid decades earlier, thanks to the groundbreaking work done by Benjamin Silliman and James L. Kingsley.

“In Europe I had become acquainted with meteorites and the phenomena that usually attend their fall…. I did not dream of being favored by an event of this kind in my own vicinity and occurring on a scale truly magnificent.” ~ Benjamin Silliman, Life of Benjamin Silliman

A Dinosaur…during the Civil War?

Did Union soldiers shoot down a living dinosaur during the midst of the Civil War?

A Living Dinosaur During the Civil War?

Take a good look at this image. It appears to show a group of soldiers standing around a dead pterodactyl. What do you think…is it real? Believe it or not, the answer is yes…with a big caveat. The photograph definitely isn’t photo-shopped. But its not from the 1860s either. Rather, it was a promotional tool for a science fiction TV show called Freaky Links. The soldiers are Civil War reenactors and the pterodactyl is a prop (incidentally, used for Episode 4, “Subject: Coelacanth This!“).

“What’s interesting is that this story was picked up by many other websites who simply repeated the information without spending five minutes to check, which all the time I devoted to this. Life is short, after all.” ~ Sean McLachlan, Civil War soldiers shoot down a pterodactyl???

That pretty much sums up the problem with cryptozoology and claims of living dinosaurs. The field is ripe for hoaxers. Heck, even the earliest claim of this specific type was nothing more than a hoax.

Perhaps the earliest ‘living pterosaur’ account dates to 1856 when, according to the Illustrated London News, a live pterodactyl with a 3 m wingspan emerged alive from within a rock dislodged during the construction of a French railway tunnel…This story is clearly a hoax: the pterosaur allegedly represented a new species dubbed Pterodactylus anas. Anas means duck; in France (where the pterosaur was allegedly found), a duck is called a canard. Canard is another word for hoax.” ~ Darren Naish, Pterosaurs alive in, like, the modern day!

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, is there any chance living dinosaurs exist in this day and age? It’s pretty unlikely. If such creatures still existed, it’s hard to believe legions of bird watchers would’ve missed them. The 1890 Thunderbird story is slightly more believable, but not by much. And Ivan T. Sanderson’s famous 1932 encounter with a possible olitiau is interesting but even Sanderson believed the creature to be a giant bat rather than a living dinosaur (with a 4 meter wingspan, that must’ve been one helluva bat!).

So, for now we have to side with the skeptics. Although I have to admit I’m tempted to trek out to the Huachua Desert one of these days and see if I can’t locate the 1890 Thunderbird’s skeleton. Anyone up for an expedition?

Did Ancient Americans Hunt Mammoths?

In 1915, construction workers made a startling discovery in Vero Beach, Florida. Did ancient Americans live alongside mammoths? Did they hunt these and other giant extinct creatures from the Pleistocene epoch?

When did Ancient Americans reach the Americas?

According to the International Union of Geological Sciences, the Pleistocene epoch started 2,588,000 years ago and ended 11,700 years ago. Many animals of that age, such as mammoths, mastodons, and giant ground sloths, were larger than their modern relatives.

In 1913, workers unearthed some vertebrate fossils in Vero Beach while building a drainage canal. Recognizing them as from the Pleistocene epoch, Dr. E.H. Sellards asked the workers to keep a lookout for more remains. In 1915, the workers struck a veritable gold mine. They found at least five separate skeletons as well as numerous stone tools.

A major controversy soon erupted. The discoveries seemed to indicate that modern man had inhabited the Americas prior to 10,000 BC, which conflicted with prevailing opinion. Roughly half the scientists who examined the remains took this stance. The other half thought the skeletons came from a later era and were merely buried in the same layer of soil as the Pleistocene animals. Since dating techniques didn’t exist at the time, it was impossible to prove one way or the other. Eventually, the skeptics won the debate.

Did Ancient Americans Hunt Mammoths?

In 2009, archaeologists discovered a strange carving on a piece of bone in Vero Beach. The bone appeared to depict a mammoth or a mastodon. While the bone could not be dated, the accuracy of the drawing along with the mineralization of the bone itself led scholars to rethink the possibility of people living in the Americas during the Pleistocene epoch.

“There was considerable skepticism expressed about the authenticity of the incising on the bone until it was examined exhaustively by archaeologists, paleontologists, forensic anthropologists, materials science engineers and artists.” ~ Barbara Purdy, University of Florida

Now, a team of researchers led by Bruce MacFadden and Barbara Purdy have reexamined some of the old Vero Beach bones. Using rare earth element analysis, they’ve gathered significant evidence that people co-existed with large extinct animals such as mammoths in the Americas about 13,000 years ago.

