Original copy of the 19th century pamphlet containing Beale's three ciphers.

Four tons of gold and silver may still lie hidden in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains...

According to most accounts of the legend, Thomas Jefferson Beale and twenty-nine other adventurers headed west in 1818 to hunt buffalo in what was then Spanish territory.  While camped at the foot of the Rockies, the group stumbled upon a rich vein of gold and silver.  For the next few years they mined several tons of the precious minerals, eventually hauling their hoard in two wagonloads to a secret vault in the Blue Ridge. 

 

Beale himself returned twice, once in the winter of 1820 and again two years later, staying both times at the inn of Robert Morris in the tiny crossroads of Buford's Tavern, near present day Bedford, Virginia.  During his last stay, Beale entrusted a small lockbox to Morris and later wrote to him that the box contained encoded instructions -- three ciphers -- for locating the vault and distributing its contents to the families of his men in the event they never returned. He also ensured Morris that someone would deliver a key for decoding the ciphers.  But years later, when it was clear Beale would never return, they key never came.

 

It was only after Morris's death decades later that a friend, using the Declaration of Independence as a key, was able to decode the second of the three ciphers. Cipher 2, however, described only the vault's contents and informed the treasure seeker that only Cipher 1 would reveal its location.  

Despite a lifetime of trying, Morris's friend never could decode the remaining ciphers.  Instead, he printed the ciphers in a pamphlet and sold copies of The Beale Papers for 50 cents to anyone willing to try.  In doing so, he unleashed a mystery that has sent thousands of gold-fevered treasure hunters into the hollows of the Blue Ridge and baffled even the smartest codebreakers to this day.

 

Some so-called experts believe the Legend of the Beale Ciphers is an elaborate hoax.  Most agree, however, that if the treasure is real, the key to Cipher 1 is a rare document, perhaps like Annie Morris's book of poetry in The Lost Cipher.   In this and other ways, I've tried to stay true to what little we actually know of Beale's legend.  But my story is, of course, just that - a story. Should you desire more clues for your own treasure hunt, you can find plenty of non-fiction works about the legend online.  In any case, whether for a hidden hoard of riches or just a good story, I hope you never stop searching!        

Beale Cipher Number 1

© 2016 by Michael Oechsle