The Lost Iron Chest Treasure By: Sue Eckhoff, Grundy County Heritage Museum
January 24, 2014
During the winter of 1832, three enterprising men, Solon Langworthy, James Edward, and Tom Kelly, developed a scheme to acquire some valuable Indian lead mines in what is now eastern Iowa. If their plan worked, they would all be rich. All that stood between them were the Sauk and Fox Indians, and the men knew it would be a slow and painful death if they were caught in the Indians domain. American settlements along the Mississippi were ceded to the Americans in 1804 by Treaty. Everything west of the Mississippi, of what would later be Iowa, belonged to the Sauk and Fox Indians, and the only white man that they trusted was a Canadian fur trader named Julien DuBuque. He established a trading post and farm near present day Dubuque, but didn’t compete with the Indians as the Americans did. Instead his farm provided produce for the Indians food supply. Through agreement with the Indians, he taught them how to mine for lead and other labor endeavors in exchange for a portion of the profits. The Sauk and Fox found Dubuque to be a powerful ally and the arrangement lasted twenty two years until his death in 1810. Arriving 20 years after Dubuque’s death, Langworth, Edward, and Kelly had long heard of the rich mines, but had never seen them. They soon learned the tensions between the U.S. and the Sauk and Fox Indian nations had resulted in a number of Indian attacks and massacres against white settlers who had pushed west of the Mississippi. Black Hawk and his “1000 soldiers” fought with the British during the War of 1812, and these experienced fighters in 1820-31, crossed the Mississippi moving east into the American settlements. Although non-violent, these movements were intended to alarm the least protected. Meanwhile the three American speculators could see that war appeared imminent, and decided not to trespass onto Indian land. If war broke out and the Indians were defeated they could move in, locate their lead mines, and be the first white men to claim them. The Black Hawk War broke out lasting from April-August 1832. Black Hawk was captured, hundreds of Indians were killed in battle, and Langworth, Edward and Kelly saw their opportunity and made their move acquiring the Indian mines and began working them. Kelly discovered his own rich claim that he worked for 35 years. What happened to Langworth and Edward is unknown. Kelly shipped barge loads of lead to St. Louis and in time amassed a huge fortune. In 1856 he went to Rockdale, Iowa where he had a blacksmith make an iron chest, three feet long, two feet wide, and eight inches deep. He returned home, placed all his money into the chest and buried it near his home on Kelly’s Bluff, which served as his bank until he died. On May 16, 1867, Kelly died at home from blood poisoning. Before his death he was delirious and every time the fortune was mentioned Kelly taunted family members by telling them it would never be found. Kelly left his family sixty tons of lead ore and his thirty acre property and mine known as Kelly’s Bluff. The large iron chest Kelly had built to serve as his bank has never been found. The contents are reputed to be $35,000 in gold pieces.
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