State Treasure - Wisconsin

By Anthony M. Belli
From page 50 of the February, 2010 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © 2010 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved

The Lost Billings
Treasure – Beware!
VERNON COUNTY – Located two miles southeast of Ontario sits Wisconsin’s mystifying Wildcat Mountain State Park. The mountain’s baffling history and secretive past intertwine in tales of ghosts, hidden treasures, bizarre occult rituals, shape-shifting apparitions and Pagan ceremonies. Some historians also believe the James-Younger gang “infrequently” crossed into Wisconsin and used the mountain as a hideout when on the run from authorities.
Legend claims Frank James first used Wildcat Mountain as a hideout when he rode with Quantrill’s Raiders during the Civil War. Frank’s connection to William Quantrill has fueled speculation that the mountain was also a cache site used by both the KGC and Quantrill’s Raiders. If history supports such a claim, the gang’s infrequent use would’ve been an advantage to maintaining secrecy.
If you decide to search for any of the treasures associated with Wildcat Mountain remember to obtain permission first from park officials. Next I strongly advise readers to proceed with due caution. The mountain’s history is shrouded with bizarre supernatural events, and present-day incidents more than rival that of its historic past. I do not speak of officially sponsored park events, but of unofficial, non-published events. Two recent examples include…
On the morning of November 2, 2005, holistic healer Hilary Karnda, 64, of Richland Center decided it was a good day to die. After having a friend drive her to Wildcat Mountain State Park, she walked alone into the woods and vanished. Two weeks later a hunter happened upon an eerie scene. Investigators found Karnda’s body at the base of an oak tree next to an ancient burial mound and surrounded by pagan symbols. The bizarre death was later ruled a suicide; the cause of death was exposure.
Months later, in June 2006, Wildcat Mountain became the center of a 44-mile-diameter circle “medicine wheel.” During the daylong ceremony, cult members at various locations prayed, focusing their message and energy on the wheel’s epicenter…Wildcat Mountain. Occultists believe their energy will emerge from the mountain “in physical form.” And it is there, near the mountain’s peak, that the lost Billings treasure is said to have been buried.
Unlike the other stories of buried riches associated with this strange mountain, the lost Billings treasure is the only one that has been linked to historical fact. According to Dennis Boyer’s book, Driftless Spirits, which documents ghostly legends of southwest Wisconsin, he was interviewing a man who he only identifies as a “Long-time Rockton resident” when he learned of the buried treasure. Boyer, an attorney by trade, is also a respected Wisconsin author and folklorist.
According to his source, the lost Billings treasure was being transported by the “Billings Boys” and 10 armed guards in an iron-plated wagon from Billings, Montana, to possibly Chicago. The treasure was an undisclosed shipment of gold “from out west.” The treasure was a secret shipment for Illinois Governor John P. Altgeld, who was governor from 1893 through 1897.
The story becomes vague here, but mentions William Jennings Bryan and some Oklahoma radicals. It also refers to “shadowy groups” and “odd conspiracies.” Word of the shipment was leaked and soon the roads were being carefully watched by outlaws, U.S. Treasury agents and U.S. Marshals, all who wanted to seize the gold. The Billings Boys were tipped off and are said to have cached the gold somewhere in the vicinity of the mountain’s summit. The caravan then continued onto its destination without the treasure.
Boyer’s source states those few men in the Billings party who actually buried the gold were all later killed in Latin America or during WWI, which is how the gold became lost. He states the Billings Boys sent letters back to Billings, Montana, that revealed the exact location of the hoard. The letters contained ciphers that made “obscure references to astronomy, astrology and mythology.”
Hard research is required to determine the validity of this story. Perhaps the letters sent by the Billings Boys have been preserved. My research indicates Governor Altgeld was closely aligned with William Jennings Bryan and both had strong ties to the Progressive Movement back during the 1890’s. Both Bryan and Altgeld were engaged in intensely fought and bitter campaigns for re-election in 1896. Both were defeated. It’s possible the gold shipment had something to do with their campaign and the Progressive Movement.

Treasure Cave Mystery
CRAWFORD COUNTY – The story of this Wisconsin treasure cave pre-dates the time of the Revolutionary War to the time of the fur trade. This area had been the territory of the Hudson Bay Company who had outposts on major water trading routes at Green Bay and Prairie du Chien. In 1809, John Jacob Astor founded the American Fur Trade Co. and headquartered from Prairie du Chien, where he also operated a trading post. This area of Wisconsin became a major trade center for furs and hides.
Astor hired French-Canadians whose customs he was familiar with to run his keelboats on the river between St. Louis and Prairie du Chien. They purchased goods and supplies at St. Louis for Astor to stock his trading post.
The river run commonly took six to seven weeks round-trip, and a single keelboat could haul up to 20 tons of blankets, rum, tea, coffee, flour, tobacco, beads, calico, tools, hardware, utensils, weapons, French coins, American script, and any other items required on the frontier.
With the outbreak of the War of 1812 the fur trade suffered to a large extent. Disputes over land, trade rights and loyalties often divided men; Indians who’d previously sided with the French now aligned themselves with England. Though trade continued it did so guardedly.
During the war one of Astor’s keelboats was returning from St. Louis heavily loaded. With the boat struggling against the current, and in view of Astor’s Trading Post, the pilot spotted a friendly Indian on the shore signaling him to retreat. The pilot ordered the boat back to the safety of the mouth of the Wisconsin River, where he learned a party of Sauk’s lay in ambush up river below the Trading Post. The pilot beached the boat and, with its crew, secured a cargo of French gold coins and then set off on foot for high ground.
The keelboat captain and crew climbed a perilous cliff until reaching the safety of a ledge about 200 feet above the water where they rested. While exploring the ledge, a sandstone cave was discovered. The captain ordered the gold and other valuables from the boat be brought up and placed in the cave for safekeeping; he then sealed the cave’s entrance.
The captain decided after dark he and his men would return to the keelboat and pilot her back upriver to the safety of Astor’s Trading Post. They would return later to recover the cached gold and other valuables. The cook then spotted a canoe loaded with hostile Indians coming down the Wisconsin River. The hostiles stopped to investigate the beached keelboat, but, not finding anyone with the boat, quickly left and continued down river.
All went as planned and the keelboat and crew did reach Astor’s Trading Post that night. Days later, when it was deemed safe, the captain returned to the cave only to find large boulders that had been on the ledge above the cave had come loose and rolled down, thereby blocking the entrance to the cave. The captain returned to the post and reported his findings to Astor.
The keelboat captain then resumed his duties and prepared for his return trip to St. Louis. What, if anything, Astor did to recover this treasure is unknown, but legend states the boulders were too large to be moved and all such efforts ended in failure.
This story re-surfaced in September 1924 when, according to The Milwaukee Journal, “Interest in the old stories has been revived and an effort is being made to explore its (Treasure Cave) remote chambers.
Mr. Johnson has cleared the trail from the summit of the bluff down to Treasure Cave and, as he has time to spare from his other duties, is slowly removing the debris that has long closed the entrance.”
What if any luck Mr. Johnson and others may have had is unknown, so local research will help.

Bauchle, Mary L., “Whitehall Barber Guards Famous Treasure Cave,” Milwaukee, WI,
The Milwaukee Journal, September 7, 1924, p. 67
Johnson, Matt, Wildcat Mountain’s Secret, October 25, 2006, Vernon County Broadcaster
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Boyer, Dennis, Driftless Spirits, 1996, Madison, Wisconsin, Prairie Oak Press, p. 144-146.