Apr 12, 2007, 08:20 PM
Gypsyheart~ Queen of Rust
Wildcat Mt Wisconsin ............Bags of Gold
Wildcat Mountain State Park, two miles east of Ontario,Wisconsin
During the term of Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld, who held that post from 1892-1896, a load of gold in an iron-plated wagon was supposedly traveling from Billings Mont., possibly to Chicago. The reason? According to Boyer’s story, “Somehow there was a connection (between a Billings family) Governor Altgeld of Illinois, William Jennings Bryan, and some Oklahoma radicals.... Mention was also made of shadowy groups and odd conspiracies.”
However, word got out that a load of gold was on the road, and soon everyone, from treasury agents to common highway thieves, was looking for it.
As the wagon train with the gold passed Wildcat Mountain, the man from Billings in charge of the expedition had the gold buried high in the rocks at night. Then the wagon train carried on. However, “Latin American revolutions and World War I claimed the lives of everyone who had seen where the gold was buried.”
“There’s a treasure up on Wildcat Mountain. Did you know that? Most people don’t! ... Gold like you won’t believe. Bags and bags of it. Worth millions, I would guess.”
An excerpt from from the story ‘Wildcat Mountain’s Sentinel’ appearing in Dennis Boyer’s
1996 book, Driftless Spirits.
In letters to his family, the Billings man left clues about the treasure. “The letters contained obscure references to astronomy, astrology and mythology,” The story goes. These references intertwine with what has become a well documented history of spiritual happenings at the mountain.
The man Boyer interviewed added that there’s a ghost guarding the gold, but the ghost really doesn’t guard the treasure, instead its job is to lure people away.
“...This sentinel doesn’t stand on top of the gold,” the man said. “So, when people see this ghost they aren’t going to find anything. That’s the whole point, he decoys them away! The ghost throws people off the trail so to speak.”
The legend says that aside from the common odd noises and strange sights, the ghost likes to throw rocks and wields a Bowie knife. Some people have seen him on horseback, others have seen him standing on the rocks on the mountain with his rifle.
The story finishes up that the ghost is also able to shift its shape.
“Most often it’s a wildcat,” the man said. “That’s what I saw. Now some people don’t know what a wildcat is. So there’s been all sorts of confusion about bobcats, lynx and mountain lions... Now some say the form of the ghost goes way back. Back before the gold. I’ve seen the wildcat. He changes his size from house-cat size to big old Buick size. But sometimes you see just the shadow and not the cat himself.
“I saw him on the full run on Highway 131 one night,” the man continued. “I followed him from the Hay Valley Road junction down in the Town of Stark until he bounded off on Plumb Run Road just before La Farge...”
Jesse James’ gold
And if there wasn’t gold at Wildcat Mountain left by some Billings family, perhaps there’s gold on the mountain hidden there by outlaw Jesse James, his brother, Frank, or members of their gang.
In his short life, 1847-1882, Jesse James and the James-Younger gang were among the most notorious of characters, carrying out robberies throughout the lower Midwest into Iowa and Minnesota. They derailed trains, held up stagecoaches and robbed banks.
In 1876, members of the James-Younger gang attempted to hold up a bank in Northfield, Minn., according to Northfield Historical Society records. A bank teller refused to open the safe and was shot and killed. A bystander, a Swedish immigrant, was also killed as he didn’t understand English and failed to follow the instructions of the robbers. Two members of the gang were killed in an ensuing shoot out.
The gang fled and split up with some heading east, presumably the Younger brothers, Cole, Jim and Bob. Frank and Jesse James headed west. However, the history may have the directions and groups backwards.
Northfield is located close to Rochester, Minn., and it’s believed that the James-Younger gang may have crossed into Wisconsin infrequently to “lay low.” Local legend has it that Wildcat Mountain was the spot and some of the James-Younger gang’s loot and gold is still buried on the mountain.
The Northfield botched robbery is thought to have been the beginning of the end for the James-Younger gang, although it remained active until 1881.
But Jesse James’ gold that’s supposedly at Wildcat Mountain might be much older than the 1880s.
Frank James, during the Civil War, fought on the side of the Confederacy for Quan-trill’s Guerrillas. William Quantrill was the leader of one of the most savage units fighting for the South, and his hit-and-run tactics supposedly were models for the James-Younger gang.
It has not been without speculation that some of the supposed gold buried at Wildcat Mountain and guarded by the sentinel ghost may be Civil War booty collected by Quantrill’s group and later hidden by Frank James at their Wildcat Mountain hideout. Historical records, however, don’t support this piece of folklore.
Ron Campbell is Park Manager at Wildcat Mountain State Park and has worked at the park since 1979.
He said he hasn’t seen anything “supernatural” or strange at the park, but he has been asked about buried treasure and the ghost.
“One guy once talked about Jesse James having his gold buried up here on the mountain,” Campbell said. “He said the gold was booby trapped.
“Another person mentioned that the mountain has a ghost, and I’ve read the stories about the (Wildcat Mountain Sentinel), but in that story (Boyer) doesn’t name who he talked to, it’s ‘just some guy,’” Campbell continued. “According to some stories there’s supposed to be some gold buried here. It’s hard to say, though, where the stories came from.”
Jack Robinson, a member of the Vernon County Board, who was a long-time business owner in Ontario, remembers some of the stories.
