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 Published June 11, 2011 

Beale Treasure Story
Is the Beale Treasure Story True?

  

The following abbreviations shall be used in the discussion that follows:
BTS I: Beale Treasure Story: The Hoax Theory Deflated (2011).
BTS II: Beale Treasure Story: New Insights (2011).
  
If the Beale treasure story is true, the pamphlet had three authors or contributors: Beale, Morriss, and the pamphlet's author. In BTS I, Ch. 9, arguments are presented to show that if the treasure story is not true, the pamphlet also had three authors or fabricators.
   
For our purpose, a fabricator may either be a hoaxer or an author of a fictional story based on the lives of actual persons. The difference is this: A hoaxer will attempt to develop a storyline consistent with actual history (persons, places, and events), and the storyline is not easily shown to be a fraud. An author of a fictional story may be inspired by historical events, but the storyline itself will not necessarily agree in every detail with actual history. 
       
Morriss and Ward were real people. Statements made about each man can be verified as substantially correct. Lynchburg, St. Louis, Santa Fé, the location of Beale's mine, Bedford County, the cave on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge, Buford's tavern, and the road from Bufords to Fincastle are all verifiable places. Morriss' loss of fortune resulting from a large purchase of tobacco on speculation, and his career in the business of hotel keeping are all verifiable facts. 
   
However, the treasure story itself does not appear to be a fictional story inspired by historical events. It looks more like real history or an elaborate hoax perpetrated by a clever hoaxer.     

The Nature of Evidence

In the discussion that follows, I cite four examples in the Beale Papers where a fabricator could have potentially slipped up and made a mistake in the storyline. In each case, the fabricator fortunately avoided making mistakes for one of two possible reasons: (1) he possessed extraordinary knowledge or (2) he was just plain lucky.

If the number of such cited examples is small, that is one thing. But a fabricator can be lucky or exhibit extraordinary knowledge only so many times before it becomes improbable that the treasure story is untrue, i.e., anything by true.

These four examples are followed by three additional examples that serve as evidence that the treasure story is true.

Have a look at the examples, and you decide.  

Beale's Middle Initial "J"

The central figure in the Beale treasure story is Thomas J. Beale, with middle initial "J." Beale signed his letters to Mr. Morriss of January 4th and May 9th using the initials "T.J.B." Mr. Morriss says "Such a man was Thomas J. Beale, as he appeared in 1820 and in his subsequent visit to my house." From this, it is evident that Beale went by the name Thomas J. Beale: he signed his name using his middle initial "J" and Morriss knew him as Thomas J. Beale.

The truth of the treasure story is supported by the fact that TJB of the treasure story can be linked to a known Virginian, Thomas J. Beale, who fits the storyline given in the Beale Papers. This finding is based on a lengthy search of the public records of Virginia aimed at locating all Thomas Beales born or living in Virginia who fit the pamphlet's storyline. Most Thomas Beales could be ruled out. A few couldn't be ruled out due to the fact that so little information could be found about them. However, there was one Thomas J. Beale located, who was young enough to make an arduous journey on the western plains in 1817 and old enough to lead a group of 30 men. This Thomas J. Beale was born in Fauquier County, Virginia, and genealogical records indicate that he "went to Missouri." This Thomas Beale signed his name using his middle initial "J," just like TJB. And, no evidence could be found to rule out the possibility that this Thomas J. Beale might be the TJB described in Ward's pamphlet.

However, Beale's middle initial "J" creates a bit of a problem if the treasure story is fabricated. A fabricator perpetrating a hoax would want the storyline to be believable. But this purpose would seem to be undermined by giving Beale a middle initial, as this could greatly limit the number of candidate Thomas Beales that might potentially fit the pamphlet's storyline. In fact, it might eliminate all possible candidates. But a fabricator writing a fictional story wouldn't necessarily care whether Thomas J. Beale could be linked to a real-life person.

If the treasure story is untrue, there are two possible explanations for Beale's middle initial.

