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Gold Coin Cache

A few years ago I interviewed an old man who was well over ninety years of age, a man who had spent most of his life close to Farm Creek. He told me a story which I paid little heed to at the time, but later I came across almost certain proof that his story was true. He told me how in the early days there was an Indian whose name was Nephi Winchester, but who was better known to white men as Bill Pritchett. He was very rich and influential, and he was a brother-in-law of David Copperfield, a Ute tribal leader. Pritchett claimed that he owned a forty acre piece of land which actually belonged to a poor Indian woman named Alice One-Leg. Her real name was Itch-A-Boom Cuch, but because she had been born with only one leg, she was always called Alice One-Leg. Being her neighbor, the white man knew that the land belonged to her, so he agreed to go with her to the Indian court at Fort Duchesne and testify in her behalf. But it so happened that Pritchett had more influence with the court than either he or the old woman had, so she lost her land. Still, she was grateful for her white friend's help. During the next few years before she died, he helped her in other small ways, truly being a good neighbor.

During that interview, the old man told me that shortly before her death, Alice One-Leg called him to her cabin where she told him a very strange story. She said that before the Ute Reservation was opened to settlement by white men, the government had made a treaty agreeing to pay the Utes a settlement of $1.25 per acre for certain lands. Washington also agreed to pay $25,000 in gold coin at that time and an equal amount each year thereafter until the debt was paid. She said that the payment was made to the tribe in twenty-dollar gold pieces, twenty-five coins each in fifty leather bags. But the Old Ones, tribal elders, feared dividing so much money among the young bucks, afraid that they would spend it foolishly on the white man's fire-water, so it was decided to hide most of it until the land settlement was completed and tensions lessened. Alice One-Leg said that the gold was taken to a place along Farm Creek where it was cached in a location known to only a few of the Old Ones. She described that place to her white friend as her way of thanking him for his past kindness to her.

A close examination of treaties made between the Ute Tribe and the government reveals that what Alice One-Leg said was true. In a treaty negotiated by Col. H.O. Irish on January 8, 1865, the Ute Indians agreed to move to the Uinta Basin, relinquishing their claims to all other lands in the Utah Territory. In return the government promised to pay the tribe $25,000 in gold each year for ten years, $20,000 annually for the next twenty years and $15,000 for each of the following thirty years. During that same year, 1865, Brigham Young advised the Utes through Chief Sowiette that they should accept the government's offer, promising that the Utes would receive $900,000 over a sixty-year period, actually $150,000 less that Col. Irish had negotiated. That discrepancy wasn't explained, but it mattered little to Chief Sowiette who told Young, "We do not want to sell our land, we want to live by the graves of our fathers." Because the government disagreed with Brigham Young's Indian policies, it took congress nearly forty years to approve that payment, a clause in the agreement stating: "The Indians are to be paid in gold coin, they will not accept paper currency."

The payment made to the Ute Tribe may have in fact been even larger, for in 1902, just before much of the reservation was declared to be public domain, the same agreement which granted the Raven and Florence mining companies special advantages over other settlers, also provided for payment to the tribe for claims made against the government for lands already taken from them. That section of the agreement stated in part: "The sum of seventy-thousand and sixty-four dollars and forty-eight cents is hereby appropriated; ten-thousand dollars of that sum being compensation for deletion of certain lands on the reservation's east boundary, those proceeds to be applied for the benefit of the Indians."

By order of Col. Irish on March 2, 1868, all white men were to be moved from the reservation, the boundaries of which were described as being: "The entire valley of the Uintah River, extending on both sides to the crest of the mountains." That area was interpreted to include all lands from the Strawberry Valley to the Green River and from the crest of the Uinta Mountains to the Book Cliffs. After the Uinta Basin was designated as a reservation, the first Indian Agency was established at the head of Daniels Canyon, during the early spring of 1868. That location proved to be impractical because even then snow covered the summit six feet deep, so the agency was moved to the foot of Tabby Mountain near Hanna. Shortly afterwards it was moved again, to near present Utahn at the forks of the Duchesne River an Rock Creek; but most business was conducted at the Indian village at Sadies Flat, a few miles further up Rock Creek. It was decided that location was too remote so another and final move was made to the Whiterocks Indian Village, on Christmas Day, 1868. Shortly afterwards a trading post and sutler's store were established at Whiterocks.

Several dozen agents and traders have been assigned to the Indian Agency at Whiterocks over the years, but the one who served the longest was Robert Marimon, who came from Kentucky to be Post Trader in October, 1902, and remained in that position until 1928, when he sold out to Oscar Lyman. Marimon had also worked at the Ouray Trading Post on the Green River as early as 1886. Marimon's son continued to work at the Whiterocks post until it burned in 1930. From Marimon's post records as well as from the reminiscences of his daughter, Sarah, we know that the Ute Tribe was in fact paid $25,000 in gold coin just as Alice One-Leg said, and as the treaty stipulated when the reservation was opened to settlement.

