• Dennis McCaslin

Our Ozark Heritage: The Galena Gold Stash of the mysterious Parson Keithley

The story of Parson Keithley is one of the most mysterious and enduring of all the “buried treasure” legends of the Ozarks and Keithley was one of the stranger characters in the historic lore of Ozark country.

One day a week he preached, but the other six he roamed the country with his gun on his shoulder and his dog at his heels. He loved solitude and it was his custom to disappear sometimes his family would hear nothing from him fo4 days.

After being gone for three or four days, he would return as suddenly as he had gone. He was secretive and rarely gave more than disjointed accounts of his wanderings through the hills and hollows. Relatives eventually learned to ask no questions about his absences.

When the old man buckled on his gunbelt and went over the ridge he might be back for supper or he might be gone for weeks.

When the California gold fever spread Keithly was well advanced in years. One day he walked out of the house. Months afterward a brief letter came from him. It was delivered by the US Postal Service from the Rocky Mountains.

In the letter, Keithley said he was on his way to California. Two years and eight months then passed and the old man walked back into the Ozarks in the Reed Springs/Galena area, greeted his family pleasantly and resumed his old way of living.

The  story in the region was that Keithley had actually lugged $6,000 in gold back into the Ozarks after his excursion, but no one knows for sure the extent of his "strike", if any.

In today’s spot gold prices, the Keithly's hoard would be worth approximately $405,000.

What he did with the treasure (if any) was a mystery. He made no public exhibition of it, and he did not keep it in the house. There was a garden and an apple tree some distance off, and at intervals of weeks or months the old man after wandering in that area would draw from his pocket a $10 gold piece and hand it to his daughter saying, "See here what I've found!"

The gold was usually produced on some occasion of domestic need. Where the gold was "found" the old man never told. The revenue always seemed to come to light just after the old man had been under the old apple tree in the garden.

Others speculated that the hiding place was in a cave to which the preacher went to retire for meditation. He frequented the underground retreat so much that it became known, and, as "Keithley's Cave".

Shortly after the close of the Civil War he told his friends that he felt he had didn't have much longer to live. It was his fondest wish to make the cave his tomb and he started making preparations for that purpose.

For several years before the end came, Keithley was in the habit of retiring to the cave, closing the doors for days at a time, and waiting for death. Then, when the feeling of weakness or depression passed away, the old man would come out once again to preach and hunt.

The old man was far past 90 when the sudden summons came. His waiting and watching in the tomb had been in vain because he was found in a lonely spot on a mountain, several miles from the cave.

Supposedly, the bulk of the preacher's treasure legendary hoard of gold has never been found.

Does it still lie buried at the base of an apple tree (or secreted in a cave) somewhere in Stone County?