Tips for Cache Hunting – Interview Treasure Hunter Dennis Wynne
Have you been asked to find a treasure cache, either coins or jewelry or both, with your metal detector because a family member or local told you about a treasure cache that needs to be found on their property? Or could it be that you are chasing one of the many documented, lost treasures that haven’t been found yet and want to hone your treasure caching skills?
There are times humans needed to bury valuables out of necessity. For instance, when it was before banks, or there was no close access to a bank or lack of trust in banks. Or, a cache was illegally obtained and hidden from authorities and therefore couldn’t be deposited in a bank. Even today, there are still those who bury valuables for one reason or another. There are a certain percentage of the past and today’s caches that will have to be found with sound research, treasure hunting skills, and a quality metal detector.
I interviewed Dennis Wynne, who has been metal detecting for 49 years, and during that time, has found 5 treasure caches and is currently very close to his 6th. I was honored that in spite of his busy schedule, he let me interview him to learn more about cache hunting. The following is the transcript of the interview. I hope his tips give you success in finding one of the many treasure caches still out there waiting to be discovered by a metal detectorist.
Cache Hunting Tips
Hunting for a treasure cache is different than metal detecting for individual coins, jewelry, or relics. How do you know where to start looking? What question do you ask yourself? What do you gravitate towards to start searching when doing your research or when you survey the land in person?
When searching for a treasure cache, it’s important to start by doing research and gathering as much information as possible about the location and history of the area. After that, you will continually refine and develop the story of the cache. I will share more about how I personally research below. This can include looking for clues and hints about the location of the cache in personal interviews, historical court records, newspapers, family histories, maps, letters, and many other forms of documents. You want to get to know that person who cached the treasure as well as you can. Your goal is not just to go out, and metal detect, and rarely caches have been stumbled upon. You should also seek to find out more about the person or group who is believed to have hidden the cache, as this can help you to understand their motivations and the likely location of the cache. Were they well to do, or dirt poor. Did they die suddenly without being able to share the location of the hidden treasure? Was the cache from a robbery, burglary, gambling, moonshining, or other illegal sources? This last group in particular, can create a situation where the cache may have needed to be concealed in a hurry. Did the person have time to dig a hole, bury the cache, hide the disturbed area and thus conceal the location? If not, how did they hide it well enough to prevent someone from finding it?
Once you have done as much research as possible, you can start to survey the land in person where you believe the cache is hidden. Some things to consider when searching for a treasure cache might include the topography of the area, the presence of natural landmarks or features that could serve as markers, and any structures such as a cave, or man-made objects or signs that might be a significant indicators of “Look here” or “The treasure lies there.” You might also want to consider the time of year and the weather conditions, as these can affect the visibility of certain features and the ease with which you can search the land. A great example of that would be markings on rocks, essentially grooves in the surface by man. The Spaniards who buried a lot of items scattered across the land were notorious for doing that. If that is the case, one of the tools I use is a spray bottle of water and a high lumen flashlight. The flashlight, moved around markings on stone will cast a shadow and will better define markings. The water will also highlight hidden features and make legibility stand out.
Not only does weather affect the cache hunter’s ability to discern subtle indications of a cache, but the weather of when it was buried originally plays a factor as well. You wouldn’t want to dig a three foot deep hole in frozen ground, or dig through 6 inches of topsoil and a foot of hard to dig rocky soil, and you wouldn’t want to cross a river that was rising or had swift waters that could sweep a horse off its feet and lose a chest of gems or gold.
Ultimately, the number one key to finding a buried cache is to be persistent and to keep an open mind as you uncover the backstory of the circumstances and people involved. You should also be willing to think outside the box, and the old saying of practice makes perfect is particularly true in searching for a cache. It may take a lot of time and effort to locate the cache, and you may need to adjust your search strategy as you gather more information and get a better sense of the area and the person who placed the cache. However, with determination and a little bit of luck, you may be able to uncover a hidden treasure that has been waiting a long time for you to find it.
I can further illustrate that persistency need by sharing that I have accumulated well over 100 significant cache leads over the decades (these I would qualify to be caches that I believe are actually present and in the ground). Beyond that, I have several hundred more. Some searches have to develop over time, and some have just hit a dead end. As new information comes into your possession, you can build the data set that will ultimately lead to successful recovery. Also associated with this concept, you have folks (like myself) that do not share a lot of information about specific caches or recovery. There is ALWAYS a chance someone else beat you to the cache. As I will delve into further, that is particularly likely in more well known caches, which I do not normally pursue at all.
Following are common questions regarding the research that are required to be successful. By answering these types of questions in the pursuit, your success is increasingly likely. These questions can be categorized as:
Who, What, Where, When, and Why (or How)
The area that I have lived in for many years is rich in history. Texas is divided into roughly 80 acre tracts of land that were purchased by individuals back in the 1800’s, and let’s use that as a starting point. I want to characterize the information I am sharing as being fundamental concepts, and I will be using the current and most likely recoverable cache I have been working on for the last few years to bring forth some of these concepts. It is a fluid concept, and at times, things change as the overall picture in my quest develops.
Every single parcel of land that was ever occupied is a potential cache location. That is an absolute fact. Wars, regional battles over land/cattle/sheep as well as murder and robberies, have all led to many, many caches being placed the ground, as have sudden unexpected deaths.
Back in history, when people lived in the country, away from banks, they had to insure what money they had extra was secreted in a place that thieves or robbers couldn’t find easily. This didn’t matter if they were poor or rich. Inside a cabin, under a floor, in a post hole beneath a rock, inside a cave, much money is still waiting.
Only within the past half century have we been able to use metal detectors to successfully recover these treasures. Here in America, we have the ability to find caches dating back a couple of hundred years. I see in other parts of the world, recoveries being made dating to antiquity. Every day I marvel at the things being recovered in Europe, East Europe, the Middle East, India, Japan, and it I amazing to behold what comes forth.
I want to share something that is critical to the concept of cache hunting. I confine my searches to the times that were pre-banking for the most part, and I refine my searches as I go. Sometimes this can be months and most likely will be years in developing a given cache. I will use my home state as the example, but the principles are basically the same across many states, i.e. researching deed records, newspapers, family records, letters, personal interviews with descendants, and even books.
