Part of Swift Cache Found?
By Michael Steely
From page 54 of the August 1997 issue of Lost Treasure magazine.
Copyright ©1997, 1998 Lost Treasure, Inc.
For more than 250 years people in Appalachia have searched for the lost silver mines of Jonathan Swift. Here and there he claimed to have mined silver ore, operated smelters, coined up Spanish, English, and French coins, and transported the counterfeit coins back to the colonies.
The search has stretched from Pennsylvania to Alabama and was much detailed in my book Swift's Lost Silver Mines and Related Appalachian Treasures.
Yet new evidence, artifacts, relics, and tales come to light each year. Here's a bit more information...
A few years ago, in a cave between Jessee and Grassy Gap on Pine Mountain just west of the Breaks of the Sandy River in extreme Eastern Kentucky a man reportedly found a large cache of silver coins. Each of the coins, said to be Spanish and English, carried dates of before 1760, leading to some speculation that he had found part of John Swift's silver, or the legendary Great Cave of the Shawnee.
The man, who wished to remain unidentified, was accompanied back to the cave by local men, including Jim Hall, and was stopped by a deep pool of water from exploring the cave, known locally as "Pigeon Water Cave"
Several treasure tales were written for the News Express by Anita Spears about the find. In the tales she reports that the man, who she calls "Gibson" found five kegs of coins beyond the deep "sump" of water and was halted in carrying out all of the coins, by high water, leaving three kegs.
Hall takes exception, saying the coins were found before the sump, with bits of saddlebags scattered along with the coins. Several of the old coins, which appear authentic, are in the hands of people in the region, including Hall. Two coins, owned by a banker who was approached to help liquidate the cache, passed through this writer's hands and were in very fine shape.
Bits and pieces of other coins, aged and broken, were also recovered in the cave.
Some reports have 1,500 coins found and, since 1992, have apparently been sold or otherwise passed along.
Following the flooding of the passage, the man and Hall, have attempted to find other ways to get beyond the water, although Hall says he believes the cache of the Great Shawnee Cave is actually located in another cave nearby which may or may not connect with Pigeon Water Cave.
Lower Pigeon Creek drains from the north face of Pine Mountain east of Elkhorn City, Ky. Its forks converge on the mountain and enter Elkhorn Creek, flowing through Ashcamp, which some believe was named for ashes left there by John Swift during his smeltering of silver there.
Swift's journals mention that he built a silver smelter on the headwaters of the Sandy River, which would fit the Elkhorn Creek area. Elkhorn meets Russell Fork of the Sandy at the village of Elkhorn City, immediately north of the Breaks of the Sandy. Other legends play into the locations as well, including a secret silver mine somewhere in the gorge of the Breaks known and mined by Cherokee Chief Bob Benge and later by a Melungeon counterfeiter, Sol Mullins. Mullins, by most guesses, operated in the Breaks but local Pike County old-timers place him in the area of Grassy Gap, near the location of Pigeon Water Cave.
Hall said that a carving of a "cornstalk" is visible at the cave and Shawnee Chief Cornstalk claimed to have assisted Swift in his silver mining in Eastern Kentucky.
If not part of the cache left by Swift, or one of his mining crew, the Spanish coins (which were said to also include a few English crowns) could have been part of the riches hidden by the Shawnee. Historic enemies of the Cherokee, the tribe was defeated by their enemy in the 1750s and driven out of their Kentucky claim to beyond the Ohio River. Before leaving the tribe reportedly left much of their treasures in the "Great Cave," possibly including any coins they had acquired.
Much of the search for the Great Cave has taken place near Pound Gap, a bit further down Pine Mountain from Elkhorn, where the cave was supposed to have many entrances and extend from one side of the mountain to the other.
One acquaintance of the discoverer of the coins said that the man, after finding the initial cache, feared for the safety of his family and became afraid of the spirits or curse on the treasure. The friend also reported that many silver ingots were found lying loose on the cave floor near the coins.
Hall said, "that along with the coins, was a "statue of silver" that appeared to be of a "Negro" or possibly of Mayan or Aztec origin. The cave has a sandstone entrance and opens into a limestone room." Hall also says "that some 3,000 coins were found and that the last time he had visited the cave he found evidence that someone had been trying to pump the water out of the passage."
Anita Spears wrote that a "group of adventurers from Florida" came to the area a few years ago with clues to a cache left by the Indians and searched several caves in the area looking for a sign or carving. The treasure hunters tried to drill and blast open one of the caves but were forced off the site by property owners.
An old silver mine was reportedly located on property belonging to the Slone family on Elkhorn Creek.
Over the years people have searched for the Great Shawnee Cave throughout Appalachia, and especially along Pine Mountain. Most "Swift" buffs believed the cave was located somewhere near Pound Gap, a few miles southeast of Elkhorn, while others have looked in Carter and Wolfe Counties. Shawnee Chief Bluejack was once hired by a group of Kentucky investors to show them the great cave but the old chief grew ill and somewhere near the Three Forks of the Kentucky River, abandoned the whites, telling them the Great Spirit had told him to go no further.
In recent years one noted treasure hunter claimed to have located the cave near McKee, Kentucky, and another treasure hunter said he found the cave and old silver mine in Elliott County. The search goes on, but the find near Elkhorn seems to be the most promising clue.
Copyright ©1997, 1998 Lost Treasure, Inc.