Think Like a Pirate, pt. 2
Cracking the Saddle Ridge Hoard Mystery
Now friends, before we continue to investigate the probable cause of this burial, I must tell you that there’s no “smoking gun”, no definitive proof for any of what I’m about to say. Remember though, there are few unsolved mysteries in life which suddenly become solved by definitive proof miraculously springing up from nowhere. What any detective must do (who is worth his salt), is build a strong case for a highly probable explanation built upon a foundation of known facts and other forensic evidence. To my knowledge, I haven’t seen anyone else in the blogging world compile the case I’m about to lay before you, so this could very well be the first time it’s been stated this way. However, when all’s said and done, all I can do is make the case. It is you who must decide the most likely scenario.
I’ll also tell you this right now: I am alone in my theory, as it contradicts the prevailing theory by other “expert” commentators. This never concerns me too much, as experts are people just like everyone else: fallible. How many times have experts changed their theories about how the Pyramids were built? Or Stonehenge(or even what it was for)? How many financial experts were caught with their pants down in the Great Financial Crisis of 2008? Most of them, actually. So, let’s not be afraid to be bold in our assertions, if they happen to differ from prevailing opinion.
So, just what is the prevailing theory? Well, surprisingly, there’s no unified, cohesive explanation as to where the gold came from, who buried it, or even why. While there are some colorful guesses out there(including some about Jesse James, the Golden Circle secret society, or robbery), they’re all complete shots in the dark.
The only thing many of the experts seem to agree upon, is “when” it was buried. Most of the accounts I’ve read state that they believe the treasure was buried slowly, over long periods of time, rather than all at once.
No one, it appears, can seem to discern an answer to the most basic pertinent question of all: what was the motive for even doing this? If it was possible to make an educated guess as to motive, more details could then be surmised, and eventually a plausible patchwork of a story could be cobbled together. At this time, there is no patchwork story, because no one has dug any deeper. Everyone gave up at “digging” once the physical treasure was brought up, but there’s far more to be dug up, isn’t there? Like an explanation for its existence at all! I’m going to attempt to do just that in the paragraphs below.
Shall we put on our detective hats, then?
What we know:
1) The dates upon which the coins were struck span from 1847-1894. This is a period of 47 years.
2) The latest coins struck were in 1894. The descriptions I read(and pictures I’ve seen) indicate there were a good many from that year, and the nearby years preceding it.
3) Many of the coins, especially the newest ones, showed quite virtually no signs of wear, hence the high numismatic values they’re now fetching at auction.
4) There wasn’t a great variety in styles of the containers which were used. To my knowledge, all 8 cans which were found, were roughly the same type of coffee can.
Ok, let’s just use these facts alone, to start with.
Firstly, I’ll tip my hand a little bit here: it appears highly likely to me that this treasure was buried all at once, in a single action, rather than over time, as some experts have postulated. I’ll go into why I think that in a moment, but first, let’s address the biggest reason some experts have made the case for the treasure being buried slowly over time.
The big reason that some believe that this treasure was buried over time, is that most all the coins, from the oldest to the newest, are in above average condition for similar coins struck in those years. That since a gold coin, say, from 1847, is in better shape than other 1847 specimens, it was likely buried soon after mintage, rather than later with the newer coin strikes. However, let’s take a closer look at this linchpin detail.
Why Condition Alone Misses the Mark
On the surface, that sounds reasonable for sure, but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Why do I say that? Three reasons, mainly:
1) The Saddle Ridge Hoard was amassed from coins during a period which was unique in history. You see, while gold coins were in abundance, due to the gold standard, it was actually in the very late days of the gold standard. In centuries past, gold coins were often carried around on one’s person, and physically used for payment to settle larger transactions. By the mid to late 1800’s, however, this was no longer the case. The banksters had lulled much of the populace into complacency, by conditioning them to equate a paper bill(the receipt) with the coin itself. Since anyone, at any time, could take their bills, and redeem them for gold coins, it hardly seemed necessary to do so. Carrying the bills, instead of the coins, became a fairly common practice. This is especially true in the later decades in which these coins were struck.
2) If the other specimens the hoard is being compared to aren’t also late gold-standard, buried treasure, they’re comparing apples to oranges. This is crucial. I imagine that if any one of us could jump into a DeLorean, with Doc Brown and Marty McFly, and travel back in time to 1885, we’d see that our local bank’s safe contained coins that looked almost identical to the coins found in the Saddle Ridge Hoard, and for the same reason: none of them had yet had a chance to circulate for the following 120 years. The reason that’s true is that we’re dealing with buried treasure! These coins were taken out of light circulation, and put, literally, into “deep storage”, a place where no one could possibly touch them, for well over a century. How do experts expect these coins to appear similar to normal coins from that era, when normal coins were in greater circulation for the entirety of their existence? The only way someone could hope to use other mid-1800’s gold coins as a benchmark, is if those coins were similarly buried.
