State Treasure - Alabama

By Anthony M. Belli
From page 39 of the January, 2010 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © 2010 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved


The Copeland-
Wages Treasure
MOBILE COUNTY – The murderous exploits of the Copeland-Wages Gang in the early days before statehood and organized government are numerous enough to fill a sizeable book.
In effect, they raped southern Mississippi with impunity as they waylaid travelers, businessmen, and families.
They broke into businesses and people’s homes, stole all they had and often murdered their victims or anyone else who dared step into their path.
James Copeland, like so many other outlaws from that era, was little more than a cowardly cur.
His only assets were his brutality and his guns and, with those, Copeland made a name for himself.
His older co-partner, Gale H. Wages, was no better, for it was Wages who brought the 14-year-old boy into his gang and trained him for a life of crime.
James Andrew Harvey, whom they had been sent out to murder, eventually killed Wages and another gang member named McGrath.
Copeland then took charge of the gang, which now simply became known as the Copeland Gang. But Copeland, by the standards of any respectable outlaw, came to be recognized for what he truly was… a two-faced, backstabbing rat.
For it was Copeland who, while in custody and facing the hangman’s noose, could have remained silent, but instead gave up the names of all 60 of his own men, including his own family, all members of the Copeland Gang.
According to historic fact and legend, the lost treasures of the Copeland Gang are numerous. Not trusting the other gang members, it was fairly common for outlaws to cache their own cut to prevent it from being looted by one of their own.
For a number of reasons it was not always possible for them to return later to dig up their own cache.
Legend claims many Copeland Gang caches still remain buried in the Gulf of Mexico, but my own research has reduced the search area to something more reasonable.
With local research I’m certain any treasure hunter could get even better results.
James Copeland Arrested
Historic documentation shows Copeland was lying low in Mobile, Alabama, when he was captured.
WPA records document that Copeland had cached his freebooted treasure in the vicinity of his Mobile hideout(s).
After Mobile officers turned up the heat on Copeland he fled town. Not far from town Copeland decided to return for his hoard.
Once back in town Copeland opted to stay, but continued to lay low. Then he got caught. His arrest is described below…
“He loitered his time away until the spring of 1849, when he went to a grocery store near Mobile. He had been drinking a great deal and this time he became intoxicated. He had a difficulty with a man and he drew his double barrel shotgun, but the man was too quick for him. 
"He was stabbed, then he ran again, but the sheriff tracked him by his trail of blood and brought him back to Mobile."
Mobile County
Copeland Gang
Hideouts & Caches
Twice the Copeland Gang burned Mobile and looted the homes and businesses of local citizens who’d gone to help fight the fires.
Both times the gang vanished with their loot in boats into the Mobile Bay.
There Copeland had one or more “water hideouts” where it is believed much of the stolen loot from the Mobile raids remains hidden.
Local research could help pin down two known hideouts in Mobile.
The Copeland-Wages Gang maintained a “Wig-Wam” in Mobile before Wages was killed. During this period, the gang was active in southern Mississippi and their comings and goings in Mobile went unnoticed.
Also, a woman, who identified herself simply as Mrs. E.M., wrote that the Copeland Gang kept some old shacks in Mobile.
She stated the location was “on a little hillside by a creek where the old foundations could still be seen.”
I’d check Mobile County property deeds for Isham Copeland, born in 1788. Isham owned property near the state line outside of Citronelle.
Parents of the outlaw, James Isham and his wife, Rebecca Wells Copeland, were not actual gang members, but they were sympathetic to their son’s plight.
The Young family has apparently owned property south of the Mobile Airport for generations and, in the early days, provided a safe haven for James Copeland and his gang.
It is thought they may’ve kept their own hideout separate from the family’s home somewhere on the property.
No doubt the Youngs were paid well for their hospitality. This site may be where James placed his main cache prior to being caught.
James Copeland was executed by hanging for his crimes on October 30th, 1857.

Alabama Gold – Look
Where It’s Been Found Before
CLEBURNE-TALLAPOOSA-CLAY and RANDOLPH COUNTIES – There are two long-standing basic rules to follow for finding gold. The first rule says, “Gold is where you find it.”
The second rule says, “If you want to find gold look where gold has been found before.”
So here are some leads as to where you can check for gold.
Gold in Alabama was first discovered around 1830 near the present-day ghost towns of Arbacoochee in Cleburne County and Goldville in northern Tallapoosa County.
The Arbacoochee district produced the richest placers in the state, 17,700 ounces by 1879.
In 1849-50, most Alabama miners joined the California Gold Rush; they represented a very small number of experienced miners in California at that time, making them in great demand.
The Arbacoochee district by 1890 had all but ceased operations and the Hog Mountain district in Tallapoosa County took over as the state’s leading producer of gold.
Located in north-central Tallapoosa County, most of the gold mined from the Hog Mountain district came from gold bearing quartz veins containing pyrite.
At the time the Hog Mountain Mine was closed in 1938 it had produced around 12,000 ounce of gold.
By 1959, the district had produced about 24,300 ounces.
Gold has also been found in Clay and Randolph Counties, but to a lesser extent.
With some local research you should be able to select some excellent locations that are still producing color today.
I’m told a number of tailings piles remain near the old mines. A good gold detector could prove useful in these areas.
Remember - if on private land get permission first. On public land, check with local and federal authorities first!

Courthouse Treasure
MADISON COUNTY – This one may prove to be a bit difficult to recover, but you never know.
Back in the fall of 1970, a story ran in the Huntsville newspaper regarding $12,000 that was stolen from the safe of a department store by a luckless, local thief.
The thief made good his escape with the loot and fled to a nearby construction site, where, under the cover of darkness, he hid the spoils of his crime.
A few nights later, when he was confident that he’d gotten away with the robbery, he returned to the construction site to collect his prize only to discover that constructions workers had unknowingly poured cement over the entire area, thereby sealing his fortune perhaps forever.
Ironically, the new construction underway was for the new Madison County Courthouse. Tough break…I wonder if he was ever tried in that very courthouse for his crimes.

The Lost Treasury of Newton
DALE COUNTY – Under the command of ex-Confederate Colonel Joseph Sanders, a band of guerrilla outlaws laid siege to the town of Dale in December of 1864.
The town fathers had secured the town’s treasury of gold specie and three of them buried it in a secret location.
The idea being that, should anyone be killed during the fight, one of them would certainly survive so that the treasury could be recovered later.
As fate would have it, four Newton men were killed in battle. Three of those men were those who’d buried the town’s treasury.
The incident is well documented and local research could pay off since it has never been found.

Sources:
Author’s Alabama file, File entitled: Copeland Gang Research.
Perkins, Sally A, “Gold in Alabama,” Treasure World Magazine, p. 31
“Treasure Headlines,” November 1970, Treasure World Magazine, p. 11 Newspaper clipping submitted by J. Weidman, Huntsville, AL.
Henson, Michael Paul, America’s Lost Treasures, 1984, South Bend, IN, Jayco Publishing Company, p. 1.