If there's Civil War gold in them thar hills out in Western Pennsylvania, the feds couldn't find it.


Last week, the FBI, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DNCR), and some die-hard treasure hunters converged on state land in Elk County, about 250 miles northwest of Philadelphia, to search for a cache of gold that was lost, so the legend goes, during a shipment in 1863.

The FBI, in a brief statement issued Monday night, said the crew came up empty after two days of looking and had packed up last Wednesday.  It did say the investigation was "ongoing," so perhaps some small mystery remains.

"As this is related to an ongoing investigation, any additional comment would be inappropriate at this time,"  FBI spokeswoman Carrie Adamowski said in the statement.

According to legend,  a special detachment of Union soldiers was tasked with transporting 26 gold bars, each weighing 50 pounds, from West Virginia to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia in the summer of 1863.

Based on today's value of an ounce of gold, the lost load would be worth more than $27 million.

A Pittsburgh Press article from 1978 on the lost gold of Elk County
The Pittsburgh Press
A Pittsburgh Press article from 1978 on the lost gold of Elk County

According to one version of the story, Sgt. Jim Connors staggered into Lock Haven, in north-central Pennsylvania, claiming to be the lone survivor of an ambush. The gold, he said, was gone. The Army doubted Connors' story and interrogated him, and sent Pinkerton detectives to find the gold, but they came up empty.

The story remained firmly in the land of myth until 1975 when someone gave Dennis Parada a map. Parada started a treasure-hunting firm called Finders Keepers and has spent four decades looking for the gold. Finders Keepers stumbled upon artifacts on state land but claims Pennsylvania's Historical and Museum Commission dismissed its findings.

"We believe that we found the gold at the Dents Run site and that the state is doing everything that they can to stop us from telling our story," the firm wrote on its website.

Parada, on his website, said high-powered metal detectors proved the story was true. He could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday morning. Last week, Parada said he could not comment about the Dents Run site.

The Finders Keepers site also includes a 2005 letter from the DCNR addressed to the district forester at Elk State Forest, where Parada, of Clearfield County, had apparently been digging. The letter stated that Parada could not dig on state land.

In 2008, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette profiled Parada's "obsession."

"I told DCNR I'm not going to quit until it's dug up, and if I die, my kid's going to be around and make sure it's going to be dug up," Parada told the newspaper. "There's something in there, and I'm not giving up."

Parada wouldn't disclose all the details, particularly about the map, saying he was saving the "good parts" for the movies.

The Post-Gazette interviewed a Civil War historian at the time, who dismissed the legend and also, perhaps, Parada.

"Legends tend to be formulated around wishful thinking," the college professor said. "You don't want to be a citizen of an area where nothing ever happened."

According to WJAC-TV in Johnstown, the FBI set up off Route 555 in the Dents Run section of Benezette Township on March 13. That's nine miles from Driftwood, where Connors said the shipment was attacked.

At the time, FBI spokeswoman Adamowski said the crew at Dents Run was conducting "court-authorized law enforcement activity."

Connors, according to the legend, used to get drunk and boast about the gold's whereabouts deep in the hills of Western Pennsylvania. Connors later died in a "western outpost."