Revisiting the tale of West Virginia’s lost Branch Mountain Treasure

1808
Helmick Rock on South Branch Mountain
Helmick Rock on South Branch Mountain — near site of Branch Mountain Treasure?

Tales of hidden treasure appear throughout the annals of West Virginia history. Legends of hoards buried by prehistoric peoples, by retreating soldiers, by reclusive misers could fill a book.  One such tale upon which I recently stumbled is of the Branch Mountain Treasure — which included $40,000 in gold secreted by three deserting Rebels who had robbed a Virginian bank.

According to a story published by the Moorefield Examiner and cited by Jim Comstock in the W.Va. Heritage Encyclopedia (Vol. 3, p. 601), three Confederate soldiers robbed a bank in either Richmond or Fredricksburg in 1861 and passed across South Branch Mountain at the gap near Helmick Rock, south of Moorefield, before they reached “the Cook place” in southern Hardy County.

According to the encyclopedia:

…they buried the swag in a natural cave, a small one, under one of three cliffs on the northwestern side of Branch Mountain. The line for the cave was directly into the sun from a large, flat rock down the side of the mountain. Since no one knows apparently when the sighting took place it could be anywhere along a 45 degree area from that rock as the sun travels back and forth with the seasons.

In any event, the law was supposed to have caught up with the miscreants and one of the two either died in prison or en route to prison. The survive made a map of the places where the treasure was cached. The flat rock that appears in the tale was supposed to be visible from the chimney of the Joe Cook House. Markings on the rock have the numerals 73 or 74.

The directions on the map said that by looking directly into the sunrise from the rock three cliffs were visible and the cave was on the left hand side of one of the cliffs where there was an opening where a man could see through and could squirm his way into and after he was inside he could stand up. 

The treasure was supposed to have been placed in a hole on the inside of the cave along one side of the walls. The hole was covered with ‘rock paper,’ whatever that is.

The citation ends, noting: “The cliffs mentioned are located on the old Capon Road.”

As near as I can tell, the treasure was never found. Nor have any of the other treasures that have become such a precious part of the cultural tapestry. Has anyone heard that the alleged treasure was ever found?

While we at West Virginia Explorer in no way encourage treasure hunters to trespass or interfere with private property owners, we do encourage daytrippers and others who enjoy a drive in the country to consider this legend when driving the beautiful back-valleys of the South Branch Mountain.

David Sibray is the founder, publisher, and editor-in-chief of West Virginia Explorer. He is also a real estate agent specialized in the sale of historic properties and the president of Sibray Marketing. He can be reached at 304-575-7390


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