3) A third, and unlooked for, reason that gold coin condition of the hoard shouldn’t be used as means to date its burial is that at that time, the key monetary metal was still silver, not gold. Yes, it’s true the banksters stole silver, the people’s money, from them in the Crime of 73, but most daily transactions were still settled in silver.
A quick look at average salaries from an unskilled laborer of the 1890’s, shows that one could expect to make a grand total of roughly $400 in an entire working year. This is key, because in the massive trove of coins in the cans, all but 54 of them were one of the largest gold coins that the U.S. ever struck: the $20 gold piece.
The $20 gold piece would be equivalent, in our context, to roughly a $1000 bill(or even higher)! Now $1,000 bills aren’t being printed by the Federal Reserve yet(don’t worry, just give them a few more years), but this gives us a clearer picture of how often the common working man would’ve seen, let alone used, the type of coin in this hoard. Think about your own life: how many times in a year are you engaged in a transaction in which the price is at least $1,000? Unless perhaps you’re buying a new car, computer, or are going overseas, you probably don’t have many transactions like these. The same was true for most folks in the 1800s: silver was used for the every day transaction, and gold was used only for luxury items. Since silver did most most of the grunt work, silver coins would’ve received most of the wear. Silver was the “checking account”, and gold was the “savings account”. Savings accounts aren’t touched very often, and neither were many of these coins.
She’s Seen a Few Miles
While it’s true that the earlier dates are in better condition than one would normally expect a similar gold coin to be, many still had considerable wear on them, compared to the later-dated years. Do yourself a favor, and click this link. It will take you to a list on Amazon.com, which still has numerous coins from this hoard on sale. Feast your eyes on them. They’re masterpieces, to be sure, but look at the earliest listed, from 1870, the mere mid-date of the collection. Compare that to the 1893 & 1894 coins. Here, I’ll show you, underneath.
There is quite a difference of wear, isn’t there? That beauty on the left, though lovely, has plenty of mileage on it, plenty of use, comparatively speaking. While the coin on the right is almost “hot off the dies”, isn’t it? There are plenty of such mid-worn coins, just in the ones still listed for sale. Would that sort of wear show up on the 1870 coin, if it had been buried say, only 5 or even 10 years after being struck? Not likely.
The Coffee Cans
Let me ask you this: if you had a stack of bills or coins you wanted to bury for the long haul, for decades…would you resort to using a coffee can? Not once or twice, mind you, but several times, over many, many years? Would you trust a coffee can to do the job, to protect the condition of the valuables you were burying? Would you trust it to fight off the elements, the moisture, the corrosion?
I wouldn’t, under any circumstances. I’d never put the equivalent of a generational estate of wealth into the ground in a can of Maxwell House, many different times!
Furthermore, would you be content to leave that can underground for years, and not dig it back up to check on it during future such burials? Nope. I wouldn’t do that either. Wouldn’t you opt eventually, for a better, more permanent container? Yes, I would too! The bottom line here is: if you were going to go through the trouble of burying something for the long haul, you’d make doubly sure it was fully protected for the long haul.
The very crude and brittle nature of the containers used for storage suggests to me, that the party responsible for burying them didn’t do so for the long haul. Rather, it appears that these cans were originally intended simply to be a quick, convenient way to get these coins safe…for the time being. It was done in haste, not in preparation, and as a temporary solution, not a lifelong ritual.
Size Does Matter
So, if we don’t assume the treasure was buried over time, I believe the evidence above suggests that the treasure was all buried in close proximity to the latest date that was found among the coins. That date being 1894. Why do I say that? Well, firstly, it was the latest date among the collection. How likely is it that if the treasure was buried in, say, 1904, that there would be no coins whatsoever from the years 1895-1904? Sure, in a smaller collection, the spread could be more wild, and dates might not matter as much, but the thing which gives me a high degree of certainty that nothing was buried beyond the latest coin date is the size of the collection itself.
Think about it: during elections, when pollsters call voters to ask them questions about how they’ll vote, they always make sure to include a broad sampling of the population. Why is that? The reason is because the higher the number of folks that are sampled, the more accurately the results will reflect the voters’ true feelings. Calling 10 people within one neighborhood will not give them a true reflection of the community’s mood, but calling 800 people, from dozens of neighborhoods, will ensure greater accuracy. The greater the sample size, the greater the likelihood that the information is sound.
What was the sample size of the Saddle Ridge Hoard? 50 coins? 100 coins?
Try 1,427 coins! It is the single, largest such sampling ever discovered in the United States. Due to the extremely high sample of pre-1895 coins at our fingertips, my conclusion is that the entirety of the burial almost certainly occurred in 1894.
Again, let’s return to motive. Why would someone do this? Burying one’s wealth, is such a radical act, that it demands a radical explanation, especially during a time where the paper dollars you had were instantly redeemable in gold coin specie. What could’ve possibly caused someone to take several kilos of gold, and opt literally to hide it away from the safety of their local bank’s vault? Was there some sort of catastrophic event at that time which would’ve scared bank depositors so drastically, that they would’ve actually chosen burial over a bank vault for safekeeping?
I’m glad you asked, friend, because as it turns out, there was just such an event!
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