So, to determine the WHO, I use a multifaceted approach. I search information sources for people who were killed by Native Indians, robbers, gunfights, accidents that took their lives, etc. I do this with old newspapers, history books, personal letters, genealogy records, and even word of mouth. A great resource for newspapers and magazines is newspaperarchives.com. I can do a very thorough search through millions of pages of newspapers, and refine and filter the results by specific years, or periods, or decades, names, or with city, county, state, etc. You can use filters that are easy to learn, and I HIGHLY recommend learning how to search that resource. I want to add something here. Boolean Operators are key terms that may come into play when searching certain databases. Boolean Operators are words And, Or, Not that in a combination of search terms, can assist greatly in a search. Quotations are another form of search qualifiers. I also highly recommend learning how to use these tools that will assist you in your searches. Keywords to use are many, but a few examples are “Gold Bullion” “Robbers” “Silver bars” “Stolen payroll”, etc., you get the picture. Expressed as Boolean, that could be something like gold AND bullion (this would search for articles that contained BOTH terms. Gold NOT Bullion would return documents containing the term gold, but not bullion. Gold OR Bullion would return documents that contain gold or Bullion as a search term). You can also use books.google.com and search literature for information related to your quest. Or you can go to https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/, which allows you to search many historical books.
A tremendous, little known resource ability that if you possess, you are in for some rare a, is the ability to read and understand foreign languages, most prolific being Spanish in Texas. Note that you may use online translations, but not everything is online, and especially in other countries. There are repositories of information in many universities and foreign libraries.
So, to begin researching, I choose a source, and once I find a hit on someone, I read references to discover if there is a likelihood that they had money and were not some down on his luck cowboy working for a day’s wage and lodging. I do this by searching for obituaries and again newspaper articles. It pays to have the ability to do genealogy research as well. I can do that pretty well, but I have a cousin that is an expert, and she has the uncanny ability to find many things that might assist in determining whether this could be a situation that needs to be investigated more thoroughly. She has worked for one project going on my front and center search for 6 years now, and I owe her a trip to Disneyworld when I find this one. So, if you don’t know how to search genealogical records, I strongly recommend finding someone that will teach it or do it for future trips to Disneyworld ;).
I would like to make two points here for the readers.
First, in my opinion, I am compelled to seek to disprove a cache’s existence as much as I try and prove it does exist or is most likely to exist at one time. I believe it is critical to do this. The reason is, that if one single aspect of the cache is changed through history, it will diminish the possibility of finding it. Most metal detectorists have likely heard the old saying if you miss it by an inch, you miss it by a mile. That is an absolute truth when hunting caches. Nothing will mess up your metal detecting life more than searching for a long a year or three only to find out that the cache has been found and you have wasted a lot of time and should have figured that out before you invested your resources in the search.
The second point is one that many may not have thought of. There are far more small caches than there are caches that are huge and well known. I would suggest that because of that one factor alone, you are much more likely to find caches by seeking smaller caches and not even worry about the well known caches by outlaws, robbers, etc. I have recovered 5 caches in 49 years, which is no small feat, as anyone can tell you. 3 of the 5 were held less than $500, but all of those were pre-1900 coins. The fifth cache was a bit over $1,300, all the coins were prior to 1933.
I want to also stress one other point, and this is likely one of the most important aspects I can share with y’all. KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT once you find a cache. If you follow one piece of advice, this should be it. If you fail in this one area, the odds of your being sued are very high by any relatives, banks, or even the government. Back in the 70’s I had some dirtbag threaten to kill my family if I didn’t give him information about some caches I was searching for or had found. Cops couldn’t catch him either. Threats were made over the phone, via mail, and with handwritten notes on my car. That is a scary thing, believe me.
As a result of this overt threat, a metal detecting friend (he and I were co-founders of the Cowtown Treasure Hunting Club in Fort Worth, Texas) and I concocted a cover story that had me “moving out of the country”, and over the course of a few months, I slipped under the radar as far as speaking to people about cache hunting, or letting the other metal detectorists know what I was doing. I quit the club I had founded and simply went dark. I did that for almost 30 years. I kept going, but I didn’t talk at all about what I was doing. This all happened because too many people knew of what I was up to.
I want to stress still another point. If you deal with land owners or people that might very well have a lot of information about a specific cache, do operate under a Non-Disclose/Non-Compete Agreement that provides for the offending party who discloses confidential information to keep the ”Victim” (which is you) held harmless in case of descendants come out of the woodwork in order to recover what is “theirs.” Related to this, you should also have a written and notarized/witnessed agreement on how the finds will be divided. For me, I will be glad to flip a coin, and the winner gets first pick, and then each take turns. I am absolutely at peace with that concept. At my age and after all these years, it is not so important to have a huge cache. It is the thrill of the hunt, to have accomplished something no one else has done, and to be able to share with a descendant that which his ancestors would have loved to share with them.
I am a paper and pencil sort of guy for the discussion of the next steps of what I do. I keep a 3 tab folder, with the metal foldover tabs we used in school, of every county in the State. Through the years, all of the research I have come across goes into that county’s folder. In addition, If I am looking for a cache, or treasure, or gold, silver, etc., I have the information alphabetically filed both within that folder, as well as inside a 3-ring notebook that contains the person’s name who buried/hid the cache, and each of these has a sheet of lined paper associated with that for notes.
I always carry a clipboard with me, copies of non-disclose agreements, and my phone with a voice recorder app, and another app that gives GPS coordinates on pics I take, for reference. I use these for on the spot notes and recording of my thinking or finds. I also use apps such as OnX and LandGlide to find out who the owners of a piece of land are. Once I find them, I go to my Whitepages app to find the contact information for them. I prefer face-to-face but if they are a distance from the land, I will call them, and attempt to arrange a facetime sort of conversation to ease into the discussion that allows me on-site to explore.
I could do all of this by computer, and I do have a lot of information on my computer, but I don’t want potential info leaks via the internet on treasures I might be seeking. I do reserve historical information on the computer all the time.
