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Crooked first Ada Sheriff may have buried millions of dollars in gold

Crooked first Ada Sheriff may have buried millions of dollars in gold

MCCAMMON, Idaho -- Eastern Idaho, a high desert landscape marked by sagebrush, farmland, and volcanic rock.

But historians agree, buried somewhere next to a creek, beneath the ground or hidden in lava rocks, is stolen gold.

The story of the Portneuf Gold starts on the other side of the state in 1865, just two years after Idaho became a territory, and mining drove the economy.

That was their way of life, it was with a weapon, and survival of the fittest, said Erica Cook.

Cook is the photo archivist at the Idaho State Historical Society and has studied the lawlessness of Idaho's territorial times.

People just sort of did what they want, and they killed who they want, said Cook.

One of the biggest criminals in Idaho at that time, was the first elected sheriff of Ada County, Big Dave Updyke.

They first told me about this story, and I thought, 'Wow!' said the current Ada County Sheriff, Gary Raney.

Raney was shocked by Updyke's kingpin-like status when he learned of his history.

I think he was a criminal, that the gang, the outlaw gang, helped get elected as sheriff to protect their criminal activities, said Raney.

He ruled by intimidation, said Jake Putnam, with the Ada County Historic Preservation Council.

No photo of Updyke exists, but records of his criminal activity do, mainly the 1865 robbery of the Portneuf Stage. That happened just three miles from where Putnam grew up between what is now McCammon and Inkom in eastern Idaho.

They had the firepower, and they had the means to pull this thing off, said Putnam.

In a bloody robbery that killed five people, many historians say Sheriff Updyke and three of his gang stole gold being transported by stagecoach from Montana to Salt Lake City.

It was, I think, two strong boxes filled with gold bars, 18 gold bars, a bunch of gold coins, and also some gold dust, said Putnam.

The haul was worth then, around $80,000. Today, that gold could be worth as much as $4 million.

The July 22nd, 1865 edition of the, then, Tri-Weekly Idaho Statesman had the story. Ironically, an ad for a livery stable run by Updyke appeared on the same page. The article ended with the hope that, These fiends will be hurled to the deepest Hell that willingly will hold them.

Those wanting justice didn't have to wait long. Less than a year after the robbery, two of the gang were hanged for crimes in other states. The Payette Vigilantes took the law into their own hands, going after the then, former Sheriff Updyke.

It was in an area just east of Boise that the Payette Vigilantes found Big Dave Updyke and one of his accomplices, but what they didn't find, was the stolen gold.

They asked him, they said, 'Where's the gold? What happened to the gold?' Big Dave told them to go to Hell, said Putnam. Someone grabbed a noose, they threw it around a tree, and they hung him.

Justice does prevail, and his prevailed at the end of a noose, said Raney. I really hope that I don't go out the same way.

No gold was found on any members of the gang, and the final robber never surfaced, but few believe he escaped with the loot.

It was about 800 pounds in gold bars alone, said Putnam.

Because of the weight, the fact the gold bars were stamped and tracable, and they were in a hurry, most people believe the gang stashed the gold nearby.

They wanted to get rid of that gold as quick as possible, said Putnam.

As the years passed, the state grew, mining diminished, vigilantes gave way to real lawmen, and old stagecoach roads became overgrown. But the gold was never found.

I think the gold is still out there, said Raney.

I think 10-15 miles, would be the limit, from that robbery site, said Putnam.

That site is right near the appropriately named Robber's Roost Road and the backdoor of Frank Hough.

I can't sit on the lava rocks, and look down that canyon, without picturing stagecoaches coming up that old trail, said Hough, a local taxidermist.

Frank has lived in his log home for more than 60 years, and sees people come through every year, looking to unearth history and the buried treasure.

Metal detectors and shovels and twitches and you name it. I've seen them try about everything, said Hough.

Frank himself has found relics of the past, like old arrowheads and shell casings but no gold.

I think it's already been spent, Hough said while laughing. I really do, I think it would've been found.

But the possibility of millions of dollars in gold just waiting to be discovered, keeps bringing people back to this rural area and has kept this bit of Idaho's past alive for almost a century and-a-half.

We would often go down and look in those areas for the gold, said Putnam. Just think of the thrill of finding 18 gold bars, and really, finding a piece of Idaho history.

I think probably someday it's going to be found, but who knows? said Raney.

The whole idea of Idaho as the Wild West will never go away, said Cook. I think it's just because of how people identify themselves with the land, and it's part of the history.

So, whether the gold really is in that area or whether it's long gone, people will continue to come here to search for it and to tell the story.

Cook says she has people who come in twice a month looking for old mining maps and clues that might lead them to this or other buried treasure in the Idaho landscape.

If you do find the treasure, experts say, since an insurance policy was already paid on the gold back in the 1800's, you likely have a right to it. But they also say, you can expect claims for that gold to come out of the woodwork.

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