The Wallula Treasure

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In 1859, gold was discovered in Idaho, and Wallula was the jumping off point for miners headed to the gold fields. From Wallula they headed east (or returned) on Dorsey Baker’s Walla Walla and Columbia Line. It was also known as the Rawhide Railroad, because according to early travelers, the original rail lines were made of split wood, which Baker covered with rawhide to make the trains run smoother. According to legend, two men boarded the train’s one express car, and stole several pounds of gold bullion.

They jumped off the train and went overland toward Wallula, to catch a riverboat to Portland. Unfortunately for the robbers, a posse dogged their trail for many miles, and captured the robbers just outside of Wallula. Before they wer caught, the robbers buried the gold. They hung the men before returning to Wallula, but never found the money.

Most people confuse the sleepy town of Wallula, on the banks of the Columbia River, with the city of Walla Walla, thirty miles away. Treasure hunters are not confused, knowing that somewhere near Wallula there is a treasure in buried gold. Their only problem is, which Wallula – since there were three of them.

In 1818, the Northwest Fur Company established a trading post called Fort Walla Walla along the Columbia, just below a set of long rapids. They built it out of driftwood, and called it the Gibraltar of the West. Unfortunately, “The Rock” was flammable and burned down in 1841. They rebuilt the post out of mud bricks later that year. In the 1850s, the fur trade ended, and the traders left, followed by the U.S. Army, who used Fort Walla Walla from 1857 to 1860. When they left, the facility became the town of Wallula. Some treasure hunters believe that the fur traders and the Army left something of value behind, like trade goods, or an army payroll. And there was also the train robbery.

Other treasure hunters checked records, and found that the Rawhide Railroad was never robbed. They believe that the robbery took place after 1883, when Wallula was a railway center. In that year, the entire town was moved about a quarter mile away, to a huge freight yard, with several railroad roundhouses. Wallula had a permanent population of 800 people and a much larger transitory population. For decades, Wallula resembled boom towns like Deadwood, where people were robbed and murdered in back alleys, and their killers simply dumped the bodies in the river. There were tales of miners burying caches of gold before entering town, and being murdered before recovering them.
By the 1920s, things had slowed down, and Wallula became a sleepy town, with a reputation for ghosts and buried treasure. Treasure hunters poked around the remains of both Wallulas, looking for buried treasure. In 1950 the Army Corps of Engineers condemned Wallula to make way for McNary Dam. In the weeks before the reservoir behind the dam drowned both town sites, construction workers, treasure hunters, and even geologists spent a lot of time digging, hoping to find the buried gold. They were not successful, but other diggers found more than they bargained for.
As part of the agreement with the citizens of Wallula, the Corps of Engineers rebuilt the town on a different site, by moving certain buildings, and other features. This included the town cemetery. As the coffins were dug up and moved, they found several of them were rotted, so the gravediggers put the bodies in new ones before reburial. They remembered one grave, which contained the coffins of Mary, Mandy and Florence Furgerson, who had died in an epidemic.

All of the coffins were in bad shape, and when they opened Florence’s grave, the diggers found that her corpse was twisted, instead of laid out flat. And its hands were full of hair. Before embalming was popular, people buried their dead as quickly as possible, before the corpse rotted. This was very true in hot eastern Washington, especially to stop an epidemic from spreading. Doctors were overworked, and sometimes mistook patients in a coma for being dead. Many of them were buried alive.

Florence was probably in a coma, and her family mistakenly buried her alive. When she awoke, she pulled out her hair out in frustration and fear when she found she was entombed. She must have tried to fight her way out, but the coffin of her dead sisters held her down.

Despite stories of Florence, occasionally treasure hunters stop at present-day Wallula to look for lost gold. Most of the time, the locals tell the treasure hunters that the original two town sites are underwater. Sometimes though, depending on the mood of the local, and how gullible they think they treasure hunter is, people are still digging the hills near Wallula. Hopefully they stay away from the cemetery.

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