It is possible that the fabricator knew about Thomas J. Beale of Fauquier County; that he was the right age to fit the pamphlet's storyline; that he "went to Missouri;" that he signed his name Thomas J. Beale; and that it would be difficult for anyone to prove this man could not be the TJB described in the Beale Papers. The fabricator might know this information if he lived in Fauquier County. However, because much of the storyline centers on Lynchburg, with no mention of Fauquier County, the fabricator probably resided in or near Lynchburg. Fauquier County is not a neighboring county to Lynchburg; it is some distance away. And, it is unlikely on the basis of proximity that a fabricator living in or near Lynchburg would know persons living in Fauquier County, let alone personal details about these persons. Of course, one cannot rule out the possibility that Thomas J. Beale of Fauquier County was known to the fabricator. But the real question is this: "How likely is it?" My feeling is this: "It is possible, but unlikely."

It is also possible that the fabricator did not know about a Thomas Beale born or living in Virginia who could fit the storyline in the Beale Papers, but instead decided (for whatever reason) to give Thomas Beale a  middle initial selected and assigned more or less at random. In this case, the question becomes, "What is the chance that the fabricator would select a middle initial, in this case 'J," that just so happened to give rise to a name, in this case "Thomas J. Beale," that could be linked to a Thomas J. Beale born and raised in Virginia, in this case Fauquier County, Virginia, who fits the pamphlet's storyline, especially in light of the fact that a lengthy investigation of the Virginia public records failed to locate any other Thomas Beale, except this particular Thomas J. Beale for which sufficient information was found to safely say that he fit the pamphlet's storyline?" Yes, it is possible, but it also seems unlikely.

The Dates Associated with the Treasure Story

Certain dates given in the Beale Papers affect the believability of the treasure story. Three dates of particular importance are these: (1) May 1817, when the Beale party reached St. Louis, (2) December 1817, when the Beale party reached Santa Fé, and (3) January 1820, when Beale and two of his companions first visited Robert Morriss' boarding house in Lynchburg.

If the Beale Papers were fabricated, the fabricator probably resided in or near Lynchburg (as mentioned above). Thus, he likely knew about Robert Morriss' career as a hotel keeper, and he may have even known that Morriss started taking in boarders at his house as early as 1819. Actually, it is probably more correct to infer, that because the fabricator knew so much about Mr. Morriss, it is likely that the fabricator lived in or near Lynchburg.

In selecting dates, it seems likely that a fabricator would start from a position of confidence, or certainty, by selecting the date for Beale and two of his companions to first visit Robert Morriss' boarding house. January 1820 was the date selected. But I see no reason why the fabricator could not as easily have selected January 1821, or January 1822, or January 1823. In any case, once January 1820 was selected, the other dates associated with the treasure story were pretty much determined. In effect, Beale's adventure would likely start in 1817. Thus, the party would likely arrive in St. Louis sometime in the spring of 1817 (probably May). The party would reach Santa Fé sometime in the late fall (about the first of December, 1817). They would spend the winter of 1817–18 in Santa Fé. To avoid requiring the entire party to be absent for more than two years, it was necessary to transport the gold and silver back to Virginia in 1819, arriving before winter set in, which meant that the gold would be buried in the late fall of 1819. This meant that Beale would spend the winter of 1819–20 in Lynchburg. As one can see, by selecting January 1820 as the date for Beale to first meet Morriss, it pretty much meant that the Beale party would reach St. Louis in the spring of 1817 and would reach Santa Fé in the late fall of 1817.

By all accounts, visiting Santa Fé any time in the two decades preceding 1821 (when Mexico gained independence from Spain) was a particularly bad idea. Records show that Americans who entered Santa Fé or ventured into the Spanish territory without a passport issued from Spanish authorities were arrested and put in prison. The fabricator could have committed a huge blunder by saying that Beale arrived in Santa Fé in December 1817.

