In the winter of 1870 rumors began to circulate around the village of Safe Harbor. Deep in the forest at the dead of night, the light of a lantern could be seen. At first, no one paid the sight much attention. A lone light in the woods was not uncommon. A cow was known to wander off and a responsible farmer regardless of time would look for her.
But the light was not a singular event. Over the coming weeks, more people reported seeing it. The ones that saw it did so frequently but rarely in the same spot. The lantern was spotted on both sides of the Conestoga River in the area surrounding Safe Harbor. Eventually, the realization came that the mysterious light was an almost nightly occurrence.
Curious villagers ventured into the woods to where the lantern had been seen Their investigations found little except holes with piles of overturned dirt and salt scattered about. This did little to solve the mystery and only generated more questions.
What was this person searching for? It had to be valuable if it motivated a person enough to spend night after cold winter night in the woods. Not to mention digging in near-frozen dirt, even in Lancaster’s soft fertile soil, was no easy chore. With the location of the excavation changing almost nightly, it was as if the person had no idea where to look.
In early February people got some answers. It was a treasure hunter or more specifically…treasure hunters. When someone from the group—proving Benjamin Franklin’s maxim, “Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead,” again true—began sharing details of their exploits. The information eventually made its way to a skeptical reporter. He described their activities in a February 5, 1870 article entitled “Foolish Fortune Hunters” of The Columbia Spy.
“A number of foolish people, residing in and about Safe harbor, this county, are almost nightly engaged in a fruitless search for buried gold on the rocky and wild hill opposite the Mansion House hotel, in that village.”
But where did the gold come from?
According to the loose-lipped treasure hunter, a fortune teller in Columbia had shared the uncanny story of the gold’s origin and its final resting place with the intrepid adventurers. The treasure believed to be worth $4 million had been taken from the French army by Indians in the chaos that ensued during the French and Indian War.
Of course, no proper buried treasure story would be complete without a supernatural component. This prize is no different. According to the fortune teller, the treasure was guarded by a seven-foot-tall “Indian Spirit” who moved the cache nightly which increased the difficulty of locating it.
While that last part might strain credibility, this is not the only lost treasure story from North America’s portion of the Seven Years’ War.
Adding some credibility to the story is the recent rediscovery of a mystery rock along Conestoga Boulevard near Safe Harbor. If the year carved into the surface is to be believed, it dates back to 1879.
I first learned of its existence a few years ago while reading Earl Rebman’s book, Conestoga River Watershed. Rebman only devotes a single page of his 212-page book to this mystery rock, but that was more than enough to pique my interest.
Just read the photo’s caption:
Mysterious carvings buried deep in the woods on a huge rock outcropping near the Boulevard. What does the hand point to—buried treasure or a hidden mine—could pirates have possibly traveled this far upstream to bury their loot—who will be the one to discover the answer?
Buried Treasure! Hidden Mine! Pirates!!! Sign me up.
I knew instantly I wanted to be the one to unlock its secrets. The first challenge was figuring out where the enigmatic stone was hiding. A blurb about it on the Conestoga Area Historical Society website, similar to Belloq, had me looking in the wrong place.
After a year of looking, I got a tip that I needed to “take back one kadam to honor the Hebrew God” and found it.
Here are a series of photographs I have taken of the boulder trying to highlight its various carvings. A second comparison photo with digital enhancements has been included as well.
The easiest part to read with letters that are well over 12 inches tall is the F.S. 1879. The most obvious meaning is the someone with the initials of F.S. carved this in 1879. However, upon closer inspection, there are dots after both the 8 and the 9. So it really reads F.S. 18.79.
The F and S also have a lot of detail work with crosshatching filling in the letters.
Above it, written with slightly smaller letters, is J.K. 18.79. Again with the peculiar pips after the 8 and the 9.
Below the “dates” are a trio of symbols. The first is a hand pointing in the direction of the Conestoga River. A compass reading taken next to the hand indicated a directional heading of 231° SW. Curious. What is it pointing towards?
The second symbol appears to be a pair of stone-cutting tools: a hand hammer and a hand chisel. The hammer was easy to identify but the chisel more difficult. For a while, I thought it was a capital letter I. However, I watched a movie one night, and a logo similar to this popped up with the name stonecutters. A quick google search of stone-cutting hand chisels confirmed it. The inclusion of stonecutting tools would appear to strengthen Rebman’s hidden mine theory.
I omitted the third symbol as it is the answer to one of the clues on the Slackwater Navigation Adventure.
There are other carvings, but they are more difficult to read. One of them is this 1231 with the initials D.B. beneath it. But that’s just a guess. I’m not totally sold on the second digit being a 2. Your thoughts?
If the second digit is actually a 7 or 8, then the D.B. might mean date of birth. A google search of D.B. offered the following suggestions of double, debt, dead body, daybook, and dropbox. A mystery for sure.
The most difficult carving to see is a person’s head located to the left of the J.K. initials. It’s a shady location, and I’ve struggled to get a photo with good contrast that shows it well.
My gut tells me it’s supposed to be a Native American, and the man is wearing something on this head, perhaps a feathered warbonnet. Maybe not, though. At the very least, it’s a person’s face. No promises that something from the 1870s is politically correct.
Rebman’s mention of buried treasure isn’t completely crazy. Newspaper reports from 1870—nearly a decade before the carved dates on the stone—detailed how treasure hunters were looking for hidden riches somewhere around the village of Safe Harbor. As a point of reference, the boulder is very close to the former town’s location.
Uncharted Lancaster: Haunted Indian Gold Adventure
If you “ain’t afraid of no ghost,” click here to start the Haunted Indian Gold Adventure.
But perhaps the real motivation for the massacre of the Conestoga by the Paxton Boys was not revenge but gold in this historical fiction short story. Read it here!
Plus, if you would like to read the original newspaper articles detailing Safe Harbor’s treasure hunters click here.