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Buried Treasure

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

If you've ever noticed the general lack of rainbows over the Mississippi Valley, you may have ascribed it to our being out of favor with higher powers. Not so. It's just that rainbows here have a hard time deciding which pot of buried gold to put down at.

For starters, there's Maurice Tonty, a French-Canadian thief who fled to Starved Rock along the Illinois River some time in 1800 and buried $50,000 dollars in stolen gold. He died before he had a chance to return for the gold. On his deathbed, he told a priest where the gold was buried, but the priest was not much of a riverman, and drowned when his canoe overturned enroute to the gold.

Maurice Tonty is not to be confused with Henri de Tonty, an Italian who came to this area with LaSalle on his exploration of the Mississippi in the 17th century and is said to have buried gold in the area much earlier. People have been looking for that pot for 300 years.

Burying gold in Illinois got to be a habit. In the early 19th century a counterfeiter named Sturdivant buried a horde near Rosiclare, Illinois, close by where James Griffith, both a miser and a robber, buried his life savings in a cave.

Let's not forget John Brown, the abolitionist who passed through Davenport, Iowa, on his way to Harper's Ferry, and—you guessed it—was said to have buried gold somewhere in Davenport. His subsequent hanging interfered with his returning for his money. Nor has John Dillinger shown up to collect the million dollars in loot he is supposed to have buried all over Illinois.

You can see why a rainbow might have a problem here. And these are only the famous names. Think of all the robbers, moonshiners, widows, cranks, kids, and misanthropists who must have buried their share.

There must be gold everywhere. I'd suggest beginning with your backyard. Dig anywhere. That way, if you get a hole two feet or so deep and come up empty, you've still got a good place to plant an oak or a cottonwood tree. And if you start early enough, the tree will grow up and provide a treasure of shade for your golden years.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.