The reason for my using paper notebooks is because as I search records, or trace down information about someone or some cache, I may very well reach a stopping point and cannot proceed in searching for it until I get further information. This is an important thing to keep in mind if you are looking for a buried cache. Through time, like in a day, week, month, or even years, you might get another piece of information that lends clarity to your search, or you might discover it has been found, or some other aspect of the target may not be found until a later date. In effect, you will have numerous “open” files and you just have to add information to support or deny the cache’s existence.
In my experience, there have been different ways that bring a potential cache into focus for my attention. Newspaper articles, word of mouth (one of my primary methods), search bots I have in place that work in the background, folklore, and physical observation of surroundings. For me, I talk to people. A LOT of people. My wife says I would talk to a wall, and I have told her, sometimes walls have a lot to say. Sometimes, walls might have clues to a cache.
People are the same way. If I am engaged with anyone for any length of time, I will ease into metal detecting as a topic getting to know them. Into that part of an exchange of life stories, I ask if they have any family or friends that have ever talked of buried money. I continue to be amazed at all of the stories I get to hear.
Nowadays, we have the internet, and there are so many resources on there it is beyond incredible. Spending hours at a library, museum, nursing home (back in the day to talk to the old timers), and just tapping every resource that existed is now replaced by search engines, digital media, search bots (automatic searches carried out over time), Google Earth, digitized books, maps, and other historical resources are out there. Many universities have vast repositories of digitized books, maps, and other resources that are useful in cache hunting.
Let’s talk about the WHAT factor of cache hunting. This is important as the “what factor” helps determine the methods used to conceal or hide a cache. It is a key aspect when you are hunting for any cache.
A quart jar full of silver or gold coins is much easier to conceal than a large strongbox. Obviously, a jar is lighter and occupies less space, whereas a strongbox is much more difficult due to its size and weight. This should impact the way a buried/concealed cache is being searched for.
You have to think about the difficulty in moving a 60 lb box with 40 additional lbs of valuables. valuables inside vs. a jar full of old silver. You also have to examine the known facts about the hidden cache. Could it have been hidden in a hole such as a post hole bank? Surely many of you know what that is, but for the new folks out there….. a post hole bank is a jar/container that is placed beneath a post along a fence. My third cache was a $323.81 cache, buried in a hole where a post once stood. The post itself was about 5 feet away, lying down. I was fortunate in that my second cache was found on the same property, and I thought where there was one, there might be two……ultimately there were 7 caches taken from this one property. I only found the 2, and that second one….all of the coins were pre-1900 coins. And the two $20 gold pieces that were part of that cache were awesome. There is also a negative aspect regarding these two caches. As I said, there were 7 total, and so I missed 5 more. Think about that. I feel blessed to have found the two, and I feel I should have not stopped, and I could have found more.
WHAT was buried is important as well in terms of the effort you are willing to expend searching for the cache. A suitcase full of clad coins does not excite me, but a Quart jar full of pre-1900 coins pushes my button to go looking.
How far could one person carry a strongbox on his shoulder, or on a horse? That is a good question and is directly associated with what the cache is as well as where it could be buried or hidden. You always need to find out if possible, WHAT the cache is, which narrows or expands the methods used to bury. The WHAT, in turn, leads you to that next part of our conversation, the Where.
WHERE, to me is actually a two part question when hunting caches of any kind. First off, I will discuss the WHERE I hunt in general.
I mentioned earlier in this article about going underground after someone threatened to kill my family if I didn’t turn over what he thought I knew. This action of leaving the detecting club I cofounded and no longer hunting with partners, brought me to a point where I was moving away from city hunting and focusing my efforts to the older homesites in the country. That move is what took me from coin hunting, to relic hunting, to searching for caches.
I hunt in the country, where old homesites used to be. You will be much more likely to discover caches of coins, jewelry, etc., in these old homesites because those old homesites existed far from banks and, therefore, places where the money had to be hidden from discovery by bad people when the owner was in the field working, or in town, or anywhere else besides at his cabin. Also, because of the lack of banks, the people would be farmers or ranchers and would sell produce or cattle or sheep, etc. that would mean that when the product/animals were sold, their coffers would be filled, and they would need to conceal the gold or silver to prevent theft. IF those people were subsequently killed or died suddenly, there was a better-than-average chance that they had a cache of valuables somewhere.
Back in those old days, a cowboy earned about a dollar a day and “found”(which is food and safety). A farmer would not make much money until his crops were delivered and sold to a miller, a general store, or bartered for goods in town or with neighbors. Money was precious and to be guarded and hoarded for spending on food, medicine, or other necessities. Sell a few Mavericks, or an overabundance of farm products, and there would be excess money afterward. Any spare change would be “holed away” for a rainy day. I don’t have, nor have I ever heard a percentage of the old timers that cached money, but rest assured they did it.
In the rural areas, there were places where money might be hidden, for instance:
- In a wall or ceiling
- Under the floorboards
- Inside a piece of furniture (e.g., a couch or mattress)
- In a secret compartment in a horse drawn wagon
- In a safety deposit box at a bank (Rarely)
- In a hidden room or basement
- Buried in the ground
- Inside a hollow tree
- Under a haystack
- In water in a pond or creek
- In a false bottom in a suitcase or the top of a trunk
- Inside a fake book or other household items
There are other places, but you should get the picture.
For the folks reading this, I was a professional firefighter from age 19-49. In 1976, when I was a firefighter in rank, we had a structure fire at a home on the North side of the city. This house was a pier and beam structure, and we burned it down to the floor level. The house was built in the 1870s and was in an old part of town.
The owners were there, and I asked if I could come back the next day, and metal detect the property. They agreed and advised they were leaving that morning to return to family in Illinois.
That next afternoon, I went to that house, and during the process of detecting, I noted a “Scuttle hole” in the floor, partially covered by fire debris. I walked over to that hole and uncovered it. It had been hidden from the owners by layers of linoleum tile, covered over by roll linoleum and then carpeting.
