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Gold Found in Janssen Place PDF  | Print |

by Lyle Kennedy

Early in this century when the original houses were constructed on Janssen Place the Kansas City Journal received a manuscript with a short note attached. In this note the writer explained that he was probably the only one alive who knew the actual circumstances which lead to a mystery that has kept tongues in the area wagging. The following is a condensed account of the story which the Journal printed without further comment.

In the spring of 1849, a young Ohio farmer, John Morgan, learned of the gold strike in California. Although he was engaged to marry his childhood sweetheart, he resolved to go to California with his small savings and bring back enough gold to buy a large farm and build a fine house. He left his tearful betrothed, promising to return within a year with a fortune. he took a boat to St. Louis and another up the Missouri to Independence. On arrival he purchased a horse, saddlebags and bedroll; he joined a wagon train for the long overland journey.

It was many weeks before Morgan´s sweetheart received his first letter mailed from West Port, Missouri. He told her that the wagonmaster said they were about a mile east of West Port, and that he was writing by firelight where they were camped. He described the banks of a small stream, a valley a short distance away. He told her the wagon train was circled just below the trail where good water emerged from a cave and that the surrounding hills were heavily wooded and of indescribable beauty. He sent his love and reminded her that he would be unable to write again until they reached California. He would have been there several months before she would receive his next letter. He added a P.S. before mailing saying, "West Port is a very busy place."

It was indeed many months before she received his next letter although it was a joyous one! He had been lucky in finding a ´strike´ and predicted that in another month would have enough gold at last them a lifetime. A wagon had been purchased and he was looking for a good team of mules. They would be so much faster than oxen. With good luck, she could expect him about a month or six weeks after receiving his next letter.

Morgan also purchased four iron pots in which he placed all the gold he could lift. Covering them with staples, groceries, and clothing, he hung three of them on a strong pole beneath the wagon and the fourth behind the seat of the wagon. He then headed east for home.

Caravans were still in a steady stream west for the gold fields so that he was rarely out of sight of one of them and always camped with them at night. He was amazed to find the people taciturn—many of the women weeping—before he learned that the dread Cholera was again rampant. Almost every family had buried at least one member on the prairie.

When he reached West Port, he learned that many had died there. Since the mail was just leaving, he hastily wrote to his beloved telling her that he would arrive home in Ohio in about two weeks after she received the letter.

Later that afternoon, he came into the valley below the cave and the spring. It was the same location he remembered from the trip west. He unhitched his team of mules to graze and sat down to admire the beautiful view&endash;it seemed even more beautiful than the outward journey.

Soon wagons bound for California began to arrive. He started to prepare a meal but felt very feverish and began to chill. He was unable to eat and it occurred to him that he had contracted the dread Cholera. As he sat pondering what to do he noticed that on the high ground to the northwest was an enormous tree that towered above the others. Taking his rifle, he took a bearing from the top of the cave and paced off the distance to the great tree. Remembering that there was another spring about a half mile west, he located it and again took a bearing an paced the distance. Then he returned to camp.

Again, he tried to eat and could not. He was exhausted and felt desperately ill. His condition was worsening, and he knew that he would never reach Ohio...

Other trains had arrived. By the light of the fire he wrote his sweetheart, advising her of his condition, proclaiming his devotion and love, and describing in detail the precise spot where he intended to bury the gold. Then he lay down to rest until the rest of the camp was sleeping.

When all the camp was quiet he dragged a pot from the wagon, slung it between the two mules, and with shovel and rifle made his way to the spot selected. There he dug a trench for the four pots, and by almost superhuman effort made the three more trips. He then backfilled the hole and covered it with leaves and branches, returned to the wagon to rest.

He was unable to sleep from the illness and exhaustion, so at the first light of day headed for Independence and the Post Office. The letter mailed he drove to the edge of town, unhitched and staked the mules, climbed into the wagon and collapsed. The next morning the restlessness of the mules and the howling of some dogs attracted attention to the wagon where he was found dead. He was hastily buried, the wagon burned, and the team appropriated.

When his West Port letter was received in Ohio the two families made preparation for the wedding and a celebration. After more than a month had passe and he had not arrived, a brother went to St. Louis to request some of the wagonmasters to investigate. Only one bothered to write that no trace could be found of a John Morgan. Several years passe until his last letter was received with no explanation for the cause of the delay.

About two months later a boy from a farm south and east of 39th Street was squirrel hunting in the woods where Janssen Place is now developed found an open trench. Thinking that it had been dug as a grave, hurried home to tell his father. The next morning the boy, his father and a neighbor went to the site and pondered why a grave would be dug and then not used; one of the men noticed the four strange circular depressions in the clay bottom. At the edges of each was a depression about two inches deep and the size of a man´s thumb, forming a perfect triangle. For several weeks the site was visited by all the settlers in he vicinity, but no one could guess the reason for the mysterious "grave."

The Journal printed the entire manuscript which carried the signature. "Uncle Hal."

Note to Janssen Place residents: Don't rush out to buy a metal detector for if the tale is true the family recovered the gold.