North Fox - South Fox Michigan Island Treasure

Gypsy Heart

Gold Member
Nov 29, 2005
The following is an excerpt from Kathleen Craker Firestone's soon to be released book on the North and South Fox Islands, which lie off the northern tip of Leelanau County in Lake Michigan.

South Fox light keeper Willis Warner, who began island service in 1876, handed down to his descendants an account of buried treasure on South Fox Island. It seems that a man who had been hired to murder someone was sailing for parts unknown with his pay-off money. His ship was wrecked off South Fox Island, where the murderer made his way to shore and hid the money somewhere on the island. The version that Joe Raphael heard as a child on the island about 1920 stated that the $35,000 was buried in large dishpans. The Leo children had heard this story, or some version of it, with the addition of the clue that the treasure was buried by a tree with a nail pounded in it. Whenever they and their island friends would be walking through the woods they would keep an eye out for the tree with the tell-tale nail. Maybe someday they would get lucky and go back to the mainland with their riches.

The North Fox treasure was reported in the Traverse City Evening Record in 1905.(1) For forty years the story had been told around mainland Northport that North Fox Island held a buried treasure. Some said it was $150,000 in Spanish gold, sealed in fruit jars and buried in an iron chest. Searchers dug holes in the sand at different points around the island but could not uncover the treasure. Others said Beaver Island's King Strang had buried the treasure, but no one seemed to know if he had dug it up again before his assassination.

The version told by the Evening Record that day in the fall of 1905, was written when two Northport residents, Joe Gagnon and Jay Spangle, followed two mysterious strangers to North Fox Island, after the strangers had arrived by train into Northport and then hired a local launch to take them to the island. Gagnon and Spangle followed in their own boat and, hiding from the strangers, watched their every move. All they saw was some trees being blazed by the two strangers, who called each other "Cap" and "Mate".

Cap and Mate made a second trip to North Fox a few days later, after purchasing tools and supplies. Northport fisherman Gus Petander said the two consulted maps and charts as they were passengers on his fishing boat. After a three-day stay on the island, the two were picked up by Petander and, upon returning to Northport, made a quick departure aboard the train. In their hands they carried a large handbag and a gunnysack. An employee of Petander said the two had found the chest of gold near a tree emblazoned with the date "1870". The story was that $150,000 in gold coin had been stolen in Chicago at the time of the great fire. Two men had made off in the dark aboard a small craft heading up the waters of Lake Michigan. After burying the loot on North Fox, the two sailed for Canada, one dying there in prison and the other telling his wife of the treasure while on his death bed. Several years later, when the two mysterious strangers made their visits to North Fox Island, Northporters believed the buried treasure had been found, fueled by the reports of Gagnon and Spangle. But some believed the strangers were merely land speculators looking for resort property. If so, the treasure was still there for the finding -- if there ever really was a treasure.

So much for treasures. Gaining just as much space in the newspapers, but a lot less believable, was the 1992 report in the tabloid Weekly World News of the capture of a large sea monster between North and South Fox Islands.(2) The November 17 cover story was headlined with "U. S. Navy Captures Monster in Lake Michigan". The 140-foot monster was reportedly captured alive by Navy divers and put in an underwater cage off South Fox. The report and accompanying "photo" of the 35-ton monster brought conversation to the coffee shops and lighthearted citizen quotes in the "real" newspapers. From school superintendent William Crandell's "It's been eating salmon off my (fishing) lines for the past 20 years,"(3) to proposed North Fox developer Mark Conner's reply that it may be "a bloated environmentalist,"(4) the news story brought a little laughter into the gray-skyed days of November. Even if one believed in the sea monster, the land shown in the background of the monster photo did not resemble South Fox Island in the least!

Under the mysterious, and the serious, is the unanswered question of why a U. S. Army Chinook helicopter was making a night flight over the Fox Islands on July 9, 1983. Six men from the 101st Airborne Division died when their helicopter burst into flames as it slammed into a steep, wooded South Fox hillside, at a speed of about 115 miles per hour. Newspaper reports said that the helicopter had been practicing over-water flight navigation when the crash took place, just before midnight, near the southern tip of the island. An unconfirmed admission by a high military official, several years later, was that the airmen were practicing for the eventual U. S. invasion of the island of Grenada, which took place in October, 1983, just three months after the crash on South Fox Island.

bean man

Hero Member
Sep 2, 2006
Central Iowa
Neat stories gypsy. I think lake Michigan it's self, is a mysterious place. As far as bodies of water go, it's one of the baddest of the bad.

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