“The uptake of rare earth elements is time-dependent, so an old fossil is going to have very different concentrations of rare earth elements than bones from a more recent human burial. We found the human remains have statistically the same concentrations of rare earth elements as the fossils.” ~ Bruce MacFadden, Florida Museum Vertebrate Paleontology Curator

It should be noted this isn’t a sure thing. Rare earth element analysis is less precise than radiocarbon dating. Still, the evidence is hard to ignore. In all likelihood, people roamed the Americas as early as 13,000 years ago, side by side with mammoths and other animals that today only live in our imagination.

What happened to the Lost Colony?

In 1590, John White led an expedition to the New World to resupply the English colony on Roanoke Island in what is now North Carolina. But to his surprise, he found the area deserted. What happened to the Lost Colony?

The Lost Colony of Roanoke?

The disappearance of the 119 colonists (including Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World) is one of the greatest mysteries of all time. Under John White’s helm, they arrived in 1587 in order to establish the “Cittie of Raleigh” but landed on Roanoke Island instead. White sailed back to England for more supplies but his return was delayed by the Anglo-Spanish War. He finally returned in 1590 only to find the site completely deserted. Only two clues remained. The word “CROATOAN” was carved into a fort post. Also, the word “CRO” was carved into a tree.

White didn’t expect foul play. The houses and other structures had been readily dismantled, indicating the settlers had taken their time leaving the colony. Also, he’d instructed the colonists to carve a Maltese cross into a tree if they were forced to leave the colony. There was no cross.

Based on the carvings, White assumed the colonists had moved to Croatoan Island (now known as Hatteras Island). However, a storm kept him from conducting a proper search. White would never again return to the New World. It would be another 12 years before Sir Walter Raleigh would mount another expedition to determine the fate of the Lost Colony. However, he was forced to turn back due to bad weather and was subsequently arrested. And thus, the fate of the Lost Colony became a thing of mystery.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Many theories exist purporting to explain the Lost Colony. Some scholars believe the settlers abandoned the colony and assimilated into one of the local native tribes. Others blame warfare with a tribe or perhaps, the Spanish. Still others think the colonists perished during a drought or turned on each other.

Now, experts at the British Museum have shed some new light on the mystery behind the Lost Colony. Using advanced-imaging techniques, they discovered markings hidden under patches on a watercolor map prepared by none other than John White himself (you can also see the map above). The purpose of one patch was to improve the accuracy of the coastline. The second patch is more intriguing. It appears to hide the presence of an inland fort as well as an Indian town near Roanoke Island. Interestingly enough, the original markings may have been made in invisible ink as well.

The outpost was apparently located at the point where the Roanoke and Chowan Rivers emptied into Albemarle Sound. This is in an area explored by the colonists in 1585 and 1586. Thus, its possible the Lost Colony abandoned Roanoke Island at some point and took refuge at the outpost.

“Documentary evidence suggests an early and sustained interest by the English in the Chowan and Roanoke River systems. The discovery of a symbol seemingly representing a fort where the Roanoke and Chowan Rivers meet provides dramatic confirmation of the colonists’ interest in exploring the interior (where riches were to be found) and connecting the two Virginias, Roanoke and Jamestown.” ~ James Horn, A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke

Of course, this remains speculation, at least until archaeologists can conduct a proper excavation in the area. However, if it turns out to be true, it begs a whole slew of new questions. Namely, who marked the map? Did that person know the true fate of the Lost Colony? And if so, why did they keep its continued existence a secret?

The Hindenburg Disaster!

On May 6, 1937, a German zeppelin named the Hindenburg attempted to land in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Suddenly, the 803-foot long airship burst into flames. 35 people died and the era of the zeppelin came to a crashing halt.

The Hindenburg Disaster!

We’re not going to speculate on the conspiracies surrounding the Hindenburg Disaster today…that’s coming later this week. But in the meantime, we wanted to put up this video of the crash. It’s five minutes long and comes from the British Pathe archive. It shows the Hindenburg flying overhead, its final flight over the landing ground at Lakehurst, New Jersey as well as the ill-fated landing attempt. The fire starts at 2:51.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The Hindenburg disaster is one of the most famous disasters of all time. Thirty-five people died while sixty-two others managed to survive the crash.

