The American Civil War has been in the news quite a bit recently, but a recent story has nothing to do with statues, rights or the usual topics – yet it’s just as controversial to the participants. A recently unsealed document has confirmed that in 2018 the FBI went looking for a cache of at least 26 bars of government gold allegedly lost in transit and hidden in a Pennsylvania cave. That made the FBI the latest of many groups to look for the gold, but all came up empty. The FBI results were never released … until now. What do they say … and why did the FBI suspect the gold might start another war between a state and the federal government?
“I have probable cause to believe that a significant cache of gold is secreted away in the underground cave located at Dents Run.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer has kept up with this story since 2018, when dozens of FBI agents swarmed Dents Run, a tiny community in Elk County in north-central Pennsylvania. They were believed to be looking for anywhere from 26 to 52 bars of gold painted black that in June of 1863 were secretly on their way from Wheeling, West Virginia, to Pennsylvania to pay Union troops stationed there. The gold never made it, disappearing after a stop in St. Mary’s, PA, and there were conflicting stories about it being sunk in a river or hijacked by insiders. The Army sent Pinkerton detectives disguised as prospectors and lumbermen, but they found nothing. Word eventually got out but the gold was never found. In 1975, amateur fortune hunters, now called Finders Keepers USA, claimed they heard about the gold from a ‘mysterious stranger’ and began looking, using a map he drew for them. In November 2004, they claim to have found a fire pit in Dents Run where human skeletons were allegedly discovered in 1876. Dennis Parada, founder of Finders Keepers, claimed he used a metal detector to determine there was a large amount of metal about eight feet down at the site, but was stopped because the site is in a state park.
With us so far?
In March 2018, agent Jacob Archer of the FBI’s art crime team applied for a warrant to seize property after talking to Parada, as well as researching the event at the U.S. Mint and other national archives and secretly scanning the area. Why did he need a warrant? Dent’s Run is on state land, but the gold belonged to the federal government’s U.S. Mint, and the FBI was afraid Pennsylvania would claim it owned the gold. That became a bigger problem after the recent scans – both Parader and the FBI found indications the cache was far larger than the original 26-52 bars and may actually be 9 tons of gold worth more than $250 million. After the FBI search-and-dig took place in 2018, nothing was ever revealed … leading to suspicions the gold had been found and secretly removed. Was it?
Unfortunately, the warrant doesn’t say and the FBI refused a request from the Philadelphia Inquirer for more information. The warrant did reveal an interesting side event – in 2013, an unnamed staff member for the Pennsylvania legislature met with Parada and “corruptly” offered to obtain a permit to dig at Dents Run in exchange for three bars of gold or 10 percent of the total. Parada’s lawyer refused to deal with the staffer and that was the end of it.
Another aspect of the warrant bode bad news for Dennis Parada and his son Kem who gave much assistance to the FBI – there was noting in the warrant stating that the bureau would compensate the Paradas for their help in any way. Needless to say, their lawyer will have something to say about that.
What happened to the cache of gold bars that disappeared in Pennsylvania during the Civil War? Like so many other aspects of that horrendous conflict and the events that followed it, we may never know.