Double your fun, with Double Double Eagles!
Before I get to the main story of the double eagles I want to relate a few hunting stories that happened in 1997. The 1996-1997 winter season must have been fairly mild, because I was able to go out to Old Camp Floyd and put in a good eight-hour hunt on January 2, 1997.
I parked my car at the mouth of West Canyon and hiked a short distance to the south, up through a thicket of scrub oaks and onto the plowed fields of the bench where the main camp was located. There had been a lot of snow prior to this day but several days of warm weather had melted the snow. The field was saturated with water and the mud was coming up to my ankles and making me feel like I had diving boots on. I had to stop about every five minutes to scrape the mud off my feet. Needless to say, I was looking for the slight hills and mounds that were somewhat drier than the low areas. I was finding a few relics here and there and that’s the only reason that I was able to put up with this type of searching for about five hours.
Getting tired of the mud, I worked my way back northward towards the edge of the wash and started hunting in the scrub oaks and sagebrush. After three more hours of hunting it started to rain so I decided to leave. It was getting late anyway and it would soon be dark. I hiked back to my car, packed my gear away, and climbed in the car to get out of the rain. That’s when I found out that I had made a terrible mistake. I had left my lights on when I arrived that morning and now the car battery was as dead as a doorknob! I had to walk some five miles along a dirt road in the rain and the dark from the mouth of the canyon to the small town of Cedar Fort. It was cold and it rained all the way. But guess what? I wasn’t cold and miserable as I walked down that muddy old dirt road that night. You see, I had two gold dollars in my pocket to keep me warm. I had found one of them after hunting in the muddy field for about four hours, and I found the other one in the scrub oaks and sagebrush by the West Canyon Wash. That long walk to Cedar Fort could never put a damper on that!
Later that year Roger Nielson and I planned a day of hunting and we parked the car at the same spot at the mouth of the canyon. We were unpacking our gear when I realized that I had made another mistake. Can you guess what it was? That’s right, I had left my shovel at home! I was living in Spanish Fork at the time and Roger was living in Springville, so going back home some thirty miles to get a shovel was not an option. Neither was driving back some ten miles to the small town of Lehi to buy another shovel. No, I had to make due with what I had.
Where do you hunt if you don’t have a shovel to dig with? Well, I decided to go to a spot in the plowed field where a number of good coins were found in the past, but there were very few signals there now so I wouldn’t have to dig very many holes. What was my emergency tool of choice? A credit card! That was another reason for choosing to hunt in the plowed field; the ground would be softer than in the non-plowed areas. I hunted for a couple of hours and only had to dig a couple of holes. Then I came upon another marginal signal. I got down on my hands a knees and chiseled at the ground for a few moments, when all of a sudden I glimpsed the reeded edge of a gold dollar! An 1852-O gold dollar, to be exact. It was the rarest gold dollar that I had found up until that time, and I found it with a credit card. I may be the only person in history to dig a gold coin with a credit card!
For a number of years I had my doubts that there were any $20 gold pieces at Old Camp Floyd. That was a lot of money in those days, about two months pay for a private. There probably weren’t very many soldiers carrying around a $20 gold piece, and it would probably be hard to loose one being as big as they are. Nevertheless, there was always hope of finding one.
A relatively large number of coins were recovered in Area 14 (at the southeast end of the camp) in the closing days of 1997, so that’s where the first hunts of 1998 were made. I was hunting some of the fringe areas of the central spot of where most of the coins were found. I wasn’t finding very much at all, but then an 1850 $20 gold piece suddenly popped up from out of nowhere! “Oh my hell,” was the first thought that flashed through my mind, “there are $20 gold pieces out here after all!”
Later that summer I arrived to do a little detecting after work and the first thing I noticed was that there had been an awful amount of traffic out there on the edges of the plowed fields. There was powdery dust everywhere. I was wondering what was up, and then I noticed that there had been a large fire on the edge of the field. A good spot where a lot of artifacts had been found in the past by fighting heavy brush was now burned to the ground! After seeing that I knew it was going to be a good day! Mike Craner showed up shortly afterwards and we hit that burned area pretty darn good. It wasn’t long after Mike showed up and he was shouting out “D of I rosette, D of I rosette!” The “D of I” rosette was an outstanding artifact, but it was my turn next to make a good find. I was working some 200 feet away from Mike and I dug up an 1855-S $20 gold piece! It was the last dig of the day. It was getting dark and after a short celebration we called it a day.