As we alluded to earlier, the exact cause of the disaster remains unknown. However, there are several reasonable explanations as well as a few wilder conspiracy theories. Regardless, the Hindenburg diaster had far-reaching implications. Perhaps most notably, it destroyed the public’s faith in zeppelins and thus, marked the end of the so-called airship era.

The Pigeon…that Saved the Lost Battalion?

On October 2, 1918, 554 U.S. soldiers found themselves trapped behind enemy lines in the Argonne Forest. Targeted by the Germans and under friendly fire from unknowing allies, they seemed marked to death. But six days later, salvation came from a most unlikely source…a carrier pigeon named Cher Ami.

The “Lost Battalion”?

The “Lost Battalion” seemed doomed from the start. Due to a lack of communication, the troops advanced beyond the other allied forces and were quickly cut off by the Germans. They lacked ample food and ammunition. To get water, the soldiers were forced to crawl to a nearby stream, dodging fire along the way.

Major Charles Whittlesey dispatched several runners to alert the allies to his predicament. But none of them broke through the line. As a last ditch effort, he sent several carrier pigeons aloft with messages tied to their ankles.

The first carrier pigeon reached its destination. Now on full alert, the allies struck out to rescue the Lost Battalion. But unfortunately, this backfired in horrendous fashion. The carrier pigeon’s message contained the wrong coordinates and the Lost Battalion found itself under artillery attack from its own allies.

Major Whittlesey desperately sought to correct the mistake. He sent two additional carrier pigeons into the air, but they were shot down. Then, on October 4, he sent out his last carrier pigeon. This pigeon, an American Black Check by the name of Cher Ami, contained a note attached to his left leg.

Cher Ami – The Pigeon that Saved the “Lost Battalion”?

The Germans took aim at Cher Ami and shot him down. But Cher Ami proved up to the challenge. Somehow, he managed to regain flight and flew 25 miles back to division headquarters. By the time he arrived, he was severely wounded and blind in one eye. However, Cher Ami still had his message:

“WE ARE ALONG THE ROAD PARALELL 276.4. OUR ARTILLERY IS DROPPING A BARRAGE DIRECTLY ON US. FOR HEAVENS SAKE STOP IT.”

The allies quickly called off the artillery assault and subsequently, rescued the Lost Battalion. The cost was steep. About 200 men were killed in action. Another 150 were taken prisoner or reported lost.

In the aftermath, Cher Ami became a minor celebrity, especially to the 194 soldiers who managed to survive the incident. They nursed him back to health and eventually awarded him with the Croix de Guerre. Cher Ami died in New Jersey on June 13, 1919. He’s a member of the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame and his stuffed body (pictured above) is currently on display at the American Museum of Natural History.

Life…on Mars?

In 1976, two American space probes, Viking 1 and Viking 2, landed on Mars. After collecting data and performing experiments, scientists decided the planet was lifeless. But now, several scholars are beginning to question that conclusion. Is there life on Mars?

Is there Life on Mars?

“To paraphrase an old saying, if it looks like a microbe and acts like a microbe, then it probably is a microbe. The presence of circadian rhythmicity and a high degree of mathematical complexity or order in the LR data most likely means Viking discovered microbial life on Mars over 35 years ago.” ~ Joseph Miller, Biologist, University of Southern California

The controversy over the possibility of life on Mars deals with a set of experiments known as Labeled Release (LR). Essentially, nutrients as well as radioactive carbon were added to Martian soil samples. Then researchers monitored the air for radioactive carbon dioxide and methane, which would indicate possible metabolization of the nutrients. Although carbon dioxide initially appeared, subsequent tests were unable to duplicate the results.

But new experiments as well as a statistical reexamination of the original data indicates “considerable support for the conclusion that the Viking LR experiments did, indeed, detect extant microbial life on Mars.” Here’s more on the possibility of finding life on Mars from ScienceBlog:

In 1976, the National Aeronautical Space Agency (NASA) launched the Viking program, sending space probes to Mars to determine whether there was life on the red planet. Thirty-six years later the debate about life on Mars is not over, but research conducted in part at the University of Southern California (USC) offers more proof that life may exist on this neighboring world…

In the experiments, the Viking landers dropped on Mars about 4,000 miles apart, scooped up soil samples and applied a radiolabeled nutrient cocktail to the soil…The active experiments did indicate metabolism…But due to lack of support from two other Viking experiments that did not find any organic molecules in the soil, most scientists believed the LR data had been compromised by a non-biological oxidizing property of Mars soil.

