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3 Historical Places to Hunt for Buried Treasure in Iowa
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3 Historical Places to Hunt for Buried Treasure in Iowa

If you’re looking to strike it rich, look no further than the treasure-filled landscape of the great state of Iowa. There are several caches said to be buried all over the state over the last few hundred years, here are some of the most popular:

Racoon River Riches

There’s more than one treasure trove said to be buried along the Raccoon River. Bonnie and Clyde, the two most infamous members of the Barrow Gang, survived the famous 1933 Dallas County Shootout, escaping capture (and death) multiple times that day.

But, before their escape, they spent several days camping in a hideout, where they allegedly buried a large portion of the money they had stolen from banks and stores all across the Midwest. No one knows the exact location of the camp, but it was a few miles north of Dexter, in the woods overlooking the Racoon River.

Bonnie and Clyde were killed by authorities in Louisiana less than a year after the Dallas County Shootout, but the Barrow Gang re-banded and continued their spree of robberies and murder for a few more years before they fell apart entirely. The Barrow Gang is rumored to have buried upwards of $65,000 in loot in Hanging Rock Park, which is also along the Raccoon River just southeast of Redfield.

This leaves a rather large area for treasure hunters to peruse, but with the right tools and expertise (hint: the most powerful tool is your brain,) you just might be the one to unearth the buried spoils of the Public Enemy Era’s most infamous crime gang.

Kelly’s Bluff

Dubuque residents are all familiar with the story of eccentric 19th century miner Thomas Kelly. Kelly made a fortune mining lead veins he found up above his property in the mid-1800s, but he continued to live a reclusive and humble life alone in the woods. He always insisted on being paid in gold and refused to put his money in banks. Many believe this had something to do with his mistrust of the masons, and his paranoia that they were out to get him.

Kelly was institutionalized after a murder conviction and escaped the insane asylum he was incarcerated in. Kelly did not leave his fortune to anyone. Instead, he left a note saying, “If you want my gold, you'll have to come and dig for it.” Over $100,000 in gold coins are rumored to be buried all around Kelly’s Bluff high above Dubuque.

Shortly after his death, five caches of gold coins ranging from $1000 to $10,000 were found, and several stories of children and treasure hunters finding more gold scattered about the bluff surfaced throughout the 1900s.

Legend states that there are still tens of thousands of gold coins buried up there just waiting to be found. If you spend a day or two exploring Kelly’s Bluff, you might just find a coin or two. If you bring along a good gold prospecting metal detector and a shovel, you might just strike it rich…

Fort Atkinson

Fort Atkinson State Preserve, located 17 miles south of Decorah, is said to be home to a large stash of gold army payroll coins. Fort Atkinson was built to watch over the peaceful Winnebago Indians, who were being transported there by the U.S. Army to keep them safe from warring tribes in their nearby homelands.

Occasionally, these warring tribes would attack the caravans of soldiers transporting the Winnebagos, and it was during one of these attacks that an army paymaster hastily buried $7000 worth of gold coins to keep them safe. The paymaster died in the attack, and he took the secret of where he had buried the payroll with him. The payroll almost made it to its destination, which means it is buried somewhere near the fort.

That is reportedly the second time an army payroll had been buried and lost on its way to Fort Atkinson. An even larger amount is said to have gone missing in the same manner, this time in an attack that happened somewhere along Miner Creek, near the town of Guttenberg.

Given that both of these gold caches were rather large, and buried all in one spot instead of scattered, due to the haste of the attacks, it might take a million years for traditional treasure hunting methods to locate them. However, recent developments in GPR (ground penetrating radar) technology might just be the answer to the conundrum of Fort Atkinson’s lost army payrolls. GPR can go as deep as 60 feet into the ground, and can quickly cover 20 by 20-foot grids, which means a treasure hunter with the right equipment might just unearth one, or both, of these caches in our lifetime.

Good Luck!

If you’re looking for a new and exciting adventure in Iowa, try hunting for some of the state’s famous buried treasures. Whether or not you strike it rich, you’re sure to have a good time, see some beautiful sights, and learn more about Iowa’s rich history.

Photo by Davidd | Flickr Creative Commons

Leave a Comment

  1. Travel Iowa Team
    Travel Iowa Team
    Who knew?! Thanks so much for the post!
    Log in to reply.
  2. Patrick Muller
    Wonderful article. For less get-rich treasure hunting, one might look for geodes in the Warsaw Formation of southeast Iowa or walk more remote creek beds in the search for arrowheads. If you're interested only in looking and not taking, what can beat the Devonian Fossil Gorge at the Coralville Reservoir? You can walk on an ocean floor that is 375 million years old. That ranks right up with seeing a total eclipse of the sun.
    Log in to reply.
  3. Siouxland Families Blog
    Siouxland Families Blog
    That is so cool! My 8 year old is going to be really excited to hear about these treasure hunt ideas!
    Log in to reply.


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