The Missing Money

Franklin Graves sold his Illinois cabin and land before setting off west with his family in 1846. He was paid in a collection of coins from various countries. (This was common then; the United States was still a young country and not a lot of minted money to go around.) He carefully hid this money in a box nailed to the underneath part of one his wagons. The plan was that it would purchase the land and materials for a new home in sunny California.

Plans went awry.

We know Mrs. Graves had those coins on her person when she set out with the second relief group on March 3, 1847. She also had her four youngest children. And so much snow to walk through and over. Even with the help of the rescuers, she couldn’t do it. And so, along the way, she buried the coins in a secret location with the idea that she’d come back for them in the spring.

That, of course, wouldn’t be possible.

I imagine that spring, the oldest Graves children, Mary Ann included, were desparate to know where that money was buried. Here they were, seven remaining children left, all now orphaned, without a penny to their names. Yes, I feel sure Mary Ann wanted to get her hands on those coins.

But they weren’t found.

Until – at least – 1891. 44 years after she buried them, a man uncovered some coins around the lake that were later identified as the Graves’ family coins. Some sources say the Graves descendants recognized bite marks on some of the coins that had been used for teething relief for the baby. There are conflicting accounts as to what happened to the coins, but it appears at least some of them were returned to Mary Ann and her siblings.

You can read a newspaper account here.
And the following comes from the Donner Party Diary online site.


Wednesday, March 3, 1847

James Reed’s Diary of the Second Relief: “3 Thurs left Camp early traveled on the lake 2 miles an encamped under the mountain made this day about 4 miles, nothing of interest occd.”
Apparently unknown to Reed, or not considered of interest, an event occurred as told by McGlashan in 1880: “At the camping-ground, near the upper end of Donner Lake, one of the relief party jokingly proposed to another to play a game of euchre to see who should have Mrs. Graves’ money. The next morning, Mrs. Graves remained behind when the party started, and concealed her money. All that is known is, that she buried it behind a large rock on the north side of Donner Lake. So far as is known, this money has never been recovered, but still lies hidden where it was placed by Mrs. Graves.” On May 14, 1891 Edward Reynolds, a miner from Sierra Valley, found some silver coins while prospecting on the north shore of the lake. Reynolds, McGlashan and Amos Lane searched the area and recovered 191 coins of various nationalities and denominations less than 30 feet from the large rock long reputed to be the site of the cache.