“It’s supposed to have been Wild West gold, buried here, I remember that,” Robinson, 78, said. “It’s been many, many years since I’ve heard it spoken about.”
Karen Parker is the editor of the County Line newspaper in Ontario. She started the newspaper, which now has 2,000 readers, 23 years ago and has lived in the area 30 years. She seemed genuinely amused hearing about the treasure and ghost story, calling it an “old chestnut.”
“Oh, yeah, something about a team of robbers that went through and hid gold in the hills,” Parker said with a half cynical, half joking inflection in her voice. “Knowing the people who live here, they would have already found it.”
Earl Ferries has lived his entire live on Billings Creek Angus Farm, located just south of Wildcat Mountain. You can see an entrance to the park from his front door.
“I’ve heard there’s a treasure buried somewhere along the Kickapoo River, but I didn’t hear specifically it was at Wildcat Mountain or there was any ghost.”
Jerry Wagner lives just west of Ferries on County F, and has lived on his property since 1999.
When asked if he’s seen anything strange he smiles and lifts and eyebrow and smiles.
“Heh, heh, heh, heh, I might have,” he says.
He mentions hearing music coming from the hills, which is a reference to another Vernon County ghost story, the Kickapoo Polka Band.
As for stories of buried treasure at Wildcat Mountain, he hasn’t heard of any, but added, “I hope the gold is buried on my land.”
Up on the Mountain
Birch groves eerily stand out deep in the middle of Wildcat Mountain State Park. Their white tree trunks ominously lean downslope on treacherous ridge sides. It gives one a creepy “photo negative” feeling, as you move from one ridge to another on a crisp fall day.
It’s easy to get the idea that someone is watching you. Perhaps that’s because there’s virtually no underbrush on any of the ridgetops. You can see vast distances in any direction. Maybe it’s due to some other reason...
There are craggy ridgetop cliffs. Odd stands of rock appearing in a middle nowhere are covered with ancient moss. It’s easy to get the impression somebody could have buried something here, there — anywhere.
“There aren’t limestone caves here, like there are in other parts of southwestern Wisconsin,” Campbell said. “But there are rock shelters that were used by Native Americans. We have documented archaeological sites.”
And the well known Native American sites have been an attraction for many people to visit both Wildcat Mountain and the Kickapoo Reserve, which is located just south of the mountain. These visits haven’t always been innocuous.
Hilary Karnda, 64 a holistic healer and herbalist from Richland Center, told a friend Nov. 2, 2005, she was going to a sendoff at Wildcat Mountain State Park and she needed a ride.
Karnda had told friends she was moving from the area. What she was actually doing, was going to the woods to die.
Karnda walked away from the vehicle and then into the woods at Wildcat Mountain State Park. She sat at the base of an oak tree, stayed there in the sub-freezing temperatures and died. Her body was found a little more than two weeks later by a hunter. Pagan symbols were found with her.
But not all of the spiritual happenings at Wildcat Mountain have been so ominous.
In June, Wildcat Mountain was used as the center of a 44 mile-diameter circle “medicine wheel.”
In a daylong ceremony, people at many different locations prayed, focusing their energy on the message of their prayer and its epicenter.
“We’re sending out a prayer for peace, for unification, for people to get along on every level,” said Ben Hansen, one of the organizers in a La Crosse Tribune article. “The ceremonies are just things we do to emphasize these thoughts and put them in physical form.”
Wildcat Mountain was chosen as the center because the site has significance in terms of natural power and alignment, organizers said.
All the information about the treasure, the ghost, the spiritual connection to Wildcat Mountain, may be nothing more than folklore. But consider that the gold shipment in the original story was from Billings, Mont., and the creek running south of Wildcat Mountain is Billings Creek and that the mountain has “natural power and alignment” and that the letters describing the location of the treasure "contained obscure references to astronomy, astrology and mythology..."
Only the Mountain knows.
I go a great distance,while some are considering whether they will start today or tomorrow
Jun 05, 2007, 08:03 AM
Re: Wildcat Mt Wisconsin ............Bags of Gold
neat post. Interesting.
I would go just for the music
"He mentions hearing music coming from the hills,
which is a reference to another Vernon County
ghost story, the Kickapoo Polka Band."
have a good un.......
In the academies many books, at the circus many sacks of peanuts, at the club rooms many cigar butts.
Jul 21, 2011, 09:58 PM
Re: Wildcat Mt Wisconsin ............Bags of Gold
Me and my cousins have been interested in this treasure for quite a while. Me, my gf, sister, and cousins made a trip there last year to check the place out since its not very far from my grandmas.
Anyways, we're gonna get dang ol' treasure someday.
Dec 11, 2011, 01:27 PM
Re: Wildcat Mt Wisconsin ............Bags of Gold
I live about 30 miles from there,I always heard it was Civil War gold.
Would love to find about 100lbs.of it.
Happy Hunting all,
Feb 19, 2015, 05:34 PM
Does anyone know if the Billings letter to his family has surfaced anywhere? It would be interesting to see what astronomy, astrology and mythological references he was using.
Feb 23, 2015, 03:38 PM
Major problem here is in Wisconsin you cannot use a metal detector in ANY state park. You could be moving rocks for a very long time!
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