State Treasure - Iowa

By Anthony M. Belli
From page 27 of the September, 2010 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © 2010 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved

Iowa’s Gold Rush
PALO ALTO COUNTY - It was the summer of 1921 and Americans were just emerging from the Depression of 1920-21, which followed a period of post WWI recession.
Transitioning from a wartime economy to peacetime, the strong recovery that followed delivered America into the era known as the Roaring Twenties.
It was the decade of the $5 workday, the first transatlantic flight, the Model T, and bathtub gin.
But in the summer of 1921, Bernard Smith of Graettinger, Iowa, was too busy digging a hole to set a guy wire on his farm to be concerned with the economy, bat tub gin or flappers.
At six inches down Smith started pulling up a ruby-colored soil and later exclaimed he thought it contained a fair amount of gold and maybe some silver ore.
He sent a sample to the Thomas J. Dee Company of Chicago for assay. Their report showed the sample contained 1.04 ounces of gold and 5.4 ounces of silver to the ton. The headlines of the Graettinger Times on June 23, 1921 read,“Gold Found on Smith Farm!”
The story went on to say that gold had also been found on the Herke Farm and the Anderson Farm, and the list went on and on.
The folks living in or around Graettinger were abuzz with the news, and more and more local famers were checking their soil to see what they could find. The strata of gold-bearing material consisting of crushed and decaying quartz was found between the Des Moines River and Jack Creek.
Gold was found on the A. L. Herrem Farm west of Grattinger, on Ed Ralston’s farm northeast of town, and on the A.G. Herke farm. To the north in Emmett County, G.G. Erickson found “a very satisfactory amount of gold” on his farm.
And after having soil samples tested in Chicago, farmer D.E. McCarthy from Palo Alto County was offered $5,000 per acre for his 214-acre farm. Gold was being found almost everywhere people looked in the Des Moines River Valley.
Iowa’s short-lived gold rush was on as folks from everywhere were soon arriving in Grattinger by any means necessary. They flocked to local farms to see for themselves and were not disappointed.
But there was a problem with recovering the gold. Nearly all of the gold found was flour gold, which proved so difficult to recover with the technology of the time as to make it unprofitable to mine for commercial ventures.
But some individuals did do well, like Dr. J.P. Hession and Alfred Cameron, who processed gold from various sites by burning out the vegetable matter with acid, then using quicksilver to gather the gold that remained. In the years that followed, the mining industry tried various devices and techniques, but found it impossible to extract enough gold to make it profitable.
The recovery problem still exists today for any commercial mining venture, but with the modern gold recovery systems in use today, dredges such as the ones produced by Gould Engineering (, designed specifically for recovering flour gold, could make it worthwhile for the lone prospector.
Iowa’s only commercial gold mining venture occurred at Klondike along the Big Sioux River in Lyon County around 1900.

The Lost Iron Chest Treasure
DUBUQUE COUNTY – It was the winter of 1832 when three enterprising American’s, Solon Langworthy, James L. Edward and Tom Kelly, developed a scheme to acquire some valuable Indian lead mines in present-day eastern Iowa.
If their plan worked they knew they could walk away rich men. All that stood between them and great wealth were the Sauk and Fox Indians and they knew it would be a slow painful death if they were caught in the domain of the brutal war chief Black Hawk.
American settlements along the Mississippi River in western Indiana Territory were developing on land, ceded to the Americans in 1804 by treaty.
Everything west of the Mississippi on what would later become Iowa belonged to the Sauk and Fox nations, and the only white man they trusted was a Canadian fur trader named Julien DuBuque.
DuBuque established a trading post and farm near present-day Dubuque, but didn’t compete with the Indians for valuable resources as the Americans did. Instead, his farm provided produce to the tribes’ food supply, and through education he taught them how to mine for lead. DuBuque then entered into an agreement with the tribe; they would provide labor and management for a number of profitable lead mines discovered by DuBuque, and he would process the lead and transport it twice a year to sell in St. Louis.
The Sauk and Fox Indians found DuBuque to be a powerful ally, business partner, and trusted friend. Their arrangement lasted for 22 years until DuBuque’s death in 1810.
After his death, 10 white men, all who were employed by DuBuque and lived in a tiny community that sprang up around his trading post, were removed by the Indians from their lands.
Arriving more then 20 years after DuBuque’s death, Langworth, Edward and Kelly had long heard of the rich mines, but had never seen them.
They soon learned that tension between the U.S. and the Sauk and Fox nations, which began around 1828, had resulted in a number of Indian attacks and massacres against white settlers who’d pushed west of the Mississippi.
Black Hawk and his “British Band” of 1,000 soldiers had fought with the British during the War of 1812. They were experienced fighters who, in 1830-31, crossed the Mississippi River moving east into the American settlements of the western Michigan Territories.
Led by Black Hawk, each of these incursions though non-violent was clearly intended to alarm the least protected and furthermost western settlements of the U.S. His plan worked.
The Americans had indeed been unnerved by Black Hawk’s incursions, and he was soon to learn that when it came to protecting their families the Americans were humorless.
Meanwhile, the three American speculators could see that hostilities ran high and war sounded imminent.
The three men decided not to trespass onto Indian land, but if war broke out and the Indians were defeated, they could move in, locate their lead mines, and be the first white men to lay claim to them.
Because of Black Hawk’s non-violent incursions east of the Mississippi, the militias in Michigan Territory and Illinois were mobilized to hunt down and eliminate Black Hawk and his warriors.
The conflict is known as the Black Hawk War. The war lasted from April to August 1832 and ended when Black Hawk was captured during the Battle of Bad Axe, where pursuing militiamen, their Indian allies, and a U.S. gunboat killed hundreds of Sauk, Fox and Kickapoo at the mouth of the Bad Axe River.
Though tensions remained high, Langworth, Edward and Kelly saw their opportunity and made their move. They acquired the Indian mines and began working them, which led Kelly to discover his own rich claim that he worked for the next 35 years. What became of Langworth and Edward is unknown.
Kelly shipped barge loads of lead to St. Louis and with time amassed a huge fortune. In 1856, he traveled to Rockdale, Iowa, where he had a blacksmith make him an iron chest measuring three feet long, two feet wide, and 8 inches deep.
Kelly returned home, placed all of his money into the chest, and buried it near his home on Kelly’s Bluff. This chest would serve as Kelly’s bank until his death in 1867.
On May 16, 1867, Kelly died at home from blood poisoning, his sister, Elizabeth Kelly, and two brothers, Patrick and Will, were at his side.
Before he passed, Kelly was running a high fever and was delirious towards the end.
Every time his fortune was mentioned, Kelly taunted family members by telling them they’d have to go look for it and that it would never be found.
Kelly left his family 60 tons of lead ore and his 30-acre property and mine known as Kelly’s Bluff.
To date, six of Kelly’s caches are reported to have been unearthed, but the large iron chest Kelly had built to serve as his bank has never been found. The contents are reputed to be $35,000 in gold specie.

Concoles, Trini, “Iowa Gold Rush,” March 1996, Lost Treasure magazine, p. 25.
Pallante, Anthony J., “Iowa-Kelly’s Bluff,” February 2002, Lost Treasure magazine, p. 8.
Sultzman, Lee, Sauk and Fox History,
Bell, Netha and Scholl, Gary, Lost and Buried Treasure of the Mississippi River, 1991, Sioux City, Iowa, Quixote Press, p. 93-95.