But, beginning Beale's adventure in 1817 turned out to be a lucky choice, as it so happened there was a way that Beale could have avoided arrest and imprisonment. But, would the fabricator have known this? Beale's passage or "ticket" into Santa Fé was very likely the result of a letter dated 1817 from the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the U.S. from Spain (Don Luis de Onis) to the viceroy of New Spain (Jaun Ruiz de Apodaca) in Mexico City, asking for the release of American captives held at Santa Fé. In the spring of 1817, a copy of the letter (also addressed to Governor Allande at Santa Fé) was held at St. Louis by a family member of one of the prisoners. Family members of the prisoners wanted the letter hand-carried overland to Santa Fé and delivered to the governor. If the letter had been given to Beale and company, and there was no reason why it wouldn't have, it would very likely have been the single piece of paper (short of an actual passport) that could have gotten Beale and his men safely into Santa Fé, and permitted them to spend the winter of 1817–18 there (for details see BTS I, Ch. 8).

It seems doubtful that a fabricator would have known about the Onis-to-Apodaca letter. Thus, if the treasure story is untrue, then the fabricator's choice of beginning Beale's adventure in 1817 (by most accounts an unfortunate selection) actually turned out to be a lucky selection.

Beale's Election as Captain

Beale said that after leaving St. Louis in the spring of 1817, "an election was held, and resulted in choosing me as their leader." Before leaving St. Louis, there was no elected leader or captain — the party was nameless.

In a letter of December 29, 1817, from John Scott to John Quincy Adams, Scott says the following about the Onis-to-Apodaca letter of 1817, also addressed to Governor Allande at Santa Fé: The letter was given to me "with a view of having it sent directly on from St. Louis, by some gentlemen who were expected to go shortly through, but who did not go." Although Scott said that he believed the gentlemen did not go through, he may have been mistaken. The Beale party did not go directly through, but instead wandered the plains and only reached Santa Fé about the first of December, 1817. The "some gentlemen" mentioned by Scott may have been the Beale party, as Beale was not elected captain until after leaving St. Louis (see BTS I, Ch. 8).

Is the fact that the Beale party was nameless until after leaving St. Louis and Scott's reference to "some gentlemen" another indication that the treasure story is true? Or, is the treasure story a fabrication, and is the nameless Beale party and Scott's reference to "some gentlemen" just a coincidence?

Silver Discovered at Beale's Mine

According to the Beale Papers, Beale's mine was located "some 250 or 300 miles to the north of Santa Fé." That would put the mine near Pike's Peak in present-day Colorado. It is a fact that silver was often found together with gold in the mines located in this general area. But this fact was learned only after gold had been discovered.

In fact, the truth of the treasure story is supported by Beale's statement that, in addition to gold, silver was also found. Not only was silver often found together with gold, but the silver discovered at Beale's mine also enables an important connection to be made between Beale's mine and a silver mine allegedly discovered by James Cockrell in 1823. This connection provides a possible answer to a criticism sometimes raised against the treasure story.

People sometimes find fault with the treasure story on the grounds that it is hard to believe that Beale's mine could have been kept a secret. What they really mean is that if the story is true, the secret must have leaked out, and because there is no record of such a leak, the story must be untrue. But, actually, there is some evidence that knowledge of Beale's mine did leak out. The leak likely occurred as a result of Beale's exchange of approximately three tons of silver ore for jewels valued at $13,000 dollars, which was concluded sometime in the fall of 1821. The presumed leak may have had something to do with a silver mine allegedly discovered near the Rocky Mountains in 1823 by James Cockrell. Cockrell found a once working, and apparently abandoned silver mine. That mine could have been Beale's mine. See BTS I, pp. 221–25.

From the standpoint of a hoaxer, Beale's statement that silver was found only complicated matters. Under the storyline, it meant that more work was required to mine the metal, it required more pack animals to transport the metal, and it required a larger vault to accommodate the metal. A hoaxer would most likely have thought twice about claiming that silver had been found and mined, as this would make the treasure story more difficult to believe.

"A silver expedition" to locate the silver mine discovered by James Cockrell in 1823 is described in Alexander Majors' book Seventy Years on the Frontier, printed in 1893. Before that time, knowledge of the mine was limited to Benj. Majors, Cockrell and 23 others who revisited the mine in 1827, and perhaps a few others who learned about the mine via word-of-mouth.