The very next morning I was heading out to work in Magna, some fifty miles north of Spanish Fork, and at the intersection of 11800 South and 8400 West in the Salt Lake Valley I happened to pass Mike Craner, going lickety-split in the opposite direction towards Old Camp Floyd! Mike had a good case of gold fever and he wanted to find a $20 gold piece for himself! I thought that he was probably just wasting his time, but he did in fact recover an 1852 $20 gold piece, just a few inches away from where I found the 1855-S the day before! Let this be a lesson to you: don’t shout “Eureka!” or show someone where you found something good until you’ve finished searching the area yourself. Had I kept my mouth shut, or at least not shown the exact location of my find, I would have eventually found that 1852 $20 gold piece myself.
The fourth and final $20 gold piece was recovered on July 1, 1999, in Area 49 at the far southeast end of the camp. Roger Nielson brought me luck on several different occasions, and this was one such occasion. Roger had searched this particular area three or four different times in the past, finding only one artifact on each hunt. Nonetheless, Roger still felt good about hunting this area and talked me into hunting it with him. The first things that I found were a number of very deep shotgun shells. Then, after about an hour or so, I found a knapsack hook. The knapsack hook was very deep. I had been using my XLT, but now I thought that my CZ5 would go deeper, so I headed back towards my Jeep to change detectors. On the way back to the Jeep I came upon another signal that was probably just another deep shotgun shell. I decided to dig it anyway. The first shovel full of dirt did not get the target out, but now the signal was much better. Digging deeper, another shovel full of dirt revealed a gorgeous 1855-S $20 gold piece!
Whenever an outstanding find such as this is made I always want to know more about its history. In this case, I’ve conjured up my own little theory about the history of the 1855-S $20 gold piece, and its twin sister that was recovered in 1998. Those two 1855-S double eagles were the only San Francisco minted coins that were recovered in the entire camp.
Johnston’s Army was nearing the South Pass of the Continental Divide in September of 1857. The entire Utah Territory was in a great state of alarm because of the approaching army. About this same time the Baker-Fancher wagon train of Arkansas immigrants reached Salt Lake City, enroute to their final destination in California. There were several small clashes with the Mormons as the train headed southwest through the various settlements. When the train reached Mountain Meadows, some 200 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, it was attacked by a large force of Mormons and Indians. The siege lasted for several days. On a false promise of safe deliverance from the Indians, the immigrants were fooled into surrendering their weapons to the Mormons. The result was the Mountain Meadows Massacre of September 11, 1857, where some 120 men, women, and children were mercilessly killed.
At the exact same time as the siege of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and some two thousand miles to the east, another group of innocent people were in a desperate struggle for life of their own. The steamship SS Central America(the “Ship of Gold”), loaded down with 578 people and nearly 15 tons of gold, was caught in a fierce hurricane off the Carolina Coast. After a valiant struggle of several days the ship finally sank on September 12, 1857. Although there were 153 survivors, 425 people lost their lives. The two horrific events occurred at the same time.
What does all this have to do with the two 1855-S $20 gold pieces? Back in the 1850s most of the gold from the California Gold Rush was shipped to the eastern United States by steamship. The two 1855-S $20 gold pieces that were recovered at Old Camp Floyd came from the east with Johnston’s Army in the 1857-1858 time frame; they did not come directly from the west. This can never be proven, but I believe the two 1855-S $20 gold pieces were transported to the east via the steamship SS Central America one or two years before it sank. You can’t make a claim like that with just any old ordinary 1855-S double eagle!
This is a photo of the 1855-S $20 gold piece that was recovered on July 1, 1999. This is how a gold coin looks dug fresh out of the ground. The obverse side was caked with dirt but the reverse side was mostly free of dirt. The coin was recovered in non-plowed ground and it had probably been resting obverse-side up for 141 years. The coin did not have a mark on it and it would probably grade near AU-55 (or higher).
Duane Bylund standing in the plowed field near where the 1855-S $20 gold piece was recovered on July 1, 1999. The rock outcropping where Joseph Heger made his 1858 sketch of Old Camp Floyd can be seen on the small mountain in the background. View looking west.