From stories of bank robbers to glacial gold sources to an abundance of rivers, therein may lie treasures to be found. Of course much research will be needed but what we can offer is a jump-start of knowledge to get you on the right track. Even if you don’t come across what you’re looking for, the state of Nebraska will grant you hidden gems that you unlikely expected to find while here, especially in a place where most folks just think it’s flyover country filled with cattle and corn. Although that statement is certainly true, don’t let that stop you from discovering something entirely new!
I will break down the state into sectors with locations of where treasures and gold have been reportedly found or storied. As you know, there’s no guarantee that you will leave here hitting the gold mine, but hopefully I can provide you with some of the sure to be found hidden gems that you can catch with the eyes while you are jumping from site to site on your treasure hunt!
Before we get into all of that, I ought to mention that Nebraska actually has the most mileage of river bodies per any state in the United States. I don’t mean to discourage you, but for those looking to prospect for gold in bodies of water, good luck — you’ve got a lot of river ahead of you! That being said, there have been a number of accounts of people finding gold in river bottoms. But to be honest, it’s only been found in sparse concentrations, and mainly from two distinct sources: far east and far west. Gold in the western state is found in rivers that flow from Colorado and Wyoming to the stretches of Nebraska’s streams. Gold in the east is found in the glacial gold sources around the Nebraska-Missouri border, where it has been trapped, sliding and settling in the flatland. As the state stretches about 400 miles from one side to the other, some may see gold prospecting as a turn-off, but I am here to tell you there is so much more in between!
A large concentration of gold that is found here begins in the North Platte River, coming down from Wyoming. Platte in Native American terms literally means flat. If wading in easy, slow-moving water is your thing, give this river a shot. As most of the gold found here has to travel downstream, you will only find fine gold deposits, so your best bet is to search closest to the Wyoming border, although there is a chance to strike gold anywhere along the river.
Now when it comes to finding lost treasure, you might find a little more luck hitting jackpot in this portion of the state as there are three known locations in a fairly condensed area.
Let’s start in Scottsbluff. This unique city defies the whole flatland talk of Nebraska. Dispersed with rugged land and bluffs surrounding the town are trails and historical sites that will give you plenty to do while on your search. Scottsbluff was founded in 1899 when the railroad made its way out west. However this area was a major highway for travelers crossing the Plains. Here they would stay up in the caves in the bluffs, where artifacts have since been found. Maybe you could find some coins and treasures of your own!
When you’re in this area you can drive about 25 miles southeast toward the town of Broadwater and head north 1 mile to Mud Springs, which lies on the north side of the Platte River. Here, there is a story of a wealthy gambler who supposedly buried around $20,000 worth of gold coins. As far as I’m aware no one has found it yet — you could be the one.
South of Broadwater, your next stop could be Sidney. In 1867, a gang of outlaws robbed the Treasure Express Stagecoach, which was carrying 400 pounds of gold. Shortly after the robbery the gang was caught but was empty-handed. They didn’t tell where they buried the looted before the were hanged, but bags and two empty cheats were found approximately 2 miles east of Sidney on the south shore of the Lodgepole River.
Last but not least, as you travel in this area it is a must to visit the iconic Chimney Rock and Toadstool National Park. Some incredible landscapes exist here and you would be doing yourself a disservice to neglect yourself of these absolute gems!
North Central Nebraska
This area of the state is known for its mesmerizing vastness called the Sandhills. An incredible sight alone, there are some stories of buried treasures, two of which are located right by each other. Near the town of Seneca, a California miner was attacked by a group of outlaws.
After he escaped, he buried $70,000 worth of gold somewhere along the bank of the Middle Loup River about 2 miles east of Seneca. The miner never disclosed the location of his burial before dying from the attack wounds.
If you drive just another 10 miles to the west on Highway 2 you’ll reach the town of Mullen. There is a story of a $25,000 gold prize buried by cattle thieves near the town. As far as where exactly, I’m not sure. That will have to be your wild goose chase to go on. But, if you want a sure find of some hidden gems in that area, head up Highway 97 about 40 miles and there you will come across the Merritt Reservoir and Snake River Falls.
Here you can view the state’s largest waterfall per volume. This river is a tributary of the Niobrara River and is a spectacular sight of forest and canyon. It is on private property, so please respect its rules and regulations. While you’re up this way you might as well swing up to Valentine and scope out the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge, where you can find elk, buffalo, antelope and the tallest waterfall in the state: Smith Falls. This area has six different ecosystems converging together to create a unique splendor of nature and is an area of biological significance where several ice age species can still be found.
Along Interstate 80 resides the Platte River. Although your chances for prospecting gold farther west is more likely, people have found placers of gold at the confluence of the North and South Platte rivers near the city of North Platte.
An even more intriguing site, though, is just south of Kearney, east from North Platte along Interstate 80 called the Centoria Ruins. You can find still-visible ruins from the old town on the south shore of the Platte River where people have found relics, coins and treasures in the past.
As far as buried treasure, the most known account of reported scores along the Missouri River, which creates the border between Nebraska and its neighboring states, is at Devil’s Nest. This place was a hideout for outlaws in the early 1800s. It first got its name by a surveyor who was standing on a plateau high above the hilly, rugged terrain where he looked into the junglelike area and exclaimed, “If we have to in that, it looks as if it’s going to the be the ‘nest of a devil.’”
While you are here, there is plenty to do. You can explore an abandoned ski village that hardly lasted a couple of years in the early 1970s and has now turned into a horseback riding, fishing, four-wheeling, boating and hiking development with many estates up for sale.
Farther south along the river in the southeast corner of the state is the second main area of gold deposit concentration. From glacial slides hundred of thousands of years ago, people have found fine deposits in the Little and Big Nemaha rivers as well as in the Muddy Creek just south of Stella in Richardson County.
Please have respect for other people’s property and gain permission before entering private land. There is plenty of public land to search on, so there should be no trouble gaining access to many of these places.
I encourage you all to get out and explore the vast opportunities that Nebraska has to offer as it is so much more than corn and cattle country or just that flat, flyover state!
In our next installment, we will dive deeper into the history of our state’s lost and found treasures, including hideouts of the Jesse James gang, Buffalo Bill Cody’s establishment in North Platte and other historical landmarks to visit while searching through Nebraska. Stay tuned.
John P. Kingston is a travel writer based in Nebraska.