My thinking, which was outside the box, was that perhaps someone going underneath the house might have lost a coin or two. This was an example of another aspect of successful cache hunting. Being equipped with a positive attitude, which causes one to focus. Extended to today, I still carry that thought when I detect, believing I will find my next gold coin somewhere that day. I have found a total of 4 gold coins in 49 years of searching. 2 were in a cache, and the other two were wild coins found while in the country.
Going back to my scuttle hole……when I pulled the cover from the hole, the first thing I saw was the top of a Well Fargo strongbox staring at me. As you might imagine, I was pretty freaked out, and put the cover back in place and re-covered the cover with fire debris.
Examples of Wells Fargo Strongbox
I then drove down the street, turned around and sat in my car on the street, keeping a lookout on the site, until the sun had set and night had fallen. I drove up to the homesite and backed into the drive. I was shaking like a leaf with excitement.
Clearing the hole once again of debris, I reached to remove the cover, and it was stuck in place, which took me about 4-5 minutes to remove. It was such a tight fit removing the box, and I ultimately had to use two ropes I had with me to lift it up and out, as my hands were scraping when I tried to pull it out with my grip.
I put that strongbox in my pickup, drove home and backed up to my garage, opened the door, and backed in. Once there, I removed the box and had to break the lock.
I will only say, it was not empty, but it was an absolute dream come true. The local paper got word somehow that I had found a strongbox, and they attempted to interview me for 2 years. I refused to allow that, which likely stopped any kind of legal issues. I had that box until 1980, when it was stolen from me. But the contents remained in my possession for long after. I was never able to pinpoint where that strongbox was stolen from, but I was hooked for good.
Had I not thought of the Where part of treasure hunting, I would never have found that box. And it was also a great example of a cache that was not buried, but was hidden under a floor in a house….thinking outside the box will get you a lot of finds and perhaps a Wells Fargo strongbox.
We see pretty photos of clay pots or treasure chests of gold coins and jewelry when treasure caches are mentioned in Hollywood and fictional books. But let’s talk about reality. When you have discovered caches in the United States, how were they buried? For instance, were they in disintegrated wood boxes, mason glass jars, tin boxes, cookie jars…….? In general, what was in them?
In reality, treasure caches can be buried in a variety of containers, such as metal tins or cans, plastic containers, glass jars, or even just wrapped in cloth or plastic and buried without a container. The contents of a treasure cache can also vary widely but may include items such as money, jewelry, valuable coins, documents, and other valuable or sentimental objects. It is not uncommon for people to bury treasure caches as a way to store valuables for safekeeping or to hide them for personal or financial gain.
The 5 caches I have found were in several different types of containers.The first was not buried, but was hidden under the floor of a house. Caches 2 and 3 were in glazed pottery. The fourth cache was in a mason jar, and the Fifth was buried in a coffee can, which had rusted away. I have also found several piggy banks, and every one of those was broken (3 of those). I will also say that the treasure I am close to finding currently was buried in a cowhide bag. The son of the man who hid this particular treasure ($44,000 face value in $20 gold coins) spent his life searching for his father’s cache. You should see the holes I discovered via google earth. I am however convinced this cache was not buried, but instead was placed on the side of a ravine and covered over, as the man who hid it was in a hurry and had to leave before rising waters made crossing the river impossible.
My old friend Dorian Cook and I talked of this sort of thing on one of the podcasts we did a couple of years ago on Spreaker. You can look that one up. Dorian, if you are reading this, perhaps you can recall which episode we discussed how robbers used to hide money quickly…..
When out on the property looking for a treasure cache, what tools or resources do you use besides common metal detecting equipment? I have read some use dowsing rods.
Dowsing rods are a type of divination tool that some people believe can be used to locate underground water, minerals, or other objects. However, there is claimed to be no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of dowsing rods, and most treasure hunters do not use them. I happen to have an old friend that I personally witnessed who found water with divining rods. I will also say, and ya’ll might think I am crazy, but I am prescient and have seen things in my life before they happened. I will also readily tell you that God has done that in my life. I also see auras on people, and death as well, but that will not be spoken of anymore here. It is what it is. Though not in this interview, I will tell you all that I won a car back in 1973 from a local radio station (a 240 Z Datsun. Think Nissan 380ZX). I KNEW before I won it that I was going to win it. People thought I was arrogant or foolish on the department as I told them I was going to win it. That could also be construed to be part of that positive anticipatory attitude I carry with me when I hunt. I kept that car for 6 months, then sold it, and part of the money I used to buy my first metal detector, a Garrett BFO…..long time ago.
I learned many years ago to use the correct tools for the job. Though they are not needed, I believe that for me, the tools I have acquired over the years greatly assist me in any type of detecting endeavors.
My current arsenal of equipment includes my Minelab 800 with coils including 5×10 inch, 6 inch, 11 inch, and 13×15 inch coils. An XP Deus 2 with the 9 inch HF coil. I also have a Nokta JeoHunter which is a beast and uses a 15 inch coil as well as a 40 inch coil. That is a deep machine and will find tunnels down to about 36 feet deep.
In addition, I own a Ground Penetrating Radar that is another beast and is the most difficult to learn, understand and use.
Another tool that has an incredible capability is my DJI Inspire 1 drone. It is equipped with a hi-resolution FLIR thermal camera that will send real time video from 3 miles or so. I also have a hyperspectral camera on that bird. The thermal camera is an incredible device. At 40 ft altitude, pixels are sub ¼ inch resolution. I use that configuration to look for old homesites. Thermal camera images do not penetrate more than a quarter inch into the soil, but I can see patterns of stones such as used in the foundations of a log cabin, or the footprint of an old log cabin log that compresses the ground below the log which will be long since disintegrated. Hearths, front step rocks, etc show up vividly. The reason for this is that the stones, or the compressed earth is more compact or dense and therefore lose heat more slowly than the surrounding soil matrix.
The hyperspatial camera sees into the infrared and also RGB spectrum. This in turn, allows me to see different species of foliage more readily. Back in the day, people would bring in apple trees, or pear, onions, garlic, iris plants, etc. from the air, you can see a difference.
