A settler forgot where he buried $100,000 in gold around the Bay Area. It might still be out there.
For many things, Granville P. Swift was known, but he was not known for his memory.
Nine years before the Gold Rush was going to change the state forever, the Kentuckian had come to California as a 19-year old. Young Swift, whose great uncle was legendary explorer Daniel Boone, hoped he would make his fortune in fur trapping — but he soon made his name as an insurrectionist.
Swift was one of the thirty-three Americans who occupied Sonoma during the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846. Another year he stayed in Sonoma and commanded a company and became a captain before the lure of wealth called to him again.
After the gold discovery was announced at Sutter’s Fort, Swift set off for Bidwell’s Bar with a small party. He struck it rich almost immediately.
A Fellow prospector said, “Swift was one of the greatest miners I ever met.” It seems as when he can almost taste the gold he made huge amounts of gold. When these three men had worked all winter and fall, I believe they must have made $100,000 apiece and maybe more.”
According to an 1875 story in the Sonoma Democrat, Swift left Bidwell’s Bar with over half a million dollars in gold. He brought it to San Francisco and had it minted into octagonal slugs, $50 each, with a special mark designating them as Swift’s.
Loaded down with gold — and without a banking system to receive it — Swift decided to start burying his haul around the Bay Area, primarily in the Sonoma area. The only problem was, he was very bad at remembering where he’d hidden it all. Although Swift died in 1875, the secret died long before then, forgotten by the scatter-brained settler.
Over time, some of the gold was found. In 1903, a worker on a ranch in Sonoma County dug up $7,000 in Swift’s $50 slugs. A year later, $30,000 in gold was pulled from a chimney hiding place on Swift’s old ranch near present-day Sears Point.
“While repairing a chimney on the second floor of the place, workmen came across a secret receptacle containing $26,000 in gold coin,” the Healdsburg Enterprise reported. “In other places, more money was found, the total sum aggregating more than $30,000.”
The biggest discovery came in 1914. A.W. Lehrke, a Sonoma Valley rancher, woke one morning with the remnants of a dream still foggy in his mind. The bit he could remember clung to him: He was digging under his home for gold.
The thought must have needled him because he decided to put the dream to rest by doing just that. He descended into his basement and began digging. And there, amazingly, he found $42,600 in gold coins.
“The [cache] unearthed as a result of Lehrke’s dream is believed to have contained one of Swift’s hidden hoards,” the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat wrote.
Since 1914, though, the remainder of Swift’s enormous haul has gone undiscovered. Today, we have one meager hint, courtesy of a misspelling-laden note written by Swift himself.
“1 tin box & 1 Little Bottle Boath in the saim hoal,” it reads.
As for Swift, the second half of his life was as sad as the first half was glorious. He lost most of his non-buried treasure, too, after investing in a non-existent Comstock Lode mine. In 1850, he also lost $80,000 of gold panned by his sister Polly when he buried it — sensing a pattern? — near a creek. Winter floods washed the whole lot away.
Hoping to turn his luck around, Swift moved his family to Solano County in 1864, purchasing a ranch in Green Valley (today, it’s the Green Valley Country Club) and setting out into the Berryessa area to prospect once more.
He was visiting his quicksilver mine one day in 1875 when his mule returned home without a rider. His worried family retraced his steps and found his mangled body in the hills. It seemed Swift had been thrown by his mule and then dragged, foot caught in the stirrup until his head was fatally struck.
“The spoiled child was now but the plaything of fortune,” the Sonoma Democrat eulogized. “One whose’ unmerciful disaster followed faster and followed faster’ until death came by the wayside and put a period to his checkered life.”