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THE BROTHERS PACKED their animals up and set out northward on the Randolph Trail, a beaten path along the Coast Range foothills to Coos Bay that followed roughly the same route as Seven Devils Road today.
But they had $40,000 worth of gold in their saddlebags, and the two of them were almost celebrities in Randolph. Both of them were very nervous about the possibility that they might be robbed on the trail. Highway robbery was common there, since the bad guys knew that successful miners had to use the trail to carry their gold out.
So the boys scouted a good spot that they thought they could find again, and cached the gold in two gunpowder cans under a cedar stump.
Then they continued on their way.
Well, you probably have already guessed what happened next. In fine buried-treasure style, they lost track of where they stashed the two cans. Neither of them returned for many years — they already had five years’ worth on which to live, and it just didn’t seem worth the trouble.
It wasn’t until 20 years later, in 1873, that Peter, by then the only surviving brother (Charles had died in England), came back to the Coquille to “withdraw” his gold.
Peter found the entire landscape so utterly changed that he had no idea where to even start looking for the distinctive cedar-tree stump under which he’d stashed the cans. There were places where the Randolph Trail had changed completely, with old sections overgrown and barely discernible; there were other parts that had been burned over by a forest fire, which had destroyed all the snags, stumps, and other dry wood in its path.
Peter got some friends to help him, promising to split the gold with them, but their efforts were in vain. Other members of the Randolph community joined in as well. But, nobody found the gold, and after a decade or so, the whole thing simmered down into one of those little bits of local legend.
FIFTY MORE YEARS went by. Then, in 1922, Peter Grouleaux’s granddaughter, Lillie Tully, came to town. She had a try for the gold as well, enlisting the help of a local timber cruiser. But after a year or so of hunting, they too were disappointed.
A few years later, in 1931, a rumor started circulating — a very credible one, later given added weight by an article in the Portland Oregonian newspaper — that the treasure had been found. According to the rumor, a young couple out prospecting had spotted a rusty gun barrel sticking out from under an old stump and investigated. They’d found two old gunpowder cans containing 150 pounds of fine gold. After that, the two had left the area as quickly as possible, because the gold had been on private land and they were afraid if anyone knew where they’d gotten it, the landowner and possibly Lillie Tully would try to claim it.
So, was this rumor true? Maybe. The amount of gold found doesn’t quite line up -- 150 pounds of gold at 1853 prices was worth $51,000, not $40,000. But even if the rumor was true, it likely wasn’t the same gold. Painted metal cans of the type gunpowder was sold in don’t last 75 years in the Coast Range; the containers would have rusted to nothing in just a few decades.
In any case, it remains possible, if not particularly likely, that the contents of the original powder cans are still there, buried under the forest duff in a random spot in the middle of the forest — a cache of fine flour gold that would be worth $3.7 million today.
But rather than tromping through the forest looking for this bonanza, modern-day gold miners would probably be better advised to head for the beach from which it originally came. The black sands of Oregon’s beaches are still full of fine flour gold, especially in places that are far away from streams and creeks that supply the water needed to pan or sluice them. It’s hard work, and not very remunerative; but you can still get gold out of black-sand layers all along the South Coast today, especially in the more southerly, out-of-the-way beaches near Ophir, Pistol River, Port Orford, and of course Gold Beach.