If the treasure story was fabricated, it is doubtful that a fabricator would have known about the possible connection between Cockrell's mine and Beale's mine. So it is asked: Was silver found as a consequence of the treasure story being true? Or, is the treasure story a fabrication and did the fabricator overlook or disregard the fact that silver complicated the treasure story and say that silver had been discovered only to unwittingly provide a connection between Beale's mine and the silver mine discovered by Cockrell in 1823?

  

Three Additional Examples 

   

Some Old Receipts

Mr. Morriss says that in 1845 he opened the locked box, which had been received from Beale. According to Morriss, the box contained papers addressed to him plus "some old receipts." Author and Beale researcher, Mr. Jerry Watt, conjectured that one of the receipts was for money that Beale loaned Morriss shortly after arriving at Morriss' house in early January, 1822. Information in the pamphlet, as well as certain historical facts, support Watt's conjecture.

Morriss says that before Beale left in the spring of 1822,

"[he] handed me this box, which, as he said, contained papers of value and importance; and which he desired to leave in my charge until called for hereafter. Of course, I did not decline to receive them, but little imagined their importance until his letter from St. Louis was received."

Beale's letter datelined "St. Louis, Mo., May 9th, 1822" describes the papers in the locked box, and it explains their importance. Beale says the box contains papers "vitally affecting the fortunes of myself and many others engaged in business with me." Beale asks Morriss to guard the box carefully. He asks Morriss to hold the box for ten years, and in the event that no one with Beale's authority comes to reclaim it, then to open it. He tells Morriss that the box also contains unintelligible papers that can be read only with the aid of a key, which will be delivered to him in time (June, 1832).

From Beale's and Morriss' accounts, it is clear that the two men did not discuss the contents of the locked box while Beale was in Lynchburg.

Instead, Beale left the box in Morriss' charge prior to departing for St. Louis, telling him only that it contained "papers of value and importance," knowing that after his arrival in St. Louis he would write to Mr. Morriss, explaining that the box contained papers of vital importance, some of which were unintelligible and could be read only with the aid of a key. Beale says "By means of this you will understand fully all you will be required to do." What is all the more remarkable is that Beale took these steps without first discussing the matter with Mr. Morriss or obtaining his consent.

If the treasure story was fabricated, it would seem illogical, and perhaps even foolish for the fabricator to construct a storyline in which Beale acts in such a seemingly presumptuous and tactless manner by giving Morriss instructions concerning the papers in a locked box before Morriss has been approached and asked for help, and has agreed to accept responsibility for doing so.

If the treasure story is true, then there must be an explanation for Beale's behavior. What could it be?

I can imagine of only one circumstance in which Morriss would accept the locked box and accede to Beale's request, without having first been asked to do so. Beale's actions could be explained if he knew that Morriss was especially beholden in consequence of a special favor that he had bestowed on Morriss—a favor that Morriss would view as requiring some repayment.    

One special favor, of significant proportion, that Beale could have granted Morriss, would have been a loan of money to meet pressing financial obligations. For this, Morriss would have been forever grateful.

Mr. Morriss' financial difficulties began in 1819, when a downturn in tobacco prices caused him to lose his entire fortune, save his personal property. He struggled to pay his debts by selling his business interests and real property. He again experienced financial difficulties in late 1821. In need of money, he was forced to sell his valuable household furniture, including the furniture connected with his boarding house business, in turn forcing him to cease taking in boarders at his house. The following advertisement appeared in the January 4, 11, 18, and 25, 1822, issues of the Lynchburg Press:

By virtue of a deed of trust executed to the subscriber by Robert Morriss, for purposes therein expressed, will be sold to the highest bidder, at the dwelling house of the said Morrriss ON FRIDAY THE 25TH INSTANT A great variety of valuable Household and Kitchen FURNITURE Consisting of Mahogany Tables, Bed and Bedsteads, a handsome Piano Forte, Chairs, &c. &c. — Also, A GOOD WORKHORSE, or so much thereof as will satisfy the debt in said deed. Acting as trustee I will convey such titles as vested in me.         A. Robertson, Trustee

Beale arrived in Lynchburg, on his second visit to the city, about the first of January, 1822. He was living at Morriss' boarding house by January 4th, as he wrote a letter to Mr. Morriss datelined "January 4th, 1822, Lynchburg."