"Each Indian, even the smallest baby, is to be given forty acres of land, and each family at least eighty acres; grazing lands to belong to the tribe in general. Rights to hunt and fish are guaranteed." So proclaimed the opening section of the treaty of 1902, when the Utes lost their ancestral lands. Prior to the land rush of 1905, Post Trader Marimon was advised to stock up on all manner of goods, since it was anticipated that when the Indians were paid for their lands, they would buy everything in his store. In correspondence with the author, Sarah Marimon wrote that the gold payment was made just as ordered, with at least part of it if not all being given to designated Indians. She wrote: "They bought everything we had in the store!" She also described the method in which payment was made to the tribe. "A military escort brought the gold to Whiterocks and remained to ensure that no white man came in to gamble with the Indians. But they gambled among themselves, playing the stick game, using twenty-dollar gold coins stacked like poker chips. I never saw so much money in my life!"

That a lot of those gold coins were lost by Indians who gambled with them is shown in a letter received from Anthony Colunga in September 1982. Colunga described how after months of negotiation, he finally obtained permission to use a metal detector at Whiterocks. Although he was allowed only two days to search, during all of which time it rained constantly, he recovered more than 200 coins, including many gold pieces and silver dollars. During that short search he was not allowed to use his detector at the old Indian gambling ground north of the village, where no doubt even more valuable coins were lost. It is also known that an Indian who lives at Whiterocks has recovered many valuable gold coins, many in new mint condition, which indicates they were lost soon after their receipt. Also found was a gold medallion with the likeness of President Buchanan engraved on it.

There is still more evidence to substantiate the story told by Alice One Leg. Don Carlos Foote, a part-blood Ute, told Stan Sharkey that he knew of several gold coins being found in Rough Canyon, just off Farm Creek. Perhaps connected in some way with those coins were two very old muskets found at nearby Winchester Flat, and just off that flat, two cannons which were pushed off a ledge into the canyon below, where they still remain, covered with dirt and brush. A lot of strange things have happened in that country, from Rough Canyon and Winchester Flat to the Lower Stillwater along Rock Creek.

Several years ago two men were camped in that area. While one spent the day fishing, his companion took his back-pack and a rifle and began to climb up to the ridge which separates Rock Creek from Farm Creek. Nightfall came, but he never returned to camp. His partner was agonizing over what to do, when just after midnight he came running and stumbling into camp. It was obvious that he had been subjected to a trying ordeal, for his clothes were ripped and torn, his hands and face were blood-smeared and he no longer had his back-pack and rifle. He immediately began throwing camp gear into their pickup truck and insisted they get away from that place immediately. His friend tried to calm him so they could wait until morning to break camp, but he was so frightened that they left in the middle of the night. Wild-eyed and hysterical, he refused to talk about what he had seen, other than to say he had been in Hell Hole.

Later, during the summer of 1991, that fisherman returned alone to that same area, his companion refusing to return to those mountains where he had been so frightened by someone, or something. He made his camp at Rock Springs, near the head of Farm Creek. One day he decided to hike over into the area where his companion had gone, although by a different route. Maybe if he was lucky, he might find his friend's backpack and rifle. About two miles along the ridge leading to Hell Hole, he was stopped by two Indians. When he asked if he was on the right trail, they told him to get back to Rock Springs and nor to come back. He was surprised that they knew where he was camped, for he had seen no one while there, but one of the Indians told him that he had been watched every time he had been in those mountains. They even told him what kind of vehicle he was driving. Believing that he knew that area well, he started to explain that Hell Hole was not on Indian ground, but was on forest land. He said those two Indians suddenly became very mean and gave him "some extremely blatant warnings" that he better get out of that country and be quick about it. One of them added: "If you come back, your chances of leaving will be slim to none!"

After he broke camp he drove to Duchesne City, where he stopped at the Forest Ranger's office to make sure he had been on forest land and also to ask what was so special about Hell Hole that he had been prevented from going there. The answer he received was, in his own words, "That Forest Ranger acted as if I had said something bad about his mother! He got really hot! I thought he was going to lock me up!" He then asked the ranger if he could get a map of the Hell Hole area, to which request the ranger "became extremely offensive," and warned him not to go near that area. His friend had been frightened out of his wits at Hell Hole, the Indians had threatened him with dire consequences if he ever came back and the Forest Ranger ordered him not to go there. He then said he had only one question for me: "What the heck is so special about Hell Hole?"

I have an idea about what is so "special" about the Hell Hole area. Gold coins! There is no doubt that Alice One-Leg told the truth when she said the Ute Tribe was paid $25,000 in gold coin. Very likely the tribe also received other annual payments in gold, payments which few Utes except for a small group of elders knew about. None of those coins were ever returned to circulation, and few have been seen since, except for a few found in Rough Canyon. Did the Old Ones cache those coins near Farm Creek, perhaps at Hell Hole? With each of those coins worth at least one-thousand dollars now, what would that cache be worth? I know that Alice One-Leg's white friend never recovered that cache, and the fisherman and his friend never even got close to it, so those gold coins are probably still there just as Alice One-Leg said, somewhere near Farm Creek. If you don't frighten easily, the best place to start your search might be at Hell Hole!--Faded Footprints, pg. 97

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