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Monday, March 13, 2023

The Discovery of a Mysterious buried Freight wagon.



There are several stories floating around about lost wagons in the west desert of Utah involving a robbery, the Donner Party wagon, Johnson’s army disposing of guns and or munitions. Some are fairly accurate, others embellished or sensationalized, where the truth lies can only be determined with common sense or evidence. 

The following example is one of several and very well may be accurate unlike other versions which seem to have a little fluff added… 

Posted Dec 24 2017 In the Treasures of Utah Forum

By Ken Weinman

The Mormon Mint Robbery of 1849  

 (Originally appeared in Treasure Search/Found, November, 1990)

The Mormon settlers in frontier Utah had their own mint and struck coins of four different denominations of $2.50, $5, $10, and $20? They minted those coins between the years of 1849 and 1860 using gold produced in the California goldfields
[NOT LIKLEY, it is more likely Gold was used provided by Thomas Rhoades]. The overall operation was supervised by Brigham Young, the Mormon leader who brought the settlers to Salt Lake City in 1847 to escape religious persecution. Just a few months after the mint began operation, two brothers, Reg and Dave Baldwin, forced entry into it and stole a few stacks of newly minted $10 gold pieces. Due to the scarcity and numismatic value, these coins are now valued at over $75,000 each. As far as we have been able to learn, the coins taken in this robbery have never been recovered.

The U.S. government had not yet established the mints in Denver or San Francisco at that time, so tons of raw gold were being shipped to Philadelphia for processing into gold coins. This process was very time-consuming, and it was becoming increasingly impractical to buy products and services with raw gold dust and nuggets. To assist in a smoother flow of commerce, private mints began to appear on the scene. The Great Salt Lake Valley was heavily traveled by people in route to the California and Nevada gold mines. Wagon trains in great numbers passed through Salt Lake City where the miners and prospectors bought food and supplies and filled their water barrels for the long, dry trip across the burning desert to the west.

The Baldwin brothers were traveling with one such caravan when it stopped overnight in Salt Lake City to rest and take on supplies. They listened with great interest as the Mormons boasted about their new mint. Regular tours were conducted and the tourists were invited to see the entire operation, which was housed in a small adobe building. The Mormons had not seen any reason to post a guard on the mint during non-business hours at night or on weekends. But, both Reg and Dave Baldwin had had a few encounters with the law in the past back in St. Louis. They had been ordered to get out of town or go to jail, so they took the sheriff's advice and joined the next wagon train headed west.

The night before their wagon train was scheduled to depart from Salt Lake City, the Baldwin brothers broke into the unguarded mint facility. In the flickering candle light they could see many stacks of $10 gold pieces sitting on a wooden work bench in the center of the room. Starting at one end of the bench, they each scooped up several rows of coins and placed them in a canvas sack. They intentionally took only part of the stacks, hoping that the coins wouldn't be missed until long after they had left town.

The mint workers didn't discover the theft until a few days later when they were conducting an inventory of the coins. They were shocked to learn that over 200
[another version says 250] of the $10 gold pieces were missing. Several of the employees recalled the unusual interest that the Baldwin brothers had shown in the shiny new gold coins at the time that they toured the facility. A small posse was organized to go after them. A wagon train could only travel about 15 to 20 miles per day, so the posse was sure they could catch up on their fast horses.

Two days later when they caught up with the wagon train, they were informed that the Baldwin brothers had separated from the group and headed south on their own into the arid desert The posse backtracked but was unable to find any sign of the Baldwin's wagon in the windswept sand. Disappointed, they gave up and returned to Salt Lake City. Additional coins were minted to replace those that were stolen and the mint returned to business as usual.