I want to really emphasize that this setup I use is an expensive setup. To be clear, however, every cache I have found was without this equipment. I bought it to enhance my search capabilities on my current front and center cache. That cache has been on my radar for 6 years now, and like many caches I move it forward when new information is added to the searching. I am extremely close to recovering this cache. It has been in the ground for 153 years, and I have narrowed the search area to 64 acres. Contact has been made with the current owner of the property, and we do not plan on informing him yet, at least not related to the cache. He owns several thousand acres and has no clue what lies beneath.
In the computer side of the tools I use, I own a laptop and it connects to a 60-inch tv monitor and I use software called Ultravision, which allows me to divide that 60 inches into 6 monitors at will. I cannot express to you how awesome that setup is for treasure hunting. I also use that monitor set up to display as a single screen to really delve into photos from sites such as historicaerials.com, satellite images, and high altitude images from flyovers.
One of the things I love about Ultravision is that I can turn off and on the number of monitors I want o break my 60 inch into, and quite honestly when I am using it for hi-res imaging, I prefer for the most part to keep any given image filling the entire 60 inch screen. It is just amazing how things just jump out at you.
If you are not familiar with historicaerials.com, it is a website that allows you to compare old vs new topos/atlas/aerial images. One thing to know about aerial photo capabilities. Early aerial photos, in my experience, do not have very useful resolution when looking for old visual cues. Imaging was simply not refined. The earliest contiguous land images started in the 1940’s, but were not really useful until the mid 60’s when resolution became finer.
As I just stated, I will use this particular cache as a great example for your thoughts. The current owner does not know that there is a potential $8,000,000 cache (based upon the rarity factor). Let’s talk about the WHEN factor.
When a cache was hidden plays a bigger role than most would admit or even think about. I mentioned Dorian Cook earlier, and I want to give him credit for what I am about to say, which is, to hunt treasures, you have to become a “History Detective”.
Here is why the WHEN matters. If a cache was recently, say within the last 20 years, you can source much of the information to narrow the likely hiding spot through the internet which can present an incredible amount of modern data to aid your search. You can research the people, talk to neighbors, interview relatives, and search newspaper articles. These resources will greatly assist you in your quest to recover. The downside of this is that others who know how can do the same.
Now back to the aforementioned cache I have spoken of in this conversation. This cache was hidden in 1869 and has eluded quests from within the family of the original person who concealed it.
Because it was buried so long ago, the rules are somewhat similar for the search, but I will share how far different it could become due to data sets not being as readily available due to the age. In this particular story of this particular cache, it is full of things that had to be solved.
I met Paul while door-knocking with a friend. Paul walked up while we were metal detecting and started asking questions about metal detectors and How deep would they go, could they find gold, could they find a cache of gold, etc. after about 10 minutes of his questions, I told him about my years of experience, and that if he would like to discuss whatever it was, he was searching for I would sign a nondisclosure/noncompete agreement and would sit down and answer all of the questions he had and help guide him. I drew up the paperwork, and both of us signed, and this adventure began.
Right off the bat, I was surprised about this treasure, as I had never heard of it, and I knew a lot of the old generation of cache hunters in my part of the world. I now understand the why, and due to constraints, I cannot share that part. Perhaps I will another day.
To start with, the story began with my contact with a descendant of the man that cached the gold. For this tale, as I said, that descendant’s name will be Paul. (We shall call the man who cached the gold John Berry).
In 1869, John Berry cached the gold on the night before he left on what was to become his final trip of business. His wife, Carol, did not want to know where it was to be cached because she could have been tortured and forced to disclose the cache’s location. This was actually very common back in the day, and that increases the likelihood it is still there for us as treasure hunters. John had gold coins wrapped in a buffalo hide bag and was in a hurry to cross the river ¼ mile distant from his home before the waters rose too high. The water rising was from a large storm he observed in the distance. So John started off on his journey, and somewhere between the house and the crossing, he cached 2200 circa 1850s-1860s $20 gold coins.
He was ambushed and killed by Native Indians on his way home from his 4-month trip. After his death, his son spent his entire life searching for the gold, as did other members of the family. Within the family, it was known the gold was never found.
When I was first discussing the cache with Paul, he explained that Bill had first moved to the far northwest of the county where Rock Creek hit the main river. Because I knew he was a direct descendent of John Berry, I made a rookie mistake and thought that that one bit of knowledge, along with many others, were correct. Paul’s father looked for the gold and Paul showed me a lot of photos that could be ideal hiding places on their 9000 acre ranch they still had.
I started the process of developing the quest by asking Who What When Where and How/Why questions, looking at county records, tracing property sales, researching the family descendants to insure no instant riches showed up, same for people around the areas. (By the way, counties and states have different methods to trace deed records. I advise any of y’all that are new at looking for such records to contact the county clerk’s office of the county where a given cache is, and ask their help in learning how to search early records, and also note, this is a skill that is needed when hunting caches). Many times they will have plat maps of the area dating back to the 1800’s and those are great clues.
One of the first things I found at the beginning of my refining of information regarding John Berry was that there were 4 “Rock Creeks” that hit the main river. I brought this up and information came to light that kept placing John Berry where his descendants believed he was. It was stated in local newspapers from the very late 1800’s and the early 1900’s that it was so.
For the next two years, I spent time searching online, and in person, reviewing articles, newspapers, speaking to numerous historians of the county, and searching the library which had a section on the family. Nothing new came to light during this period, and I backed it off to a back burner until more information arose.
I made periodic follow ups on this cache and finally, one day I was at the library, going through old records. There was a volunteer present, Sara, an 82 year old volunteer. I asked her if she knew of any further information on the Berry family, and she laughed and told me, “Yes. Two weeks prior, she had been in the basement and had found a box of letters in the basement of the library”. I asked if I could see them and she took me to the basement and inside the box were 40 letters from the family. One letter from John Berry’s daughter-in-law to her child, dated in 1896, proved to be a key item in our quest. This letter, in which she stated that her husband (John Berry’s son) had been looking for John’s buried gold on the Gonzales property, along with two men who had this machine called a metal detector. She advised that that son was complaining that the metal detector was not able to find the treasure and he was going to just keep looking without it.