When Beale saw Morriss' advertisement in the Lynchburg Press or heard about the pending sale, perhaps from Morriss himself, he must have been distressed. Not only was Morriss central to leaving legacies to their heirs, but he was also someone Beale admired greatly—for how many men could be trusted with so much money and actually expect it to be delivered to next of kin? Considering his financial state, Morriss would likely have found it difficult, perhaps even impossible to borrow money from some source in Lynchburg. And, one can only guess that he must have explored this possibility before deciding that his only recourse was to sell his household furniture. But, there can be little doubt that upon arriving in Lynchburg Beale offered to help Morriss. In fact, he may have insisted on it. If that were the case, then the advertised sale of furniture could be canceled. That's just what happended. The issues of January 11th, 18th and 25th carried the same advertisement, but it was followed by a retraction, viz.

NOTICE. THe above sale of goods will not take place as is advertised. The subscriber avails himself of this opportunity to inform his friends and the public generally that he still continues open his House of Entertainment, for the accommodation of Travelers and Boarders, and pledges himself that nothing will be wanting on his part to render those who may call upon him as comfortalbe as possible.   Robert Morriss.

Because of the favor granted to Morriss, Beale was confident that Morriss would accept the locked box and accept and follow his instructions, cheerfully, and if necessary, distribute the legacies according to his wishes.

If the loan was made, Morriss may have insisted that Beale accept his household furniture as collateral, less the piano forte, as this may have been Sarah's personal possession. It is supposed that as part of the transaction, Beale drafted a receipt, which was signed by Morriss and witnessed by his wife Sarah. The receipt may have looked like this:

January 10, 1822, Lynchburg. For value received I promise to pay to Thomas J. Beale or his order five hundred dollars at the time of Mr. Beale's next visit to Lynchburg, but not before the tenth day of January, 1824. Witness: Sarah Morriss.  Signed: Robert Morriss.

Beale expected to be absent at least two years, perhaps longer, on what was likely to be his final trip back to the mine.

Beale placed the receipt, as well as one or two others, which may also have been for money loaned to Mr. Morriss, in his locked box. That way, the receipts would be available to Morriss if Beale should not return. By including the receipts in the box, Mr. Morriss was assured that no one would visit him and demand payment for debts owed Beale. In effect, this last gesture of kindness canceled all debts that Morriss owed Beale.

In September 1823, Mr. Morriss leased the Washington Hotel. In a conversation with Beale, Morriss may have expressed an interest in becoming a hotel keeper, and Beale may have loaned Morriss additional money, thus enabling him to undertake such a venture, if a suitable opportunity should present itself. This could account for one additional receipt in the box.

In 1845, Mr. Morriss opened the box and examined its contents. In his account of the matter (given in the pamphlet), Morriss says that "with the exception of two letters addressed to myself, and some old receipts, [I] found only some unintelligible papers, covered with figures, and totally incomprehensible to me." Morriss specifically mentions the receipts. The pamphlet's author twice mentions the contents of the box. But his descriptions indicate that he viewed the receipts as unimportant. One time he refers to the receipts as "two or three [papers] of an unimportant character, and having no connection whatever with the subject in hand." Another time he describes the contents of the box without ever mentioning the receipts.

The fact that Morriss mentioned the receipts by name suggests that he may have recognized them for what they were. Certainly, that would be the case if Beale had loaned Morriss money and if Beale had placed Morriss' signed receipts in the locked box.

