The Mystery of Jesse James’ Lost Gold

By: Beth Moreton | Published: Mar 19, 2024

Jesse James was around during the American Civil War and during that time is believed to have buried some gold.

However, it is not known where exactly this gold is and if any gold was even buried in the first place. But there is a team of people who are working hard to find that out. 

Jesse James Was Born to a Preacher

Jesse James was born in Missouri in 1847. His father was a preacher and also a slave owner, according to History

A black and white photo of Jesse James wearing a hat and a shirt with a bow on.

Source: Unknown photographer/Wikimedia Commons

However, his father died in 1850, and the family ended up in financial ruin.

Jesse James Was a Confederate Guerrilla in the Civil War

The Confederate guerrillas would carry out attacks on Union sympathizers, something that Jesse James was very much a part of.

A black and white photo of Jesse James with his head slightly turned to the side.

Source: Unknown photographer/Wikimedia Commons

PBS states that in 1864, James took part in one of the worst atrocities of the Civil War, where he and the rest of the guerrillas executed 22 Union soldiers and killed 150 Federals.

Jesse James and His Older Brother Became Bank and Train Robbers

After their part in the U.S. Civil War, Jesse James and his older brother, Frank, went on to rob banks and trains.

A black and white photo of Jesse James, who is standing next to Emmett Dalton. They are both stood behind Jesse Evans and Frank James. They are all wearing hats and coats.

Source: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons

It is during his time robbing banks and trains that James is believed to have stolen gold and buried it somewhere, with its whereabouts so far unknown.

Jesse James Was Known as a Wild West Version of Robin Hood

Where Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor, Jesse James would do something similar.

Bars of gold and gold coins all in a pile together.

Source: Zlaťá

The Washington Post describes the story of Lavina Nethers, whose husband’s great-great-grandmother would wash James’ clothes and feed him. When she told him she was going to foreclose her farm, he told her he’d take care of it. The next day, the bank had been robbed, but James had given her a significant amount of money so she could stay on her farm. 

Jesse James Was Believed to Have Died in 1882

Reports at the time suggested that Jesse James had been killed in 1882.

A wanted poster with Jesse James’ face on. It is printed in black and white and he is looking to the side.

Source: Pinkerton’s Detective Agency/Wikimedia Commons

However, many people since then have claimed to be James, and in recent years, people hunting for his gold came across a tree with the carving “Jesse James 1882,” which they believe suggests he may not have died.


The Trees Suggest Where Gold Might Be Buried

Popular Mechanics reports that trees in Ohio have the “Jesse James 1882” carvings on them.

A tree with carvings on it that Jesse James is believed to have carved.

Source: ancientriflesmith/YouTube

Those who are in search of gold believe this to be a sign that James buried his gold here, and have spent many years in search of it.


A Yard Sale Might Have Confirmed Where the Gold Is

Along with the tree carvings, two people in search of gold were at a yard sale in Ohio and came across a photograph that they believed to be Jesse James and his brother Frank.

A man looking through some books that are all laid out on a table outside.

Source: Clem Onojeghuo/Unsplash

However, the photograph wasn’t clear enough to indicate whether it is or isn’t James and his brother, so isn’t a strong sign as to whether any gold might be buried in Ohio or not.


The Family of the Land Put a Stop to the Excavation

The group became increasingly convinced that Jesse James’ gold was buried in Ohio, and they began an excavation.

A digger digging up land at an excavation site. It is on top of some mud and trees surrounding the site. The digger is yellow and black, is on caterpillar tracks, and has ‘Volvo’ on the arm.

Source: Billy Freeman/Unsplash

However, while one person who owned some of this land was involved, the others who owned the land were not. When they became aware of what was going on, they stopped the excavation until they could decide what the best way forward was. 


Some Other Jesse James Gold Has Already Been Found

Despite one group still being on the hunt for some of Jesse James’ hidden gold, one person already found some of it back in 2019.

Various bits of gold that have been discovered. There are gold coins, bars of gold, and a gold cup.

Source: Andrev Sachov/Unsplash

Nels Isaacson was at Mystery Cave, Northfield, Minnesota, when he saw something sticking out of the ground, which turned out to be some of the gold that James had buried.


The Gold Was Worth $331,000

Nels Isaacson essentially managed to make around $331,000 from his findings, according to Fillmore County Journal

Bars of gold with imprints in them, including the word ‘gold’.

Source: Jingming Pan/Unsplash

He found small bars of gold that weighed 16 pounds overall and were worth $1,300 an ounce. Isaacson has said he wants to look for more of Jesse James’ gold again. 


The Search for Gold Continues

Whilst Nels Isaacson might have found some of Jesse James’ gold in Minnesota, there is still some confusion about where the rest of the gold might have been hidden.

A pile of gold. There are gold coins and bars all piled together and vary in size and weight.

Source: Zlaťá

Some of it is believed to have been buried somewhere in Ohio, but with James having traveled to many areas in the U.S., the gold could be hidden anywhere.