Treasure Finds and Stories
Key West Gold Diggers Looking for Pirate's Chest
Two brothers working on a water well in their backyard have unearthed more than two pounds of gold nuggets and are digging deeper in hope of finding a pirate's chest full of treasure. "I don't think there's any doubt in the world there's something down there," said Kent. "It could be a jewelry box. It could be bigger."
Kent and his brother, Jim, of New York, are renovating a group of classic old Key West houses they bought in 1977. The search in the back yard of a house across the street from author Ernest Hemingway's former home began Wednesday when a driller looking for well water found more than two pounds of 12- and 14-karat nuggets 18 feet down.
Just as the gold fever started to subside Sunday night, seven more small nuggets weighing three-fourths of an ounce were found. The gold rush was on. Workers using shovels, buckets, pumps and sweat have dug a 4-foot square hole down about 18 feet in the backyard of one of the houses they own. Using a piece of screen and a kitchen colander, workers have been sifting the sand much like 19th century prospectors.
Sunday, they turned up eight more gold nuggets. Some of the gold nuggets they've found are as large as 3 inches in diameter; others are twisted and bent as if from smelting. One piece has the faint marking of a Roman numeral.
The brothers say a local jeweler valued the nuggets at 12 and 14 karats. With gold selling for about $300 an ounce, they estimate their find is worth a minimum of $10,000. The brothers have promised the workers that helped one-third of the take. One worker admitted the gold made his crew "a bit crazy" and some workers sprayed gold paint on gravel. "We figured if we sprayed enough, people would think it was a hoax and everybody would leave," the worker said.
In addition to the nuggets, workers have turned up a 19th century half-dime, a hand-forged spike from a schooner, and animal tooth and pieces of brick. They also found pieces of wood and a rough-hewn hinge that the brothers say looks like it could have come from a centuries-old treasure chest. Such speculation is in keeping with island lore of pirates, bootleggers, smugglers and Confederate spies.
A Key West native says the brothers property was a beach several hundred years ago and overlooks a natural deep channel that makes it a perfect spot for a pirate too stash plunder. A Key West historian said it once was owned by William Cash, a colorful character who was one of the island's riches merchants. Cash died in 1923; he purchased the land in 1894. The historian said, though, that she didn't think Cash was "the kind who would have buried it. He would have spent his money."
In recent times, the land was owned by a gentleman who sold it to the brothers in 1977 and moved to Tampa. He still visits the island once a week to sell mangoes and fish from his pickup truck.