Reg and Dave Baldwin were never seen again, nor did any of the $10 gold pieces ever show up. The direction they had gone in would take them through the middle of an arid, salt-like desert where the highest natural air temperatures in the world have been recorded and rainfall and natural water are extremely scarce. Traveling a region such as this, a person would require at least a gallon of water per day to survive. They would also require water for the animals that were pulling their wagon. It is strongly believed, and with good reason, that the Baldwin brothers perished in the arid wasteland. Somewhere in southern Utah's desert probably lies the remains of a wagon, two human skeletons and the skeletons of their animals, and over 200 extremely valuable Mormon Mint $10 gold pieces. The Guidebook of United States Coins by R.S. Yeoman, pages 254 and 255, lists a value for one of these coins at $75,000 in Fine condition. Since the coins taken during the robbery were Uncirculated, they would be worth even more to collectors. The beehive shown on the reverse of these coins was a favorite Mormon symbol. The clasped hands on the obverse side was to signify "strength and unity." They frequently used the inscription "Holiness to the Lord.”


More current value

 My story...

But this is the positive side of the possibilities of the wagon that I am about to tell you about…. This story is not embellished in the slightest an is just as it happened. 

About 23 years ago I stopped  to visit a friend in a professional manner, the same friend mentioned in another personal story I have told recently… As usual he greeted me with the usual DAN! What ya been up to… after taking care of business he said, hey, I have a story to tell you…. He said, “One of my clients just a week ago relayed a story to me that happened to him in the early [19]70’s. He was civilian contractor with the military and worked at one of the west desert facilities. He was given a job to do in searching for a site to serve as a gravel pit, and one day while digging test holes to find the right consistency of sand and gravel, he moved from one hole he just dug to another location just a few yards away and on his first scoop from the backhoe, he revealed the top of a large wagon wheel. [6 to 8 inches in width if I recall] From the size of the wheel and the width of it, it was obvious it was a freight wagon wheel. He took another scoop of sand and gravel and exposed more of the wheel standing erect… then a third scoop causing the sand and gravel to fall even more so into the hole and exposing a buck board of a seeming large, intact well preserved  wagon. Seeing the whole wagon was likely there and buried, his imagination ran with him as he hurried and covered it up again wanting no one to see what he had uncovered. He decided he would return someday to finish the job at a time where in he could do it in privacy. Well that day likely came and went a time or two, but life always kept him from returning… He told my friend  just look for the test holes, he would take 3 scoops then move to another location with out covering the former excavation...   

After my friend had relayed the story I ask him how often this now 70 plus year old man came in to see him and he said about every 2 to 3 weeks. We decided to ask him when he returned if he wouldn’t mind deviating from his usual route home and drive to the suspect site and draw us a map of which when he returned, agreed to do so. 

A couple of weeks later when I stopped in to see my friend again, he handed me the map drawn by the man who found the wagon. Not many days later... I and a couple of friends visited the site and spent hours with a good metal detector and a couple of 4 foot copper ground rods shoving them down into the sand and gravel… we found nothing… and no remnant of test holes. One strange thing that happened when we were going over the sight, we noticed a blue military car coming from the main road towards us on the dirt road, he pulled up next to our rig which was a couple hundred yards away, and a full bird colonel steps out and hollered, Hey! What are you guys doing out here! We yelled back, were camping exploring and prospecting!... looking puzzled on what to say next he just said, well… you just remember the antiquities laws! And he got back in his car and drove away back where he came from. 

I recall telling my BLM friend about this incident (Not about the suspect wagon) and he told me, If that’s son of a bitch shows up again you tell him to get his ass over on the other side of the fence! You dig all the dam holes you want… but cover em up when yer done would ya?  Since this time and several years later, I took another hard look at the project and had an epiphany… it might have just been gas but…  It would seem 40 years was just enough time to confuse the man of exactly where it was… on my return trip, we found the test holes right where I thought I would… There is a lot of metal scrap in the area and it makes it difficult… This wagon which was obviously intentionally buried and was intact, there is 4 different stories that it could be from and it may be an empty wagon by now, no one knows… Was it the Donner Party Wagon? Munitions buried by Johnsons army to keep the guns and ammo from the Mormons? a Mint robbery or a mint related robbery? 

Also as a side note there is a location nearby which is rumored that Johnsons army unloaded 3 cannons into a pond, these ponds are usually dried up...


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