Great Kentucky Hoard: Astonished farmer finds $2 million in gold coins buried in field

Every day across America farmers till the soil. Countless acres are plowed, seeded, watered, and harvested. And mostly these hardworking men and women discover…rocks, insects, clumps of clay, maybe some pottery shards. Almost never do they unearth real treasure. Until, that is, a Kentucky farmer found a treasure trove of gold coins buried in his cornfield.

The Great Kentucky Hoard consists of over 800 Civil War-era gold coins valued at over $2 million. In 2023, an anonymous Kentucky farmer discovered the coins buried loose in his cornfield. The hoard includes $1, $10, and $20 gold pieces, along with 18 rare Liberty Gold Double Eagles, dated 1863.  

Finding real buried treasure is incredibly rare. For someone to find a stash of high-grade gold coins worth upwards of $2 million is—quite literally—like winning the lottery.

Plus, there’s all those unanswered questions, like:

  • How did 800 gold coins wind up buried in a Kentucky cornfield?
  • Why were the coins loose, not secured in a chest or box?
  • Who owned this treasure hoard?
  • Why did they abandon it?

In this 160-year-old mystery, some of these questions will never be answered. But in this article, we’ll tell you everything that is known, as well as sharing some of the most likely (and fun) theories to explain the rest of the unknowns.

“This is unreal!”

That’s what the farmer had to say about finding the coins buried in his cornfield. Want to watch that incredible moment when he found this hidden treasure? Well, you’re in luck because he filmed it and you can watch it right here:

As you can see, there doesn’t appear to be a treasure chest involved with this find. The coins were buried directly in the dirt.

Maybe the coins were dumped there in a great hurry? Or maybe they had been in a cloth sack that has long since disintegrated?

Without any evidence to suggest who left the gold coins, or why, this discovery is likely to arouse intrigue and fascination for decades.  

What type of gold coins are in the Great Kentucky Hoard?

One of the things that makes the Kentucky find so spectacular is the fact that the coins appeared to have been buried in 1863 or 1864. Many of these coins are rare because few were minted during the turbulent years of the Civil War.

Ninety-five percent of the coins in the Great Kentucky Hoard are U.S. gold dollars, dated 1854-1862. Another 20 coins are $10 Liberties from 1840-1862, along with eight $20 Liberties circa 1857-1862.

Most important are the highly collectible 1863-P $20 Gold Liberty coins. These coins are also known as “Double Eagles” because the face value is double the $10 gold coin, which is known as an “Eagle.”

GovMint reports the cache includes 18 of these rare coins, which often go for six-figures at auction. 

Authenticating buried treasure

The first the outside world knew about what was buried — somewhere — in the great state of Kentucky was when Jeff Garrett, owner of the Mid-American Rare Coin Gallery in Lexington, Kentucky, received an email.

Someone wanted me to look at an 1863 Double Eagle, which is a very rare coin,” explained Garrett, who eventually discovered his new contact had multiple Double Eagles.

One coin would be astounding. Eighteen coins is profound due to the rarity…” Garrett said of eventually discovering his new contact had 18 of those Double Eagles, which are by far the most valuable of the entire hoard.

Garrett helped get the coins certified and graded by the Numismatic Guaranty Company’s (NGC) Certified Collectibles Group.

The NGC gave the entire hoard a very high grade. According to Andrew Salzberg, executive vice president of the NGC, some of the 1863 Double Eagles were graded MS 64, the highest possible.

However, in Salzberg’s eyes the entire treasure trove is a precious and fascinating piece of history. All of the coins were struck in 90% pure gold and most were graded in Extremely Fine to Mint State (XF–MS) condition, which is unusual in itself.

It’s likely many of the coins never entered circulation but were taken out at a bank and promptly buried.

Why did $2 million in gold coins end up in a Kentucky cornfield?

At this point, nobody knows for certain why this treasure ended up here. The turbulent days of the Civil War, Kentucky’s position as a border state, and the lack of any identifiers of ownership buried with the coins, only add to the mystery.  