This one letter, with previously undisclosed information, led to a complete change in operational knowledge and led me to a fundamental breakthrough on the project. The name mentioned by the daughter-in-law led me to revisit the courthouse and research for property owned by that name. I found a total of 4 properties that had been owned by both John Berry and Abel Gonzales, the property owner mentioned in the letter. The only problem was none were on the property cited as the family ranch where they asserted the gold was hidden.
In fact, they were on the other side of the river from their property. How could that be? Because I could not reconcile the story as I was told by family, I decided to return to the county courthouse and review ALL of the records between the date of John Berry’s death and the date of the letter. Long hours of searching the records by both the Grantor and the Grantee produced nothing that would change the existing knowledge I had…..a dead end of sorts.
I mentioned the newspaperarchives.com earlier in this discussion, and every month, I would resubmit the search terms. I would offer counsel to you regarding this, but it is something you have to learn to construct. So, back to what I am leading up to. I ran a new series of queries to the archives, and I got a new hit from the newspaper, which was local to the area the cache was from. The results of that search pulled up a newspaper article from 1942, in which the great great grandson of John Berry was interviewed and stated that he was going to search for the cache on the original ranch, which had been sold in 1935. WHAT???!!!! The ORIGINAL ranch? This ran counter to anything I had been told by the family, and actually was a huge break and a testament of WHY you need to continually seek out to prove the story to be false as well as true (THAT was my rookie mistake mentioned earlier).
The easiest way for me to follow up after this newest information came to light was to return to the courthouse and look at all the sales records and deed transfers from 1935. It brought many new things to light.
When I searched in the records from 1935, sure enough, I not only found the record of the sale, but it also identified the exact land parcels which were sold. The records in the original recording of the sale even said “Original Berry Ranch” penciled in the margins of the transfer documents.
This was incredible, and the original ranch was not where the family believed for decades. This is an important part of this conversation due to the fact that it got by someone like me who has found caches, understood how to research via computer and beating feet along a path, and the family had what I want to refer to as generational misinformation. Misinformation is appropriate as they had lost the family memory of what had actually happened. The importance of what I just said cannot be understated. A cache hunter must prove or disprove every aspect of a treasure story. I allowed that one shortfalling to waste several years worth of refining the knowledge as to the location of the cache. The next part of the story contained a turn of events that amazed me and is an example of why it is that the WHEN can be a factor.
First off, there was an issue with that parcel that had been named by the daughter in law of John Berry. Searching through the named records of deed transfers, there were none where a “Gonzales” was involved in the original ranch footprint, nor near it. Someone had stolen and replaced the original documents that recorded that sale. That one piece of land that was named by parcel number was not recorded in the original deed records. It was simply not there. There was another document in it’s place that had been forged and placed in official records.
Also, there was one creek that was unnamed in every single early map I found, and it finally was cited as a name that had to do with one of John Berry’s other sons. It was and is my belief that that creek had originally been named Rock Creek, and indeed, I was later able through another search through books.google.com, which brought up a blurb about John Berry that cited an adjacent creek as close to where John Berry lived, which in turn put it on the original ranch.
Finally, I went back to those 40 letters in the library. There was one letter that mentioned that John Berry’s son had come up with the idea that the family needed to obscure the information so no one would ever be able to find the gold, except the family. That aspect is how the descendants were so wrong on the location. After a period of time, the original ranch was lost in family history.
The family had enough political clout to have official records changed, and even maps altered with the name of that one creek. There were other instances, but that will be left for another time.
The other thing that had bothered me about the family’s version of history was that I could find no evidence of John Berry’s son that showed his lifelong efforts to find his dad’s hidden cache. After my discovery of the original ranch, I went to Google Earth and found literally hundreds of holes that were dug over 64 acres, and one parcel that did not have a proper document that showed transfer that certainly has to be the Gonzales property where John Berry believed the gold was concealed.
Had the modern tools not been present, or had I not developed the knowledge of how to search early land ownership, or had I not continued to refine my knowledge on this quest, I likely would have never come across the information that has led to this place. Furthermore, at that long ago time when the records were lost, they were able to obscure official records, and I would suggest that it couldn’t have been done in this day and age.
Why and How
Finally, we come to the WHY or HOW of searching for a cache.
Remember, earlier in this discussion, we discussed how John Berry’s wife did not want to know where John was caching the gold, and he was in a hurry to get across the river to begin the next morning to begin his final cattle drive to Kansas. What follows is another part of this story and is a part of being a History Detective.
We have to examine WHY any cache was placed in the ground. This could be to prevent thieves or robbers, to hide assets from governmental agencies. In this instance, I am sharing as an example, John cached 2200 gold coins for safekeeping. He was a very successful and wealthy man as a result of his past work, and he didn’t want to lose that fortune while he was gone.
As a history detective, I can tell you that those 2200 coins weighed about 150 lbs. John would not have placed them on a horse to cross that river. Though he would need a wagon for his cattle drive the next day, he would not have put that gold on a wagon as well. Why do I make this assertion? Because I am aware that water is noncompressible and would easily move a wagon into the river, and a horse could be swept away as well, and in both cases, the gold would be lost as a result. He knew that and would not have taken that chance. Therefore, it is my belief that he hid that gold somewhere between the original homesite and the water crossing at the river.
In the area where John lived, there were no topo maps prior to 1924 that placed solid black squares where houses used to be. (Another skill you need as a cache hunter is to be able to determine what a topo map shows you.) But with that 1924 map which I got from the USGS services, I have a topo map showing a homesite, along with a military road that led from the house to the crossing. That map showed a homesite on the original ranch. At two distinct points out of sight from the homesite shown on the 1924 topo map, that road passed immediately beside feeder creeks that provide rainy season water to the river, but remained dry the majority of the year.
Having talked to many of the old timers who hunted relics and caches and Spanish treasures, I know that the most likely scenario would not have been to dig a hole which would take an extra hour or two. I believe John Berry would have placed the cache on the side of one of those two feeder creeks that empty into the river, are close to the military road, and yet out of sight from the main house.
A widely accepted distance for the concealment of any cache, whether buried or simply concealed was thought by cache hunters to be within 100 yards of their house so that they could keep an eye on it. I would agree with that, as the original owner of the cache would have wanted it to be within sight of their home.
