In 1818, a band of 30 Virginians were on a hunting expedition in the great western plains when they discovered gold and silver somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Led by a charming yet mysterious adventurer named Thomas J. Beale, the group worked the mine for several years before returning home to bury their treasure—now thought to be worth around $65 million—in the mountains of Bedford, Virginia.
Restless to get back to the plains to “hunt the buffalo and encounter the savage grizzlies,” and unwilling to let his fortune fall into the wrong hands, Beale created three ciphers that, if solved, would pinpoint the treasure’s location, contents and intended recipients. The ciphers were given to an inn-keeper in Lynchburg named Robert Morris; a key for decoding the ciphers was to eventually follow.
Twenty-three years passed with no word from Beale, who was now presumed dead. Unable to make sense of the ciphers, Morris entrusted them to a wealthy friend who soon solved #2 (the contents of the treasure) before squandering all of his time and money on a fruitless obsession to decode the others. In 1885, the ciphers were published and that obsession spread to curious folks all over the world. Over the last 130 years many have tried but all have failed to solve the mystery.
Some say Beale’s treasure is still hidden in the hills of Bedford today. Some think it’s all an elaborate hoax. But people keep looking all the same—sometimes the hunt is worth the hunt. A little mystery can be a lot of fun.