At the time of the Civil War, the coins were worth about $1,000. This represented several years’ average salary, and in the hand-to-mouth days that followed such a fortune wouldn’t have purposely been left to rot.

We might assume that whoever originally owned the coins needed to hide them in a hurry. We could also assume the hoarder died, perhaps taking the secret of this trove to his or her grave.

At this point, the best any historians, conspiracy theorists, and future treasure hunters can hope for is to make some assumptions and guesses about what really happened.

But that’s half the fun, isn’t it?

Here are four theories as to how 800 Civil War gold coins ended up buried—and abandoned—in a random cornfield in Kentucky.

First theory: The Great Kentucky Hoard might’ve started with the original landowner

1863-1864 were bad years for Kentucky, trying to keep to neutrality while caught between the North on one border and the South on the other. Not only were internal loyalties divided, but the warring armies weren’t sure who to trust, and who they could reasonably take advantage of.

With the outcome of the war unknown, paper money had little real value. People saved their money in solid forms, like gold or silver, and often buried it because banks were unsafe.

Perhaps the most likely theory is that the original owner of that field simply buried his life savings.

Of course, that leaves the problem of why it stayed there. A landowner would’ve been the most likely to have used a proper strongbox and told his heirs or maybe even left a treasure map.

Second theory: The Great Kentucky Hoard was a heist

Lawless times produce some incredible hijinks. And while there’s no proper evidence that the gold was stolen, it doesn’t take much imagination to see a renegade galloping over the Kentucky hills, a posse hot on his trail.

It fits neatly with the action of burying valuable coins in nothing more than a cloth sack, and then disappearing.

Third theory: The Great Kentucky Hoard was the casualty of a nameless skirmish

Given the high quality of the coins, it’s not unfeasible that the hoard was part of a payroll.

Perhaps, in the heat of battle, a responsible soldier did the only thing he thought he could with the money and rolled it into a ditch. Battles, years, and farmers then filled the hole with layers of mud, and the coins didn’t surface for another 160 years.

It’s difficult to say exactly what war-related activity caused it, but it does seem that probably the motive behind hiding this money is civil unrest, conflict, raids coming through,” said Ryan McNutt, a conflict archeologist at Georgia Southern University.

He adds that several big Confederate cavalry raids came through Kentucky in 1863.

Fourth theory: A secret spy ring

Although this is perhaps the most unlikely theory, it is not impossible. Kentucky, as technically neutral territory, was prime country for spies. Information could be gathered, payrolls could be waylaid, and politicians could be bribed.

Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson used several spies who also operated as couriers across lines, the most famous of whom was a woman named Belle Boyd.

Maybe, on a cold night in Kentucky, such a spy was traveling with a secret cache of coins. A curious farmer let out his dogs, or a passing soldier got too close. Our spy quickly disposed of the coins, perhaps even marking the place with an inconspicuous, personal, and temporary marker.

The spy left…the spy died. And the gold remained.

What happens to the Great Kentucky Hoard now?

Part of the Great Kentucky Hoard went up for sale through GovMint. Given the collectible nature of the Liberty Gold Double Eagles, the ones that were put up for sale were quickly snatched up. We’re guessing the remainder of the trove is in a safe deposit box somewhere, in the name of a Kentucky farmer.

Perhaps the greatest takeaway from the Great Kentucky Hoard—at least for those of us who didn’t discover a $2 million windfall in our backyard—is that there is unexpected treasure still waiting to be discovered.

Whether that’s in European castles, or South American jungles, or American farmland, history has a way of leaving its mark. Often those marks are made by seemingly unimportant items, such as porcelain teapots. Some items only become valuable with the passage of time and the birth of a new type of collector.

And, occasionally, once every other blue moon, it’s real gold! So, it pays to keep your eyes open. Pay attention to junk in the attic and dirty bits of rock. You never know when something amazing might find you.

Suzanna Fitzgerald

Suzanna Fitzgerald is a professional content writer specializing in crafting your stories into irresistible online marketing blueprints.

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