In this particular cache, it is my belief that per his wife’s wishes, John Berry was a bit more than the 100 yards, but he was out of sight of the house. Logically, had he buried the gold somewhere near the military road that led to the river crossing, someone might have seen the ground disturbance and looked there. I don’t think that makes sense. Instead, I believe that John stopped along the way that night and hid the gold on the banks of those feeder creeks, as that would be much easier to conceal by placing rocks around it, or putting the coins beneath a rock ledge and putting debris/rocks over the opening. People would not be likely to be looking around those sides, and it would be much faster to do. That is the HOW this cache was concealed, I believe.
As with all caches, through the development of various hypotheses and thoughts, the picture becomes more and more clear. We are on year 6 of this particular project, and as I tell John’s great-great grandson…..ever forward, ever determined. 2023 is going to be the year of recovery.
We have made contact with the current owner, and we will be successful.
When you cache hunt, do you just dig everything that is a target on your metal detector? How do you know what to dig or not, especially because caches are all not one size? Even advanced hobby metal detectors are not sophisticated enough to correctly ID a cache, or give use of any consistent information we could use to discriminate everything out but a cache.
I tend to dig everything as everything you hear in the ground is a potential piece of evidence, and you never know what you are hearing without recovering. It is important to remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. It is just a fact of this type of detecting is mainly done over time.
I also use a string when I am down to the actual recovery phase. I grid off an area, and I work it. I use spray paint to indicate where I have searched. Besides, there can always be more than one cache on a property, as I shared earlier. Because there could be any sized cache, it is critical that you search every single signal.
Another real concept to consider is that when you first arrive at a site where you believe a cache is hidden, take the time to just look around and pay attention to what you see. Walk the site and look for out-of-place things. Are there unusual features to a tree? Are there markings on the trees or rocks? Are there cairns built, or rock structures that are not natural? Take your time and focus. Many times, I will carry my detector with me and just walk the property. If something stands out, I can take the time and search around it.
Hunting for buried treasure or money caches can be a challenging and exciting endeavor, but it is important to approach it with caution and respect for the law. In many cases, it is illegal to search for or remove artifacts or treasures from private or protected properties without permission. Therefore, it is important to research the laws and regulations in your area before attempting to search for treasure or money caches.
As for how to know what to dig for, there are a few different approaches you can take. Some treasure hunters rely on historical records, maps, and other clues to help them locate potential treasure sites. Others may use metal detectors to help them locate metal objects that could potentially be part of a treasure cache. However, it is important to note that metal detectors are not always reliable and can often produce false positives, so it is important to use them in conjunction with other methods. Ultimately, the key to successful treasure hunting is to do your research, be patient, and use a combination of different techniques to help you locate potential treasure sites. An example on my to-do list on any cache is to grid it off so that I perform a thorough search.
I read that in most cases, jewelry and money caches are usually buried in the backyard, often in and around a vegetable garden or near a shed, small barn, or chicken coop where the owner can easily retrieve it without being seen. Do you agree with this statement? Where else are some common places they are buried?
I absolutely agree with that. Caches are almost always within the eyesight of a homesite, as the owner wants to keep an eye on it to prevent thieves from being able to get to it easily without being seen.
It is not uncommon for people to bury jewelry and other valuables in their backyard, as it can provide a sense of security and convenience to have them hidden in a place that is relatively easy to access. However, it is worth noting that burying valuables in the ground is not a foolproof method of protecting them, as there is always the risk that they could be discovered by someone else, or that they could be damaged by the elements. Additionally, buried valuables are not insured and are not easily accessible in case of an emergency.
Some common places where people might bury caches include:
- Underneath a rock or other object in the yard
- In a potted plant or flower bed, or garden
- In a hole dug in the ground
- Beneath a beloved tree
- In a secret compartment in a shed or other outbuilding
- In a buried container, such as a metal box or plastic tub
It is worth noting that burying valuables in any of these locations carries some level of risk, and it is generally a better idea to keep valuable items in a safe deposit box or other secure location.
How often do you find that treasure caches are masked by junk targets like nails, tin, old farm tools, scrap metal, etc? It seems that cache hunting takes a large level of patience and digging a lot of junk targets.
The caches I have found were masked by other metals. I cannot speak to modern day caches, as the types of caches that I hunt have all been in the country, as that is, in my opinion, a much more productive type of situation. But I would say that by virtue of where caches are, there will be other metals present for the most part. If I am in cache hunting mode exclusively, I will dig larger signals only. I am not interested in dime-sized signals. When I get a signal, I will raise my coil a foot off the ground, and if I still have a good signal i.e. repeatable and solid, I will dig the item up. Consequently, I dig a lot of relics.
And I think it important as well to understand that I hunt a lot of styles. I hunt relics, coins, rings, jewelry, and caches. The property that held 7 caches that I have described in this conversation was an example of my having stumbled on the first cache and intentionally sought the second. And through patience, I was rewarded, and that cache is the one that held 2 of the gold coins I have found.
Now, all that being said, it is an understatement to say that extreme patience is required. If I could find a cache at every country site I hunted, I would be wealthy as heck. I am 100% sure I have left caches in the ground untouched for some future cache hunter to find. I still find cool stuff. And I still have many old tales of caches that were buried. Over the past month, while we are traveling full-time as RVers, I have heard tales of 4 new caches, one of which I advised them to go after it, and I would be happy to counsel them in their quest. This sort of thing is quite often the case in terms of hearing about new caches. It is also why one needs to have a regimented process for tracking caches.
I would recommend that anyone interested in chasing caches not to get involved in well-known treasures. Instead, follow the type of model I use, and seek small caches, as you will be far more likely to be successful. As you gain success and confidence, you might be interested in trying some of the larger caches. You also have to be aware that any given site could be a cache site, especially if that site is from early America prior to banks.
I do know of some caches that were placed in water for concealment, and under posts. There was one in the Fort Worth area that was from a man that ran an illegal gambling operation. He was raided twice by the law, and after that, he hid his cache and boasted the Law would never find where he had placed it. I assisted a friend that was looking for it after the man died.
