Unearthing the Secrets of Cherokee Treasure Tunnel
In early November 1932, three boys — Roy Tippins and Bob and Jack Stuman — found a large granite stone with symbols carved on it, near the border of Cherokee and Forsyth counties. After asking the landowner for permission to dig near the spot and being refused, they returned several days later and found a second stone a few hundred yards away. Beneath it, they unearthed a clay pot, of Cherokee origin, containing 37 pounds of gold — what would be about a million dollars worth at its current market value.
The property owner, a Mr. Groover, filed a lawsuit for possession. The courts sided with the youths, saying the landowner had no legitimate claim to it either, and the boys were allowed to keep it.
The stone, which subsequently was moved to the University of Georgia, was carved by the Red Bank Tribe of the Cherokee people and was used as a center point, around which 25 clay pots, each containing between 6 and 37 pounds of gold, were hidden just prior to the Cherokees being forcibly relocated to Oklahoma on what has become known as the Trail of Tears. None of the other 24 stashes has ever been located, even though all of them were buried within a mile of the symbol stone.
The complete listing of each stash, its distance from the symbol stone and the amount of gold each contains can be found in Forest Wade’s “Cry of the Eagle,” published in 1969. If we believe the tally in its entirety — and the fact that the first entry matched exactly what was unearthed by the boys in 1932 — there is another $11 million of buried gold somewhere near the confluence of the Bruton and Red Bank creeks, just before they empty into the Etowah River, where the 30 or so families of the Red Bank Tribe lived.
The tale of buried Cherokee gold is even larger than this. As it turns out, the Red Bank Tribe had chosen to do on their own what several other tribes had banded together to do. In 1835, a chief named Rising Fawn suggested to a host of local tribes in the area that they build a secret tunnel with separate vaults, or niches, to store the wealth of individual families of each tribe.
The Red Bank Tribe did not trust the caretaking arrangement and opted to hide its own treasure. But many other tribes, including the Long Swamp and Big Savannah Cherokee, agreed to Rising Fawn’s plan.
Legend says that the natives labored for two years to construct the tunnel, 200 feet in length, cut into a steep hillside in Cherokee County near the Etowah River. Tribes from as far away as Dahlonega and Dawsonville were said to have brought their gold here and hidden it in the cave, which then was sealed, to escape detection. They entrusted the task of watching over the hoard to a white man, Jacob McCarty Scudder, a Bureau of Indian Affairs agent who had been sympathetic to the Cherokee cause and had lobbied, in vain, against their forced removal. This arrangement was necessary, as it was believed that any native left to safeguard it likely would be deported at some point.
Forest Wade and a great many others were convinced that this tunnel existed. In his book, Wade catalogs a fair number of stories from independent sources claiming to have seen the various Cherokee communities collecting their riches, transferring them into clay pots and moving them at night — on foot, by wagon, by sled or by boat — to the secret location.
In each instance, any white man who came across the activity as it took place was unharmed by the Cherokees but was obliged to stay the night with them until those transporting the treasure returned, so they could not be followed to discover the hidden location.
In some cases, later information actually comes to us from relocated Cherokees in Oklahoma, who could read the symbols on the stones — symbols that told where to go from that spot in order to find the tunnel.
There are even stories of a Cherokee family member returning to the area later and finding Scudder, who then, as promised, retrieved their gold for them so that the family member could take it back to Oklahoma.
The tunnel’s location consistently is said to be close to the Etowah River, either in western Forsyth County or eastern Cherokee County. One report suggested it is in what is now Canton, in the vicinity of a “Mount Etowah.”
Does the secret Cherokee Treasure Tunnel proposed by Chief Rising Fawn really exist? Many have looked for it, without success. Still, the boys’ find in 1932 makes a strong case that there was a lot of gold buried by the native population in the late 1830s that has yet to be unearthed.
As to whether each tribe buried its own or whether there is a huge storehouse of gold in a long tunnel in Cherokee County, that’s anybody’s guess. I’ve left out a lot of work (and speculation) by folks who have tried to ascertain its location over the years because, if it does exist, I think we might be better off if it stays buried.
Quoting from The Message version of the New Testament: “Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after.”
- “Cry of the Eagle: History and Legends of the Cherokee Indians and Their Buried Treasure.” Forest C. Wade. 1969.
-The Wanderer has been a resident of Cherokee County for nearly 20 years, and constantly is learning about his community on daily walks, which totaled a little more than 2,000 miles in 2022. Send questions or comments to email@example.com.