Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.
My dad was an only child, but he had a ton of first cousins that were just like brothers when he was growing up in rural eastern Arkansas back in the 1930s. None of these guys went by their real names, but rather, lived their entire lives with nicknames.
My favorite “uncles” as I came to know them, were Dude, Hop, and Buck. As an adult, I realized they sounded like the supporting cast of farmhands from the Wizard of Oz, who eventually become the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Cowardly Lion, but to me, they were just fun guys who always had an intriguing story to tell.
Dude was a heavy equipment operator. His favorite machine was a John Deere backhoe.
When Sue and I were married in 1982, we went on our honeymoon in a cabin on a bayou lake of the L’Anguille River near Mariana, Arkansas.
At a family fish fry in our honor, my uncle Dude shared this story.
He was hired by a corporation to tear down and bury old sharecropper shacks that had seen better times. The trend beginning in the 1970s and extending to the modern day was for corporate agriculture to buy up small farms, remove fences, clear native forests, and create huge tracts of land for cotton farming, soybean production, and for aquaculture consisting of farm-raised catfish and crawdads. Mix in a little rice farming and you have the gamut of agricultural production in Lee County, Arkansas.
Dude would dig a hole next to one of the shacks, then knock it down with the arm of his backhoe, dragging everything into the hole. He’d toss a little diesel on the pile of rubble, burn it, then return the next day to bury the burned-out remains.
One afternoon, he had the hole prepared and swung the arm the first time, knocking the building at an odd angle. He noticed a glass window he’d missed, so he shut down the machine, climbed out with a crowbar, and pulled it out of the wall. Leaving glass on the demolition site was a big no no.
As he pulled the window out, the frame shifted just an inch or two and he heard a tinkling sound inside.
Looking in the hole where the window had been he noticed coins falling from a hole in the wall.
He braced the building with his backhoe bucket, then went inside. He retrieved about $200 in old silver coins, including Barber half dollars, standing liberty quarters, assorted Mercury dimes, and walking liberty halves. It was a bonanza, and it was all his since he had salvage rights on anything he found.
Not buried treasure, but treasure hidden in a wall by someone who was most likely cheated back the bank closures of the early days of the Great Depression and who wouldn’t be cheated again.
It’s not a bad scheme when you see how crooked Wall Street investments are these days with insider trading, tax laws that only benefit the ultra-wealthy, and paltry returns on savings accounts. Tangible currency in gold and silver never loses its value and has outpaced all other investments for the last 30 years. Silver and gold values may fluctuate, but they always rise, and if you keep quiet, the feds can’t take it from you.
I’ve had my own limited encounters with buried treasure over the years.
As a kid, I often trekked out into the woods with my grandfather in those same Arkansas fields.
My grandpa Forest Tucker knew how to blow up stumps and had a little side business with his cotton farm in blasting firmly rooted oak, pecan, and hickory stumps from neighbors’ fields.
Grandpa used fertilizer and diesel fuel packed into the cracks or around the roots of a stump, then set it off with a blasting cap tied to a long fuse. One morning he blew one up north of his house and I was able to watch from a few hundred yards away on the front porch.
I don’t remember the explosion as much as I remember watching a cloud of smoke erupt with the stump flying sideways a few feet, then a few seconds later hearing the sound of the blast. It was a valuable science lesson for an elementary-aged kid in the speed of sound.
He signaled me over and we walked up to look at the still smoking roots that had been destroyed in the blast. As we approached, he looked down and picked up a darkly stained nickel.
It was an 1868 Shield nickel that must have been dropped by someone a long time ago by the almost black tone of the coin. The features were sharp, just obscured by the dark color. We looked for other coins, but that was the only one we found.
Jump ahead another three decades or so and my parents have me remodeling a section of their house on Broadway in Riverton.
The house my mom still lives in was one of the first homes in the area and we have pictures of it dating from the early days of Riverton from around 1912. As I pulled down a back wall to connect the house to a new section we’d built I heard the unmistakable sound of a coin hitting the wooden subfloor and rolling away.
I tracked it down and found another nickel, this one was a V Nickel, a coin similar on the obverse to the Barber dime, quarter, and a half dollar dated 1895. This one was in decent shape. If you’re into coins as I am, it graded at around MS 40, or very fine condition.
I still have both nickels, neither one is worth a fortune but they’re valued around $25 each.
The value is more in the story than in the intrinsic nature of the coin.
Each has a history all its own, a history I can only speculate about, but a history, nonetheless.
Was that 1868 Shield nickel dropped by a Confederate veteran trying to find work in the post-Civil War or did it fall out of the pocket of a hungry man wandering the countryside during the Great Depression? No one will ever know, but it’s fun to speculate.
Coins in the vintage of that 1895 nickel were literally worn out by heavy use. The term “one thin dime” comes from an era when money was worn smooth in the pockets of the poor. The Barber nickel is another connection, this one to Fremont County rather than Lee County, Arkansas, but the speculation is just as vivid when you tie history to a bit of metal.
Treasure is all in how you view it.