He was on a ranch of some 350 acres. The cache was hidden sometime in the early 1990’s. This was a case where there was no simple way to find the cache. In such a case, you must eliminate the easiest and simplest locations first. The man who planted the cache loved to fish in the stock ponds on his property. My friend got permission to be on the property, and I accompanied him on his scouting trip.
It was during the second trip, we were looking around the ponds for any clues, and I was called over to look at a sign he found. It was an arrow of stones, buried except for the topmost part and in a clear arrow pointing to the pond.
We stretched a line using a string from that arrow to the edge of the pond and started magnet fishing. After 30 minutes or so, we fished a box that was stuck to the magnet, and inside was a ziplocked bag full of $100 bills. It was a nice haul for my buddy, and I even got a couple of hundred dollars for helping him.
It is not uncommon at all for treasure hunters to encounter junk targets while searching for caches or other buried objects. The presence of these types of targets can be frustrating, but they are a normal part of the treasure hunting process and can often be used to help narrow down the search area because they show where people were active. Learn to date the items you find as well. It is important to have patience and persistence while treasure hunting, as it can sometimes take time and effort to find what you are looking for. However, with the right equipment and techniques, you can increase your chances of success and make the process more efficient.
What do caches look like in plow fields? Do the plows scatter the coins and jewelry, or does it stay pretty much together in one spot?
It is possible for treasure caches to end up in plowed fields in a variety of ways. One possibility is that the treasure was buried in the field in the past and has since been uncovered by the plowing process. Another possibility is that the treasure was lost or discarded in the field at some point and was subsequently covered by dirt and debris. In either case, it is likely that the treasure would be scattered by the plow, rather than remaining in a single, concentrated location. It is also quite possible that originally, within a given field that it was not always a field and that at some time in the past, it had a homesite on the land that was subsequently destroyed or moved, and the land was plowed.
There is a book, primarily penned for the New England area, called Forest Forensics by Tom Wessels that is a good learning tool for reading fields and forests where homesites first existed. Great information for general education and for cache hunting.
I would also tell you that you simply must be willing to visit a potential cache site more than once and many times, 9 or 10 times, or even more. The odds of you finding a cache on a first visit are very small. The odds are greatly improved by visiting more than once and keep the attitude that every time you will be successful. You just have to get out there and try. In the case of caches, the more you hunt them the more you will find them. So get out and try! And learn from my mistake I mentioned earlier in which I found two caches, yet there were 5 more found on the same property. NEVER assume there is only one.
What final tips can you give our readers regarding cache hunting?
Here are a few tips for treasure cache hunting:
- Research the area where you’ll be hunting. Look for clues in local history, landmarks, and other sources that might give you a hint about where the treasure might be hidden. Try and find out all you can about the person(s) that cached a treasure, as that will improve the odds.
- Start small and work your way up to the big caches of treasure. Begin by looking for small, easy-to-find caches, and then gradually increase the difficulty level as you become more skilled at the activity.
- Use websites, maps, and apps to find nearby caches. These resources can provide you with clues and information about the location of hidden treasures.
- Bring the right equipment. Depending on the location and type of cache you’re searching for, you may need a variety of tools and supplies, such as a GPS device, a compass, a flashlight, and protective gear. Also, though I didn’t mention it, I will here. Get yourself a quality probe about 4 feet long and steel with an aluminum point that can be replaced. When you get a potential signal, use the probe and push down into the target. If it is a coin cache, you can feel the coins as the probe passes through a rusted can.
- Be able to grid your searches once you are confident there is a cache on a property. Work slowly and methodically to improve your recoveries. Another great tool is a precision GPS app which records a very precise LAT/LON 10 digit location.
- Watch for signs of concealment, such as scratches on rocks or concrete, humps of dirt where someone filled in a hole. Discolored dirt. Patches in walls, rocks that are out of place or in some pattern.
- Think outside the box on where items might be concealed.
- Something else to remember….most caches are buried at arms length or less as the person burying the cache would want to be able to remove it easily at some time in the future.
- Have fun! Treasure cache hunting is a fun and exciting activity that allows you to explore new places and find hidden treasures. Remember to enjoy the journey and the experience, not just the destination.
I would like to thank Dennis Wynne for sharing his experiences about metal detecting for treasure caches. I hope his tips bring you future success in cache hunting.
An anecdotal note (from Dennis). I am currently full-time RVing and am at an RV park named Thunder Canyon, in Northeast Alabama. I have been continually amazed at the number of RVers that metal detect, or want to. I have been here since September, and from then until November, I have encountered 11 people that metal detect. Anyway, today, I got a story from a fellow RVer who related that his grandfather told him years ago that when he was a boy, his grandfather had a visit from a group of men, riding up to the family farm, which was located in Missouri, and asked if they could sleep there that night, out of the rain. The farmer invited them to stay for dinner, and then told them they were welcome to sleep in the barn.
The next morning, the men were given breakfast as well, and when they left, the leader gave my new RVing friend’s great-granddad a bag with gold coins in it. The visitors turned out to be Jessie and Frank James, along with their “friends”. Per my new friend, his Great Grandad wanted nothing to do with stolen gold, and buried the money on the farm. My RV friend said that his Grandfather pointed at a levee that was present when they discussed the gold, and stated the gold was beneath that levee. This is a great example of a possible lead, but one that would be very difficult to pursue, or even to find.
When I was a young man, I used to chase the Spanish Gold, as there are many signs around the northern part of Texas. Found lots of signs and symbols, and covered a lot of the country. Chased some Sam Bass Treasure, I started noting that some of the stories I heard from what we called the old timers back then, had multiple endings, or clues as to the whereabouts of hidden gold. Bonnie and Clyde were said to have buried some money along the first silk stocking row in Fort Worth. Through research, I located the house they were in where it was allegedly buried. I found out that in 1982, the father of the current owner had found 100 silver dollars when he was digging out an old barn floor. I suspect that was the cache from Bonnie and Clyde.
Joanna Jana Laznicka, a Czech-Canadian residing in Southern California, is passionate about all things associated with metal detecting. She mainly detects on the West Coast, from Southern California to Northern British Columbia. As the founder of Focus Speed, her goal is to bring quality content to metal detectorists.