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OUT OF THE VAULT: Heppner ‘gold strike’ creates havoc for landowners

Published on March 3, 2018 3:00AM

Heppner ranch owners who discovered a cache of gold coins on their property in March 1968 quickly discovered the “strike” was almost more trouble than it was worth.

Mary Colleen Greenup, her sister Ilene Wyman and brother Bob Kilkenny owned a ranch purchased by heir father, John Kilkenny, in 1914 from Preston Thomson. Rumors abounded for years that Thomson had buried money on the place, and a 1968 article in True West magazine brought fortune hunters to the property in droves. Greenup said that many people, from all over the country, phoned for permission to search the ranch and others simply showed up at the door.

Two men from Minnesota who read the article teamed up with Greenup in the first week of March 1968 to search for the buried treasure, first with metal detectors and finally with a bulldozer. A cache of 28 coins was found buried under the ranch’s fish pond, with dates ranging from 1870 to 1896. Fourteen of the coins were $20 gold pieces, nine were $5 coins and five were $10 coins, for a total face value of $375. One of the pieces, with an 1891 mint date, was valued at $500.

And it wasn’t the first find on the ranch. Ten years previously, two grade school boys fishing at the pond found four gold pieces. They kept them, and Greenup at the time didn’t try to recover them.

Greenup split 14 coins of the new stash between the two men (whose names were not available when the March 9 article was published). An advisor later said the government would require the money to be turned in, the finders receiving only 15 percent. Another said that each member of the family could keep one piece. With three owners and 12 children between them, there weren’t enough coins left to go around.

Considering the two finds, it is reasonable to assume that the hunt for treasure continued.


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