One bit of additional evidence suggests that a loan was made and that Morriss' furniture was used as collateral. Under the terms of the loan, Mr. Morriss would have been obligated to keep the furniture until his debt was paid to Beale. In 1845, when the locked box was opened, Mr. Morriss recovered the receipts inside. He would have realized that his debt to Beale was canceled (as mentioned above) and that he was no longer under an obligation to hold the furniture that had been used as collateral. In 1846, one year leter, Sarah's nephew, Daniel J. Warwick, purchased Morriss' household furniture for $683.62. In turn, Daniel loaned the furniture back to Sarah for her use until called for.

If the treasure story is true, one can see how bits and pieces of the storyline fit together with historical events, which became known only after a significant amount of research had been performed by Beale researchers. If the treasure story is untrue, it is likewise unclear how a fabricator could have molded the storyline to fit historical events that he was most likely unaware of.

The Inner Circle

The anonymous author of Ward's pamphlet states that the inner circle was limited "to the writer's immediate family, and to one old and valued friend."

If the treasure story is true, the "old and valued friend" provides an explanation for how Newton H. Hazlewood (cited in the Hart Papers published by George L. Hart, Sr.) was able to acquire a copy of an early version of the pamphlet (called the ancestor-pamphlet). Upon Newton H. Hazlewood's death, the conjectured ancestor-pamphlet was inherited by his son Frank, and ultimately given to Clayton I. Hart (brother of George Hart) in exchange for the favor of a loan of money that enabled Frank to purchase a desired piece of property. Thus, the so-called copy of Ward's pamphlet reprinted in the Hart Papers was very likely taken by Clayton Hart from the conjectured ancestor-pamphlet. The full details and supporting evidence for the ancestor-pamphlet are given in BTS II, Ch. 5.

If the treasure story is true, the "old and valued friend" provides an important "link" to the believability of the story. But that "link" evaporates, or does not exist if the treasure story is untrue. Is the "link" an indication that the story is true, or is it just happenstance?

The Unnumbered Ciphers

Beale's ciphers were initially unnumbered, then numbered by the pamphlet's author according to their length, and ultimately renumbered as they appear in the pamphlet (No. 2 being the cipher that was deciphered, No. 1 being the cipher with 520 numbers, and No. 3 being the cipher with 618 numbers). The pamphlet's author does not provide a rationale for assigning No. 1 to the cipher with 520 numbers and No. 3 to the cipher with 618 numbers, although it seems fairly obvious that No. 3, with a list of names and addresses, should be assigned to the longer of the two ciphers. Beale's unnumbered ciphers, subsequently numbered in two different ways by the pamphlet's author, have created much confusion.

If the treasure story is true, then one must accept that Beale had a reason for not numbering the ciphers. It could have been this: If the numbered ciphers were ever misappropriated, these numbers might suggest a preferred order in which the ciphers should be attacked. But, by leaving them unnumbered, an adversary would likely attack the longest cipher first, namely B2, which contained the least important information. In any case, Beale could hardly be expected to know that his decision to leave his ciphers unnumbered would later lead to a "numbering debacle."

If the treasure story were fabricated, then there would seem to be little to be gained by leaving the ciphers unnumbered. Even if the fabricator of the ciphers left them unnumbered, the pamphlet's author could easily correct the problem by numbering the ciphers himself and drafting the pamphlet to say that the three ciphers retrieved from the locked iron box had been numbered by Beale (No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3). He could also easily say that a decision was made to attack the longest cipher (No. 2) first. There would be no need for the pamphlet's author to say:

"[I] arranged the papers in the order of their length, and numbered them designing to commence with the first, and devote my whole attention to that until I had either unraveled its meaning or was convinced of its impossibility—afterwards to take up the others and proceed as before."

This text could have been omitted from the pamphlet. And, the pamphlet's author would never have gotten himself into trouble by numbering ciphers No. 1 and No. 3 without being able to explain the rationale for doing so.

If the treasure story was fabricated, it is unlikely that the pamphlet's author would have allowed the storyline to indicate that Beale's ciphers were unnumbered. Instead, the pamphlet's author would have avoided the "numbering debacle" by saying that Beale had numbered the ciphers. The fact that the "numbering debacle" did occur is therefore a indication that the treasure story is true, not fabricated.