Miller and colleagues did not accept this interpretation, and over the last six years applied measures of mathematical complexity to the data from active and control Viking data, as well as terrestrial biological and non-biological data sets. Not only did the active Viking LR experiments exhibit higher complexity than the control experiments, but the active experiments clearly sorted with terrestrial biological data series whereas the Viking LR control data sorted with known terrestrial non-biological data…

(See ScienceBlog for more on the possibility of Life on Mars)

Civil War Soldiers…that Glowed in the Dark?

In 1862, the Union and Confederacy locked horns at the Battle of Shiloh. More than 3,000 people died and another 16,000 received wounds. As the fighting came to an end, something strange started to happen. Wounds started to glow. And this glowing seemed to have a miraculous effect, leading to saved lives and faster-healing wounds. The soldiers called it “Angel’s Glow.” But what caused it?

Battle of Shiloh – What was the Mysterious Angel’s Glow?

In 2001, nearly 140 years after the Battle of Shiloh, two high school students named Bill Martin and Jonathan Curtis discovered the truth behind Angel’s Glow. It was caused by a strange luminescent bacterium known as Photorhabdus luminescens. Photorhabdus luminescens is lethal to insects and pathogens. It also, you guessed it, glows in the dark. Here’s more on the Battle of Shiloh and Angel’s Glow from Mental Floss:

Looking at historical records of the battle, Bill and Jon figured out that the weather and soil conditions were right for both P. luminescens and their nematode partners. Their lab experiments with the bacteria, however, showed that they couldn’t live at human body temperature, making the soldiers’ wounds an inhospitable environment. Then they realized what some country music fans already knew: Tennessee in the spring is green and cool. Nighttime temperatures in early April would have been low enough for the soldiers who were out there in the rain for two days to get hypothermia, lowering their body temperature and giving P. luminescens a good home.

Based on the evidence for P. luminescens’s presence at Shiloh and the reports of the strange glow, the boys concluded that the bacteria, along with the nematodes, got into the soldiers’ wounds from the soil. This not only turned their wounds into night lights, but may have saved their lives. The chemical cocktail that P. luminescens uses to clear out its competition probably helped kill off other pathogens that might have infected the soldiers’ wounds. Since neither P. luminescens nor its associated nematode species are very infectious to humans, they would have soon been cleaned out by the immune system themselves (which is not to say you should be self-medicating with bacteria; P. luminescens infections can occur, and can result in some nasty ulcers). The soldiers shouldn’t have been thanking the angels so much as the microorganisms…

(See Mental Floss for more on the Battle of Shiloh and Angel’s Glow)

How Many People Died during the Civil War?

For over a century, historians have operated under the mistaken impression that exactly 618,222 men died during America’s Civil War. That number was always an estimate, with the Confederate casualties being based largely on meager data and some rather dubious extrapolation. So, what was the Civil War death toll?

Civil War Death Toll: How Many People Died during the Civil War?

New research conducted by demographic historian J. David Hacker has upended traditional Civil War death estimates. It turns out the death toll may have been higher…much higher. In fact, Hacker estimates the Civil War death toll at somewhere between 650,000 and 850,000, using the mid-point of 750,000 as his best guess.

In order to get that number, Hacker massaged various data sets, making numerous assumptions along the way. Breaking it down between Union and Confederacy proved impossible, due to uncertainty surrounding the loyalties of border state soldiers. Overall, this new estimate leaves much to be desired. The size of the confidence interval tells us that much. But unfortunately, it’s the best we’ve got…at least for now. Here’s more on new Civil War death toll estimates from The New York Times:

For 110 years, the numbers stood as gospel: 618,222 men died in the Civil War, 360,222 from the North and 258,000 from the South — by far the greatest toll of any war in American history. But new research shows that the numbers were far too low.

By combing through newly digitized census data from the 19th century, J. David Hacker, a demographic historian from Binghamton University in New York, has recalculated the death toll and increased it by more than 20 percent — to 750,000.

The new figure is already winning acceptance from scholars. Civil War History, the journal that published Dr. Hacker’s paper, called it “among the most consequential pieces ever to appear” in its pages. And a pre-eminent authority on the era, Eric Foner, a historian at Columbia University, said: “It even further elevates the significance of the Civil War and makes a dramatic statement about how the war is a central moment in American history. It helps you understand, particularly in the South with a much smaller population, what a devastating experience this was.”

(See The New York Times for more on the Civil War death toll)